changeI realized last week that none of my friends in my life knew that growing up, my mom was my favorite person in the world. She was my confidante, my support, my co-conspirator in practical jokes and the eating of hot fudge sundae’s … I don’t know why things changed. Some of it was her need for me. It was overwhelming. When I left for college, she held on hard. She was actively against my marriage. (Although when she flew out for it and my fiancee and I told her we weren’t sure it was a good idea for us to go through with it, she was mad that we were considering cancelling it. I don’t get people.)

I think one of the reason’s it is so hard to be around her now is because I miss who we were together. I miss the fun we had, the jokes we shared. The Saturdays spent watching old westerns and laughing together. The traditions we had of family trips in the fall to see the leaves turn color. I miss early morning snuggles. I miss the silliness.

Some of my traditions are all about my mom. I put my holiday tree up the day after Thanksgiving, every year. It’s how we did it. My kids get to open one present the night before, just like I did.

I invited her to spend the holidays with us this year. We’ll see how it goes. I am trying. I still love her. I just need to accept that who she was is who she was. It’s not any less real because it’s no longer how things are.

That’s kind of hard.

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byebyeloveMy kids have been through two divorces. Their father and I used to be very close, despite the legal separation, doing family holidays, vacations, and birthdays. Despite our desire for very different things in a relationship, in parenting we worked to give them as much stability and love as we could do. 

Until he met his current lover/wife. She loved everything about him, except us. She insisted that as long as he was spending time on his first family, it was because he was in love with me and they could never be happy. So he calls and says, “I’m starting over, like the kids. I get to have my own life. And my own kids.” Then he calls and tells his kids he wants to be their uncle, not their father. 

I don’t blame her, although I think she is off-the-hook selfish. He’s the dad. He chose. It was his responsibility to choose his children. Of course, this brings up lots of guilt on my part. Guilt that creeps into me in the early hours of the morning when I should be sleeping. Guild that inspires me to doubt myself and my judgement in very fundamental ways. Guilt. So very productive. Going hand in hand with sorrow and shame. 

I loved him, deeply, as a friend, co-parent, and partner. And my son is so very like him, it is nearly impossible not to remember all the things about him that I adored. And a few of the things I found exasperating. So the kids start over (mostly). And he starts over. And I have moved on. And I embrace the love I have for him in the mannerisms of our son. And I hope, with all my heart, that I will give my children enough to find the strength in themselves to know who they are and how to be joyful.

And I try, really hard, not to wish him ill. Most days, I succeed.

I grew up in complete denial that I had emotions. I could see how very dangerous they were. I convinced myself it washeart simply a case of mind over matter. And I was fairly good at delivering on that. Of course, they eventually erupted, volcano style and I’ve spent the last several years letting the lava flow and cool. 

I can still remember the very first time I saw my mother cry. It almost ended my world. She had lost everything in a bad business deal and we were living her sister’s two upper rooms trying to adjust to our new, dependent, lifestyle. Moving in with her family brought to life some lifestyle issues we had been unaware of. Such as my aunt’s raging alcoholism and her husband’s petty stinginess. The good news is that when your home life sucks, you become a very active student, so I can honestly say that at least some of my success in life is due to my desire to be home as little as possible. 

At one particularly low point, my mom called her mom and asked if we could move in with her. My mom idolized her mom. And she really wanted to be cared for — to have a safe place of retreat– something she never felt she had. Grandma said, no, she really didn’t want anyone to live with her. My mom hung up the phone and wept in her little room that overflowed with bed, desk, and living room furniture. A few months later, my cousin and her family moved in with Grandma and I saw something break in my mom that I don’t know was ever fixed.

Maybe this is why I have always been so terrified of leaning on anyone. Between my mother’s bitterness and the things I witnessed, is it any wonder I got the idea that people will let you down when you need them most? Any wonder that it took me until I was 29 to be able to turn to someone and let them comfort me when my hurt was hurting? Any wonder that I denied the power of emotion when I saw it consistently create sorrow in the one person I loved the most in the world? 

I am learning, slowly, to be present with my heart. To allow my feelings to exist without catering to them. To risk and love without losing myself in the process. 

