… the musings of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian turned Stay-At-Home-Mom with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
My mother has been dead for two years, today. I woke up at 4:30 remembering all the awful things I ever did or said to her. I prayed for forgiveness for not being a better daughter. I thought about the trendiness of going no contact. I considered how if I could change it, I’d have put up with her drama, her antics, and her awful husband for a few more years if I’d only known she’d be gone so soon. I could have just made her happy. I also admitted that I didn’t have much of a choice without that knowledge.
I’ve been scanning the photos my mother left behind, so I can make an album for each decade. She always wanted to do that, but never had the organization skills. Every picture I see of her young, beautiful, happy, and hopeful breaks my heart. I hate that her life went the way it did. I hate myself for the part I had in it, no matter my lack of options. I frequently imagine how different things could have been, had she been well. I fantasize about what we should have had together. I think about how much she’d have loved her grandkids. I picture her going to the zoo with us, taking them shopping, having sleepovers… making all the wonderful memories I have with my Gramma.
I found a photo of my mother with my brother, when he was almost exactly Thomas’s age. I imagined where she’d have seen herself 38 years later, where I’ll be 38 years from now. I’m not sure I’ve gone a week since her death without envisioning myself alone in my final days, my children not having spoken to me for years. I can’t fathom the pain I would feel if Violet, Scarlett, or Thomas one day wanted nothing to do with me. I quit my career to do things differently. I’m there for every hug, every tantrum, every giggle. I clean obsessively, so my children will grow up in a tidy, healthy home, while simultaneously trying to balance my need for order with their need for fun and freedom. I take them to every doctor’s appointment, soothe every fever, kiss every owie. Sometimes, I cry when I lose my patience or snap at my babies, thinking that this will be the moment they stop loving me. I spend every day of my life with something to prove, praying it’s enough, that I have children who will adore their mother the way they’re supposed to, who will be by her side when she goes. I workout and eat right, with it in the back of my mind how much I desperately hope to live long enough to see my grandkids, while praying my children allow me to do so.
I’m not stupid. I know my mother wasn’t innocent in how her life unfolded. I know that she was abusive, manipulative, and deeply mentally ill. I know I couldn’t heal her. I also know she wanted something so very different. So, for one day, two years from the moment I forever ran out of time to fix things, I just want to hate myself. I want to wallow and weep as the good memories flow through my mind alongside the bad. I’m just so fucking sorry. I don’t want calls from the family who never treated her properly. I certainly don’t want to hear their historical rewrites. I just want to keep scanning my photos while I cry. I just want to watch Twilight and be sad.
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.
When your mother dies, people will be heartbroken. They’ll cry and grieve and mourn at her bedside and again at her funeral. There will be moments when they think of her and remember she’s dead and it will tear them up all over again. They’ll comfort themselves with the knowledge that she had a good life. My mother died on Monday and no one cares.
I hadn’t spoken to my mother in four and a half years. She was not a well woman. A variety of untreated mental illnesses and a man who enabled them manifested in a range of problematic behavior, from paranoia and intense hypochondria to manipulation and cruelty. She was overbearing to the point that any allowance for a relationship resulted in her constant calls, texts, and showing up at my apartment or work, which always derailed into the above behavior. I once declined a lunch invitation, because I had to work, only to receive the response “What happened to the daughter I loved?” More than once, she told of an illness or surgery and deliberately lead me to believe the situation was life-threatening, only to later admit that it was mild or elective. If I suggested she get help, it was always part of a larger plot against her.
These interactions were not limited to me. My brother would respond to this behavior with as much vitriol as he could muster, something that was not in short supply when it came to our mother. She had few friends, if any. She’d long since distanced herself from her extended family, when she married my dad. She’d “quit” her job years earlier, citing ambiguous health problems that didn’t really add up; though I suspect she was fired for chronic tardiness, among other things. Even my grandmother, a woman capable of more grace and forgiveness than anyone I’ve ever known, eventually reached her limit, when my mother self-published a book vilifying her and distributed copies to her whole family. Although I truly don’t think my mother was capable of understanding this betrayal and actually expected praise, my grandma couldn’t get past it and our Christmases became separate that year.
