b a r e

writing is healing. ask me anything.

Tag: mom

Play

I don’t play much anymore. I used to with my close high school/college group of friends. It wasn’t that we played games, per se, but rather that with them I felt like the world was my playground. I had a curiosity and easy delight and a child-like perspective of the world when we were together. This is not something that came naturally to me. My childhood was harsh and cold and not the least delightful. So a break from my natural/conditioned realism and pessimism was such a relief. In fact, looking back, I can see that I collected friends that were child-like. Sure they could be flakes, perpetually late, irresponsible and ambition-less (like my mom), but they were fun. And I didn’t have to rely on them for my safety and well being (like my mom). And I didn’t have to see them or spend time with them unless I felt like it. But what a treat. Not the healthiest, but definitely tasty. A sometimes snack.

Nowadays I no longer have a group of friends to hang out with. They have all moved away – as close as San Diego and as far as Israel. I have a handful of very close friends that I make time to see individually. Time spent with them is very meaningful. It can be light-hearted, it can be intense, but it is always fulfilling. When it’s just the two of us, it feels like a secret world has been established. We are safe together, and we can play. It’s like a mini-vacation, peaceful and positive and fun. Refreshed and recharged, I can go back to my life of responsibilities and bring back with me some of the strength and joy.

have a mother’s day

I am deeply ambivalent about today’s hallmark holiday. Even with this beautiful girl sitting in front of me so full of life and love, I am flipping through the list of ways I have hurt her or failed her. Thank goodness she’s so resilient. But mostly, thank goodness I’m not my mom. She showed me over and over that I was worthless and undeserving of respect. She chose everyone and everything over me. She took my childish worship for granted. She whines that she loves me, she misses me, but her “love” is limited and unhealthy. And it hurts. Sure, you miss me now, now that you’re old and lonely. Her neediness makes me angry. What about when I needed you. Yes you feel guilt for so many of your choices. But I remember your face when you first made those decisions. Completely unapologetic, proud even. Ugh, stop, I don’t want to waste my time dredging up the ugliness again. I forgave you long ago, not that you’re off the hook, but that I chose to not carry around my resentment anymore. I set it down, and decided to accept you just as you are, limited, selfish, OCD, and not welcome in my life except when I feel like I can handle your immaturity and disconnectedness. And I decided to look at my current life with relief and gratitude. This is Motherhood 2.0 – my turn. I get to create a new mother/daughter relationship. In this version, the mother is present for her daughter, listens to her, treats her like a complete human being and shows her she believes in her. This time when the mother makes mistakes, she admits them and apologizes for them, and doesn’t make excuses and doesn’t laugh about the pain she’s caused. This time the daughter is able to ask for her needs and get them met. This time the daughter knows how much she’s loved both in actions and words, over and over. And this time the daughter has a very loving and supportive and fun and safe father who would never harm her, never torture her, not in a zillion years. I am so lucky and so grateful for my family. We are imperfect. But we are good people. Sometimes I forget that I’m part of the good. Sometimes it’s helpful for me to look back at the bad, and see how much I am not that, not by a long shot. Then I can go through my list of successes instead – and realize that I am a part of making my child’s life good.

not my mother

This burning anger. She’s keeping me waiting again. She doesn’t respect me. She is actively insulting me with her behavior. She’s pissing me off! It’s not my mom, this time. It’s my 5 1/2 year old child. She’s driving me crazy…being developmentally appropriate. I have mapped my childhood years of neglect and rage onto my baby. How do I stop? How do I not get pissed when she stalls or procrastinates or ignores me or refuses to do what I tell her to? I try to remind myself, “she’s 5, she’s only 5.” That helps, a little. But I still have this timer in my head, this schedule. I feel like I’m always failing to follow it, to keep up with it. My husband gently suggested allowing more flexibility into the schedule. “We don’t have to eat right at 6pm.” He’s right. My schedule times are kind of arbitrary. Self-imposed requirements. I picked them, so I can adjust them. What happened to my ability to be flexible? I had it when I was teaching. “Overprepare, but be flexible,” was my motto. But with my child I just want to get through each item on the checklist. Check it off, move to the next item, efficient. Except that it’s not working. I’m not enjoying any of the to-do’s. And I’m sure she can tell, sense it. How do people enjoy these lather, rinse, repeat duties? I guess maybe they can recognize how fleeting this is in the long run. Before I know it, I won’t get to nag her to get in the bath already. I won’t get to cradle and rock her in her towel afterwards. She’ll be showering all on her own. Before I know it, I won’t be arguing with her at bedtime over which books to read and which songs to sing. She’ll wave to me, “goodnight,” and head upstairs on her own. She’s only this sweet, adorable age for a little while. This is what I need to remember. Also, she’s not my mother.