Very slowly.

cards-in-glassThese stories of the church and community get mixed up in my memories of my family. It is an odd dichotomy. The family I belonged to most completely was my mother’s family and our holidays were a combination of booze, cigarettes, and card games. As the youngest in the family, I eagerly anticipated being old enough to sit with the adults and play cards. I remember one of my first games, 9 years old, at the table in my grandparents home over Thanksgiving. I don’t remember who won, just that I finally got to play.

It’s strange to me that I craved family the way I did, when I really think about my family. We spent most major holidaysraspberries together and some holidays most people have never heard of (the Gaspee Days parade was an annual tradition my entire youth). I have fond memories of digging for gold in the backyard with the neighbor boy. I learned to swim in my grandparents pool and would stuff myself on raspberries in the summer after a day of playing.

I could try blaming my mom again. I may have to dedicate my journal to Freud if I go all parental focused. She was definitely the odd-one out in the family. And since I was her “best” friend, I heard all about how we didn’t belong. How she wasn’t wanted. How she was treated badly. She was a born victim. But, to be fair, they weren’t very nice to her either. 

So she was probably part of it. We see with the eyes we have and mine were tinted by relationship dynamics I was too embroiled in to have any hope of seeing or understanding.

Spiritual Hunger

April 29, 2009

astrology

My mother’s yearning for spirituality in her life was equalled only by her fear of it. Astrology was probably the most regularly embraced mysticism in the home I grew up in. There is a part of me that can really jive with the idea that our bodies are somehow influenced by the magnetism of other planets. And there is a part of me that considers it to be complete baloney. My mom tried to pretend she thought it was baloney, but justified her neurosis too often for that to be completely genuine. “What can you expect when a Pisces and a Virgo live together?” was not an uncommon response to our differences.  Her inability to embrace reality and my constant exasperation with her because of it might have been a more authentic accounting of our non-simpatico encounters than my piscean nature. spirit-leaving-body

But, whatever. The point is aside from books on personality matrixes and other planets, there wasn’t a lot of spiritual grounding in my upbringing. Sunday mornings were housecleaning day. God rested, we worked. And I craved spiritual input like a thirsty daughter in the desert. As an 8 year old visiting my uncle’s baptist church I almost raced to the front when they called us in for salvation. I begged friends and family to take me to their churches– catholic, protestant, jehovah’s witness– my early exposure was all over the christian map. It doesn’t really surprise me that when I finally had the chance to be part of a religious community, I bought in 100%.

My feelings about life were so big they often felt like they would push my skin off my bones. God was about the only thing I could imagine that would release that pressure. And the problems of the world seemed unsolvable. Fear. Greed. Hate. Wars. I read the paper as a young teen and I felt so overwhelmed by all the horror. It seemed like we needed a god to get things fixed up. I want to judge myself– lazy– but I really can’t because I remember how much I wanted the world to be better than it was. And I didn’t believe in my power to change anything.

Born Again Mormon

April 28, 2009

salt_lake_lds_mormon_templeI joined the mormon church when I was 13, kind of. My parents were mormon when I was born. My dad had been raised in the church, kind of. I think his stories about sitting in the car at different country bars in other towns so grandpa could drink without anyone in town knowing, points to a less-than-stellar devotion to the church. Anyhow, my mom joined the church when they were dating or married because some of his friends told her about it. And then, being my mom, she expected him to show her the way. I think what she really wanted was a top, not a husband.

So, she threw herself into a patriarchal church to satisfy her needs for domination and then demanded that my father fulfill his role as head of household. His post-vietnam-hippie attitude didn’t combine well with spiritual mormon patriarch. He tried. He failed. One week they couldn’t watch tv because it broke the sabbath, next weekend they’d be out drinking beer with their friends. My mom blamed the church for their divorce. I blame them and their clearly incompatible personalities.

She left when I was two, relocated to the East where her family lived and continued to take me to church until I was 6. From 6-13, I was mormon when I visited dad and hippie agnostic the rest of the year.  My sister was extremely concerned I would end up in hell (outerdarkness in mormon terms) but I wasn’t really concerned. Until I skipped church in an act of defiance and had my purse stolen. Never mind the weird logic that god would have someone break a commandment to get me to do the right thing, it seemed clear in my 13 year old mind. I signed up, almost immediately, and began an 11 year journey as one of the faithful.