Today is Mother’s Day and I am having mixed emotions about it.
I have my own children now and have already received a breakfast fixed by Louie and a thoughtful text from Huey.
Both made me smile and feel as if I am appreciated, or at the very least, deserving of my own day of celebration.
But, today has me thinking about my own mother.
As we’ve discussed, my own mother was a far cry from the loving and affectionate woman that we see portrayed on the endless stream of candy, flower and jewelry ads this time of year.
My mom was hard. She was judgmental and cruel. She self medicated with Vicodin and alcohol to help her cope with the demons that she had inside her own self. She tried to martyr herself to persuade me to her will. She was constantly reminding me that I was lacking as a dutiful child no matter how many times I tried to be what she wanted, I always fell short of the mark.
She was emotionally and physically abusive. In fact, I can still remember over hearing Julie’s dad telling his wife, “she must not have a very good life at home.” At the time I was insulted but looking back, I can see how my actions screamed this to the world.
I think my mother loved me. I think she did the best she could considering the hand she had been dealt in life. That doesn’t take away all the pain and loneliness I felt but it does help me to understand why she would act the way she did towards me.
That being said, my mother did teach me a lot. If nothing else, she taught me what I wanted and how to not treat my own children.
I think every child has thought, “I’m not going to do that to my kids!!” but I truly had call to feel that way.
My mother would lash out at me, physically. A belt, a wooden spoon, her hand, fist, even a dining room chair one time. I was riddled with bruises and scrapes throughout my teen years. Back then, people could see the tell tale signs that a child was being abused but chose to look the other way.
These episodes of harsh discipline taught me that physical pain subsides but the anger and resentment never goes away.
I’ve only struck my children twice. Once I “spanked” Huey when I caught her choking her sister when she was little and once I “smacked” Louie because she was screaming and yelling at me about how I was too lazy and selfish to let her go out with her friends.
I still remember the look on my children’s faces when I did this. They were shocked that I’d done this because I’d never raised my hand to them before. I felt horrible afterwards but knew that a simple “time out” probably wouldn’t suffice.
I have also lived my life carefully using words of commitment. Phrases like, “I promise” or “I’m sorry” hold little weight when they are delivered with no more conviction that a benign hello to a stranger.
I’ve spent countless hours and money taking my kids to this event or that because their dad or even my mother had “promised” them they could go and then never delivered.
I remember one specific trip to South Dakota. Me, taking 4 days of vacation time and driving for 23 hours straight just so my kids could see Mount Rushmore. I was broke and had to shuffle money around to pay for the gas, hotel and food. All because their dad had spent a week promising them a grand adventure, only to tell me later that he decided to go to Vegas instead.
As a child, I remember getting excited because I’d been promised this adventure or that. Waking up and dressing for a day of excitement and fun, only to find mom sitting in her chair, medicated and unable to deliver.
I’ve also learned that sometimes my children need to stand on their own. As a teen, I lashed out. I was out of control. Each time I got in trouble, my mom would bail me out by flashing her last name. (My stepfathers family was a big deal in our little town)
She didn’t do this out of love but because “you always want to bring shame to our family! Isn’t it bad enough that you want to be gay??”
So, I let my kids fail. Not because I want them to hurt or be disappointed but because it took me years to realize I wasn’t becoming a responsible adult because of her actions.
I dust them off and pick them back up when life knocks them down. Confident in the knowledge that they are wiser and stronger because of the experience.
The last several years of her life, and the first several years of my young adulthood, I was alienated from my mother. She didn’t want me around because I was selfishly choosing a life with women instead of choosing to be celibate. I had turned my back on her and God.
Today, Huey has an uncanny knack for causing me to face palm but I get up every day and send her a text saying I love and miss her. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, when my children call, I answer. I remember walking out of class one day in the middle of the lecture because Huey called. Nothing was wrong, she just had a question.
No matter what path they choose, I will always love and support them.
So, as I look back at my mother, today, I can’t help but feel I do owe her a lot.
She taught me how to love unconditionally by withholding her own love. She taught me how to be patient by her own impatience. She taught me self sacrifice by her own selfishness. She showed me how to be a strong, independent adult.
I’m here. Alive and well, in no small part to her.
For that… I owe her a lot.