mother daughter relationship

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

We never really had a chance to grow in a relationship together. You were gone from my life too soon. Before that, you were busy battling your inner demons on your own, unbeknownst to me. All I know is that we never had a chance to grow together and learn who the other was, firsthand.

I resented and despised you for so long. Since I was already that resentful, angry, confused, lost little girl, I was numb when I learned of your suicide. The women around me were wailing and crying. I knew they thought I was wrong for not crying, too. So, I manufactured the tears that would keep me “safe” from their stares of condemnation. My grief was an empty, hollow thing, amorphous and disconnected.

It’s been walled away for such a long time. I don’t think I believed it really existed. Though, there have been times it seeped through the cracks and manifested.

The first time was eight or nine months after that fateful night.

There was a boy who I’d started a friendship with, once school started that year. 7th grade is hard enough. But, I was the new kid, again. My saving grace was that it was everyone’s first day at the new school. So, I made a friend a little easier than all the times before. Anyway, I told him about you and what you had done. I don’t remember how he reacted to that news.

I do know that I rather quickly fell out of favor. But, that probably had more to do with my highly reactive emotions and physical attacks toward anyone, any boy, I thought was teasing and making fun of me…mostly for being fat. Anyway, by the end of the school year, I had one friend…and it wasn’t Jason.

There was one girl, Cathy, who was friendly to everyone. I wanted her friendship, but didn’t know how to be a friend. So, I hovered on the fringes. One day, in the cafeteria. I wanted to talk to her. She was surrounded by others, including Jason. He got irritated by my presence and said something rude, telling me to go away. I told him to go to Hell.

“I’ve already been there…and your mother’s just fine.”

For the first time, my tears for you were real. Of course, I only let the walls of the bathroom stall see them. Then, I pushed them away. Later that day, I marched to Jason’s house and basically threatened his life if he ever talked about you again. But that was pretty much the last time you were part of my childhood.

The next time, I was about 22 and going through my first nervous breakdown. I saw your face, instead of my own, in the bathroom mirror. Obviously, I was more than a little freaked out. So, I did what I do. I wrote it out in the form of a poem:

The Dolphin and The Sea

I saw your face this morning,
as I peered into the glass.
I was startled into yearning,
and knew I had to ask.

I reached beyond the present,
deep into the past;
to find the answer, so unpleasant,
to discover peace at last.

Why did you leave? Where did you go?
I had no chance to tell you all I wanted you to know.

You were my heroine. You were my bane.
You were bright and shining, and not quite sane.

You were full of madness, yet masked it well.
You hid your sadness, ’til your wall fell.

Once that happened, there was no hope.
You were so frightened, you could not cope.

I turned from you as you turned toward me.
I disappointed you. You disappointed me.

I never intended to be your disciple.
I never intended to repeat your strife.
The time has come to break the cycle.
It is time for me to separate from your life.

Though your time on earth is ended,
You are still a part of me.
You and I are spirits, kindred,
as the dolphin and the sea.

The point is, I miss you. I always have, even though I didn’t know it. I miss not having a mom I can turn to when my heart is hurting because I see my kids struggling and I want to ask you how you did it…except, you didn’t. You couldn’t. I know that, if you could have made other choices, you would have.

But, I did learn from you. You taught me to never give up on myself and to never leave my kids behind, no matter how lost, alone, confused, and overwhelmed I became. You also taught me that no matter how angry, mean, and rejecting my kids were, to never let them go.

Those lessons have paid off. I’m turning 50 in a few weeks, Momma. 50. Can you believe it? You didn’t make it to 29. My kids are 32, 25, and 10. I have three grandkids: 5, 4, and 1.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s still hard today. But, it’s getting better. My oldest, who was so wounded by me and who basically disowned me seven years ago, called the other day. (We both worked hard and reconnected over the past several years.) Anyway, he called me to tell me he realized and is glad that I never left them. I get to have a relationship with my adult daughter and her three children. I’m actively parenting a brilliant, challenging daughter who experiences the world through the Autism Spectrum.

I’m sorry the Depression robbed you of so much. I hope you know how much you gave to me and to the world. I’m here. Your grandchildren are here. Your great-grandchildren are here. None of us would be, if you hadn’t been first. I miss you. I love you.

