I've always backed away when it comes to discussing my upbringing even at the behest of my many counselors who, over the years, felt I needed to purge things from my soul. But I think I've come to the point in my life when I have to make peace with myself and my life. This in no way covers my entire life but is a brief overview highlighting the things that resonate within me when I think about my relationship with my mother. This is for me because it will make me a better person if I'm not dragging around all this baggage whether my family agrees or not.
My first real memory of my mother is when I was 3 or 4 years old. She was making her bed and I was under it. At one point she stopped at which time I slid across the floor, came between her legs and looked up at her. She snatched me from under the bed and slapped me in my face and yelled at me. She thought I was trying to look up her housecoat. Never mind the fact that I'm a little girl, curious and inquisitive or the fact that I was just playing a game. That was irrelevant. The slap would remain ingrained in me for the remainder of my life and tell the tale of our journey. She has slapped me in my face time and time again since that first memory both literally and figuratively. Sometimes her words to me have hurt and lingered far longer than any slap could deliver physically and I can relay every single one of them to you. They resonate in my mind over and over again and even when they are not in the forefront, they are continuously playing in my subconscious like a broken record. Our relationship has been a tug of war. Me trying to be who I was created to be and her fighting me tooth and nail every step of the way. Stories from family members reaffirm to me that this fight of two wills transcended from my birth when she would spank me several times a night before I would succumb to her command to go to sleep.
As I got older and my needs increased I went through great lengths to get her attention but always seemed to fail unless it was to be disciplined. I was always getting into trouble even if I didn't do it. It seemed that she was destined to believe whatever was said about me because she didn't believe that I could be anything less than a thorn in her side.
I know that one could look at my life and say that it couldn't have been that way, that I imagined it. But no matter how much I pushed aside those feelings of inadequacy and inability to have my mother's love too often it was pointed out to me by others as someone else would try to compensate for the shortcomings they saw me get at my mother's hand. It was not a family secret, it was a family shame that people often tried to overlook or smooth over.
Please don't misunderstand me. My mother is a loving person. She loves my siblings, has great respect for them and has always treated them well. After all, they have lived up to her expectations and never walked against the grain. She is a good friend, a great wife to her husband and does great work for her community and church family but little of that love has trickled down to me.
I understand she had a hard life growing up and felt she missed out on a lot of things and spent a great deal of her life trying to obtain those things often at great sacrifice to others. I pray they have brought her happiness but in the process there was a lot of grief. I don't pretend to know all the details or have all the answers but I have my perspective. I have my memories, and I have my truth. The things that I saw happen for others but not for me.
I pretty much supported myself from the time I was 12. With my babysitting money I brought my clothes, school supplies, etc. I ran away from home figuratively every chance I got through babysitting for anyone and everyone that would have me. At 13 and 14 I was watching kids over night. I brought my own prom dress, my class ring, my senior pictures, invitations, cap and gown, etc., you get the picture. She was a very hands off parent when it came to me. My dad came down from NY to see me go to my prom while my mom went away with her boyfriend for the weekend.
She never even had the talk about sex with me. I found that to be very ignorant in light of the fact that my older sister got pregnant at the age of 15 and they didn't even know until she was 8 months. Suffice it to say, that I was very ignorant when it came to boys and pregnancy and found myself pregnant just before my 19th birthday. The really crazy thing is that I found out in the emergency room with my mother who took me there because I had been really sick for several days. At her command I had an abortion, after all she was my mother and I was in no position to argue with her. I had never disobeyed a direct request from her. I felt it was wrong and unfair because my sister didn't have to have one - again ignorant to the facts that given how far along she was it was impossible. What was really degrading and humiliating was she made me pay for it myself and refused to discuss or acknowledge what had transpired. Even though she dropped me off and picked me up. That was the beginning of a downward spiral into hell over the loss of my child, the disappointment I caused my mother (and don't think she didn't tell me about it) and the guilt of the act itself. Never before did I feel so worthless, unloved and alone. I went through a period of self-loathing that took me to the dark side of life. I went out trying to find love in all kinds of people and places. Participating in things that could have cost me my life on several different fronts trying to stop the hemorrhaging in my mind and soul over what had taken place.
The last physical beating came at age 18 when she took a branch from a tree in the front yard and beat me with it after I yelled at her for going back on her word about the car. She said I could use it and then decided that my brother could have it instead. Slighted again, I gave her an earful of what I thought. Never cursing her but certainly expressing my displeasure at being pushed aside yet again. I didn't even defend myself. I stood there and let her hit me with it until it broke to the point that she couldn't use it anymore. I had welts and cuts all over me but I refused to cry. When she was done my only comment to her was "Are you done?" and then I went upstairs and took a shower. I would not give her the satisfaction of shedding a tear. Shortly thereafter I moved out.
I gave her a great deal of disappointment in her life by choosing to walk to beat of a different drum. I could have been anything I wanted but the one thing I wanted was the last thing she wanted for her child. She felt it was a waste of my God-given talents. What she didn't realize is that because of our relationship that "thing" grew stronger and stronger in me until it was an obsession. All I wanted to be was a mother. The best mother in the world. I wanted to be better to my kids than she was to me. I wanted to be sure that they knew they were loved. I would be there in the afternoons when they came home from school. I would help them with their homework and share in their hopes, dreams and desires. I would not force my dreams on them. All I would want for my kids is for them to love God, respect me as their parent, get an education and make a positive contribution to society in whatever capacity that they wanted.
