Today I want to talk about my Mother – and not in the carefree and lighthearted way I have mentioned her prior. Yes she is funny, often texts only in rhyme and limerick, and I’ve painted her character to showcase the brightness and hilarity she encompasses – a part of her I very much appreciate. I want to be honest without coming across as ungrateful, sour, or pretentious. Because it feels really shitty to shit on our parents – they are the ones who selflessly gave us life, and mine in particular gave me a fairly decent one, providing me with opportunities and support I know not every person gets.
When I talk about my Mom, I don’t talk about the box of Franzia that was forever in the fridge (judgement free zone Roseanne, I often have a bladder of Malbec at my disposal at any given time) but that it sometimes made her mean. I don’t talk about the fact when I was going through normal teenage stuff she jumped at the chance to schlep me from one Doctor to the next and consented to cocktails full of prescriptions I probably didn’t need. Luck eventually happened to gift me a psychiatrist who took one look at me and deemed that “there was absolutely nothing wrong with me.” He recognized my Mom’s eagerness to have a child suffering from mental illness and said “We’re going to get you off all of this and you’ll feel better, but we need to convince your Mom it was her idea.” I was sixteen and I realize now, having gone through all the ethics courses I took in getting my Master’s, how utterly fucked he could have been. It was a giant risk for him to trust me, to recognize the dysfunction in our parent/child relationship, and in the end – he gave me the chance to enjoy the formative remaining years of my adolescent life and the ability to see why I needed autonomy from my Mother.
Her parenting style was chaotic and we never knew what to expect. One of her favorite things to do was to “trash” our rooms. It wasn’t uncommon for my sister and I to return home after school to all of the contents of our drawers dumped on the floor and personal effects strewn about. Sometimes she would chase us around the house in anger until we slammed our doors and locked them, holding the locks in place so she couldn’t get in. Then she would scream from the hallway, leave, and eventually return with a sugary sweet voice and some sort of offering. It was usually a snack, her favorite was making a fruit platter, and she’d say “I’m sorry, let’s just forgot about that,” or worse – pretend absolutely nothing had happened at all. Due to the unpredictability of her nature, it was hard to be honest with her – you could never trust her emotional response.
Needless to say, when it was time to go away for college – I was beyond relieved. I wanted to go as far away as possible but she insisted they would only financially help me if I stayed within a certain radius. Looking back, I wish I’d been astute enough to know about things like financial aid or the fact I could get a job and pave my own way, but I was eighteen. As the years passed and I became more independent from my Mother, I began to look at my upbringing from a different perspective, to heal and have compassion for her. My Mother didn’t talk about her childhood and has now been estranged from her family for over a decade. She was born 1/11 children into an Irish Catholic family and lived in a two-bedroom house. I don’t know much about her growing up because she doesn’t talk about it, nor will she explain the decision she made to sever ties with her siblings. She ran away from home at 19 and met my Dad. She thought he was cute and moved her beach blanket closer to his each time he went down to the water, until their blankets were side by side.
You would think with a cute story like that, their courtship and eventual matrimony would be blissful. The very last time I remember them ever sharing a bedroom I was five-years-old. My Mother spent most of my life lived with her lost, in a loveless marriage, working the same job (where she still is), and never having the opportunity to go to college or experience much. So she does deserve an IV of Franzia, and while it was less than favorable to endure – I understand that she is a human who went through stuff, and will continue to go through stuff – which we are all allowed to do.
After college my sister and I dawdled around the East Coast for a bit until we both ended up moving out West in 2007. I remember people asking repeatedly if I was going to miss my family and I never knew what to say – my sister was going to live a mere 519 miles from me in Salt Lake, and that’s the only thing that felt important. When I first moved I made the trip back home several times a year until I realized how stressful and unfulfilling these trips were for me. I was showing up, but I didn’t want to be there. My Mother’s old behaviors would always resurface. One time when my sister and I returned for our Grandfather’s funeral, we made tentative plans to go to our Mother’s favorite restaurant at 6pm for dinner and drinks. My Grandmother as you can imagine was tearful and weary from the ordeal of losing her husband, so we spent the time after the service thumbing through old photographs and reminiscing with her. My Mother texted us multiple times and we let her know we were running late. When we pulled up our street at 6:10, she was pulling out of the driveway. When asked where she was going, clearly dressed for our trip to ‘Mill on the River,’ she said she was “running to the post office.” She had no mail with her. What she was doing was the ever manipulative game of making us think she left to induce momentary guilt, and then she’d come back around eventually after circling the neighborhood for awhile, and we’d be on our merry way. This was a favorite game of hers.
