Rules for the Motherless Daughter: Two

5 Apr

She’s still a girl.

Before my mother died, I was quite the tomboy. I was constantly dirty, smelly, and without my shirt, despite my mother’s protests. I wore “boy” clothes, kicking up a fuss when forced into some awful dress. (And believe me, they were awful since my mother never seemed convinced that the seventies had really ended.) Looking back on it now, it likely looked like Gender Identity Disorder. I actively rejected “girl” activities and behaviours. I was tough as nails. I could do anything boys could do.

You could see how much this bothered my classy, graceful, ALL woman Mother.  A woman who wore dresses, and scarves, who never wore shorts, who had purses that matched the seasons. She was particular about how girls should act, and how they should look.

I wanted guns, not dolls. I wanted trucks, not toy brooms. I likely wasn’t the girl she wanted, instead a mash up of a lot of factors. I chewed my nails ragged, I licked my upper lip red and raw. Nervous habits from the sickness in our house I imagine.

Having to wear a dress to her funeral was the first “girl” battle I didn’t really fight. It was a terrible dress, picked out by a man who had never dressed his daughter in his life. It was navy blue polyester, with small white polka dots. It was made for a woman triple my age. I remember the dress, how it felt, but not my reflection in it. I remember the white nurses shoes I wore that day, and never again, despite the comfort.

It was horrendous.

My father recognized that I was something he didn’t quite understand. He loved me of course, but he loved me because I was curious, and adventurous, and always wanted to check the store with him and help him chisel out the wood from the door latch. He knew nothing about bras or dresses or skin creme or periods.

He attempted to “match” me up with the wife of his friend at the time, who attempted to dress me in all the ways I despised. Being a girl was something that scared me and saddened me. My guide as a woman was gone. Just before she died, she began buying me pretty camisoles and skin creams, instructing me on how to treat my body, preparing me for becoming a woman.

It scared the living shit out of me to face this without my mother.

I never ventured out with that woman again since I was “a handful”.

I’ve spent the majority of my life since then trying to figure out what kind of woman I am, figuring out how to integrate who I am with what I am. A vagina doesn’t make you a girl. Your heart, and mind do. My mother had only begun to train me in this before she died, and even what she did seemed rushed in the knowledge that there just wasn’t enough time.

I still remember my favorite camisole. It has a lace wolf at the top, with plastic crystal eyes. I loved it. She bought me Johnson’s Baby Lotion to soften my skin, and I remember the false pink of the bottle, the soothing smell. This was what being a woman was to be, this was all I thought she taught me.

But it wasn’t. Looking back, I’ve become many of the things that she was. I’m strong willed. I’m stubborn (Rosalyn is even worse). I’m picky about manners and rudeness. I know what looks good on me. I’m brave.

My mother’s death taught me that being a woman was more that the sum of my parts, or the parts I could buy. Being a woman meant doing it myself, and yet learning to depend on the people who loved me. Being a woman meant working twice as hard sometimes. Being a woman meant that love could also mean pain.

I’ve come to all these conclusions on my own. I never truly had a “mother” figure to guide and walk me through the years, no one to explain why super plus is sometimes REALLY needed at that time of the month. I had a wonderful father, but what did he know? He called maxi pads “sanitary napkins”. He had to be reminded when I needed new pants. He couldn’t help the girl in me grow as much as he could help the person.

A motherless daughter needs to be given the space to find herself as a woman, or a girlchild, but also given the guidance to find her path as a woman. Some will find it on their own. Some will reject the rigid path laid out for them. But some will find a quiet luxury in finally letting go, being a woman instead of a grown up. Some will come to love Satsuma at the Body Shop, salt body scrubs.

It’s hard to be a girl after you lose the only girl you love.

14 Responses to “Rules for the Motherless Daughter: Two”

  1. bine April 5, 2007 at 10:44 am #

    didn’t you love idgie in “green tomatoes”?
    i still find it amazing how you turned out the woman you are today.
    all this has made you brave, and tough, but also very tender and caring, i think.