What is your birth position in your family? Does it impact your mental health? Why?

So, as the story goes, when my little sister was born I tried to climb into her crib to kill her. I was one month shy of 2 years old. Of course I have no memory of this. But it was enthusiastically rolled out at social events by my mom. I can always count on her for embarrassing stories. Is that who we become when we get old? Just a collection of stories?

I was always faster and stronger and smarter growing up. I felt good about that. But it wouldn’t be a competition if there wasn’t more than one person. And competition definitely took place. Scholastic success was always easy for me. I don’t remember if she struggled. I was articulate and enunciated perfectly, she smeared her words. I was always taller. Even now, when we’re both adults, I’m 3 1/2 inches taller. And I loved it. She won in other areas, she hit puberty first. And she loved to rub that in my face. Boy we were mean to each other. She would claim to have a better voice, a soprano to my second alto. I have better nails, she was a nail biter for so long that her nails are wide and squat. I was proud of that. We both talk incredibly fast. In fact, if you don’t know us well, you’d be hard pressed to determine which of us was talking to you over the phone. We actually tricked a friend once, on purpose. She was prettier, but I was smarter. And did I mention I’m taller.

I don’t have many memories of our early years. But when I’ve babysat young sisters close in age and I watch the way the older one treats the younger one, I feel shame. Something inside me tells me I did that. And even though it’s clearly human nature, I still feel guilt. We tormented each other, but I was perhaps a little better at it. She was definitely more sensitive, the wounds I inflicted years ago are still festering. That’s her choice, she loves to hold onto pain and wave it around like a flag of glory. I won’t take responsibility for her pain. And she hates me for that.

It’s been over 4 years since we stopped talking. 2 weeks after my daughter was born. Our “on again” lapse was tenuous at best. Basically a reconciliation about a year earlier for my wedding, heavily driven by my mom’s desire to live in an alternate reality where we’re a tight-knit loving family.

Well thanks to my dad’s death, and my sister’s need for a new drama/stressful project, plus her poverty/debt/greed, we’re back in communication. The estate lawyer, and more importantly, my husband, said to “walk away” from dealing with the mysterious trustee, who my sister now says should never have gotten any of his money. She’s on a mission, filing criminal charges. Let her have her crusade. I’d never be able to talk her out of it. No one could. She keeps texting me, updates and steps she’s taking, but also how stressed and anxious she is. Oh woe is her, look how she’s suffering. When my mom called me up to tell me what my sister was going to do, she was all riled up. I had to talk her off the ledge, I said to her, “he’s dead, why do you want to dig him back up?” I mean really, why waste another second on him. Let him fade away till even his memory is vague. Indifference is what he deserves. He’s gone, he no longer exists, it’s glorious. Why bring him back?? One of today’s texts from my sister says, “Hate that it came to this. That even after death he makes me sick.” Oh what a victim she is! How about instead you take responsibility for the choices you are making. Up to and including how you think and feel about what’s going on. Not everything needs to be a nuclear meltdown.

But maybe she needs that. I remember when I needed intensity all the time. It made me feel alive. I invited all sorts of brilliant but toxic/destructive people into my life. I enjoyed them thoroughly. The stings didn’t warn me to run, they were familiar and comfortable and understandable, and they produced endorphins. Yes, I got high off of cruelty, both giving and receiving. Somehow I justified it, believed I had it all under control. Do I miss it? Only theoretically. I don’t have the time or energy for drama anymore. What little energy I can scrape together is for myself, and my family (husband and daughter).

I feel like I haven’t really answered the question. Yes, birth order matters. I was looked up to (literally), copied, followed around. And it made me proud (and sometimes pridefully annoyed). And when my sister finally found her own power, was she embarrassed of the esteem she had had of me, and was she resentful of my position. I’m sure of it. Into our young adult years I was our mom’s favorite. I’m sure she knew it. And my damaged mom, overflowing with guilt for decisions she’s made and our resulting childhood, clings now to the only daughter that will throw her crumbs. Hint, that’s not me.

It’s complicated, but also simple. We all just want to feel important. We want to be listened to. Why couldn’t we be kind to each other – our parents didn’t model that behavior. Even after years and years of therapy, it took my auto-immune disease to humble me, and my teaching experience to learn to understand and love all kinds of personalities, and then, most importantly, my husband’s sweetness and honesty, to melt my ice fortress.