On my 26th birthday, my mother took me out for the day. We had a nice time at first, as we usually did. We went shopping, ate sushi, and she gave me the complete boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu-Ray. Afterward, she needed to make a “quick stop” at Best Buy, which turned into a two hour errand. I worked two jobs at the time and desperately wanted to get home to get some things done and spend time with my dog. I became increasingly frustrated, but tried to keep calm. I eventually offered to have my dad take me home, since he lived nearby. This sent my mother into a rage that resulted in a heated fight on the drive home. I remember telling her she needed mental help, as she began to deliberately drive recklessly, and her cruelly mocking me for self-harming in high school. After she dropped me off at my apartment, I heard a thump. She had hurled the leftover birthday cookie at my door and sped off. I was done. Happy birthday, Belle.
Though I never received an apology, less than a year later, I tried to reconnect for a few months, only to have similar results and once again cease contact. A year or two after that, she showed up at my work one day and, instead of turning her away, I had a nice conversation with her, about my job, Jake, my pets, the life I had planned. She told me of some ailments that the doctors “couldn’t explain” and described symptoms that seemed either fabricated or psychological, knowing her history, but I left it alone. I’d missed her. I’d missed having a mother, even one who wasn’t mentally stable and I couldn’t speak on her health with certainty. I was still hesitant to take the relationship much further, however, as the above events were just the latest of my efforts at a mother/daughter bond throughout my twenties.
Four months later, my mother showed up at my new job site, which was still under construction, bypassed all signs and laborers and entered “just to say hi,” though she lived an hour and a half away. I couldn’t get her to leave, even after insisting that I could get in real trouble for having my mother visit an ongoing construction site. She was baffled at why it was a problem and I had to rudely insist she go. This time she was using a walker, for symptoms that may or may not have been legitimate. I’ll never know. The system director arrived thirty minutes later and I still think I could have, at the very least, seriously damaged my reputation with the director and other members of upper management. It finally set in that it was all or none with her. After 10 years of similar behavior, I no longer had the energy for all, so I chose none. That’s the last time I spoke to her, December of 2016.
This was my adult relationship with my mother. It doesn’t even touch on the abuse of my teen years. I’d grown up with the “wait until your father gets home” threat and my mother had no idea how to discipline a teenager on her own. More often than not, she tried to be my best friend and we had some great times eating cookie dough and watching bad horror movies, talking about our favorite shows and books, gossiping over the cute boys at school. Then, she’d inevitably want me to do something I didn’t want to do and the argument would escalate to physical abuse. After a particularly brutal night, in which she dragged me across the house by my hair, I began discussing moving in with my dad, who was simply the lesser evil at the time, and she told me a story about how he had molested me, insisting I’d blocked it out. Not only did I no longer consider moving in with him, I didn’t talk to him for five years, from the ages of 13-18.
Not long after, my mother somehow managed to have me prescribed a 250mg daily dose of Wellbutrin, without in-person therapy. During our arguments, she’d frequently threaten to have me committed to a psych ward. The physical abuse worsened and each time, she felt horrible, once even insisting that I beat her back with the same dog leash. It was a volatile relationship, in which she had all the power… until she left me, during my senior year, to live with the boyfriend she’d met online, the man she eventually married and seemingly decided was her whole world. Only then did I put the pieces together and accept that my dad might not have been perfect, but he wasn’t a child molester and my mother was, at best, mentally ill and terrified of being alone.
