Not having my mother breaks my heart every single day.

I went days without thinking about my mother when she was alive. It was easier that way. If I thought about her, I had to think about the time that was passing. If I considered trying to rebuild a relationship with her, while I still could, I had to think realistically about how that would look. At first, she’d be thrilled. Then she’d be clingy. Then she’d be pushy. Then she’d be hostile. I had to consider how that would impact my life. If she started showing up at my work again, how would that effect my career? If she showed up at my home, how would that influence my marriage and eventually my children? If she could have a relationship with me, what would she demand of my relationship with my grandmother, my father, my step-mother? It was easier not to think about her… about who she once was… about who she’d become… and most of all, who she could have been. If I didn’t think about her, I could hold onto the idea that there would always be time to fix things… somehow.

My mother died a year ago on May 10th. After six years of not thinking about her, I don’t think there’s been a day that’s passed that I haven’t grieved her loss. I try to focus on the good memories, but after all this time, they’re just so tangled up with the far more plentiful bad ones that I can’t separate them. I know my mother loved me. She just wasn’t very good at it. I wish I could remember more about the former than the latter.

The other night, I dreamt that I traveled through time and got the chance to speak to my mom at some vague point in my life when she was mentally well. I told her that I missed her, that I missed what we were supposed to have together. When she asked me why, I told her she had died at 60 and that we hadn’t spoken in four years when she passed. It broke her heart, just as it breaks mine every day. I told her that I loved her and that I knew she loved me, but that she wasn’t mentally well, that she hurt me, so we couldn’t be together. I apologized for being so mean to her as a teenager and told her that it was okay that she wasn’t perfect, that I knew she tried. I cried and hugged her and she cried with me. I tried to hold on as the dream faded, begged her to get the help she needed, to fix things. I’ve never been so heartbroken to wake up.

My mother broke my heart a hundred times when she was alive. She broke my heart when my dad left and she pulled me out of bed in the middle of the night to bury a statue of Saint Thomas Moore in the flowerbed and pray for him to come back, while I stood there freezing in my nightgown every night for a week. She broke my heart the time she chased my brother and I through the house beating us with a belt buckle… when she stood slapping me in the face over and over again until I took on what she considered a respectful tone…when she dragged me across the house by my hair and nearly broke all of my toes. She broke my heart when she kept me from my dad with lies about child molestation… when she hit me in the face with a stepladder… when she found out I was cutting myself and used it as leverage to threaten me with institutionalization… when she dosed me with 250 daily milligrams of Wellbutrin to make me more manageable. She broke my heart the countless times she chose my dad over me, my brother over me, and most of all, when she left me my senior year, to go live with a man she met online.

My mother wasn’t a good mother. I know that. I also know that, at one time, that’s what she wanted to be more than anything in the world. She wanted a daughter so badly and I am just so fucking sorry that I couldn’t give that to her. She abused me, mentally and physically, from the time I was eight years old. What would another few years have really meant in the grand scheme of things? Why couldn’t I have just accepted her relentless drama, paranoia, hypochondria, and hostility just to make her happy? No one ever made me her happy. I don’t know if she was ever truly happy in her life. It would have made her happy though, if I’d responded to her last text message, six months before she died, asking to get lunch. I considered it, but we were in the worst of the pandemic and I was just wrapping up a round of IVF. I couldn’t risk exposure. I also knew she’d only bring stress and chaos into my life. It would have made her so happy to know that I was having twins, though. I wish I’d told her.

I don’t find motherhood difficult, despite what all the mommy blogs warned me to expect. It’s heartbreaking, however, not to have my own mother here. My Gramma is a wonderful figure in my life, in many ways the woman my mother never could be for me, but she’ll also be 88 soon. I know that the time I have to call her and share stories of Scarlett trying to climb the dog and Violet chewing on Jake’s Crocs is limited. I know that one day soon, she’ll be gone too and I’ll have no one, in that sense. My mother should be here. We should be having the standard mother/daughter fights she had with my Gramma when I was little, about buying my kids too much stuff or giving them too much candy. She should be accompanying us on zoo trips, watching the girls ooh and ahh over the fish. She should have 20 years of shopping trips with us to look forward to… but it’s just me, doing all these things alone, because my Gramma has grown too old.

I’ve always wanted a healthy mother/daughter relationship, even if that meant being on the other side. It’s okay that I’ll only ever have that with my girls. I am so grateful to have even that much after all it took to get them. Every single day, though, I look at the picture of my mother and me on my first birthday. I look like the perfect combination of Violet and Scarlett. I think about what they would say to me now, if they could travel back in time, what kind of mother I’ll be to them and how it compares to my own aspirations. I think about the relationship my mother wanted to have with me and how sour it turned. Every day, it breaks my heart all over again… for me and for her. I am so sorry this is how it all turned out and I will never forgive myself for not trying harder.

