My Mother Made Me…

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My Mother Made Me…

Why do we demonize mothers? OK you may be thinking I have gotten off at the wrong bus stop, she’s come off the rails, PMS…? All valid things to ponder but stay with me a bit…it’s a thought that has occurred to me on more than one occasion, maybe you have noticed it too?

We expect so much from mothers. Thank you Captain Obvious for stating that…..I know (insert eye roll) but think about it in your own life. OK, I’ll start since I’m the first one reading this…and perhaps the only one.

I had a fairly crappy childhood with divorced parents. As kids we lived with our mother (for the most part) and our father paid child support (except when he didn’t,  which was often). He pretty much abandoned us except for the bi-annual court ordered payments when he would be forced to write a check. My mother kept a roof over our heads (with some lapses) until my twin brother and I turned 15 and the shit storm went nuclear. Fast forward 30+ years later and which parent aggravates me the most…..mom.

I see myself in her and her in me. Usually the parts I don’t like, have her fingerprints all over them. The negativity, the feeling of being easily overwhelmed, the victim mentality, the flakiness. Sometimes I see these flaws in discreet slivers….sometimes they are wrapped in neon signs holding a bullhorn announcing themselves to the world at high volume. I don’t ever think of my father when a character defect pops up and I am just itching to identify the source so I can destroy it so it never comes back again. PS – they always come back again, like garden weeds and stray cats that you accidentally fed on purpose.

So why do I do this? Why blame my mother when my father was not even around. Maybe that’s it….perhaps his absence gives him a free pass? Well damn that seems woefully unfair. But I have to be honest at this age, I’m too tired to build a relationship with the guy just so I can hate him. Meh, I don’t have the energy and he’s kind of a jerk.

Or is that society has brain washed me and you and all the woodland creatures into thinking that moms must be perfect and if they are not they must be hated? What the hell – why would anyone want that job asked the mom of two?

So here’s my suggestion…let’s be nicer to our moms. Let’s try to remember that they are mere mortals that make mistakes. Some mistakes may have been bigger and more catastrophic but would you let your dad off the hook for a similar issue? Would you forgive a friend if they stumbled along a similar broken path sometimes grabbing at the wrong branch for balance? And let’s be real honest, I don’t want my kids to hate me so maybe I’m just hoping for some good karma. Good luck to all the moms out there.

 

 

My Other Mother

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My Other Mother

I recently had an experience where I caught a glimpse of my mother from an outsider’s perspective. It happens sometimes and it reminds me that my mother is a multi-dimensional person. Just like the rest of us…she isn’t all bad or all good, she’s a complicated mix. I have written quite a bit about the bad stuff – the drunk, raging, dysfunctional mother and now I want to share another side.

A few days ago, I had lunch with my “other mother” at a student dinning hall at the University of Pennsylvania. When she 40 she decided that she wanted to go to college and prove to everyone that she wasn’t stupid. She started local at a community college where she aced her way through two years and graduated with induction into Phi Theta Kappa.

Her grades and her personal narrative were so compelling that she got a scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. Her initial thought was that she would complete her B.A. with a law degree as the ultimate goal and somewhere she switched to history and psychology. She did graduate from University of Pennsylvania and attended one year of graduate school at Bryn Mawr College.

We found ourselves in Philadelphia for one of her doctor appointments. I insisted on driving her because she is not a great driver and I thought public transportation would overwhelm her. So we were walking from the medical facility toward campus and she mentioned that she wished she could give “them” more money. I turned toward her and said “what” rather forcibly……WTF was strongly implied. In my mind the coffers of the ivies is always so damn full and my mother is broke. She lives in a house I bought but she still has utility bills. She is on Medicaid and has no discretionary income, zero. Then she went on to say how she learned so much about women and other cultures around the world during her education. How her time there was a bit Dickens….”It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”. Clearly she just wanted to pay it forward to another woman that she will never meet and my tone softened.

I admit it, I am a hard ass around my mother. Impatient, suspicious, not trusting on any level, my armor is always up around her and I can be an obstinate jerk. I know this and I willed myself to be patient and oblige her wish for lunch on campus despite the growing list of sh*t I had to do that day. After all, I don’t know if she will get another chance to stroll down this particular neighborhood of memory lane and I didn’t want to begrudge her that request.

I could feel the pride of her accomplishment that hour. She went on about how this changed and that was the same. She wanted to eat in the hall of flags and peeked in on an event taking place in that room. That lunch she was reflecting on happy times and people that sadly have passed that helped her with that part of her journey.

During lunch I noticed that she was wearing her university ring. I got that ring for her as a graduation gift. I was in my early twenties, going to college and working two jobs to support myself. The money I used to pay for that ring was based on serious sweat equity and sacrifice. She told me that day it was the nicest gift anyone had every given her. I guess we both had something to be proud of that day.

