Two roads diverged in a wood, and Mom ~ Mom, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.
When I was three years old my siblings, six and eight years older than I, invited me in to my brother’s room. It was a quiet Saturday morning and our parents were asleep. We all knew to stay quiet. My brother had bunk beds and I loved to climb on them. I immediately climbed to the top. My sister was the oldest and generally ran the show. She whispered to my brother and giggled. My brother asked me, “Did you see what’s on the bottom?”
I didn’t know what he was talking about.
“Look! Lean over and see!” He pointed to the bunk below.
I bent over the edge of the top bunk as far as I could to see the bunk below. That’s when he pushed me. I hit the wood floor head first. I can only imagine the sound that came out of me, but I know that after a second of being stunned I cried loudly holding my head. My brother and sister started shushing me. My brother felt bad and put his arms around me and rubbed my head. That’s when my mom came crashing through the door like a vicious tornado. My brother dove for the covers and my sister backed up against the wall.
“Shut the Hell up!” Mom yelled and slapped me hard across the face.
I remember that moment clearly. The numbness that took over. A deep silence that sat on my chest like an elephant. At three years old I had the vague thought that I was alone in this world and could count on no one. I looked out my brother’s window from where I sat on the floor and stared at the treetops of the woods across the street. I don’t remember anything after that. Except my sister saying, “Geez, even I feel sorry for her.”
My mother was mentally ill but in 1969 not much was known about it, I guess, since she was never treated for it. Her doctor gave her Valium and she spent the next decade addicted to it. She often referred to “my Valium”.
“Hand me my Valium.” “I need my Valium.” Myvalium.
She went from rage to depression. There was never any predicting this, though I may have just been too young to notice if there was a pattern. She spent days in bed in the dark. We had to be silent in the house. When she woke from this, she may have been fine — singing while dusting the house. Or she would be furious about something and someone always got hurt.
One night, my father came home late from work and was drunk. They started arguing and she went after him with the big knife from the kitchen. She caught him on the ear. I was probably about eight years old and for some reason, had sneaked down the stairs to see what was happening. Probably fear over what I was hearing drove me downstairs. I saw my mother standing in the living room, panting and holding the knife. My father stumbled into the powder room and got some toilet paper and held it to his ear. He was silent. He was often silent. Much later I learned to fear his silence. It meant he was brewing something.
When I was eleven my mother grabbed me and ran. I didn’t see the rest of my family for about 18 months. By the time I did see them, they acted and felt like strangers to me. This never really changed. Being alone with my mother and her boyfriend felt like going to prison. It was a long seven years until I made my escape. Seven years of absurd accusations, slamming my head into walls, knocking me to the floor and kicking me for saying something she didn’t like. She would call my friends and ask crazy questions about me and who I was having sex with and what drugs I was doing. Neither was happening, although I started drinking alcoholically by 14.
When my sister had her son, I was 16. I cried and asked her how was she going to be a mother when we didn’t really have one? She just stared at me and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.”
I’m 53 years old now and have two grown daughters. I have a good relationship with each of them and it means everything to me. Getting into therapy at age 18 and then getting sober at 24 freed me of my past. It is still my past. On Mother’s Day I sometimes think of my mother. I wonder if she ever thinks of me. I haven’t seen her or spoken to her in 34 years. I don’t even know if she is still alive. She moved away 34 years ago and didn’t tell anyone. I don’t miss her, but I sometimes miss having a mother. People with good families and good mothers don’t understand this. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to be a good mother. No one is perfect, but healing my wounds and coming to understand myself was a good place to start. I read many books on parenting because I did not want my own experiences to reflect in my parenting.
My daughters occasionally tell me what I did right as a parent. I love hearing this. After years of hearing the objections of children rebelling against me, combined with my own insecurities as a mother, it is always a moment of deep gratitude to know I did something well. I worked hard for it. I am hard on myself for the mistakes I made. Today, on Mother’s Day, I get to remind myself that all is well. I had a childhood that left me suicidal. Returning from this to the sunlight of the spirit has given me a deep compassion and understanding of others. It’s given me the ability to love freely and openly. And most of all, it’s given me the unending gratitude for the gift of motherhood and the two amazing women who call me Mama. I wouldn’t trade any of it.