This past year since August almost everything in my life has been a teachable moment. In many ways I overcame growing up in a chaotic and unstable, unloving environment and experienced all the trappings of success as a functional member of society. But in some ways I still had to experience growth. Ultimately, if I embrace the concept of love the way I was taught, loving my mom will upend my life and turn it into a maelstrom of churning chaos. Last summer, I sat in my rental car, after working very hard to get her out of a hell of situation of her own making and she turned to me and said “Finally, for the first time I can see that you really do love me.”
I paused a moment, felt my anger well up inside of me like a fountain, and I yelled at her. I asked her, why on earth did she feel the need to put both of our lives in the grips of total chaos in order to feel loved. She sat for a moment, stunned, and said that wasn’t the case. But the reality is, it is the case. Loving her the way she wants means showering her with time, affection, praise, spending money, taking her to lunch, buying her whatever she wants, flying out at great personal expense time and time again, having to stay in a hotel since she won’t get rid of a cat that you’re allergic to, and in the end all you’re going to feel is a lighter wallet and a sense of bewilderment, loss, and confusion about what just happened. Ultimately this is how I’ve witnessed all of her relationships end. With her, you never really know where you stand or what she needs because she can never trust anyone enough to tell the truth of what she wants. In many ways I believe this is because she can’t tell herself the truth of what she wants.
I’ve thought a lot about my obligations as child to the woman that gave me life. But in the end I can’t help her the way she wants. I can only help her the way I’m able. And that means not opening myself up to an endless cycle of drama and exhaustive toll on my personal and financial resources. I’m not saying her position has been easy. She really wants to stay in her home, with her friends and her church. She knows that my obligation is to my children. She knows that she is alone, and she lives with that every day.
When my brother in law was dying, I was living in his home, ferrying him to the oncologist for chemo and the er and taking Dmitri to his own therapy appointments and carrying him up and down the stairs, and learning to mother him. While this was ongoing my mom was dealing with a very complex medical issue, requiring multiple surgeries and wound vacs because she had an out of control staph infection raging in her abdomen. It was very difficult and painful for me not to be there for her when she was going through it. Luckily she did have friends. They worked to not make me feel guilty or worry about her condition when I had so much responsibility of my own. This continued up until her best friend died last August. My mom called me once at 4am, sounding upset. “Is everything okay?” I asked? “No.” she said. “It’s not okay, I am not okay.” “Well if something is the matter you need to press the nurses button, okay Mom? It’s four o’clock in the morning here and I have to get up and start my day soon. Can we talk during regular hours?” Hearing her pain over the phone, a literal continent away was a painful reality in my life. But it was authentic and palpable.
Sometimes avoiding the truth causes more suffering and sometimes by trying to protect someone from the truth without their knowledge, you’re causing them even more hurt. I feel like I always tried, even at my own peril to get my mom to love me in the way that I wanted. But really nothing is ever going to cause that to happen. Sometimes I even spent my time trying to convince unlovable people that these are the reasons why they should love me in search of that maternal love that I lacked. But ultimately that leaves everyone unsatisfied and unsated and me contorted and twisted up inside, still lacking that for which I was searching. Eventually I began feel that if I could just accept the fact that people don’t or can’t or won’t love me in the way that I know I need, that things would get easier. And they did get easier. I learned that it is a beautiful thing to just let people go. It is a loving thing to do to cleanly let someone go. Maybe it is the ultimate loving act. I can’t say for sure. Sometimes you can show love by not doing what people want or being the person that they need. By setting limits. By deciding that you won’t show up for them if they won’t show up for you. Because in the end, we are the gatekeepers of what we allow in our lives and the guarders of our precious energy.
My daughter flew on an airplane without her father or myself today for the first time on her fourth grade school trip to Sacramento. Her dad dropped her off, and there was a small issue and she was crying at the airport. I wasn’t there to see it first hand, but I’ve been thinking about it all day. I’m making a list of important life things I want to tell her when she gets home. I want to tell her that she is capable of getting her needs met. She already does. That sometimes crying is one really helpful way to get your needs met. I want her to look internally and see that she has the strength to get what she needs, to not be afraid to ask for help directly. To tell people what is okay and is not okay with her. I want to tell her that sometimes things don’t go as planned, but those few moments or minutes of uncertainty or fear shouldn’t taint the whole day. And that in the end, we decide how we feel, others don’t make us feel that way. How we interpret events and slights and hard times, that’s on us. I want her to show kindness to people who are sometimes mean, controlling, hard hearted or angry, and to use grace to know when those same people have used up all their goodwill with her.
I want to teach my daughter how to hold onto the bad feelings so that she can appreciate the good. I want her to see that she can affect the outcome and happiness in her life. That she can choose her own way and find her happiness. Childhood is such a beautiful, fleeting, precious time, where someone else can meet all your needs while you spend your time learning and growing. I want her to enjoy these moments, and give her the tools to enjoy her life and to be a strong woman. Like me. This is why I let her see me cry and I talk about losing loved ones, and that the hardest part is they can’t talk to us anymore, but they are still here. I want her to learn to gracefully let go, with her whole heart, so that she can see the beauty in that too. That life is made up of the lightness and the darkness and wouldn’t be the same if it lacked either part. I hope she will see that the beauty of art comes from some things being left unsaid, how silences hold a beauty all of their own. I hope my beautiful daughter will be fearless, even if she has to cry while being fearless. I want her to accept the bad feelings and then set them aside so that she can enjoy the good. If I can just teach her these few things, I will feel like I’ve done an adequate job. And then maybe I can learn to let go with my whole heart too.