And now, it’s my daughter’s temper and impatience and stubbornness that is teaching me just how hard it is to break old behavior patterns. But that story is for another post…

Gratitude

Everyone is doing it on Facebook, so I’ll do it here.

I am most of all grateful for my husband. He’s not perfect, but no one is. But he is in it for the long haul. He took his wedding vows seriously, he is committed. And with that perspective, he will do whatever it takes to keep our family unit safe and healthy and running. Even when I can’t. And, when I can’t, he doesn’t judge. He simply keeps on keeping on. He hangs in there, even when I’m swinging all over the place. He holds steady. He is calm. The calm of a mountain. Immobile, unshakable. (At least, on the surface.) He is sweet and adorable and kind and generous. Our 5th wedding anniversary is coming up, and I still have a huge crush on him. Something about the combination of strength and shyness is wildly attractive to me.

My daughter. Oh how you test me. Like the velociraptors in Jurassic Park, constantly looking for a weak spot in the fence. You mirror me, so I see both my positive and negative qualities reflected back in my face. You’re an eye opener all right. So stubborn and so persistent and such a drama queen (er, princess). Oh how you are able to hurt me. Oh how you are able to crush my heart. But then just a moment later be sweet and adorable, and utterly unaware of the consequences of what you do or say. Because really, my reactions say more about my own demons and ghosts. You are the ultimate test, lessons after lessons, forcing me to prove my life philosophies are practical. I am exhausted by you, but also obsessed with you. Your eyelashes. The fuzz on your arms and legs and cheeks. Those cheeks. Your chubby fingers, delicately posing as any princess would. Your breathing, your heartbeat. Through you I have wielded the knife of judgment against myself – having had lots of practice using it on my mother. I have cut myself violently. And through you I have laid that sword down. I have hugged you and rocked you and loved you, and in doing so have comforted my inner child. So much healing through you. I want to run away, and I want to scoop you up and put you back inside me. What a crazy mix of emotions this parenting thing is.

My friends. Oh my friends. You are my family. You have seen me so ugly. And you have seen my successes. And everything in between. And still you stay. I was sure you’d run screaming, many times. But here you still are. And you love me. Warts and stench and all. How or why, I don’t know. But I do know I am beyond grateful that you exist. That you have always stood by me. That I know you will always stand by me. That you will cry with me and laugh with me. And that you love me, as is, just the way I am.

Dear Mom who I totally thought had it all together who asked me if I ever struggle

Hi,
I’ve been thinking about you today. I wish there were enough words to describe how much I struggle every day. Being a mom is the hardest job there is. You’re in charge of a human life and every decision you make feels like it could be wrong. It’s exhausting and thankless and repetitious and yet we’re supposed to feel like it’s totally rewarding all the time. But the truth is most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time it’s a constant pushing forward and guiding and monitoring and cleaning up after and disciplining and rescuing and teaching and motivating a small person who, if you’re doing it right, can’t appreciate all the bad things they didn’t experience for many, many years because of a evolutionary lack of perspective.
You’re in my thoughts. And just know, you’re not alone.
Your friend,
Me

Dead.

Finally. Fully. Completely.

My heart raced as I read the email, “I regret to inform you your father is dead.” Just a few minutes ago, I told a longtime friend that I just had to accept that you would never die. You’d cling to life with your fingernails, being around to scare us forever. And then, just like that, you expired. I was elated. I called my mom and we shouted and laughed. The world outside seemed brighter, the leaves greener, everything was sharper and in focus. I went with another friend to the coroner’s office to pick up your keys. She said you had died the morning before, around 11:30 AM. I liked to imagine you woke up early, like you always do, and lay there suffering, paralyzed, until your shriveled, black heart finally gave up hours later. I want to imagine that I gave a speech at your funeral where I told everyone the ugly truth about you. I like to plan going to your grave and pouring urine over it. But this isn’t making me feel the justified anger and superiority it used to. I don’t feel good about these thoughts. I just feel sick to my stomach, nauseated. And I didn’t just cry. I sobbed. I sat there in my car after leaving your apartment and I sobbed and my shoulders heaved and I screamed. I felt like a crazy woman. And as I sobbed I’d start smiling, and then my heart was filled with so much pain that I screamed again.