Shout-Out to the Children of the Mentally Ill

I’m an active Facebook user. I love seeing people grow up and be happy. That’s why, even though I knew I’d regret it, I still thumbed through all of the photos of my friends with their moms. The sentiments were all the same. She’s their best friend, their major source of support, and an amazing grandma. She’s seen them through everything and taught them everything they needed to know about life.

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Naturally, there were no shout-outs to the children of the mentally ill.

When I was nine, I found out I needed to wear deodorant when my dad snapped that I stank, assuming my mother had had that talk with me. I opened my first training bra in front of my family on Christmas, from an aunt who was trying to send my mother a hint. I came home crying, one day in middle school, because the other kids said I had a mustache. I mostly gave up on makeup in eighth grade, because I didn’t really know how to apply it and had no one to show me. My mother didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know as a teenager and certainly not as an adult, considering she left me to live with her boyfriend two hours away, during my senior year.

I wish I could only feel anger. I know that’s not healthy, but I think it might be more bearable than this deep-set ache I’m feeling these days as I remember the good times we did have. Even though absent-minded about things like making sure there were tampons in the house, that I was wearing the right cup size, and keeping the electricity on… even when she was filling my head with lies about my dad molesting me and dosing me with 250 mg of Welbutrin so I wouldn’t leave her abuse…  there were good times with her. In my mother’s addled mind, we were only ever the Gilmore Girls, laughing over B movies and eating raw cookie dough. The mind of the mentally ill cannot be deciphered, so I don’t know how she rationalizes all of those other things, if she even acknowledges them. All I know is that she’s sitting at home on Mother’s Day, wondering what happened, why her babies don’t love her, while I’m sitting at home desperately missing the woman who hid the Easter eggs twenty times, because I had so much fun searching for them.

To this day, my big, tough, redneck dad still tears up talking about the mistakes he made. I’m the one who assures him it’s all good. There’s nothing to be done about it, not a DeLorean in sight, and we can go from here. I’ve tried that so many times with my mother and it’s ended the exact same way each and every time as I hysterically weep into the phone to either Gail or my Gramma that I wish Kitty Forman was my mom.

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The last time I initiated contact with my mother was two years ago. I say initiated, because she’s taken to showing up at my work, claiming there’s something physically wrong with her, deliberately speaking in stilted sentences and walking slowly. She’s told me herself the doctors can’t find anything and I’ve watched her become animated and drop the act as she gets engaged in conversation. My grandpa was our pediatrician and although he loved my mother, he thought she was making us sick, long before such things were used as plot twists in horror movies and Law and Order episodes. Today, either she or her husband is doing the same and I just can’t be a part of it. She refuses to get mental help and I refuse to entertain her insanity. I’m at a point in my life where I have to choose, and I choose me and my future family. So, today, as all the normal folks purchase flowers, take their mothers to lunch and movies, I think of all the future moments for which I won’t have a mom.

My mother won’t be there to help me choose a wedding dress, argue about how I have to have flowers, or even meet Jake, because I can’t invite her to the wedding. She’s burned too many bridges and too many people are uncomfortable around her, myself included. She won’t be able to guide me through my first pregnancy or answer questions about how to get the baby to stop crying. She’ll never take a three generations photograph on Mother’s Day, with me and my daughter. I won’t even have anyone to walk me through basic aging, like grey hair and menopause. I have so many good people in my life, including many who mother me, like Gail, my Gramma, Laura, Karol, my step-mom Lena, my Grandma Kay, and most certainly a mother-in-law one day. I’ll never have my mom, though… just a shell who resembles her less and less… and that hurts more than her absence. I suppose that’s just how it goes for the children of the mentally ill and you all have my sympathy.

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What is it about mothers?

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What is it about mothers?

There’s no other relationship that, no matter how abusive or toxic, society tells us we’re obligated to repair. Grandparents are often photographs and maybe a birthday card. Brothers and sisters can live entire lives without crossing paths, once they’ve reached adulthood. Dads are practically optional in American society. We’re not even obligated to our spouses. Mothers, though… mothers are worshiped. It’s really quite beautiful that we demand such respect for women who gave their youth, their bodies, their tears, and their hearts to their children, only to watch them leave. This week, the Humans of New York Facebook page is covered with stories of actual mothers who gave every part of themselves to better their children’s lives. All over the country, people are having Gilmore Girls marathons, ordering flowers, maybe even catching planes… because it’s your mom.

