It’s that time of year again; the holidays and the obligatory family gatherings press forward like the days of the year running out time. I’ve managed to elude her for 360 something days, but even I have a heart, or a karmic conscious. I can’t believe I’m going to face my mother- the words taste acidic and sour in my mouth. My stomach is knotted like the knuckles of an old lady and I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m constantly aware of how my shoulders want to creep up close to my ears due to the rising tension in my body. The thought of her hugging me sends a red-alert racing to and from my central nervous system- I’m starting to have a physical reaction. If I think about it long enough the tingle of sweat starts forming on my upper lip and I feel something similar to dizzy.
I try, I really do, I don’t want to have these thoughts; I feel terrible about them and ravenous with guilt. I can rationally measure her inabilities and empathize with her past, but something inside me physically can’t let go enough to create space for true forgiveness. I tell myself I’ve made amends but I still avoid her and experience physiological changes when I see her or have the expectation of seeing her. I’ve made mistakes and have done things to hurt other people: what I fear the most is someone having a repugnant response to me the way I do towards her-especially my children. I know the sting of her child being somewhat repulsed by her must burn with primal-mother-love, but I too suffer from my own sickness. My incapacity to dislodge myself from the victim role leaves a murky film of bitter resentment tainting the relationship I have with myself.
For now, the reasons why I agree to see her on rare occasions are really self-serving (Not from me, really?) as I mentioned before, for “karmic reasons,” and guilt (guilt is really a very selfish emotion, it’s not for anyone else other than self-for “self” to feel better.) It is my dream, a life-long wish to have a mother whose arms feel safe enough to crumble with abandonment like a secure child, but I don’t. Unfortunately the only things preventing me from having that love are my own dark scars. I dish out starved morsels of my time to her when her pleadings bypass my rage, and connect to my own worries as a mother. The thought of my children ignoring me is what brings me back to her. I have this internal dialogue with myself, (“Hey, if you don’t see her your kids may do this to you someday, and think about how crushing that would be.”) It’s a self -imposed mind manipulation but it works like a charm.
I did it, I saw her. She came to my house Christmas Eve to pick up my sister. My mother had been living in Florida up until recently. She moved back to Georgia a few months ago when my grandmother (the controller) bought her a little house, I imagine it a place where George and Lenny would’ve raised their rabbits. She lives out in the country about an hour and a half east of Atlanta in a no name, nobody cares kind of the town. Ever since she’s been back in the area code she has taking up to calling me religiously, weekly, message after message. “Shannon, it’s your mom, I want to talk to you!” and “Hey kids, it’s G-ma (the name she gave herself, you know like Grandma, but G-ma, YO, G, what’s up?) G-ma misses you.” I cringe.
The voicemails continued until I finally called her back. For a while she was delusional in thinking that I was going to drive out to visit her. “Shannon, you know mamma can’t drive the freeways because of my panic attacks, I would if I could honey, but I can’t. Will you come see me?” I kept telling her, “Maybe, I don’t know and I’m not making any promises.” So then she got her chance, kind of.
I knew (in her own capacity) she really wanted to see my kids; and my middle sister was in town from California. She was staying with me and needed a ride out to see my mother and grandmother for Christmas (God only knows why.) My mom asked my uncle if he would take her to Atlanta to get my sister. He obliged, therefore, my mother, my uncle, (An ex Marine with a thing for Asian women after his stent in the South Pacific,) and his new finance’ (Lorraine, or “Ling-Ling,” ‘I’m not quite sure how the name translates.) and my youngest sister (from my mother) all came to my house on Christmas Eve for lunch. (And no, Santa was not run over by a reindeer, but there is a quick back-story: My mom had two other girls, one when I was eleven, and the other when I was thirteen. We all had a different experience with her-more on this later, much later.)
When she walked in I knew I had to hug her, I dreaded it because I didn’t want to smell her or be reminded of her womb. It was hard for me, as she started in with the crocodile tears. She saw my little guy and began carrying on with a fake-cry voice about how much she’d missed him and how glad she was to see him. (It was probably her truth; it was just difficult for me to listen without rolling my eyeballs to the whites.) She was here for about an hour and a half and I may have only looked her in the eyes once, and when I did, it wasn’t all the way. My force field is so protective against her that all of our interactions are muted and distorted. I can’t do it. I want to love her but I have nothing but a glacial response. She told me I was a good mom and that she was sorry she hadn’t been a better mom to me. She tried pulling me towards her when she said it but I was stoic and unaffected. I didn’t want to crumble into a million icy shards and melt away the cold mountain of painful childhood memories of neglect. But I do, I think. But I’m scared. I’m afraid of the possible, horrifying, terrible pain. I’m like a wounded and tortured animal that has a hard time trusting and being trusted again.
