This woman is sitting across from me–she’s looking at me looking at her. She’s dressed in loose-fitting clothing, her hair is wavy and free, her office surrounded by posters of inner peace and mental health. She has stress relievers and decor that promotes serenity–things I imagined I’d find in her home. She is calm yet intense. For whatever reason her presence comes welcoming and sitting in this chair next to the box of tissues, is exactly where I want to be. We sit in silence until she breaks the stand-off. We’ve never met before but now I’m going to share what’s lingering inside this abandoned shell. She’ll drill me until I’ve unleashed my hidden pains and together we’ll work through them. But first she says, “we must start from the beginning”. “How is your relationship with your parents?” She asks.
When I hear parents there is only one person that comes to mind. My Mother. When I think of my mom, my initial thoughts bring me a slide show of a time I’d rather forget…and most of my memories have been. When asked to think back of my childhood, I find myself flipping through blank pages–so much information lost. She asks specific questions and it always leads to a quick under-thought answer.We go back and forth of what I think is the problem and she always rebuttals with something that contradicts my thoughts. We butt heads, her and I. This won’t work out, I think. The hour is almost up when she hits me with some reality.” When you describe your mother, it sounds as if you’re describing yourself”. This idea is infuriating. I am nothing like my mother. “How are you different?” Surprisingly, I can not come up with a response that sits well with me. I draw a blank. The hour is up and she thanks me for coming in. “I’ll see you next week, you did great”.
I can’t stop thinking about that comment. Why in the world would she say that? Is she calling me a bad mother? Hours go by and I’m laying in bed looking up at my ceiling replaying the visit, thinking of my past and thinking of my life. I decide the woman is not right for me and clearly doesn’t understand me.
But now everyday is a little different for me. I’m looking closer at my words and my actions. I’m comparing them to my mother, and looking from the outside in. I’m separating the good days with the bad and I’m putting them side by side with my childhood. Each day I’m doing this more and more often. Until… I hit a revelation. The woman wasn’t telling me that I am like my mom, she was telling me that I have a lot more in common with her than I ever realized. I began to break this down for myself. I started to look at my mom as not my mom, but rather as a person in general. I looked at her as if I had met her through an acquaintance and she shared with me her experiences. What would I think of this woman? What advice would I have given her? Would I dislike her and think she’s evil? or would I feel compassion for her struggles. Her struggles. That right there was it. That is what she was saying. Oh my gosh.
My mom was a single mother of 2 and then later 4. She was a UCLA graduate. She came from a rough upbringing and abuse was in her past. She found love a few times but lost it. She had children with men she wanted forever, but left it behind. She was a woman. She was a daughter. She had needs. She had the same desire for success and love as any other human. She never did drugs and never drank alcohol. She was a cut throat strong independent woman. She had dreams. But…she never achieved any of them. Life was tough from the beginning. She took 1 step forward and 2 steps back. Her tenacity kept her fighting, but life’s series of cause and effect was piling up against her. She chose to give up her dreams so her children could chase their own. Then she was diagnosed with an incurable disease that later debilitated her. She entered this world with hope and drive like all of us, and one by one her achievements were buried. As a child I saw my mom as the person who needed to take care of me no matter what. That was her job. So I never saw her as a person, but rather my caretaker. This is the life she wanted I was convinced. She got what she needed, now it’s my turn. Her anger, lack of patience, and strict lifestyle left me confused and hurt for most of my childhood. All I ever saw was what she did to me and my siblings. Never giving her the benefit of the doubt. Never thinking outside the childlike box I had surrounding me. The truth was, I was my only concern, and given I was just a child, I don’t beat myself up too much for that. But as an adult, I look at her, and I see her as an individual. A person who’s life was filled with sadness. She was a broken woman who fought like hell to survive on her own with her 4 children.
I look at my life and I see the fallen loves, the broken families, the opportunities I allowed to pass me by, and the life I can never have after choosing to have children. I now bear the heavy weight of being a single mother. I bear the weight of feeling alone. I have felt the weight of being depressed and helpless all the while having other humans that rely on my strength–a strength I sometimes feel I no longer have. And I realize if I fail, if I collapse under the pressure the way my mother did, my kids will look at me the way I looked at her. It’s terrifying and yet so enlightening. My mother did everything she could even with the world against her, and all we as kids saw was a mother who didn’t do enough. So naive and I hate it. I wish I could go back in time and hold her, telling her she was more than enough. Telling her one present on my birthday was plenty. Telling her I’m sorry for breaking the vase she spent months saving to buy. Tell her how amazing it was that she offered a home cooked meal every single night despite us being on welfare. Tell her thank you that we always had a roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, food in our bellies. I wish I could tell her that I understood her frustrations, her sadness, her struggle.
My mom was at her wit’s end with 4 children to raise. She was overwhelmed. She was lonely. She longed for companionship. And as a lot of people know, parenting is a thankless job. I believe that lack of gratitude on top of everything else, was too much for my mother. Her soul was broken. The person she was or hoped to be was lost through all the tribulations. She was an angry person now. And that was the woman I grew up to know. Never asking why. Ironically, I remember my mom as someone who always smiled. As I grew past my childhood and my mother’s life got harder, the one thing that never changed was her smile. Such a contagious gleam. Today, my mother has lost mobility of all her limbs. She is bed-bound and all her activities of daily living are done for her. She is living what she once described as hell on earth. But if you were to go visit her, you wouldn’t catch her without a smile. I grew up slandering my mother. But today…I can only hope to be even half the woman she was. Is.
I’m sorry mom. I’m sorry you were in pain. I’m sorry I didn’t help.
Sincerely, your “Babygirl”
“Flying” by Garth Stevenson