  2. jervity April 5, 2007 at 12:01 pm #

    stumbled across your blog, and this entry stirs memories. although my mother is still very much alive, she is a distant figure.. someone who doesn’t teach what a girl should know.

    you seem to have dealt really well, and (:

  3. Billychic April 5, 2007 at 3:52 pm #

    This was a great post – written beautifully, with a lot of feeling.

    You know…reading it gave me an idea for what to write about my Dad – perhaps as a post for your event, which I’ll post on Ornery Woman – for my Mom was on location shooting a flick when I got my period, so he had to show me what to do…and the memory is just classic.

    Thanks for writing this.

  4. peggykerroll April 5, 2007 at 8:35 pm #

    Beautiful heartfelt writing.

    We all struggle to find our true selves. You make me think of myself at that age and how hard it was.

    And I had a mom.

  5. Jason Dufair April 9, 2007 at 10:08 pm #

    Thor – thanks for writing this. I finally had the headspace to sit and read it. I sure wish I could be mom and dad for Alyssa and Ian and Emma. But I also know I can’t. I do help her with her hair (always have) and take her clothes shopping and encourage her to keep her skin clean and such. I hope to, at some point, be with a woman that can be her guide into womanhood. She has her aunt currently, and that goes a long way. But it’s not the same as mom, for sure.

    So, yes. I will give her the space for sure. If I’m lucky, I’ll also find a good guide for her (who just happens to be “the one” for me also).

  6. John June 10, 2007 at 10:14 pm #

    Thanks for the advice, but I feel like I need more to go on with part two. I need to provide both space and guidance. How? What does that look like in daily life? There must be more than letting her pick out her own clothes and sending her on special shopping trips with her aunts. What would have helped you feel guided and free?

  7. thordora June 10, 2007 at 10:30 pm #

    A large part of being a woman, is being taught what a woman is.

    But a larger part is being allowed to be one.

    I always felt that I had to be a grown up, but not a grown woman. I moved into this space between a girl and a woman, left on my own with the assumption of maturity and capability. I bucked up, and did what I could.

    But ever since then, anything “female” related has always, on some level, signified weakness to me. It could not be included in what my grown up looked like at 11.

    I needed my father to tell me it was ok to get my hair done without my mother, to tell me that it was equally ok to NOT get it done. I needed his permission to be a girl, and a woman, because all I felt like was this older, genderless thing that tried to hold us all together.

    And perhaps that’s more important-not setting a daughter up to have so many expectations about themselves. Our world ended when she died-my childhood essentially went away, and no one treated me like a kid anymore. I always joke that I felt like 11 going on 40.

    But it’s not a joke. Expectation of maturity led to me disregarding the frivolous, as well as the self serving. The added joy of everyone assuming I WAS a nutter didn’t help, because then I had to prove I was ok.

    Give them the space to really be kids, or teenagers or women. Allow them to be the age they are. Let them cherish their free days. Let them love life.

    I only learned all of that again after a few years down a rabbit’s hole of drinking and drug use.

    I felt unworthy of being what I wanted to be-a kid. A scared, lonely kid. One word from my father would have stopped all of that, but he was aloof and refused to mourn in front of me.

    18 years later, we’ve only now begun to speak of my mother. 18 YEARS.

    I wish I had a better answer. But hey, I think you’ve led to a new addition to this grouping!

  8. Sol January 19, 2009 at 7:00 pm #

    Hi Dora, I don’t know how I ended up on your blog,but anyway I’m so happy I did…, I wanted to tell you that I wish we were friends because I would like to hug you. I’m a motherless daughter too, though my mother is alive, she abandoned me and my brother to my grandparents when I was 2. My grandmother was a resentful stupid sad little woman, and as I read your “rules” tears came to my eyes because I felt you were in my head and you wrote things that sound so mine but I’ve never had the courage to think… I’m so grateful that there’s someone like you out there, with the guts to share… Thank you a million times.