She told us, “I’ve been clean for 22 months! Jesus is the reason for the season and we are all sinners!” I walked away from some of the Christian ideals about Jesus a long time ago. What I did carry with me was the belief that Jesus was just a good guy who believed in the power of love-one love, a universal message of love and connection with every other living being. I can even make useful adjustments to the word “sinners” by denouncing the traditional definition of “morally wrong” and replacing it with “human error.” And so according to my interpretation of her message, I took something meaningful away from her quote: If we fully embrace love we are able to forgive, thereby becoming one with love.
This was the first year in thirteen years that I celebrated Christmas at home, my home. In the past I’ve been respectful of my family and celebrated with them, but this year I celebrated it too. My life now is about finding balance, living in the middle knowing that it is Ok to find serenity in any and everything that brings joy, even if it makes a contradictory statement to whom or whatever ever has the authority to sanction it as so-so be it. As for me and my life, I can take pieces of every religion if I want and create my own, I can celebrate Christmas without worshiping Jesus as the son of God, I can celebrate Christmas because it’s in my blood and it makes me happy. I can call myself Jewish because I don’t believe in “ One man being God, and the statement, “sinners go to hell, doesn’t apply.” or any religion that tells me I’m wrong because I don’t do what they say. Oh, and by the way, I’m a Buddhist too because I believe the end of suffering is in the present. All that’s left to do is to come up with my own book to follow and wholla, I’m perfect-until I can’t live up to my own ideals.
I’ve been running from myself trying to out run my past and who I am for so long now hoping to make things better. By making the decision to celebrate Christmas this year, I made the choice to consciously take back the things in my life that at one time brought goodness. It is my hope that my new religion “balance” will also help me find my way back to being a daughter to my mother once again, or for the first time. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, or if I will, but I’m considering trying. The writing really helps. I’ve missed it these last few weeks. I know I have a ways to go, but eventually I’ll forgive my mother and then I’ll find peace, maybe.
In addition to the mother -sighting event, this was also the first time Susan spent Christmas with my Dad, his family and me. (The normal side of me.) This felt like such a reward after tolerating the hour with my mother, but the charge of it drained me due to rush.
“Emotional Hangover,” was the term a friend of mine used to describe the way she was feeling after coming off of a long weekend. I think many of us are feel that same groggy, despondent drop of holiday adrenaline leave our systems. For me, I was high on the buzz of family, food, alcohol, sugar, and more food; but my main vein was fed by the dynamics of togetherness. (I saw a brief segment about the “Happiest People” on Earth;” vast community and 7 or more hours a day spent socializing were both shared characteristics of happy people.) Respectfully, we all suckle from the emotional energy of the best and even the most dysfunctional social gatherings. It’s within the realms of social hierarchies of families and friends that we find our perceived self worth. Without these highly ordered systems, we would identify as nothing, or as incomplete. (In other words, there are no kings without serfs, without serf’s there are no kings.) Relationships enable us to love, and feel betrayed, to give, and become victims, they require space; and leave us feeling upset when we are forgotten. They lend to scolding and cowering, let us take insatiably, and allow us to give selflessly even more; we glow like well fed, rosy faced cherubs in the pack warmth, adversely, affinity can send us running for the quilted darkness when the illumination becomes too blinding. Inherently, others complete us because without “them” we would never see nor be challenged by ourselves. I’m still trying to process my experience with the holidays, and where and how I played a role. Initially, I felt somewhat relieved and lighter after it was all over, however, there is still this dun haze of exhaust left in the wake. Writing has helped, especially the regurgitated account of events in my last entry. But I still can’t catch my breath from the unventilated feeling that I have more psyche land minds to uncover.
I’ve found that I can’t, and (don’t want to-because it’s uncomfortable) productively verbalize any of my soul haunting in any other form other than writing.