She on the other hand wanted us to be what she could not because she had children. She wanted me to be a big shot in corporate America. Travel the world and have all the things she did not. I didn't want that but as fate would have it I have had a pretty good career that has allowed me to support my family and travel all across the US and Europe. At times it even allowed me to be there for them in ways she was not. But the desire to be a mother has always overridden anything that would stand in my way to doing that including moving further up the corporate ladder.
She first disowned me when I was 21 and pregnant again. She wanted me to have another abortion. This time I chose life. She did not come to the hospital when he was born. In fact she didn't even acknowledge him. I would walk down the street to her house everyday and sit in the kitchen with him and she would ignore him. He was almost 2 months old before she would speak to him. Eventually she came around to accept him but not like her other grandchildren. When I needed to find a less expensive place to live she did allow me to move home for 30 days with the baby to save up enough money for a deposit on someplace. Eventually life caught up with me and I found myself living in the ghetto with a baby, no car, no savings, living pillar to post, starving and paranoid. I was robbed three times, worked two jobs, was raped twice and consequently I had a nervous breakdown, spent 30 days in rehab learning to accept my fate in life and my relationship with my mother. She never visited me in the ghetto and I lived there for three years nor did she visit me in rehab although I called and asked.
The second time she disowned me was 7 years later when I was pregnant with my second child. Again, this was a great disappointment to her especially since I was yet again a single parent. What would her friends think??? Who cares, it's my life, not yours. I did not come to her for assistance. Nor had I in the a long time. I had long ago figured out she would not help me. Heck, I had made it out of the ghetto without her assistance, was renting my own home and had a great job. I didn't come to her for anything at all but her love and acceptance but it was not there to be given. We went several months without talking but again she eventually came around. She did come to the hospital to see this grandchild after she was born. Maybe, just maybe, things would get better. They did not. We just learned to tolerate each other. Me lapping up every crumb of attention or kindness that came in my direction from her.
By the time my third child came I didn't tell her until I was 6 months pregnant, living in Virginia Beach and not in need of her approval, love or support. I was still in mourning because I had lost my best friend - my dad, and was resentful that she still lived. She was my only living parent so I had tried to move beyond our past relationship and make headway into a new beginning. She didn't say anything, finally accepting that it was my life and she couldn't change it. I figured that as she got older she was mellowing out. Wishful thinking on my part but nevertheless she was my mother and I accepted her no matter what.
Over the years we tolerated each other. She often found a way to make her opinions known and I learned to buffer myself so that they could not penetrate my heart. When I got married and took in the last three kids we were at an impasse. I was the faithful lapdog in the family. Always going to the meetings, extending the olive branch, putting me and my family out there, forcing a relationship with them, sometimes shamelessly. I felt like I was hooking myself for my family's acceptance. Even in the midst of my own personal hell I kept up the charade only to find myself hung out to dry when my world crumbled all around me to the echo of "I told you so's." "We knew something wasn't right." "You need to leave him." What I didn't expect was total abandonment, which is exactly what I got. At a time when I needed my family, namely my mom, I had no one. No one to hold me while I cried, help me through my pyschotic breakdown, depression, financial devastation once again or support me as I went through the court process, and the rebuilding of my life, except for God and a few very special people He strategically placed in my life at the right time.
Flash forward three years and here we are. Still at it, except we have come to the end of the road. I have to admit there is a mixed sense of relief underneath the unbelievable shock of her words. It is a blessed relief to know that all was not imagined. I am free. Free from longing, panting and constantly setting myself up for another smack down.
I love my mother, I love my siblings but I have never quite clicked with them and I'm finally ok with that. My dad and I, well that's how a parent/child relationship should be - unconditional love. My children and I, that's also what a true relationship should be. I err on the side of being too involved, loving them too much and wanting the best for them. I err on unconditional love. I love them because they are mine, all of them. Blessings from God sent to me for a short while to love, teach and inspire to be the best they can be. I don't always like them, what they do and how they do it but they have always had and will always have my love and support. They are not perfect. They have made a lot of mistakes and have regrets about choices they have made but through it all they have had me by their side every step of the way. I have not bailed them out but I have given them a hand up when needed. I've been their cheerleader, spiritual advisor, best friend and chief judge/jury and executioner if they did something I disagreed with or that went against my moral/spiritual standards but again they have never had to question my love or commitment to them or their lives. Mistakes? Sure, I've made a few but I've admitted them, apologized for them and learned from them as I'm sure I'll continue to.
I look forward to being a grandparent. I will be there for my grandchildren. I will love them just as I've loved their parents. I'll remember their birthdays, let them spend the night and take an interest in their lives. All of them, no matter what the circumstances of their birth may be. After all, who am I to judge?
My maternal extended family is a very spiritual family held together by the love of God and all things good and godly. My grandfather was the best, a baptist minister with a great love of God. He raised his children under that mantle and us as well. We have stuck together in thick and thin. I never imagined this would happen. I trust God works all things out for good but right now I feel that this division is necessary. I will be bowing out of our family functions for a while. It will give my mind and soul a chance to really heal. I will allow God to work on all of us.
What will be the outcome? I don't know and right now I'm not all that worried. I stand on the promises in God's word that "this too shall pass." My inspiration will come from the hymn that has always been dear to my heart, "It is Well With My Soul" because truly for the first time in a long time, It Is Well! Freedom does that.