  9. angharad March 22, 2009 at 3:26 am #

    i was the tomboy too – still am if the truth be told! my husband does the cooking and i do the drilling holes in walls stuff. but nowadays that isn’t so odd as it would have been a couple of decades ago. i was talking to someone at work when we had a “dress down” day and although i was joking what i said was perfectly true – i do ‘office’ clothes, just about, but for the rest i only do glamourous or bag lady – there is not a lot in between. so in the end i wore my usual office stuff on dress down day!

  10. manjusha June 15, 2009 at 6:19 am #

    Hi Thordora, I wonder if you read the comments… the post is so old.

    I feel very bad for myself sometimes for losing my mom. But after reading your blog and comments, I feel blessed that I had her for as long as I did.

    I lost my mom when I was 28. Yeah, that’s an adult – but there is really no age when you are ready to let your mom go.

    I have so many regrets, the way I would avoid talking to her. The way I got iritated when she nagged me. But she nagged because she cared. In losing her, I feel I’ve lost the one person who really cared for me. Truly.

    I have a caring husband, a son, and another baby on the way, but no one can fill the void that mama’s left behind. And I feel so bad that she doesn’t even know she’s having another grandchild. She’d have been so happy about it. Would have been full of dos and donts, suggestions, admonishments…

    She was quite sick when I was pregnant with my first, and yet, always the conversations were about me – whether I am eating on time and taking my vitamins.

    She was diagnosed with cancer when I was 20. My world was never the same again. I felt angry all the time – why my mom? Why our family? Who had we wronged? What had we done to annoy god?

    But she was there for me during my transformation from girl to woman. She took me shopping and helped me pick clothes. Took me to do my hair and bought me creams. Taught me how to use maxi-pads and select the right bra. So I can only imagine what you will go through when you lose your mom when you are younger. I will not wish it on anyone!

    Sorry for the ramble… I guess the dam broke and the old thoughts all just gushed out. I haven’t talked about it to anyone. Ever. I just try to shut this out – actually most people wonder how I bounced back so easily after my mom’s death, they feel I didn’t mourn enough. Some even say that I am not affected by it at all. I don’t much care about what people say, honestly. I alone know what I’ve lost and how that loss feels.

  11. kianys September 12, 2011 at 5:10 pm #

    Hi Theodora,
    I’m not sure if you are still keeping up with your blog since the entries all seem to be around 2007 and I left a comment on a different post of yours some days ago already, so I might just be writing this into the webnirvana 😉
    BUT I felt compelled to post again, because I seriously feel that you are describing so much of my own life growing up – It is weird to see that it’s not just me – but a very good weird.
    If you ARE still active and would like to share your story with me I would be so grateful – I am really looking for understanding on this journey I’ve just begun.
    XXX, Kianys

    • thordora September 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm #

      I don’t know if there’s much for me to add that I haven’t around here somewhere, but I’m happy to answer any questions you have. I still grope around with the right answers, mainly in dealing with raising daughters, and my difficulties with learning how to be interdependent to someone else. Being weak, asking for or accepting help-these things are rough for me since I grew up being submissive to the needs of someone else. Unlearning habits has been hard.

      If you’re really looking to hear a similar voice, I can recommend A Year and a Day ( It’s a great read that echoes a lot of what you felt when younger likely…perhaps not since you were younger when your mother died, but for me, it hit like a punch to the gut since a lot of the smaller details matched. And I felt less alone.

      I’m still around if you need an ear.

      • kianys September 25, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

        Hi Thordora,

        I’m sorry it took me so long to get back to you, but I only just today figured out, that I would NOT be alerted automatically if someone replied to my reply on their post (does this make sense?) -Anyways thank you for taking the time to reply and I will definetly check out your book recommendation. Thanks for being around – I will take you up on that 🙂 All the best


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    […] today Thordora will be my tour-guide to the Kuba of being a motherless Daughter: How to become a woman. The funny […]

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