You’d love to know your trustee and full beneficiary showed up. She gave you an honored man’s burial, whereas I’d have had you cremated and flushed you, or unceremoniously dumped you in the trash (which is where I put your 30-day memorial candle, by the way). I don’t care that she gets all your crap. I cut ties with you long ago. That Will I found where you said I get “NOTHING!” I laughed. Of course. But her stories about how wonderful you were made me want to vomit. That’s what made me sick. You loved her children in the non-violent ways you never loved us. I wanted to yell at her to shut up. I wanted to tell her my stories. How you told me every night that if we ever tried to leave you’d chop off our heads and burn down the house. And then finally, during those 4 torturous hours at the mortuary, she finally let me tell her. I didn’t see her face, I was so lost in my pain.

I did a releasing meditation. The first step was to imagine the situation(s) that brought me pain. I was lost in the primal child’s experience of “please don’t hurt me” and “I’m so afraid.” Then the second step was to confront you, and boy I let you have it. Then, during the third step, I pushed you off my cloud and cut the rope and said, “I forgive you. I release you. I let go.” But it was too late. That box, those boxes, that I had shelved long ago, that I had built justified anger around, they tumbled off the shelf and it all spilled out. An ocean of pain. Every last drop. And I sobbed. I sobbed till I was wrung out, like a towel, dry and twisted.

And when I stopped, I started to be filled again, slowly at first, then so fast I was completely soaked with joy and gratitude. My life, my husband, my daughter, my friends who are my family – they love me so much. They would do anything for me. They are healthy (oh yes you are!) and positive and caring and so, so loving. And I am so lucky, so blessed, so grateful that this is my life now. So relieved and thankful of the decisions and choices I have made, not despite his torture, but because of it. This day and every day is so bright and beautiful because we can and will continue to bring in love and laughter to our lives. And we never have to live as he did or torture as he did or suffer as he did.

I can move forward now, untethered.

I leave the past behind me. And I walk forward with strength and gratitude and a new love for life.

Write about the boundaries you have established in your life. Do they work? Why did you establish them?

I have always been attracted to brilliant but disturbed people. They didn’t fit in, like I didn’t fit in, and the things they thought or talked about were so beyond what normal people did. They were toxic but I didn’t care, they weren’t boring, so it was worth it. Maybe they made me feel normal in comparison. Maybe I was just re-creating the dangerous dance of abused/abuser, and trying to fix it, this time around. I’m not really sure anymore. What I do know now is that those relationships are no longer acceptable.

When we were dating, I lost two of them. One extracted herself, painfully. The other attacked. Both were threatened by the healthy and fulfilling pairing up of me and my now husband. Snip. You are cut out. It was, for some reason, okay for you to abuse me. But now that I am teamed up with someone else, it is absolutely not okay for me to expose my partner to you. Which is a bummer, because we certainly had fun times.

When we were planning our wedding, I lost another. I just couldn’t bring myself to invite an undiagnosed alcoholic to an open bar party on a boat. We had been roommates in the past, and I had seen firsthand her behavior while intoxicated. And I just couldn’t subject the wide variety of attendees, who were trapped on the water for 4 hours, to this gal. We had had some really brilliant conversations in the past. I would miss them. She self-extracted. Wrote in shock and surprise on facebook about not being invited, then unfriended me. Snip. I hope one day when she has to plan a wedding she will see just how hard it is to put together a guest list. Weddings are extortion, especially if you’re paying for it yourself. And the pressure from family members to invite people you’ve never even met is ridiculous. Thank goodness that’s over.

Snip, snip, snip. I will miss you and the fun times we had. But now I’m responsible for yet another person, my daughter. And there’s no way you’re getting any access to her.

So what does that mean? Toxic sister – snip, the week after my daughter’s birth. Toxic mother – well, that took longer. Sort of snip? Very, very limited access, and only while supervised. It sounds terrible to say, but I will be relieved when you’re gone. I’m sure I will wrestle with guilt and what-if’s. But at least I will be able to finally let you be who you are, since there’s certainly no changing yourself when you’re dead. I’m trying, I’m really trying to lower my expectations of you, and yet you still find ways to disappoint me. You’re a mess. And it pisses me off. And it’s just better for everyone if you go live your life over there, and I’ll go live my life over here. Then I can go back to focusing on being healthy and balanced and on maintaining and nurturing the precious relationships with my husband and daughter.

