My Mother had been the most toxic relationship I had ever had, and I’ve had two failed marriages so I know toxic! Still, because I’m a “good girl” I had been playing caregiver for her for over 20 years. That is until she recently died from congestive heart failure. This woman was Bat Shit Crazy, but only in a private Mother/Daughter relationship kind of way. She was just functional enough not to let most of the outside world find out how mean, cruel, unattached, neglectful and she was. When I tell people my mother just died, they naturally say, “I’m so sorry,” or “I’m sure it must be quiet a loss.” frankly, I just don’t know what to do with that. I know I’m supposed to feel sorry. After all, that’s what “good girls” feel. Right? That’s what society tells us and that’s certainly all you’re going to find at the Hallmark Store.
If YOU met my mother you’d probably think she was fairly sweet, in her elderly years anyway and especially if I wasn’t present. It wouldn’t take you long, however, to notice what she really thought of me. “No, no, no don’t take that picture, her hair looks awful!” Or “Oh, you would think that’s a pretty tree, it’s nothing but an eye sore, just like your room when you were a teenager…..” Or “I see you have time for your children and all these other things, but you don’t have time for me”.
She was the master of the segway…..She could turn any conversation around a corner and go down a path of how I just wasn’t any good.
See the picture up at the top? It’s one of my strongest memories. It’s also a real indication I knew the relationship wasn’t a very connected one. I was only about 3 or 4 years old, and my family had gone to the dunes for the day. While they had all made it up to the top, I found my little legs were not going to get me far. The Sun was so hot it made the sand burn my feet. The top of my head was taking in the rays of the sun like a piece of white bread in a toaster set on high. The sand was shifting under my little feet and it seemed for every step I took I just wound up either in the same spot or sliding down the dune even further. As I watched my family pull away from me, I knew I wasn’t up to the challenge that faced me. I finally gave up and hunkered down in the Dune fully expecting to die there. What is strange though, is remembering how calm I felt. I had no reason to believe anyone was coming back for me. I thought I was going to die and I was okay with it. I just laid down in the hot sand and waited to die. It wasn’t till years later when I came upon this picture I couldn’t believe it, there was my mother (on the right) smiling for the camera and just on the other side I was a little girl waiting to die in the Sand.
From the time I was very little I knew the relationship wasn’t right. I thought all I had to do was grow up and get out, I didn’t realize back then that the mother / daughter relationship follows you were ever you go. It’s inside your head. It’s a relationship most of us can’t just walk away from, although we would very much like to at times, you can’t just “break up” with your mother.
Ever since I was in my 30’s I thought I had a book in the making about our relationship. The first working title was “When the old Bat dies”, but I kind of figured I’d have to soften that, I didn’t think anybody would want to read that. Over the years I’ve imagined writing this book, and started bits and pieces of it several times over. I called it “When the Old Bat Dies” because every time I’d think to myself “When will I ever feel good enough?”, or “When will I stop feeling invisible?” or even something as simple as “When will I be able to accept a simple compliment about my hair?” The answer was always, When the old bat dies. Both the writing and I were very angry for a long time and now that I’m on the other side of her death, I’ve spent some time examining what made her what she was. Tragedies in her own life prevented her from seeing anything other but herself in the mirror.
The hair thing stems from a history of always being told I wasn’t ever going to be pretty. “If I wanted to be pretty I was going to have to learn how to suffer”. Something she said to me as a little girl (time after time) caused me to think there was always something wrong with me.
Someone from our church had stopped me on my way out the door. I was only about 5 years old and she was waiting in the car for me. My Dad had pulled the car around to the front of the church so she didn’t have to walk far (he catered to her every whim his entire life) and had gotten out for some reason. One of the ladies at church, Mrs. Anderson stopped me and told me I had the most beautiful curly hair she had ever seen. I was over the moon! I remember skipping to the car because I thought it would make my hair bounce a little bit more and I imagined Mrs. Anderson watching me and being green with envy. I’m sure that didn’t happen, but in my 5 year old psyche, it was a picture I wanted to hold onto. I piled in the car so fast, I wasn’t accustomed to such compliments and I just needed to share it. When I told my mother about the compliment I had just received I felt like I was glowing all over. My mother turned around and looked at me sitting in the back seat of our car and said, “Mrs. Anderson feels sorry for you.” She turned back around facing the front of the car and we never said a word after that, we just waited for my Dad. I remember being very quiet the whole ride home. I was studying myself, looking for that glaring problem I must have that would stir such sympathy in someone. For more than 50 years, every time somebody complimented me on my curly hair, I thought I had a knife in my head.
As I got older, I found comfort in smoking her narcissistic behavior out in front of her friends, they would always come to my defense and she would always look disgusted. One of the “gifts” to come out of this unhealthy relationship is a rich sense of humor. It was imperative I learned how to extract the hurt out of what she was saying in order for these things to be funny to me. So I found her Kryptonite. Humor. She really didn’t have a sense of humor, she’d shake her head and look disgusted mainly. But she stopped talking.
As a chubby teenager, with no self esteem, I can remember getting dressed to go somewhere that I NEEDED to feel good about myself. Her response to the way I looked was “If you had a full length mirror, that wouldn’t happen to you”. Again, I studied myself all night….
I know what you’re thinking, I must have a lot of issues. Well, you’re darn right I do. After a whole lot of time, perspective and plenty of therapy I KNOW I have issues, but now that she’s gone I also see the gifts I have coming from a background like that.
For some reason the universe presented me with enough people and interventions along the way so I wasn’t damaged. How the people saw through the cracks in her facade used to mystify me.
I must tell you as a final thought, that since my mother has died I haven’t had to take anti-depressants anymore. I really do feel good about myself. I am good enough, always have been. I just wish I could have found the map to this state of well being long before she died.
That’s what this blog is for.
- A place for those of us who couldn’t or still can’t buy a card on Mother’s Day because the cards are just a painful reminder that our relationship with our mothers only causes pain.
- A place to help you find peace, so you don’t have to wait for the death of your mother to feel better about yourself.
- A place to gather some perspective from others who have lived, learned and now want to share.