She wasn’t always like this. Before the separation and eventual divorce, before the brain tumor, she showed signs of mental instability, but they were far less frequent, usually just rages far exceeding what the situation warranted or manic episodes where she’d focus on a single cleaning task for days, creating diagrams we couldn’t read yet, with strict instructions to follow them. In between, she made birthday pancakes and planned elaborate parties, took us on vacations, alone or with my grandmother, volunteered for every school activity, using her leave for field trips and our end of the year bashes. She stayed home with us when we were sick and took us to lunch when she had to take off to drive us to a dentist appointment. She painted green footprints in the bathtub on St. Patrick’s Day and put food dye in the milk. She drove us to every after school activity and helped us with gymnastics and softball, despite how absolutely awful I was at both. She let us keep every stray dog and doted on her poodle. She always loved us, I’d dare say more than my father did, and simply grew increasingly worse at it as her mental state degraded. Over the years, she just became an impossible person to have a relationship with, creating for herself a lonely and sad life since she remarried, with no bonds outside her husband; who encouraged and enabled her every delusion, solidifying her hatred for and distance from my grandmother and her family, my brother’s absolute disdain for her, and my own lack of contact.
Last Monday, my mother had a heart attack. She died on the table twice and was completely brain dead when they brought her back. On Saturday, the day before Mother’s day, they unplugged her and I was able to visit, completely alone, due to Covid-19 restrictions, while Jake waited in the lobby. I expected her to be frail and peaceful, but she was morbidly obese, appeared to be bloated with broken blood vessels in her arms and hands, and her breathing was labored through the effort of working her collapsed lung. I gave her husband the latest ultrasound picture of the babies and asked that she be buried with it, somewhat grateful that she didn’t live to know that she wouldn’t be allowed to see them unless she received the help she denied she needed. I spent the next day ignoring “Happy Mother’s Day” texts, while waiting for that fated one from my brother. I’d always hoped that my mom would get treatment, therapy or medication or both, that we could eventually have something, that I’d once again see a shadow of the woman she used to be… and now it’s over. There’s no more time. As that succinct text message said “mom’s gone”… really and truly this time.
When I was little, my grandma used to take my brother and I out and give us whatever we wanted, usually sugar of some kind. She’d bring us home and I’d be hyped up on M&M’s or ice cream and my mom would be exasperated with her and tell me that one day, when I had children, she would do the same. She would have been my age at the time. When she was my age, my mom pictured a future where she was allowed and alive to see my children. She should have had that. She should have had a better life. She should have been surrounded by her kids and grandchildren and a hodge podge of friends. Instead, she had a lonely and pitiful existence with only the companionship of a miserable little man who exacerbated the many mental issues that ultimately ruined her.
The day after Mother’s Day, my mom died at sixty years old… and no one cares. Besides a lack of friends or coworkers, she had no siblings and wasn’t close with her own family. My father’s family was horrible to her, even before she deserved it, and I’ve spent my entire life hearing the nasty things they have to say about her. While I know my dad would love to offer his comfort and possibly even feels he can relate, from the death of my grandfather, I don’t recall anyone ever telling him they’d like to dance on his dad’s grave and I’m not really interested in discussing his choreography, no matter how justified his anger. Worried that I’d keep it to myself long enough to make it really awkward, though, I had Jake call him and deliver the news with instructions to tell everyone that I don’t want to talk… because beyond my husband and grandma, anyone who says they’re sorry is lying. They’re sorry for me, sorry for my grandma, sorry for my brother and his kids… but no one is sorry for my mother’s lost life, in any sense of the phrase. No one but my grandma and I will cry for her and even those are conflicted tears, because deep down, we’re both happy it’s over for her. She didn’t have a good life and it wasn’t going to get any better. She was losing her grip on reality faster and faster and her health was inarguably failing, as well. There won’t even be a funeral, as her husband insists that she didn’t want a service of any kind, which has always been completely out of character. He’ll be having her cremated to bury her alone, without anyone present, like a stray dog. The woman who made those birthday pancakes and binged on raw cookie dough was gone long ago, but now so is any hope that I’ll ever see her again… and no one cares.