A few day’s after my previous post, a client (and dear friend and mentor) inquired about the blog post I’d written last week. She asked me a question regarding my mother that sent my head tumbling like the body of an Olympic gymnast during a floor routine. The first loss of footing spiraled my mind up and away, hovering above, and disassociating from the conversation. My mouth was shifting, lips curling and pursing, eyes blinking, body fidgeting, but I was removed from whatever words I tried airing out. She asked me something along the lines of how would I know when I had forgiven my mother, and how was I going to go about making amends with her. I didn’t know, and I still don’t. I can’t imagine how that’s going to feel. I don’t even know how to be that person. Who is she? For now, the only way I know how to get there, and uncover that side of myself is to write about it. (Writing is my last hope. If this doesn’t work, nothing will. And perhaps, after writing about it-all of it, I’ll have the courage to grace her with a glimpse of the world inside my head. I know I’m not there yet. I haven’t finished recounting; sorting through the pieces and forgiving those parts of her and the corresponding components in me that hate her. I’m not attempting to live in the past, but I must find understanding, and empathy before I can let go of my own pain enough to swaddle her in the comfort of my forgiveness. I’m moving carefully, and methodically in reverse away from the deep, throbbing, cumulative sore spot, examining, cleansing, caring for and loving each trauma as I heal myself entirely, or at least find peace within. )
It just occurred to me that I repeat myself at times from post to post, or I hash out the same feelings or thought processes, this is real for me, very real; and sometimes I have to destruct it and rebuild it all over again. I purposefully, or mistakenly leave out details until I become aware of their significance, or when space is made by my hollowing mental dissection of processing. For example, there is something I took for granted about the visit from my mother (My sentence structure is rather long because I don’t know the proper grammatical formula for the possessive form of mother. Mothers, Mother’s- just an aside.) I was so focused on recalibrating my equilibrium after unfurling from the mother/child dynamic, anxiety-laden seasickness brought on by her presence. What I missed was her ease and ability to welcome someone important to me into our family, and to acknowledge the change of my life style (from straight to lesbian) with expanded wings. She had no judgment. She had no wanton looks to cast, only excitement over meeting Susan. (1. I can’t say Susan felt the same way, my mother didn’t have a chance because Susan had to deal with me prior, and my queasy anticipation of seeing my mother.)
(A. In the past my Ex-husband always wanted to know when and if I had spoken to my mother. He needed the info in order to reconcile my extreme bitchy distancing, as not to take it personally.)
There’s something else that’s pitiful about the whole situation, my kids (7) and (5) still ask me who my mother is, they just don’t get it, and I don’t know how to make them understand. I wonder if they ever consider why I don’t spend time with her, or why she isn’t like their other grandmothers. When she left the house on Christmas Eve, my son M asked me why she smokesicarettes. (She walked in and out of the French doors leading to the deck a few times, bringing her nasty nicotine butts back in with her.) I told M she smoked because she was gross (What’s wrong with me?), and then I said, “No really, she smokes because she’s sick and doesn’t always make the best choices.” While she was there she asked if the kids could come and stay a few days with her this summer. I laughed like an arrogant yuppie from the nineties and spoke without thinking or empathy, “Ya right!” She giggled back at me and said, “Well, I raised you and you turned out alright.” Then I got honest, “I’m sorry, but I’m a control freak like Frankie, (her mother.) I may not be as controlling but I’m pretty bad. At least I’m working on it.” I don’t think the kids overheard the conversation, but what type of message was I sending if they did? And did they see me cringe and stiffen my back like rigormortis setting in on a corpse whenever she tried touching me? Did they notice how I avoided her gaze and frantically moved around the kitchen? Susan did, I saw her watching the interaction out of the corner of my eye. I wanted to show her I was evolved, but I failed when I couldn’t accept the maternal embrace.
It’s been two weeks since I’ve seen or talked to the mother, and I’m letting go of my inability to be loved by her. I’ve been disappointed in myself for not even cracking a little.
I was on lockdown for days after, but have since come out of it. I’m sure my kids suffered while I was on self-preservation mode. They must’ve felt the hard, emotional buckle of the barrier I hid behind. I know I was as cold as winter concrete and I’m grateful for the yielding softness of my children’s hearts. I’m resolved in knowing that my children always feel my love, my tenderness and care even when I’m feeling insecure and unloved myself. I’m also thankful for the humble shoulders of Susan to cry out my dry tears of frustration.
A few nights ago, at the start of the New Year, I started coming down with a cold and I felt the weight of it all (The virus, mom stuff, my impending move, taking my kids out of their birth home, ETC.) suffocating me like a cask. My kids were with their dad and I was worried about them and missing them like crazy. I had an overwhelming desire to control what was going on with them when they weren’t with me. I pissed him off by what he felt like was, “making a correction to his parenting.” He was right, I was trying to assert myself in a role I chose to step away from. I knew I had to respect him by backing away and by giving him the courtesy to parent our children the best way he saw fit, even if it meant going against myself. I felt defeated and like my life was spinning out of control. It was the end of the day and I hung up the phone after talking to my daughter S, listening to her crying, as she was telling me how tired she was. I finished my last round of texts with my EX about his parenting, and I looked around at the half boxed up kitchen and I wanted to unravel.
Instead, I took a hot shower, told myself I’d have the kids again in a few days, and curled up next to Susan. The next morning she told me I fell asleep with my head on her chest and her ear lobe between my fingers. I guess that was my way of letting go and allowing myself to feel safe enough to love and be loved. Hangover cured, for now.