May you find some zen, some quiet, some relaxation this Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite moms out there!
May you find some zen, some quiet, some relaxation this Mother’s Day!
Happy Mother’s Day to all my favorite moms out there!
It was a feminist literature class. On the contemporary reading list was The Joy Luck Club. A book chock full of mother/daughter relationships.
An interview with your mother.
The questions we were required to ask were predictable. How did you meet my father? Why did you choose marriage at that time in your life? What was your life like before kids? How far did you take your education? What did you learn from your mother about parenting?
What was your reaction when you heard you were pregnant with me?
Huh? Did I hear her right? Did she really say defeat?
I knew I didn’t really want to hear any more. A glutton for punishment, I asked her to explain.
“Well. When I married your father I knew I wanted to go to college. He wanted to start a family right away. So I made a deal with him. We would have sex one night in the month of March. He could pick the night. If I got pregnant, fine. We’d start having kids. If not, I could start school.”
“I was looking through college catalogs and I felt a little sick to my stomach. Then I realized I was a few days late for my period. I knew your father had won. So I threw the catalogs in the trash and here you are.”
A consolation prize?
“You know. I never wanted to be a mother. But that’s what was expected of me. So I did it.”
Four times. What were you thinking?
“You kids kept me from getting my degree for 10 years. But, I eventually got it. So I guess it all worked out, right?”
Your response explains a lot. It explains the heavy sighs. The crabby days. How we always seemed in your way. Why we all scurried every time you came home. Your nightly vodka tonics. How some days you could barely look at us.
But it didn’t work out.
Not for me, anyway.
And when you completely forgot my birthday this year? No card. No phone call.
At least now.
I know why.
This goes into the books for something I thought of first but someone else is going to have to implement.
I want Hallmark to create a Dysfunctional Families Division.
Yes. I’m putting my idea out there for Hallmark to see.
Come on, Hallmark. Run with it!
I hate searching for a Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or birthday cards for my parents. I’m a crappy daughter. Just ask them. But I’m not so crappy that I don’t send them a card for birthdays and other holidays.
I’m not asking for mean cards. I don’t want them to say “I hate you!” or “You screwed up my life!” or “Thanks for nothing!” I’m crappy but I’m not cruel. But all of this “You were always there for me” or “Thank you for being the kind of (parent) that is so easy to love!” or “I am so lucky to have you for a (parent)!” I’m just not feelin’ it.
I’m pretty organized. I have one of those handy, dandy card organizers. On the rare occasion that I find more than one card that would suffice for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or birthday? I buy them all. Then I stick them in my handy, dandy card organizer so I’m ready for the next year. Luckily, last year was one of those banner years. I was armed and ready for this Father’s Day.
My husband? Not so much.
“Damn. Publix was closed by the time I got there. I couldn’t get a card for my dad!” He looks at me with a sheepish grin on his face that means, “So you’ll go get a card for me tomorrow….right?”
“Kroger is open until midnight,” I say, not even looking up from my book.
He sighs and heads back out the door.
An hour later. Yes, a full hour later, he arrives back home. With one card.
“Uhg!” He flops into the house and slams the single, one ounce card onto the counter.
“Picking out a card for my dad is like going through therapy,” he laments.
I know exactly how he feels.
About a week ago, I began listening to the songs on my iPod in alphabetical order. I came across a song I hadn’t listened to in a long time.
Adia by Sarah McLachlan.
It was released about 5 years after we gave up our foster daughters. The first time I heard it on the radio I had to pull over into a parking lot. I was sobbing and couldn’t drive. It was about my “Adia” – that sweet, innocent and damaged 6-year-old girl who lived in my home for almost a year.
She still lives in my heart. And this song is for her.
“Adia I do believe I failed you
Adia I know I’ve let you down
don’t you know I tried so hard
to love you in my way” – We tried. We really, really tried. And you and your sister seemed so happy with us. But court date after court date after court date – the judge would not sever your biological mother’s rights. Even though she was still turning tricks. Even though she was still using. Even though she bounced from apartment to apartment. He kept giving her another chance. And while he was giving your mother chances you were being held in limbo. Wanting to attach to us, wanting to know that you were safely where you belonged.
“Adia I’m empty since you left me
trying to find a way to carry on
I search myself and everyone
to see where we went wrong” – We held on as long as we could. Yet, I still feel guilty. I still feel as if I should have done more to keep you safe. At the last court date, when the judge gave your mom another 3 months (again) to get her act together I burst into his chambers. I shouted, “We’re offering to pay for their college education and you’re telling me I’m going to be paying for their prison term. ‘Cause that’s were these girls are headed if we don’t find them a safe, healthy, permanent home!” He told me if I didn’t leave I’d be held in contempt. I sulked out of the room, defeated.
