My mom and I have a complicated relationship.
I learned all my stubbornness, lack of empathy, tell it like it is, and compartmentalization from her.
It can be good. I get my way because I work hard for it. If someone passes away in your life, I won’t cry with you – but your bills will be paid, your house clean, your laundry done, and food in your fridge. If you come to me for advice, I won’t coddle you. But you’ll know the truth, and you’ll get an objective opinion, you’ll know where I stand. I’m not unkind, but people don’t always see me that way. And I do care, but I don’t express it the same way as you.
I’m just like my mom.
But, it’s complicated. She turned a blind eye to some things when I was a kid. I already had abandonment issues due to Jeannette, and so I played the part of the good girl until my early twenties. But I wish she hadn’t turned a blind eye to some of the abuses I endured. Now that I’m an adult with a family, I know she knew. She has always been generous, but only if I’m doing what SHE thinks is the right thing. I never knew if her illnesses were “real” sick, or “fake” sick. She’s been sick all her life, she really has, but had the uncanny ability to get sick, and then come to whatever function I had as the martyr (“I had to be here for my daughter”). It doesn’t take a fight for her to stop speaking to me. Whatever I do wrong can be just in her head. But that doesn’t stop the silent treatment.
On the other hand, when Poe and I wanted to get married so fast, she was my biggest supporter (although, by golly, we did it her way). When I had Joseph, she drove 350 miles so she could take us home from the hospital. We actually went out to eat (I.WAS.STARVING.) and I thought she would actually really deck the waitress who asked me when I was due. When we were about to leave the hospital, and Logan was suddenly diagnosed with his heart condition, I got on the phone, “Mom, his heart…” She literally hung up on me. She was already on the way. She had no fear in scrubbing into the NICU and touching that little boy, even with all the wires. And I will say this. She trusts my parenting more than I trust it, that’s for sure. She’s never stepped over the parenting/grandparenting boundaries – although with her, that HAD to be hard. Trust me.
I had to be the one to tell her that her son, her real, biological son (I’m her biological grand-niece) had committed suicide. He hung himself. She had to be the one to tell me that my biological mother was dying and didn’t want to see me. And then tell me when she died. But she was at Jeannette’s bedside when it happened.
I have to be the one to make her mad when she won’t eat, or won’t go to the bathroom, won’t go to the doctor. Because my dad’s kindness won’t cut it. She’ll only do it if she’s mad at me, to spite me. (It works. God, that woman is stubborn.) I have to be the bad guy, ’cause when she’s pissed, she’ll fight. If she fights, she’s alive.
She has Alzheimers. Most of the time, she can’t follow a conversation, really. She tries, but she can’t. The last time she was at my house for a birthday, she said to my kids, “who’s that loudmouth bitch, and why do you want to hang out with her?” Wow. But then again – she raised this loudmouthed bitch.
Yesterday, my dad needed to have cancer removed from his back. He didn’t want to deal with her, too, and so I was checking up on her throughout the day. I had girded myself for it. She hates it when I help out. She hates the lack of privacy, and she hates that I know so much. So I had prepared myself for the abuse already. But… Yesterday? Yesterday, she was lucid. I got to have REAL conversations with her. She gave me money for Christmas for the kids, so I could shop on her behalf, ’cause she knew she couldn’t. She actually talked to me – knowing who I was, where dad was, and was okay with me being there.
She asked how Joseph’s really doing. She said, “It must be so hard for you. You must worry all the time. I have no idea what it is like. You never suffered like Joseph does.” I don’t know where that came from, and it’ll probably be the last understanding I get from her ever. But I’ll remember it. I’ll remember her coming to Logan’s bedside. I’ll remember the time she walked into a party when I was a teenager and gave the kids there what-for ’cause they ran me off saying I wasn’t invited (I was horribly horribly embarrassed, but as an adult I recognize that she was standing up for me). I’ll remember that she took me in. I’ll remember that she loved Joseph anyway. I’ll remember that she watched Logan like a hawk. I’ll remember her fighting for me (even while fighting me). I’ll remember that she loved Poe like a son, and fiercely too.
This may be our last Christmas. I’ve already made arrangements on my father’s behalf. I’ll try to continue to be the stubborn, know-it-all, can-do, tell it like it is daughter she raised me to be. I’ve learned lessons from her of what not to be, what not to do. I practice those lessons every day.
But yesterday? She understood what I go through as a mom, and she really got it. I’ll remember.