I had it all planned. I would mail the invitations and send a polite, but firm, text message to my mother, simply stating that too many bridges have been burned and she is, therefore, not invited to my wedding. I’d find a way to subtly mention the presence of security, so she knew that if she were to show, it wouldn’t be overlooked. Perhaps I’d even blame my dad, claiming he said he wouldn’t come if she did. After all, the only reason he claimed he was joking when he did say it, was because my step-mom yelled at him. Sure, I hadn’t worked out the details. I hadn’t really told Jake or Gail that she was texting me more lately, trying to mend fences, but I figured I’d let all that be Future Belle’s problem.
I had it all planned, more or less… until she showed up at my new job, unannounced, uninvited, and unwelcome, seeing as how we’re not open and are still a construction zone. When she said my name, I genuinely thought that this could not be happening. Not even she was demented enough to think I’d want to see her at the new job I didn’t tell her about and that it was appropriate to disturb me during my first week, when we were still surrounded by construction workers. I turned, and there she was, with her kicked puppy look, the one that always reminds me of a sad Kathy Bates, the reason I can’t watch movies with Kathy Bates. She stood at the walker I knew she’d been using, despite having informed me specifically that the doctors have told her again and again that there is nothing physically wrong with her… emphasis on physically.
Me: “What are you doing here?”
Her: “I just came to see you.”
Me: “We’re not open. You can’t be here.”
Her: “Okay, I just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to leave. This is a construction zone.”
Her Husband: “Alright, we know. We just came to say hi.”
Me: “You have to go. Now.”
The director of the system had left only hours earlier. I can only imagine what he’d have thought if he had assumed I’d invited my, apparently invalid, mother to tour an unopened library. Fortunately, she and her husband left before anyone but the construction workers noticed, leaving me shaking. I never know what I feel when I see her… anger, pity, longing? This time “ambushed” ranked pretty high, as I typed out a text message to her. It was cruel and hateful and I was angry, but even in hindsight, I can only think how she refuses to respond to any other expression of my wishes. I have asked to be left alone (particularly at work), in every other way I can fathom, so the only thing left, it seemed, was to be ugly… or reprimanded professionally. I pressed send, terrified that her husband, Victor, would return to berate me for it.
Mental illness receives the most blame for who my mother has become, of course, but I place Victor second in that column. My mother has always been… embarrassingly weak. Even when she was young, she was a chameleon through and through, adapting her personality to those who surround her. With my dad, she was convinced she wanted to live on ten acres and spend her money on boots and livestock, neither of which ever gave her any real benefit. After things went south there, she let herself be completely absorbed in having young children, both dressing and acting like a child in many ways, from oversized Tweety Bird t-shirts and fanny packs, to childish humor and hobbies. Perhaps that was part of the cause of the divorce, not necessarily the effect, but I’ll never know. Then, she met this weird little man, who wears a conductor’s hat, lives in isolation, and makes his money from odd jobs and pyramid schemes, both of which naturally required her money, before she quit nursing to watch Netflix and self-diagnose herself on WebMD all day. This was the same man who convinced her to leave me and move in with him my senior year of high school, the reason she couldn’t “afford” my college application fees, the man who frequently tells her how horrible everyone in her life has been to her, increasing his isolation of her to only his home, where he plays into her contrived illnesses and doesn’t allow her to drive.
I think, often, about how different my mother would be, had she married someone even remotely normal. Perhaps she’d still be working, exposing herself to the outside world and the people in it. Maybe she’d share some random hobby with him, like disc golf or traveling with Renaissance Fairs. Maybe she’d still exist, period, because she is simply a shell of herself, today, and a poor one at that. Gone is the woman who insisted we wear my Gramma’s matching Christmas outfits for the family photo… who volunteered to chaperone every field trip and supplied cupcakes for every class party… who took me out of daycare just because she had the day off. I don’t even recognize her anymore, but I miss the woman she was.