Now, in the time we have been gone she has done a lot of good things for herself – she’s delved into community service, clubs, and became a fixture in the tiny town we came from. She goes to Happy Hour with her wide circle of friends and my sister and I often receive text messages of her with a large glass of Chardonnay and a smile. When we don’t reply, we receive the same picture again several days later or perhaps an email with it attached. She doesn’t ask us how we are, what we’re doing, or what our life looks like. I’m not sure what she tells people when they ask about her daughters bar her knowing very little about our vested interests, or actual day-to-day. This all came up for me recently because I found myself getting angry with her. We’d received a text from our Mother and I felt frustrated. “I can’t remember the last time she asked me how I was,” I said. “It’s been months.” A lot has happened in my life in the last year – I lost a job I cared a lot about, suffered plenty of heartache, and also had some really great transformations and happenings in my world. I felt like every time I tried to share about me, it would get flipped back to her and the notion of reciprocity would be null and void. My solution was to simply stop responding to her, until she asked me a question, any question.
I let this go on for a few weeks before my sister pointed out I was kind of playing an unfair game – and she was absolutely right. I was being passive aggressive, and passive aggressive people are some of my least favorite people. It wasn’t like I said “Hey, I feel like you only reach out when it’s about you and you haven’t shown any interest in my life or what I’m doing for quite a long time. I’d love to talk to you but I’d appreciate some give and take and need to feel like you care about what I’m doing as well.” I had an expectation of her, but had given no communication regarding it. Will I give that communication? Probably not. As much as I wish that we kind of had the relationship where we could be open, I don’t think she is capable to receive. My resolve was that instead of ignoring her, I would acknowledge her with limited energy, find peace and process in myself, and move on.
I love my Mother. She is kind, generous, sweet, and puts her heart in good places. I love my Mother. She is also manipulative, difficult, erratic, and turbulent some of the time. I have struggled with this dichotomy of sorts for my entire life and I’m not going to lie – it’s an uncomfortable place to sit, and I’d love to pick another chair at the table. But I can’t. What I’ve come to learn are two things: 1.) I have not healed from my childhood and as much as I don’t want to think that still affects me it does. This is the first time I’ve written anything like this and my brain feels like a goddamn bowl of oatmeal after what this has brought up. 2.) I now get to choose my relationship with my Mother. Not looking at her like my Mother, is the most helpful thing I have been able do. Instead of rationalizing and excusing her behavior because she birthed me, I look at it like this: “What would I tell someone if they had a friend who treated them in this capacity or acted with this behavior?” Not glorifying my Mom has helped me set boundaries in what I am willing and not willing to accept in our adult relationship. I can’t change the past or who she is, but I can choose how and if it will impact me.
I am thankful for compassion, for my chosen family, and for all my genetic family. I chose to see and honor my Mother’s light, the parts of her that make me laugh and give me joy, the pieces of her I know are inside me. I chose to forgive the past but to be mindful of the energy I expend in the present on the parts that are triggering or unpleasant. I understand my Mother is just another person in this world with her own set of shit and I honor the hell out of that. It just wasn’t always easy to be along for the ride. I truly believe she did the best she could, and I have no idea how I’d mitigate my own world if I was also responsible for tiny humans. I realize this writing may not be what you’re used to seeing from me – there’s the musings about life and lessons learned, that sparkle of dry wit – but this is raw, vulnerable, and real. I want you to know life is good on my end but that for whatever reason I’m processing a lot right now, and I am choosing to share it. For me, for you – for the hopes someone who is or has been in a similar space finds solace in my words. That is why I write.