My mother surprised me today. Blew me away, really. I’m still rather… sorting through it.
She called me today which, while unusual, was not entirely out of the ordinary… But then she asked if she could sing me a song. This was a weird request. I was wondering if she’d gotten a solo at church or something, then she began playing the piano.
The introduction got me off guard right away, the kind of rubber band, soul snapping, sort of slap in the face time travel that catapults you almost instantaneously back to an early childhood memory yet still manages to make you feel like you’ve been lost for an eternity on your way back to that moment.
I remembered moving my hand in a circular motion around my face, drawing the circle out away from my face into a cone, and singing, as my mother was, “Beautiful/ beautiful/ Jesus is beautiful/ and Jesus makes beautiful/ things of my life”.
(Not me or anyone I know. Video provided by YouTube)
I was shocked.
I was silent.
Then, in a sort of quavering voice, my mother told me how it struck her that she should call and share that with my today. That, she remembered, a school performance I’d had and that she was running late, as she always did (she admitted) while juggling my younger sister. She had made it into the auditorium just after the song started. She said she could see me looking for her and that, when I saw her, I was so happy. I was smiling. Then my class sang began singing and, though she didn’t remember the sign language that I remembered so vividly, she remembered the lyrics. It was the first time she had ever heard the song and every time since then she thought of me when she heard it.
I was shocked.
I was silent.
I don’t know why she remembered this. I don’t know how it was something that I actually remembered as well. The odds of that are pretty… astronomical. The fact that she remembered something of me after my sister was born was… startling.
I’ve asked her what I was like as a child or a baby and, more often than not, the answer is either that she doesn’t remember or a story that I must gently tell her was actually of my sister.
You see, the first time I remember my mother forgetting me/my needs… repeatedly… I was about the same age, if not a little younger, than when I sang and signed this song with my class. The memories of being forgotten, left, etcetera just built up after that as each experience progressed from hurt to disappointed expectation.
The message my brain took from that…
“I’m not worth remembering”.
I’m sure my mother didn’t mean it that way. She was just busy, scatter-brained, blonde, what have you. It still hurt. She thought I was just acting like a tyrannical two-year old when I was screaming. Doctor said I’d broken my leg. Or when she couldn’t remember to feed me when I was around five. She just got caught up doing laundry. She didn’t mean to put me in harm’s way. She just loved her animals so much and surely the doctors were over-reacting. The joking about my “artsy personality” that I have now been informed were most likely seizures.
There has been so much belittling and hurt over the years… but as I listened to her recounting an actual event from my childhood, one that I knew was my childhood because I remembered it too, I just wanted to breakdown crying and forgive her all the years hurt. I wanted to. I really did.
I just couldn’t.
I got a little teary-eyed, my throat tightened up a bit, and I let her know that I couldn’t even express to her how much it meant to me that she was telling me this.
I meant it…
and I wish so much
that she would have left it there.
She started talking about the books she’d been reading that had helped her which, if you didn’t know my mother, would sound like a good and healthy show of her desire to improve herself.
I knew her.
I’d heard this before.
Just like that, I could feel my mental hackles rising as she went down the list of books this recent bout of “growth” had been attributed to. Then, as she always does, she started in on one book that had helped her the most… to which my heart, re-experiencing decades of hurt and the outrage that went along with it, wanted to yell out “Oh, really? Because my most helpful books were ‘Boundaries’ and ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers'”.
The whole point of the second book is to come to terms with the fact that the problem is not your issues but your mother’s and to accept that your relationship may never be what you needed then or might want now, you just have to accept “mom” and the relationship as it is and surround your part of that relationship with the boundaries to keep you safe and healthy. It’s really a book I should probably reread again.
My sister and I are both in this boat, though I didn’t realize it until we were both well into our adult years.
My heart’s been doing odd things in my chest since the conversation. Orion, our canine who was a therapy dog for his past owner, has pretty much refused to leave my side and even insisted his way into my lap for cuddling. It’s what he was trained to do to calm someone having… issues. I loved him for it… and it twisted something deep inside my heart just a little bit harder than it already was.
To be fair, I don’t think my mother had the faculties and or tools to be a mother of three (then four). If she had stuck with only one child, she probably would have raised one spoiled child, but said child would have had their emotional needs met appropriately. She can be a very kind and caring human being. It just felt like she didn’t know what to do with me, how to understand me, or if she could even accept me… especially once she had her perfect little angel that was my sister.
Then again, it seems even her perfect little angel felt the same way growing up that I did.
Warring. That is the only way I can explain what my insides are doing right now. The hurt coupled with inappropriately boundless hope that I tried to overcome is warring with the anger, bitter resentment, and eventual emotional distance that have grown into a structure for at least a semi functional and amicable mother-daughter relationship.
I don’t even know if that makes sense… I don’t feel like I make sense right now.
She tried to share something wonderful, and it really, truly was. There are just so many dark, dirty chains throughout our relationship, so much dysfunction, and I am trying so hard to hold on to the fact that she wanted to share something meaningful with me about our relationship, a time she felt was meaningful that held me as the star… like a daughter she wanted, and liked, and loved, and made her that happy, beaming kind of proud I always wanted to make her.
So, here I’ve been most the night, struggling inside while all the everyday chaos goes on outside, to hold within my hands this tiny twinkling light within a relationship of dark, twisted, dirty manipulations and mistakes.
And, as with every small glimmer of hope, that nagging voice of my mother’s is criticizing me in the back of my head, asking me if I really know what I’m doing, if what I hold dear is really worth fighting for.
Ironic… isn’t it?