In a weak moment, I called Jake and shared a touch of my mommy drama. I often joke with him that he can’t know the magnitude of it all until after we’re married and he’s trapped. I immediately regretted telling him. Despite my willingness to share everything else, I find I want to keep this particular pain from Jake. I left work just a few hours later and spent the evening ignoring his calls and crying over the horrible text I’d sent my mother, thinking that a man so respectful of his own parents was far too good for me. I thought about watching the home videos I have on a disc, but I know they would just make me long even more for someone who’s gone, and I’m not that masochistic. I thought of my wedding day, of dressing with only my Gramma and bridesmaids by my side, of the whispers from those who will never understand and I cried. I thought about having no mentor for marriage and motherhood and I cried. I thought about how I can’t do all of this without the mother I had at 7-years-old and how I’ll never see her again and I cried. I reread my text message and I cried.
Stop coming to my work. Period. I cannot talk to you. I’m working. I choose not to see you when I’m not working and forcing me to see you when I am is completely inappropriate. I didn’t tell you I switched libraries for a reason. Don’t come see me. Just assume that you are never invited to any part of my life. My wedding. The births of my children. Stay. Away. Do not respond to this message in any way other than to respect my wishes. I am not discussing this or anything with you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
::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.
“And my mother began to go crazy. Not crazy in a let’s paint the kitchen bright red! sort of way. But crazy in a gas oven, toothpaste sandwich, I am God sort of way. Gone were the days when she would stand on the deck lighting lemon-scented candles without then having to eat the wax.” – Running with Scissors
When I was little, my mom chaperoned every field trip, even though she worked. She used to make a really big deal out of birthdays. She cooked pancakes with candles before school and made sure we had a gift to go with them. Small holidays were even special. She made heart-shaped pancakes on Valentine’s Day and put green food dye in the milk on St. Patrick’s Day. She even painted little green footprints all over the bathtub, where the leprechauns had been. She then made my brother, Bo, and I clean them up while the ten-year-old in the bathroom bawled his eyes out like a little bitch with a skinned knee, screaming “I HATE LEPRECHAUNS!”
Seriously, Bo believed in this shit waaaay too long. We had to sit him down the night before his wedding and explain why Santa wouldn’t come that year.*
* I’m lying.
“Why does she have to be so fucking crazy?!?!?! Has she… oh, I don’t know… given not being crazy a try?!?! It’s not that fucking hard! I’m doing it right the fuck now!!!”
That’s generally how the conversation starts with Gail, these days…
“… and you know that in her twisted labyrinth of a brain, that’s exactly how it happened, the fucking lunatic! Hoggle is running around with a bracelet and a peach. David Bowie is somewhere in my mother’s brain wearing a completely inappropriate outfit for a children’s movie!”
… that’s where it leads…
::tearfully:: “Why does she have to be like this? Why does she do this to people? I don’t understand.”
… and that’s where it ends up.
God bless Gail for having been around for the past ten years and understanding, without explanation, that my mother is just abusive and crazy. We joke about being each other’s moms and raising each other from age fifteen. Gail wasn’t just the one to hear about every single high school crush, listen to me rant about my Sims characters and the latest Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode…
I interrupt this serious blog entry to say that I was a fucking awesome teenager.
… and get kicked out of a Wal-Mart with me for sword fighting in the craft section with dalrods. She was also the one to sleep in my car with me when I was too drunk to get up the stairs after I kicked my ex-husband out, taught me to put on eyeliner when I found myself 23 and single, and comfort me each and every time my mother went off the deep end.
When I was 13, I was going through a tough time, acting out because the only authority figure in the house had left. My mother wanted me to see a therapist and I refused. Through a series of events, the argument escalated and would’ve ended in a 911 call if she hadn’t grabbed me by the hair and thrown me away from the phone. It was a bad day. It was the day I started sucking my thumb again, though I hadn’t since I was 10. It was the day I threw out that dog leash and was relieved to find my toes weren’t broken.
When I was 14, my brother and I got into an argument and he stormed out, while I was painting the dining room. My mother screamed that it was my fault he left. The argument escalated and when she swung her purse at my head, she missed and hit the wet wall. She was furious, because I’d destroyed her purse and swung the step ladder next. I told everyone who asked about the scratch, that ran the length of my face, that I had a cat. It wasn’t technically a lie.
