Wednesday, December 21, 2011

"Rub dirt on it"

My dear friend H lost her miracle twins a week ago (not her first loss). Please visit her blog and give her a hug. She's feeling very alone right now.

H and I email often. She was there for me earlier this year when my world fell apart. She's a strong, wonderful woman. In our recent emails we have been discussing how we deal with loss, with emotional pain. We both are of the "don't show weakness, bottle things up, emotionally 'rub dirt on it' and move on because that's what is need to survive (until we fall apart later under the strain)" camp.

Only lately have I tried to do things differently, want to do things differently. For example, since I got pregnant my mom has been talking to me about how she's going to move down to California from Oregon to retire so she can be a part of her granddaughter's life, even watch her one day a week. She talked about having Friday or Sunday dinner together as a family, along with her sister, my dear aunt, who also lives in my area. It made me so happy to imagine us being physically and emotionally close. She told me that before my grandma died last year she asked her, "Mamma, what is your one regret in life?" and my dear grandma answered, "The only thing I would do differently would have been to live closer to my granddaughter Jem and watch her grow up." We both cried together about this. My heart was filled with hope and love.

Sunday my mom called and told me she "just couldn't afford to move." Now, this is pure rubbish (I'm being polite). She could if she really wanted to. The truth is my mother has always put herself first. Her international travel, her seminars, her expensive hobbies are all more important. 

When I was three my mother decided to leave my dad, for various and valid reasons, including infidelity, and drug use. Unfortunately, this also meant leaving ME with my dad (who was a good father, as good as a stoned hippie in a Berkeley commune can be) to "find herself," which she did in the arms of another guy. 

A year later she wanted me back, but it meant exposing me to abuse and neglect by her crazy, Vietnam-vet-turned-hippie boyfriend (this was the early 70's). I could go into details, but won't. Let's just say it was bad. Not as bad as it could have been, but still bad. I was often sick, hungry, and punished disproportionally to whatever the little three-year-old me might have done (played with matches, for example).

After a year of that insanity, I went back to live with my dad for two years, but only once she actually saw what a horrible physical threat the boyfriend was and got her life together. 

She then started making better choices, but it was always her world and I just lived in it. The minute I could, I moved away (to college) across the country and then afterwards, across the globe. After many years living abroad I was sick of being a foreigner and moved back to the U.S. in 1998. Since then I've done years of therapy to gain my emotional autonomy, gotten married, etc.

So, on Sunday I just sat there on the phone and listened to her whine about how she wanted to but she really couldn't swing it. All I could say was, "I have to go. Bye!" hung up and then went and cried my eyes out on Mr Jem's shoulder. 

I was holding on to naive hope that my mother would actually really be there for me, for her granddaughter, be able to be with her and take care of her on a regular basis. Well, she's not. And will never really be. She's a good woman in so many ways and has changed quite a bit over the years, but not enough. And I have to accept her the way she is.

But it hurts. 

So, do I just 'rub dirt' on this wound, stay silent and "just move on?" How do I do this differently?

How do you deal with loss? Disappointment? Those emotional boo-boos?



Anonymous said...


My father is much like your mom. It's all about him. And while I've let go of any illusions that he could change, my brother hasn't. He listens to every promise with the utmost belief that my dad will be there.

I understand wanting a mom who is there and understands you. I do. I still wait for my mom to change and she isn't half as crazy as my dad. But in the meantime, I've had to learn to find the love and respect of new people in my life to stand in for the dysfunctional parents I was given. It's not easy.

I'm so glad you shared this. xo

S said...

Oh, Jem, I'm so sad for you reading this. Having had my own issues with a self-centered, me-first mother over my lifetime (WAY too long to go into here), I feel for you.

It's worth reminding yourself that your mom is the one who will be missing out if she chooses to ignore her own mother's words of wisdom.

How do I deal with things like this? The only thing that's helped me with my mom is to accept that this is the way she is and to not expect normal "motherly" behavior from her. (I sort-of think of her as a fun, kooky maiden aunt, rather than as my parent.)


Rebecca said...

I'm so sorry to hear this. I dealt with a similar emotional situation with my father (though not as scary of a situation). I have no great advice because I've dealt with it by not dealing with it and haven't spoken to him (except for the odd card here and there that brings it all back) for 20 years.

I agree with pp that it is worth reminding yourself that it is her loss.

JNS said...

I'm really, really sorry. That's so tough.

The best thing I have ever heard about this sort of thing is to think about it as you have two chances in life to have a great parent-child relationship. One of those is when you are the child, and sometimes that doesn't work out based on the parent. You don't have control there. Your other chance is when YOU are the parent--that one you have control over! So putting most or all of your focus on making that a great relationship, and less of your focus on creating the relationship you wish you had with your mom (which is unfixable, because she is who she is) is the one thing you can do to bring happiness.

The other thing is to realize that she probably has something wrong with her in that she could leave a three year-old child. I mean, as in something wrong with her brain. I have an eight month-old daughter and would give my life for her in an instant. Any parent who wouldn't do that just has a disorder. So maybe look at her that way too; she just has a mental disability that can't be fixed. Kind of like if she were paralyzed you wouldn't keep trying and hoping to convince her to get up from her wheelchair and walk.

Cristy said...

Here from ICLW.

I too have a very difficult relationship with my mother. Since I was a child, she's felt this need to compete with me. Growing up, I was always fatter, my boobs were always smaller, she was faster, she was smarter, etc, etc. Every celebration that focused on me was ruined because she couldn't handle it (to this day I hate my birthday). And there was always hell to play if I pointed out the lunacy of the situation. After many years of therapy, I'm finally moving forward with my life. But not without some deep scars.

I'm very sorry your in a situation where you need to parent your mother. It sucks and is completely unfair. But considering what she put you through as a child, I would be cautious. Anyone who exposes a child to an abusive situation is dealing with some severe mental disabilities.

Allison said...

You hit so close to home here. My parents are Flighty McFlightersons who say they want to be here for BabyBoy but do absolutely nothing to make that happen. Even though they are in control of their own schedules and could have the means to visit often if they chose to not blow 99% of their money.

It's hard. Part of me wants to rail and say "screw you!" but, after many years, and in spite of this issue, I finally have a decent grown-up relationship with my parents. And I don't want to lose that. So I guess I'll just rub dirt on it and take them as they are...

...until the day my son is confused because Grandma and Grandpa are crying to him about how much they miss him, but are obviously making choices to the contrary.

Then we will have some words. They can screw me over, I'm used to it - but my kid? Different story.

In the meantime, I've learned to not put too much faith or trust into when they say they're going to do something. Which is shitty, but it's what I have to do. We can talk and shoot the breeze and have fun, but when it comes to really needing something.... well, I have Hubby and I've made my own "chosen family" of friends for that.

Stephanie said...

I'm so sorry. I can only imagine how frustrated and disappointed you must feel. I can't help but wonder, though, if a physically close but still selfish and self-involved grandmother might not be what you really want in your daughter's day-to-day life. I'm sorry that you're sad. :-(

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Jayton said...

my mother in law isnt exactly warming up to me very nicely, sometimes i wonder if havin a kid will change that, im hoping it will.
so i understand how ur feeling

Lynn said...

I'm so, so sorry your mom didn't come through for you. My parents (at least until my dad's death) had always been the opposite - they tried to be too involved in my life, telling me every move I should make in my life. I wish it was easier for our parents to reach a middle ground. I hope that, once your daughter is here, your mom will find a way to be there for you in a better way.

ICLW #60