“there’s no one left to finger
there’s no one here to blame
there’s no one left to talk to, honey
and there ain’t no one to buy our innocence” – But he didn’t live with us. He didn’t see the night terrors. He wasn’t missing steak knives and scissors. He didn’t find the food you hoarded and hid in your pillow case or your backpack. He wasn’t there to clean the feces off the bathroom wall after every supervised visit with your mother. And he wasn’t there when all of that behavior died down about a week after that mandatory, monthly visit. He couldn’t hear the laughter and silliness return. Those three glorious weeks when you and your sister almost magically turned into two lovable, normal, happy little girls again.
“Adia I thought that we could make it
I know I can’t change the way you feel
I leave you with your misery
a friend who won’t betray
pull you from your tower
take away your pain
show you all the beauty you possess” – I want you to know – sweet, amazing girl – that at the time we accepted you in our home I thought it was the perfect decision. I thought that we could make it. And then, when we had to let you go, I thought that was the right decision, too. I’m crying, now, as I write this – even though you left almost 17 years ago. I still think about you. I still wonder how you are. I still pray that you feel more joy than pain. And I hope you know how beautiful, how lovely, how amazing you are.
“’cause we are born innocent
believe me Adia
we are still innocent
it’s easy, we all FALTER,
but does it matter” – And I still get angry that such an innocent, amazing, sweet little you was abused by your mother’s boyfriends, discarded by your mother and tossed about the court system. Property. Because of biology. When what you really needed was love and caring. And there are plenty of people out there willing to give it.
But humans aren’t perfect.
Our system isn’t perfect.
And you. Innocent you – who didn’t ask to be born in the first place – had to suffer for it.
I have selective memory. It drives my husband crazy. It drives me crazy sometimes.
This past Mother’s Day was wonderful. One of the best ever. And my husband was an absolute angel, treated me like a queen. When my sister asked me how my Mother’s Day was, I told her it was fantastic.
I asked her how her’s was. Less than fantastic. In fact, it was horrible and it all started on Saturday night when her husband….
Oops. Wait. I remember now. Mine wasn’t so hot. Well, it was, but it didn’t start out that way.
(Let’s play a little Mad Libs, shall we?)
You see, on Saturday, my husband decided to (insert activity) even though I asked him not to. It was something he does (time reference) and I usually have no problem with it. In fact, I never have a problem with it. But it was Mother’s Day weekend and it was sure to (verb) with Sunday. He did it anyway. So at (insert time of day) when he decided to (insert activity) and it (past tense verb) me, I was more than ticked. Mother’s Day started off with a (adjective.)
But the rest of the day was great. Fantastic. Magical, even.
My Pollyanna brain chooses to focus on the magical and forget the awful 24 hours preceeding Mother’s Day. Simple as that. It keeps me sane.
But there is something about my selective memory that really bother me. It eats away at me. It’s a nagging thorn in my parenting manual. What about my childhood memories of my mother?
I try. I really, really try, to remember the positive. You’d think, with my Pollyanna approach, the positive would be all I’d remember. But I can’t. I have fuzzy images of her smiling or laughing – but it either feels forced or it’s in a large group and she’s putting on her show.
There are pictures of her reading to us. But the only memory I have of her reading to me involves us cuddled together on an oversized chair while she lets me have sips of her White Russian (at age 5).
By the time I was a teenager I had learned the art of manipulation. My mother is a shopper. And when you’re in her good graces, she buys you stuff. Lots of stuff. And my parents had the money to buy us lots and lots of stuff. I remember a few shopping trips with me finagling some pretty pricey items (leather jacket, designer jeans, cashmere sweater, jewelry) because I was “Golden Girl” for that week. I was happy in that moment. But the little black cloud of being indebted to her makes that happiness fleeting.
I try. I rack my brain, picturing kindergarten, 2nd grade, 5th grade, 9th grade. Nothing. She is absent from any real memories. I can see my dad. My grandparents. I see my cousins, aunts. No mom. And if I do see her she has her arms folded over her chest and she’s glaring.
What childhood memories do I have?
Testing the waters each day to gauge the mood she was in and wondering if this was the day I could ask her about: going to a friend’s party, staying after school for a project, going to the mall or a movie.
Making vodka tonics for her when she got home from work, waiting anxiously for the bad mood to pass and her “couldn’t care less” attitude to take hold.
Keeping my three younger sisters quiet because she was studying or she was sleeping or she was sick.
My mother pulling my sister by the hair to get her to do something.
Laughing when we flinched if she made a sudden move, thinking we were about to be slapped.
The way she would barge into our room with such force, without knocking or calling out, and how we’d jump three feet into the air, hearts pounding.
Fists through the wall. Broken glass. Slamming doors.
Yelling. Lots of yelling.
Silence. Tip-toeing. Daring not to disturb the sleeping giant.
Because I have so few happy memories with my own mother I am panicked that I’m not creating them with my own children. I quiz my daughter, acting as if it’s a light-hearted exercise, “What’s your favorite memory of you and I when you were in grade school?” or “What’s a favorite vacation we took when you were little?”