At 19, I told my mother to stop inviting people I didn’t know to my wedding. The argument escalated and she raised her hand to hit me across the face when I snapped “If you hit me, I will hit you back and then I will press charges.” She hasn’t raised a hand to me since, but she still plays her games.
Summer of 2011, Gail and I decided that a trip to New Mexico with my mother and her husband wouldn’t be a terrible idea, since we’d have a different room and drive a different car and it was on my mom’s tab. In hindsight, I’m kind of glad we went, because Gail understands my mommy issues on an entirely new level after hearing the woman scream at me for taking a quick trip to return something at Wal-Mart across the street since she was 30 minutes late… and watching me hyperventilate at Carlsbad Caverns because my mother was going to yell at me for getting separated from her and no one on this planet can make me regress to a frightened 14-year-old like my mother.
“Belle, calm down, sweetie. You’re not fifteen anymore. If she yells at you, we’ll leave, okay? We’ll go back to the hotel, we’ll get our stuff, and we’ll go home. Your Gramma will help with the gas. It’s okay.”
Those eleven days of being a psych major were far from wasted. That girl would be great at that.
All of this wouldn’t be so bad if my mother were consistent, but that’s just not how mental illness works. She’ll act crazy and yell at me about the lipgloss I told her I wouldn’t use, but she bought anyway. She’ll get upset that my background picture on my phone is of me and my Gramma. She’ll text me to tell me she doesn’t love me anymore, because she thinks I’m lying about having to work. I understand you don’t just stop being mentally ill, but she won’t even admit she has a problem or get help. She’s just certain the world is against her. Then, for six months, she’s my mom. She’s the woman who ate cookie dough with me while we watched Smallville. She’s slightly grating and has abysmal table manners, but she’s not cruel or abusive… so I let my guard down… like I have during these last six months.
Me: “It’s really going to suck when she starts eating the candle wax again.”
Gail: “Ugh. Yes… and I’m going to have to pick up the pieces. I hate your mother.”
The only other person Gail hates is the man who told her he couldn’t wait until their daughter got sexy.
I can’t believe he got the van in the divorce.
I once called my Gramma crying and referred to the fact that my mom was adopted when I said…
“Why did you even pick her?!? You could’ve chosen the baby to the left! What, were you approached by a man in a cloak? Did you make some kind of deal?!?!”
“I’m from the adoption agency.” Yeah… seems legit.
So, a couple of weeks ago, when I called and cried “You could’ve chosen the baby to the left!”, she responded with “Uh oh. What the hell has she done now?” My Gramma does not swear. My mother is threatened by no one as much as she is my Gramma, the woman who took me to spend the night with her the night my mother screamed at us both to fuck off and mooned my Gramma on the front lawn, when I was 15. According to my mother, she stole Bo and I away from her. So, when I was out with my mother and called my Gramma to tell her I was busy and that’s why I’d missed her calls, my mother was threatened and asked why I had to make the call when she was sitting right next to me. Not being 15 anymore, I was visibly pissed, because she hadn’t cared one bit about my constantly texting Gail. So, my mother has been texting and calling non-stop for the past week. The last text was to state that we were having Smithie’s barbecue for my Gramma’s birthday, Sunday at 11:30. I told my mother that my Gramma said she wanted Sim’s, not Smithie’s and she assured me that she’d just asked her.
Me: “Did you want Smithie’s or did mom?”
Gramma: “Well, I mentioned Sim’s and she said she thought that Smithie’s would be a better sit-down place…”
This led to a tearful rant on my part that I soon realized was only upsetting my Gramma, so I called Gail.
“Why does she have to be so fucking crazy?!?!?! Has she… oh, I don’t know… given not being crazy a try?!?! It’s not that fucking hard! I’m doing it right the fuck now!!!”
There’s a cheap, sapphire necklace that came with a pancake and candle breakfast when I was eight. I put it away for safekeeping, because the woman who gave it to me is long gone… and I don’t know why.