“It’s your mom.”

That’s what they say. That’s what they always say, no matter the time of year, like it excuses everything. They don’t understand that just because I have a mom… it doesn’t mean I have a mom. All of these relationships can be explained away in a sentence or two…

“Oh, I never really knew my grandparents.”
“My siblings and I aren’t really close.”
“I don’t have a dad.”

… but tell someone you won’t be calling your mom on Mother’s Day and you’re lucky if you only get a loaded silence. I, myself, share your sweet memories of school field trips, movie marathons, and birthday pancakes. I smile over remembered arguments about what to wear on picture day, how to fix my hair, and whether or not I could watch that movie. I understand your fondness for your mother, because I remember what it was like to have one. Those memories, however, have long since been overshadowed by the far more recent ones of threats, manipulation, abuse, and abandonment. I didn’t get to debate over the value of Greek life, during my senior year. I got left for an online boyfriend two hours away. I didn’t just argue with my mother over wedding plans. I got to inform her that if she hit me one more time, I’d be pressing charges. I didn’t get pancakes for my last mother/daughter birthday. I got screamed at for suggesting therapy. I got a birthday cookie hurled at my front door.

It’s not that I don’t want to see my mom. It’s that she’s not here, anymore. I miss my birthday pancakes so much it hurts. It hurts a lot more, though, to reconcile and sit across from someone who looks like her and sounds like her, and think I finally have her back… only to end up crying over episodes of That 70’s Show about how I wish Kitty Foreman could be my mom… because that’s what we do. You have lunch and manicures with your mother, with whom your biggest disagreement was a boyfriend or car or apartment. The women whose mothers have been taken by addiction or mental illness… we fantasize about our favorite fictional moms and do our best to get our mothering elsewhere. If we’re lucky, we have caring dads, aunts, friends, to walk us through the hard times… but it’s never enough, because there’s just something about mothers.

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No Wire Hangers

::Last week to Gail::
Me: I hope she’s nice to me. I’m really looking forward to it.

::text::
Me: I’m crying in my mother’s SUV now. I am perpetually 14 years old in her presence.
Me: The night got a whole lot worse. Worst birthday celebration EVER.
Gail: Where are you? Do you need a ride home? Are you okay? What happened? 

Dad: “Just quit crying and tell me what happened.”

Me: “… and then she told me I never had to speak to her again for the rest of my life.”
Dad: “I can’t believe she fucking said that. She has no business being anyone’s fucking mother.
Me: “… and… and… she bought me a present I actually liked, instead of like last year, when she yelled at me for not wearing the lipstick… and… and it was normal before that and then she… she… ruined everything!” 
Dad: “Did you call your grandma?”
Me: “I talked to her earlier, before this all happened.”
Dad: “Well, call your grandma and see if you she can help you calm down.” 

Me: “… and then she started telling me that she had a bad example as a mom and that you stole us from her. When I told her that I forgot you were an evil baby stealer, she said she’d never said that. She had literally just said that!  I hate when she starts in on you!!!! It’s like a haze of rage!!!!!”
Gramma: “Belle, don’t worry about it. She can’t upset me. I know what she thinks about me. It doesn’t even phase me anymore.”

Me: “… and then she told me my Gramma convinced me she was crazy, so I told her that the time she mooned us on the front lawn while screaming like a banshee and flipping us off did that for me and that my Gramma defends her. She insisted that I told her my Gramma said she was crazy and I explained that she must have just been distracted, because she was foaming at the mouth and with the taste of all that crazy, it must’ve been hard to concentrate.”
Gail: ::snort:: “At least it was still funny.”
Me: “Ugh. I lost it. I said all those things I joke about when I call you pissed, so I don’t say them to her. When I said that she said ‘… and what were you doing? Cutting yourself?’ My mom threw my self-mutilation in my face during my birthday celebration.
Gail: ::silence:: “I’m so sorry.”
Me: “I wish she would get help, but if I tell her that, she gets pissed and insists my Gramma told me to say it.”

::text::
Me: … and then she hurled the cookies at my front door and drove off.
Jane: Wow. All I can say is wow.

::text::
I’m so sorry I ruined your birthday. I was trying very hard to make it special. I love you always no matter what. I’m always here if you need me. I will give you space. You know my phone number & address. I hope your real birthday is very happy
.

It’s adorable how much my dad does not know how to deal with his crying daughter, when the solution isn’t money. I have such good people in my life, but I miss the mom that put birthday candles in pancakes. She’s gone though, and I don’t know why.