I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for ages. But I never did because “she might see it” and “feel hurt.” I don’t really care now, or rather I’m beginning to care more about my own growth and recovery than about managing her feelings, which I never really could do anyway.
So, Mother’s Day is coming up. This time of year is always hard. I hate the hallmark version of mother’s day – the cards that all say “You’re the greatest mom ever!” It makes my stomach turn. Last year, I spent half an hour looking for one for my mom that didn’t make me feel like an utter liar. I found one that said “I hope you have a good Mother’s Day.” This year I can’t even send that because I don’t know that she has an address!
This is obviously about my mother. Or is it? Maybe it’s about me. Sometimes it’s difficult to see where I end and she begins. It seems that I’ve shaped my entire life somehow around her – not being like her, helping her, saying no to her, being honest with her, letting go of her.
Before the age of 10 or so, i.e. before I started having a mind of my own, she was a good mom. She gave me tons of attention. Her life was dedicated to loving me and helping me become the best, smartest person I could. Maybe that backfired on her a bit, because when I started thinking for myself, I was very confident and headstrong, and she couldn’t really handle me. We’d have the massive yelling arguments – over things like laundry. My asserting my independence was very threatening to her. She tried to hold on. It didn’t really work. When I was little, in arguments with dad, she played the “I’ll just leave” card. That nearly always worked to end the fight with dad. But it instilled the seeds of detachment from her in me. Then when she played that card with me, I said “Well, ok.” And it was the way she was with dad – emotional and irrational – that I didn’t want to be like. I’d succeeded in that in most of my life – being very rational and unemotional – except in my relationship with her.
By the time highschool got into full swing, the roles had fully switched. I became the parental figure and she the child figure. The switch happened pretty suddenly. We were having one of our infamous yelling matches, heard by the neighbors (across the street and two houses down), and I just wanted to hurt her. I wanted to make her see just how much she didn’t know or understand. So, I said the most hurtful thing I could think of, “I’m not a virgin. I’m having sex. I took myself to get birth control pills.” No, I didn’t say that, I screamed it. (Yes, that means I wasn’t a virgin when I got hitched. Don’t tell Mark! After that she got quiet, and started crying.
That’s when the rebellion started – not mine, but hers. After that, she started coming to me for advice on stuff. I’d tell her what I’d do. She’d promptly tell me that I couldn’t tell her what to to and say “You’re not my mother.” (To be fair, she used the “You’re not my father” line on Dad.) It was this way through the beginning of college. About mid-college, we’d come to a peacable co-existance. Then my parents got a divorce. I’d always known they were going to, but the drama around and my emotional response to the divorce still surprised me.
After they fully seperated, Mom took up with an ex-con unemployed drug-addict. I didn’t like him. Mom sold all of her stuff to pay for his debt. He and she moved to a trailer outside Kansas City that didn’t have working plumbing. I’d said to her, “call me if you need anyting.” She called one day. He’d hit her. Her stuff was packed. She was leaving him. Would I come get her? YES! I drove to KC through a thunderstorm, picked her and her stuff up. We proceeded on a wild goose chase around the county to file charges against him for stealing the brand new truck she’d bought at his advice, but that came to naught. Because he’d legally signed the title over to someone to pay a debt, while she was there. We drove to the truck stop where she worked as a dishwasher so she could quit and pick up her last pay check. And drove back to JC. Dad and I put her up in an apartment. The next day she and I went to file a restraining order against him and learn about filing bankruptcy. Three days later, she’d taken him back. That was the end of my helping her. I’d done all I could.
The next week I moved to California. She called me several times asking for money. I said no. A year or so later, she called asking if I wanted a visitor. She’d followed another man to Oregon. He’d left her there and she had no money. I said no. Each of these interactions, would send me into a tailspin of emotional conflict. It was always me versus her. This is the part that’s hard to explain. I couldn’t take care of her and me at the same time. While in highschool, I’d made a promise to always take care of myself, because, no matter what else, I would always be who I was with at the end of the day. I learned early on (thanks to mom’s “I’ll just leave” card) that I couldn’t depend on anyone else to take care of me. So, if I could only take care of one of us, it had to be me. And that meant saying no. I feel guilty for saying no. I feel angry for having had to say anything. I feel guilty for feeling angry. Then I get angry at myself for feeling guilty at all! Hence, the tailspin. Mostly, though, for years, I just wouldn’t feel anything. (Remember the being unemotional that I learned early on?) And then there’d be mother’s day or her birthday. And I find myself crying just walking down the street.
This cycle of emotions has been repeating itself since then. It’s gotten easier over the years. It’s less like a tidal wave and more like a sneaker wave now.
Other things I feel guilty about:
Not enjoying spending time with her
Watching the clock for how quickly I can leave during the few times I have seen her
Not wanting her to be at my wedding
not writing her back last winter
knowing she had a crappy childhood (abandoned by her mother) and still feeling angry at her
knowing she’s doing her best and still feeling angry at her
seeming ungrateful for when she was able to do well
Other things I’m hurt about:
her forgetting my birthday last year
her not calling
Other things I’m angry about:
not knowing how to get a hold of her
her not understanding me
her not knowing me
not having my own mother
her not being able to handle any truth about my life
her calling me sis
her not acting like a mother
her asking me for advice
having to deal with all this shit at all
I know there’s a silver lining and all that. I wouldn’t be who I am without these experiences. I have my strength, confidence, determination, reason, empathy and compassion because of and in spite of her. But, dammit, this still sucks right now.
I’ve tried several times to simply accept her, with the hopes that that will make all my emotions go away. But just saying it doesn’t make it so. Plus, accepting her as she is, won’t magically make her the mom I want.
Now, I’m seeing that maybe accepting my feelings about her is the only thing I can do. I can stop beating myself up about her. I didn’t cause her problems. I can’t cure her problems. I can maybe accept that I have feelings about my mom not being around. That’s probably normal, right? I probably don’t even have to justify my feelings with a lengthy story like the one above. I can just have my feelings. I have a right to feel. I can feel hurt, angry and sad that my mother is emotionally and phsyically unavailable.
This is definitely cathartic.
As for mother’s day, maybe I’ll go pick out a nice card for myself. Because learning how to mother myself – a headstrong, calloused, know-it-all – certainly isn’t easy!