Dear Mother In Law

I hate you. But I know we are so much alike, that the hatred is really for myself. When I fell apart, when I wasn’t present, in the very beginning, you were here loving my daughter with all your heart, taking sleep shifts with my husband, preparing food, cleaning, and you know, running my household. Well I’m not broken anymore, may I please have my household back? My feelings of gratitude for what you did are tangled up with my guilt and shame and self-hatred. You are good at what you do, running everything. I remember the first time I went to visit for Xmas, you had so many events well-coordinated, herding everyone from one place to another, probably like you ran your classrooms when you used to teach. I was impressed. Now that you’re retired and an empty-nester, I do understand that the skills and desire to organize and control others still exists, worse, is building under the surface like a volcano. But please don’t reorganize my daughter’s clothes. I especially didn’t enjoy that you hid the clothes you didn’t like, which I only came across long after when looking for something else. I’m really trying to run my own home. And when you come and take over, I have to wrestle all over again with my feelings of inadequacy as a mother and a wife. I know you think you’re helping, but you’re actually not. When you first started visiting every 2 months, I let you do your thing. It’s only 4 days, I told myself, as I’d bite my tongue. I especially didn’t appreciate when you’d tell strangers that you were the mom, not I. Oh, ha ha. I get it, my daughter, with her red hair and blue eyes, doesn’t look like me. I get it, okay. And it hurts every time you point it out. Because it grinds into a scabby, leaky part of my underbelly that remembers that I didn’t want her and didn’t love her, for which I will always feel so much shame and guilt. So, again, I respectfully ask, can you just please stop? I know that you love her very much, and that you feel like in your short visits you have to squeeze in as much happy memories as possible. But when my daughter hears that you’re visiting, all she wants to know is what did you buy her. I wish you would think about the values you are teaching her, rather than settling for the short term gratification.

And one more thing, the most important, stop feeding my daughter CRAP.

I get it, you were raised eating a certain way. But that way doesn’t work for my daughter. Every time after you leave, she deals with very painful constipation. Both my husband and I have tried being nice about it, but to be honest, we haven’t been the least effective. At first, we didn’t tell you. Maybe twice, three times, was an anomaly. Well now, after your visits, and even on weeks like this when you haven’t visited, my daughter will decide she that pooping hurts and refuse to do so, for days. Well as you can imagine, this exacerbates the problem. And now, instead of just a physical issue, it’s a psychological one. Think about it, for the last couple years, every two months pooping becomes extremely painful for her.  And it’s my fault. I didn’t have the guts to stand up to you. I was afraid of making you mad. And I am so angry at myself. This is my child, I should be able to protect her no matter what. But I didn’t. And now I’m paying the price…no, she is. If this was as simple as abuse, I would have no problem risking my safety to protect her. But too much ice cream and crackers? How do I make you understand just how much damage you do by changing my daughter’s diet? How can I get you to listen to me?? You argue with me about every decision I make every step of the way, and you always have an answer for every thing I tell you. You are arriving in 6 days. I’m ready to be the bad guy. You can hate me all you want. You can tell all your friends about what an awful daughter in law I am. But I am not leaving you alone with my child. I won’t let you hurt her anymore.

Dear Dad

I hate you. But not with intense burning. I hate what you represent. You were my childhood monster and torturer. Believe me, I have cried because of you. I could fill an ocean with those tears. I wanted you to suffer, and to die. And now, with you laying in the ICU from a heart attack and open heart surgery, my wish just might come true. You who broke my heart, had yours cut open. My mom and sister went to visit you. You weren’t awake. They don’t actually want to interact with you. They are all broken up about it, roiling with emotions. But I just can’t find any for you. Not even pity, that cloying, sticky, disgusting feeling. You loved pity. After you’d beat me, you’d come crying to me apologizing. And I would say, in my grown up voice, how you needed to learn to control your anger. Gross. Your teeth. I remember your bared teeth when you were angry. It’s starting, I knew. And we never knew what would set you off. Always full of surprises, you were. When my sister came to visit you or her own, the nurse said immediate family only, and she said I’m his daughter. The nurse said, he said he has no children. Imagine her shock! Even in an emergency, you find ways to surprise us. Part of me wants to send you flowers with a note saying, “I hope you die soon!” But a bigger, healthier part of me just wants to move this topic back to the file room, the archives, where it belongs. And then, when you do really, finally die, I can bring out those dusty files and have a celebratory bonfire. I will dance with joy. Or maybe, I’ll just unceremoniously dump the files in the garbage. Yes, I keep those files. I know I “shouldn’t.” But I know how you are. Ever the sneaky, cunning bastard delighting in sabotage. It wouldn’t be that hard to find me. To terrorize me again, and even worse, my family. That’s why I still hold onto those files. Just in case I might need them. How nice it will be to get rid of them when you’re gone. How much relief. How much weight removed, jettisoned. And so, I’m going back to my life now. One that is beautiful and meaningful and joyful and full of love. One where you don’t exist and aren’t invited. That’s where I’m turning my full focus now. That’s where I belong.