I Miss the You I Never Knew

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I Miss the You I Never Knew

I’m just leaving it here because I have been carrying it all day and it is so damn heavy.

I knew you from your posts

but now you’re just a ghost

It doesn’t feel right to mourn you

but I do

I miss the you I never knew

 

This was written today on the second anniversary of my half brother’s death. He was 25 and he committed suicide. The family dynamics are beyond dysfunctional….I wrote about it in….https://wasthatmyoutloudvoice.com/2015/08/16/its-complicated/

An interesting side note…I came downstairs at 5am because my heart was grieving and my mind was racing from a nightmare. When I got downstairs I noticed one of the electric candles was on in the living room on top of the mantle. I did not turn it on, neither did my husband or my kids. The switch is on the under side of the candle and requires intent to put it on….and there it was flickering away. Shine on little brother.

 

Gasping for Air

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Gasping for Air

What does a writer do when they feel too vulnerable to write? It’s OK I’ll just wait over here until the universe can send me an answer….still waiting……….waiting some more. Well the universe doesn’t seem to be getting back to me so I guess I’ll have to take the steering wheel, again.

I feel like the world has gone fahking mad. How did we get here? The terrorists attacks, the society of rage that seems to be festering all around us……Donald Trump. It feels like one big WTF moment that has gone viral well beyond it’s 15 minutes of fame. So there’s that.

On a personal level I have been watching my kids struggle with tween/teen issues. I feel like my heart resides outside my body in two distinct and always moving places…..and it can be assaulted at any time, unprovoked. I guess that’s how it is when you have kids, forever vulnerable. I don’t think this is a phase we will transition through….sure the teen years will pass, but I will always be vulnerable to their pain, assuming I’m aware of it.

My kids tell me a lot, maybe too much. I’d rather know what’s going on, at least for now. I reserve the right to change my mind on that in the future. My husband thinks I coddle. I disagree. I think I have created a mostly safe place for our children to come to when they need to talk. I say mostly safe because sometimes I suck at this parenting thing. Catch me at 11pm on any given night and I am not at my best and neither are they. Yet that seems to be the time when they want to get close and tell me their fears, their sadness, their pain and of course their joys and dreams as well. It’s a mixed bag but lately the mix is leaning heavy on fears and sadness and it’s weighing us all down.

Raising humans is hard. I mean think about it you are shaping a person into their pre-adult self….enormous fahking responsibility. And I know this…..I’ve been doing the parent thing for over 13 years now…it’s just sometimes that weight just smacks you in the face when you were taking a moment to look the other way. Blind sided, unprepared caught unaware, gasping for air. That’s how it feels right now.

I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

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I Don’t Collect Shiny Things

I opt out of some of social norms. I don’t wear jewelry. I mean nothing, no watch, rings, necklaces, hell my ears aren’t even pierced.  I didn’t want or get a huge diamond when we decided to get married. We have titanium wedding bands which we wore once at a family party after we eloped. It was a nod to my mother in law who was a stickler for tradition. It was hard enough for her to accept that we chose to get married on a beach in Mexico without any family or friends present. So we wore wedding bands for about 4 hours. I still consider eloping to be one of my top 3 best decisions.

My mother in law was old school Italian and I would have been steam rolled in the planning process. We weren’t into it and after being together for about 6 years we got pregnant. It wasn’t entirely accidental. I told my love that I was going off the pill after nearly two decades of being on it and within a year, boom. I don’t call it a shot gun wedding because I didn’t have a strong male figure in my life that would have pressured us into marriage. I was pretty chill about myself. I told him we didn’t need to get married, he saw things differently coming from a traditional Italian Catholic family. In retrospect, I’m glad we got married. There are times when things get sticky and that legal status makes you hesitate before you set that bridge on fire with a defiant one finger salute. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.

So here we are twenty years, two kids and a large dog deep into it. We have the beautiful house and all the trappings of suburban bliss. I say that without snark, we are truly blessed. I had a birthday recently and I chuckle to myself when people ask what I got. Repeat this process for Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day…..all the days when Hallmark and mass marketing tell you it is urgent to give, give, give! The constant stream of ads for jewelry that tell us if he doesn’t spend two months salary on an engagement ring perhaps you should reconsider. And what Mother’s Day would be complete without a charm from Pandora…..oh pahleeze, just go away. Here’s the thing, I don’t collect shiny things. Sometimes I get a card or flowers, sometimes I don’t. If I feel like I need a card or flowers I’ll say “hon, I’d like a card and flowers” and they will appear. I learned a long time ago that people aren’t mind readers so if you want something specific you should get it yourself or leave detailed instructions. Oh and expectation is the root of all evil.