The exercise is two-fold. I’m trying to reassure myself that I AM doing a good job. That I’m not repeating my mother’s mistakes. But I’m also trying to ingrain these positive memories, praying that she doesn’t forget the good times.
This is a part of me I’m not proud of. This insecurity I carry is unattractive and stifling. But I can’t seem to let it go. It keeps me focused. It keeps me from repeating negative behaviors.
And I desperately pray, it keeps the good childhood memories flowing for my precious angels.
(This post is part of the Five For Ten project at Momalom. Please visit their site for more wonderful posts on Memory. Or click the button below to find out how YOU can participate!)
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2.The quality or state of being twofold or double.
I didn’t really, truly begin to see my mother until I was an adult. In my childhood and in my teens, I was cast by her spell. My mother suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder. But I was only able to name it just recently. In the past she was “weird,” “mean,” “an abuser,” “fake,” and “crazy.”
My parents are known for meeting someone and adopting them into their fold. They are “the best friend I’ve ever known,” “the kindest neighbor I’ve ever had,” “the sweetest person I’ve ever met.” That is, until the first mis-step. And then that person tumbles into a dark abyss. One day you’re the kindest neighbor. The next day you’re the spinster. On and on it goes. The best employee, the crook. The beautiful friend from church, the cripple.
My mother put me on a pedestal. According to her, I was the perfect baby. The perfect child. I was a young adult when my mother came back from a therapy session and she said, “My therapist says I put you on a pedestal and I need to take you off.” I remember the huge relief I felt just her saying that. My feelings validated. But it was also in that moment that I began to stand up for myself. Pull away from her control.
In that moment, I scrambled off that tower as fast as I could. In her eyes, I came tumbling down.
It was the beginning of the end for us.
My parents had followed me to where I lived. Nevermind that they had aging parents back in our home state. I was Golden Girl. I would “fix” my mother. When I tumbled from the pedestal they packed up and moved away. After they left, people in our small town would ask about my parents. How are they? Oh, they are just the sweetest people. I just love your Mom. She has such a wonderful sense of humor.
Sweetest people? Wonderful sense of humor? I didn’t see it. What I saw behind closed doors, within the comfort of their home was unkindness, selfishness and biting sarcasm. Behind closed doors she criticized others, made fun of weaknesses. What were these people seeing that I didn’t?
Duplicity. My mother is a master.
I recently saw an episode of House where the case involved a woman who was able to understand feelings but wasn’t able to experience them. She had perfected the art of lying and lacked a conscience. A clinical psychopath. At one point she deliberately upsets one of the doctors on her case. After the personal attack, the doctor appears to be on the verge of tears. The patient asks, gleefully, if she’s going to cry. She wants to see it happen because she hasn’t mastered that emotion yet.
Now I’m not so cruel as to call my mother clinically psychotic. But I saw my mother in that episode. Appearing the wildly successful career woman with the perfect husband, the perfect life. Behind closed doors? A life that is distorted and phony.
I was recently looking through some photo albums with my children. The pictures of my father with them depicted playfulness, warm hugs and cuddles, belly laughs. With my mother they are forced. She holds them as infants at uncomfortable angles, out away from her body, stiff, with a pained expression as if she can’t wait for the moment to end. She will ask me to take a picture of her with her grandchildren. To prepare for the pose she will stand a few feet away from them and then you’ll see this flash of recognition, as if suddenly she remembers to lean in, get close.
In the beginning of our marriage my husband would explain to me that my mother was sick. That it was just like any other disease. That I should be more understanding and not take it personally. But then the behind-closed-doors-meanness crept into his world.
It started with snide remarks, and rolling of the eyes when he’d state an opinion and then moved to direct comments like, “I raised my daughter for better than this!” while appraising our first apartment together during our humble-beginning-years. He no longer tells me to stop taking her comments personally. He no longer talks about her “illness.” Instead, we have established limits for the amount of time we spend with them and never allow the children to be alone with her.
Like a magician, now you see her – now you don’t. She wears one face for some, a different face for others. And I have moved through a range of emotion, acceptance levels and tolerance. I straddle between guilt and anger. Guilt because it’s my mother. I feel like we’re supposed to be close. But when I try to be close she pulls a stunt that brings on anger and I push away. Even my role with her has become a dance with duplicity.
I envy my friends with warm, loving relationships with their mothers. I struggle to recognize destructive behaviour in myself so as not to repeat it with my own daughter. And I wrestle often with feelings of guilt and anger over a lost childhood and lost relationships. Dancing amidst all of the feelings I push myself to let go of destructive memories and people I can’t control.
My life now is about creating a new dance. A pure and joyful, playful, dance with my own children. Thank goodness I can both understand and experience every emotion. Even the negative ones. I am so grateful that I am not crippled by a disease that keeps me from experiencing intimate, loving relationships – filled with good and bad.
Even when I am experiencing loss and longing it means that I am capable of understanding and feeling.
And for that I feel so very, very lucky.