Friday, October 1, 2010

I had to shine

I talk a lot about my dad here on the blog. My dad and I are close and so I have good stories to tell. And I like to tell the good stories. The funny stories. The sweet stories. I do. Because they make me happy. And who doesn't like to be happy?

well, besides Grumpy Bear?

But I don't talk much about my mom. Because I'm estranged from my mother. Because any good memories I have of her are inescapably entwined with many more bad ones. Because it's easier for me to set it aside and not think about her.

Because it's not funny. The stories about my mom. And I prefer the funny.

But look, I'd like to get something straight right away. I don't buy the whole, "but she's your mother" argument. Yes, she is. But mother love isn't universal. Not all mothers give their children the love they need. Some mothers are toxic. And some children need to push their mothers off in order to breathe.

And that's what I did.

So there's no discussion here. I don't speak to my mom. That's non-negotiable.

There were some good times though.

My mom taught me to swim and to love the water. She taught me to teach others to swim.

She encouraged my love of books and of dance. She and my father imbued in me an appreciation of the arts and theater.

My mom was an excellent cook. She never taught me to cook, but I've spent the better part of my adulthood replicating her garlic bread recipe. I think I've even improved it.

Sometimes she'd pull out her old records and teach me Sixties dances in the living room.

At Christmas, she'd read me stories about how other cultures celebrate the holidays. She was religious and unyielding in many ways, but she valued other cultures and taught me to learn about them.

She used to write me notes on my napkins that she packed in my lunches.

But make no mistake, my mother was a fearsome woman. It would take a volume of books to unpack my mom's neuroses, but there are many and they are complicated.

And there are two moms. There's the mom of my childhood: terrifying and narcissistic. There's the mom of my teens and after: addicted to prescription drugs and completely out of her mind. Both moms were controlling and abusive.

I don't exist as a separate person to my mom. I am simply an extension of her and exist as a subset of her existence. Suffice to say, she was controlling. Controlling is putting it mildly.

I was her little star.

If my mom had discovered pageants, I would have been a child beauty queen. So picture that. Only a child model (at the mall, but I was shy and hated it) and a child actress (on stage). I was in acting lessons and voice lessons and choirs and six dance classes. Not to mention violin lessons and soccer and horse shows and girl scouts and cheer leading and swim (of course).

Before you laugh and say I was spoiled and privileged, let me just say that I had no choice in any of this and that we were poor. My mom would go to any length to finance all of that because when I was out there shining, it meant she was shining.

My parents were in debt up to their eyeballs and often didn't know where gas money or food money would come from. When our water was shut off, we showered at my dad's fire station and used the bathroom at the Carl's Jr down the street. All for her little girl.

Never mind that I would have been happy with one ballet class and to spend most nights at home with a book.

But I had to shine. I was expected to be perfect.

A story: I'm 9. It's winter. And cold. I've angered her. I don't remember why, but it had something to do with the shirt I'd chosen to wear because she ripped it off of me and told me to go hide. I knew I had to hide because if she found me, she'd kill me. That was the implication. The understanding between us. So I hide in our family room/garage. I have no shirt on and no shoes. Just my purple sweatpants with the pink piping down the leg and my bare feet on the cold, hard floor. I stayed there for hours. Shivering and crying silently.

Perfect would never be achieved.

As I got older, as I began to achieve and travel and do things she'd never done, and she descended further into insanity, she became jealous. And cruel.

But that's a story for another day.

14 comments mean you love me:

Shelley Parker Chandler said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

How very sad. As a social worker who works with abused and neglected children, I am very sad for the pain in your childhood. Too many children have to go through things such as you did. May you find healing (which does not in any way mean reconciliation with your mother).

Liz said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Whoa, Andy; that's some serious stuff. No one deserves that kind of treatment, let alone from their mother. I'm so sorry.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

thanks, guys. therapy has done me a world of good. I'm good now!

Jules said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Damn, Girl! Thanks for sharing that! I heart you! And for having a Care Bear up today too! *chest bump*

TheTraveler said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

While your mother IS your mother, she is in no way someone you are obligated to have in your life. Never let anyone tell you different. And take it from me, the more you write about your experiences & put them out there, off your chest, washed from your hands into the earth, the healthier you'll be. The beauty in life is, once know the truth, accept the truth, and let it teach you but not define you. You can evolve to your next level & get on with the better life you deserve. And you DO deserve it. =)

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Jules- that's right! Care Bear powa!

Zea- I love ya!

kris said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

That you are able to remember the good moments of her mothering? And share those even as you make clear how very very hard it was to be this mother's daughter? I love you for that.

For seeing that everything is not all black and white, but many many shades of gray.

I see that little hiding terrified girl so clearly in my mind.

But I also see the courageous woman who has gathered these words together to tell me her story.

Be proud of these words, babe.

You are brave and strong.

Me

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Kris, you are so very awesome! thanks for your words. much love.

Dawn said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Sugarbutt, thanks for sharing. As a child of way-less-than-perfect parents too, let me just say that I'm right with you. Thank God we are smart enough to find people that care about us, and not unnececssarily hang on to the ones that just happened to give birth to us. Feel free to hug yourself and pretend that it's from me.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Dawn, you're the best. and that's exactly my philosophy! we can make our own families with people that actually love us. *sigh* hug reciprocated.

meredithblumoff said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

as horribly condescending as i sound, i am so very proud of you for sharing this. you know i'm fighting to figure out how to tell my own awful stories. my troubles may not stem from my mama, but please know, ladylove, you are in good company.

AND, i must say, you have done an excellent job painting that horrible picture. i want to make that little girl cookies & find her a padded window seat and every anne of green gables book i can find.

xoxo.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

Mer- it's not condescending; it's sweet. *hugs*

that little girl and this lady LOVES Anne of Green Gables!

Jackie T said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

I think not enough adults are willing to say in a public forum that their parents were toxic and they've decided to create space. I'm one of those people who somehow thinks relationships are relationships even when they're toxic, so I've "gone back" to a toxic parent (just slightly... just enough to curb my conscience, though he's far enough away to never be a big part of my life), but I think having the good memories is what's so tough, what is such a big mind-fuck and ultimately what has made me better at dealing with other relationships. No one out there is batman/starwars/spiderman good vs evil, but by making your life less toxic, perhaps you can make the world less toxic.

andygirl said...Best Blogger Tips[Reply to comment]Best Blogger Templates

thanks, Jackie! you are very wise, my friend.

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