So when someone asks me what I got, here are my thoughts…..I got a man who is a great father. A true family man who does the right thing without being asked. Three days ago he was at my mother’s house taking a canopy off a retractable awning. He spent hours researching where to get the best replacement and then bought one after he had me pick the pattern. Better than a bracelet, way better.

 

For the Hubs

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For the Hubs

I adore my husband. He will likely never see this post so I’m doing this just for the pure joy of it, no brownie points here. We met in April of 1996 at an alternative rock bar in Philly named FUBAR. It was lust at first sight. He wore a Marvin the Martian watch and he had swagger, so much swagger. He has a smile that can melt icebergs but he was far too handsome and well traveled for me to get my hopes up so I played it cool. Indifference is your friend single ladies, just don’t take it too far. So this is my modern day version of a mixed tape.

This song played in heavy rotation on the way home that night. I declined his offer to go back to the house he rented with his friends.  Instead, I made the long trek back to Belmar, New Jersey  where I had a one bedroom apartment on Ocean Avenue. By the way, I highly recommend living in a resort town in your mid twenties.

Counting Blue Cars –

 

We took things slow and he had the nerve to move to Italy for a job within a few months of meeting each other. He did invite me to visit him there, which I did. I brought a friend though because that is what a girl does when she is trying to stop herself from falling in love with a man who seems elusive. Resistance was futile, I fell hard. But I kept that shit tucked in….Fiona Apple understood what I was going through….

 

That visit left me with a constant craving so yes, this too –

 

And of course I will never forget moshing to this in some club in Turino, Italy –

 

As I am going down memory lane I realize I can not possibly list 20 years of songs in one post. These were some of the early day songs and my feelings for the man have not dimmed. Still so crazy in love (oops another song)

 

Hmm……noticing that this is a very eclectic mix and yes still very much in love. Lucky girl.

Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

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Sometimes I Suck at Parenting……

Deep breathe…..sometimes I suck at parenting. It’s a fact. I’m human, flawed, impatient and just plain don’t have my shit together every minute of the day. I would love to blame my own parents for this because 1) they sucked as parents (WAY more than me) and 2) introspection is hard.

My latest bout of mediocrity (OK failure) happened last night. It happened late at night when patience reservoirs were low or perhaps empty. My daughter wanted a special breakfast out this weekend just the two of us. Son got wind of this and wanted in. At 11:17pm I wasn’t able to negotiate this emotional minefield without casualties. I tried to postpone the decision knowing that some decisions are best made when well rested. Daughter couldn’t do that pushed and pushed for an answer. So I asked her….”what would you have me do – hurt your feelings by not going or hurt his feelings by excluding him”. I described it as the lose-lose situation that it was and determined that no one would go out to breakfast. This resulted in many tears on her part….impatience on my part and eventually a heart felt conversation. It was emotionally exhausting and I felt like a bad mom. I did promise to spend one on one time with my daughter but at a different venue. That seemed like the best compromise. You know compromise – no one is really happy but it seems somewhat fair, ugh.

My girl is going through a phase right now where she wants to spend a lot of one on one time with me. Of course that shifts immediately if a better offer comes along  and I am fine with getting placed on hold so she can spend time with friends. My issue is I have two children and I need to be mindful of how so much time spent with one child impacts the other. So I just keep talking to them individually and encourage open communication (preferable before 10pm). It’s a juggling act and did I mention I’m not good at juggling. Multitasking emotional situations, it’s difficult.

I am aware that these children that I adore with my entire being will be gone within the next decade. Off to their own lives to parts yet to be determined. I will not have these late night soul searching conversations. They won’t always show me their raw emotions….these hiccuped conversations are a gift. I probably won’t always be able to conjure up an image when they mention the name of a friend, classmate or colleague. They won’t always have room for me in their lives and that is the nature of the parenting beast. It makes me equal parts sad and grateful. Somebody please slow this train.

Bomb Squad Mom

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Bomb Squad Mom

It’s that delightful time of year again. Everyone has mentally checked out of school but we have to send the kids anyway because, rules. It happens every year sometime between spring break and whenever the weather gets nice, kids lose their minds. All of them, even the nice compliant kids. The school cafeteria takes on a “Lord of the Flies” atmosphere. It’s nearly impossible to keep track of all of the important dates and forms in a flurry of end of the year activities.

The home routines also take a nose dive. I double dog dare you to tell me you are as vigilant in May as you are in September…..I’m looking at you parents. I am a tiger Mom in the fall by late spring I’m more indoor declawed house cat. Bed time slips from 8:30 to 9 to 9:30 to – hey kids turn the lights off when you go to bed Momma needs her ZZZZZZs. Kidding those buggers still want me to tuck them in.