Forever your daughter,
Me

Changing your fate: Conflict and relationships

“If you had the chance to change your fate, would ya’?” ~ Princess Merida, Brave 2012

My girls and I went to see Brave yesterday, as a belated birthday celebration for LaLa.  Sure she’s 19, but after watching the first trailer, I knew it was something I wanted to share with her as well as Luna. Lachesis showed up in the form of the “short” that opened the movie, “La Luna.” It informed me I was in a defining moment by being there with both my daughters.  La Luna foreshadowed what I perceived to be the primary theme of the movie itself: conflict and relationships.  The trailers make Brave seem to be about a young woman’s efforts to define her own future, and it is.  However, I think the actual primary theme is about conflict and the restoration of relationships.  The mother-daughter relationship was definitely the central story, but other relationships were touched on as well: father-daughter, husband-wife, siblings, and community.  Each of these had moments where conflict and restoration were involved in the overall story.

Conflict in relationships has been a constant in my life for so long, I’m not sure I can recall a time when one or more key relationships wasn’t conflicted.  As in the movie, much of the conflict in my life has been as a result of a strong desire to fight against my perceived fate and my determined pride in knowing that I had the right of it as opposed to someone else’s vision or ideas.

I am a walking, talking, living, breathing set of statistics.  I have been most of my life.  Born of a teen mom who lived a nomadic life filled with broken relationships and ended in a suicidal depression, I understood at a young age I would be going against a tide of assumptions and expectations. Prior to my mom’s death I was taken in by my uncle and the statistics kept stacking up, living in a household with partying, swinging, pot-smoking 70’s throwbacks.  A divorce and custody battle between my aunt and uncle meant I had to fend for myself and try to be there for my little cousin.  The resentment and bitterness I formed against the adults in my world grew into a mountain of self-defeating rebellion.  I jumped from the frying pan into the fire and ran away from home with a man who was 14 years older than me. And so began my pre-destined course to becoming a teenage welfare mom.

The next three and a half years were spent living out of cars, hitchhiking across the country, and playing on people’s pity for survival.  By the time I was 19, I was the poster child for statistical failure; a single-mom, without a diploma or GED, and dependent on welfare. Determined to counter society’s expectations and my deepest fears, I sent myself into hyper-drive with school.  No way was I going to be the poster girl for welfare motherhood.

At the same time, I immersed myself in relationships with people who needed me to help fix them, in my not so humble opinion.  People who were more damaged than I saw myself as.  I inserted myself into their lives and involved myself in their activities.  I was the social queen bee who knew it all and had the intellect and the verbal skills to back it up.  Making myself necessary and central to people’s lives meant I would never be alone.  Surrounding myself with those who were somehow “less than” meant I wouldn’t be at risk of being hurt, used, and damaged the way I had been in the past.  Of course, I wasn’t conscious of either of these things. My certainty that I knew what was best and right for others, combined with my refusal to heed suggestions and advice about my own situation eventually put me into conflict with everyone who was important to me.

Within three years, I imploded.  I burned the candle at both ends, socially and academically. I involved myself in overly complicated and twisted relationships. These choices grew the guilt and knowledge that I was sacrificing my son and his needs in order to “fight my fate.” I landed in a very dark place. In my heart and mind I knew I didn’t know how to be a good mom or a good friend.  I felt disconnected from everyone, everything, and even myself.  I manufactured good feelings to put on a false front.  I came across as a happy, motivated, and functional woman, but underneath it all I all I felt was numb layered over a deep sense of futility. My core deep belief was that no matter hard and frantic I worked to change and improve myself and my life, I was destined for failure. Instead of committing suicide, I got blackout drunk and withdrew from college the next day.

Nine months later, on November 3, 1992, just before I went to cast my ballot, I found out I was pregnant with my second child.  I was a 23, back in school, and living with my grandmother.  I took the phone call from the doctor’s office and when I told my grandmother she slammed down the knife she was using to chop vegetables and angrily informed me that I was never going to amount to anything or get anywhere in my life.  This was after telling me at one point during the previous two years that she wasn’t going to let my little boy drive her crazy and to suicide the way I drove my mom. The statements from my grandma just summed up everything I was fighting against inside of myself.  So, without realizing it, my internalized fate was that of a woman who would never amount to much and would drive the people in her life away.

The past 20 years have been spent spinning my wheels trying to change my fate and despairing of ever being able to do so. Yesterday, after the movie, LaLa and I talked quite a bit.  We talked about depression, our relationships with each other and her brother, as well as the subjects of destiny, fate, and pride.  She shared with me that even though she’s said harsh and hurtful things to me and has gone through her times of intense dislike of me, it was never a thought in her mind that she would cut off all communication and relationship with me.  I was able to let her know that no matter what feelings or thoughts she experiences toward me as she goes through her life, I will always be available to her.  I realized that despite my internalized fears and certainties, my fate is changing, I am growing, and although it’s being redefined, success is achievable.

“To change your fate, look inside, to mend the bonds, broken by pride” ~ Witch, Brave 2012