The later bed time makes the morning routine oh so pleasant though. My morning wake ups are met with grunts and groans and I know at least one of my kids fought the urge to through a stuffie at me this morning. My daughter is the tough one at the moment. She is a typical tween girl and is perhaps ever so slightly mentally unstable at times. The mood swings are of biblical proportion. One minute she wants to cuddle and the next minute is all exorcist 360 degree head spin.

During these times I feel like I am on the Mom Bomb Squad. I have a set time period in which to get her out the door and on to the bus preferably without an explosion. 19 1/2 more days.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother’s Day is Hard……

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Mother’s Day is Hard……

Mother’s Day is hard for me.  My mother lives close by in a small house that I bought for her. It’s in a retirement community and is a 10 minute drive from me. And it is kind of a remarkable thing given our history. Let’s be clear though, I mostly bought the house for me, not her. I need to be OK with myself after she passes.

My mother has been mentally unstable my entire life. As a young child I watched her drink alcoholically, drive drunk, and create drama. There were the standard saturday morning thrashings if my brother or I woke her up too early. If I’m honest, my brother took the brunt of that. I would scurry away and he would try to reason with her, smack. When I was in first grade she was brushing my hair and got so frustrated with me that she hit me hard on the forehead, which caused a bump and a surprising amount of blood. I was told to say I walked into the door so mommy wouldn’t get in trouble. Most of the abuse was mental. She would routinely say “I wish you were never born”. That’s hard to reconcile as a child, hell it’s hard to type that now.

It was just the three of us – my mother, twin brother and I. My parents divorced when we were two years old. We saw our father on a regular basis until we were moved out of state at 8 years old.This move followed a custody battle between our parents and as soon as the ink was dry from the case our mother moved us to Florida with her charismatic and somewhat insane boyfriend. So we went from 3 to 4 for one drama filled year.

I remember crossing the state line in a red convertible Cadillac “Welcome to Florida – The Sunshine State”. It was pouring and the irony or perhaps it was foreshadowing was not lost on me. That year was filled with insanity and contradictions. We moved four times in 10 months and went to two different school districts. There were snakes and palmetto bugs, lizards and a trip to Disney. We had a 40-foot boat and I learned to fish and went snorkeling, it wasn’t all bad.

The bad was really bad though.The relationship between my mother and her boyfriend was volatile. I saw him beat her. I listened to countless loud, uncontrollable arguments. At one point my mother left with my brother to go back to New Jersey. I was left in Florida with a family that we barely knew.  They had rented one of the houses we had lived in and they had 5 kids, I was 9 years old.Who does that? Who leaves their 9 year old girl in another state with strangers for a month. A desperate crazy person, that’s who.

My mother came back in about a month and was promptly hospitalized after a suicide attempt. I was sent to a foster home for a week. Soon after my mother had another breakdown and destroyed the place we were living in. I watched her get arrested and placed in the back of a police car. A few days later I was taking my first ever plane ride back to New Jersey, alone.  My brother and I stayed with our grandparents for the next year until mom could get a place for the three of us.

The roller coaster continued throughout my formative years.Mother continued to drink and spoke of suicide often. Each day when I got home from school I would walk into every room in our apartment. Honestly, I did not connect the dots on this behavior until I was an adult, but I was looking for my mother’s body. There were also plenty of nights when I found her passed out on the floor with the telephone cord wrapped around her or in the bathroom. In between there was lots of yelling, uncertainty, acid laced gossip and talk of bankruptcy. I would be filled with panic when I heard my mother’s footsteps coming home at night, we never knew what to expect.

The high level of dysfunction continued until 1983. That year I was sent to rehab after a brief but intense bout of teenage rebellion. My mother had just gotten sober and once again introduced an insane man into our lives. Eventually that union caused the original three to be scattered in different living situations. My year consisted of institutions – including a cult working farm which portrayed itself as a recovery half way house. My brother lived with a friend’s family and mom couch surfed. The three of us never shared the same roof again – my brother and I were 15.

I grew up fast out of necessity, with little familial guidance. I learned how to “adult” in AA. Truly the 12 steps are a nice road map for life and I sure as shit wasn’t getting solid pointers at home. I learned about taking responsibility for my actions and my emotions. I became financially independent while I was a teenager and harnessed a strong work ethic. I put myself through college and really have done OK for myself despite the enormous odds stacked against me.

So how is it that after the shit storm that was my childhood am I able to care for my mother in a way that she never did for me? I don’t know maybe I get the illness part of mental illness. I mean if she had cancer or lupus I wouldn’t abandon her. I know it isn’t the same because the cancer patient doesn’t typically destroy others with their narcissistic ways, but I do know this, the woman is not well. So for the past 20 years or so I have managed to find a balance between compassion and self preservation.

So once again I will opt for the funny Mother’s Day card and some flowers, maybe a meal out for mom. I will not blubber on about how wonderful she is or post pictures on Facebook of smiling faces. I don’t do fake but I can do compassion.