The story was a modern-day story about a guy who finds a penny on the ground and picks it up and later meets a modern-day version of Jesus, in disguise, who saves his life. It was sort of magical realism and it was probably god awful. When my mother was done typing it -- it was maybe 8 or so pages -- I asked her, with great hope, what she thought. She turned to me with this sarcastic look on her face and rolled her eyes as she said, "deep."
No other criticism of my work has ever hurt me so much. And this includes a good friend telling me a couple of years ago that she "hates" my poetry. Yikes.
I wanted my mother to think I was smart. I wanted her to notice that I was trying to honor the spirituality she had taught me. I wanted her to love me. Her reaction made me feel unloved.
There were lots of other times she made me feel unloved too. Lots. Lots of times that were much worse than this that I don't feel like rehashing at the moment. Ultimately, it was, in part, because I felt unloved by her that I stopped speaking to her three years before she died (don't get me wrong, I'm the asshole in that scenario for sure but I thought I had good enough reasons for being that asshole, is all I'm saying).
I love my own children enough to declare absolutely that I would step in front of a speeding bus for them. That is not an exaggeration. If that situation arose, actually or metaphorically, I would do it. There have been times, with my son, where I feel I already have...metaphorically. Any parent (who hasn't abandoned their child for their addiction or forcibly convinced themselves that they don't give a shit) understands this. Our children are our everything. Yet...
We make them feel unloved, from time to time. We screw up. My mother was a wonderful mother. Though it's impossible for you to believe it, she was as wonderful as your mother. She tried her hardest. She did her best. But as much as I wanted her to be god...as much as she felt like my whole universe...she was human. And so am I. And so is every parent. Your mother too.
I live in a town full of unusually "perfect" people and parents. If they have imperfect thoughts or behaviors (and, of course, they do!), they work like hell to hide them. Or maybe that's how it feels in middle age. Or maybe that's this social-media-driven era we live in. But, I know my town is particularly like this because multiple people call it "Stepford" for this very reason.
This isn't healthy -- this hiding. It drives people to addiction. It drives people to depression. It drives people insane. It drives people to hurt themselves and others.
My mother was raised in an era of "put on a happy face." The era my town seems to be stuck in. I remember even having a conversation with her, as a young adult, about how disgusted she was with everyone going to therapy and "blaming their parents for everything these days." I was arguing with her, explaining that it was healthy for people to figure out who they were and why they were that way. She wasn't buying it.
My mother's mother was, from what I understand, an alcoholic and a pretty mean lady. My mother never said that to me but this is what I gathered from her and my father's stories. Of course, because she died when I was only 2 and my mother 37, she was sainted by the time I was old enough to remember hearing the stories (I think that's one of the meanest things we do to our dead, sainting them after they die, like they weren't human after all. But, that's a topic for another time). But, my Grandma Anita -- by my mother's account -- never told my mother she loved her. Ever. My mother was so affectionate and loving that this story has always stayed with me because I simply can't imagine. I don't think my grandmother ever made my mother feel very loved.
And yet, her story about holding her mother's hand while she died is haunting to me. The way she described the light and life going out of her face. When my mother told that story to me, she brimmed with love. There was so much love between them -- and despite her mother's humanness, despite her inability to be a better mother -- my mother knew this, felt this. Just like I did and still do. Just like you do.
Of course, some mother's do unforgivable things; things that hurt to hear about, let alone experience. Physical, emotional, sexual abuse, abandonment, severe physical and emotional neglect -- these are all more real than any of us care to commonly consider. The fact is, though, that probably most of the hurt that we commonly suffer from our mother's could be tossed into one of these categories, even if it is in a very mild form.
Here's the thing: it's a tall fucking order being someone's god and universe. It's a lot to ask of a merely human being. Fuck ups are inevitable.
So, here's the next thing: if we can be honest about this, less fuck ups will occur. Because this is how it works BEST as a human mother: 1) you fuck up; 2) you realize it; 3) you make amends. However, IF you are trapped on the "put-on-happy-face"/ Stepford ride, it looks more like this: 1) you fuck up; 2) you can't realize it because you can't fuck up because everything you do has to be perfect and oh-my-god what will the neighbors think?; 3) so you ignore it, pretend it didn't happen, blame someone/ something else for it, or drink/ eat/ gamble/ do drugs/ whatever to numb yourself from it; 4) you fuck up worse and 5) you hate yourself more and 6) more hiding and 7) oh my god, doesn't the first option with only three steps seem so much better...
After my mother died, I developed this inner dialogue with her. Mostly, I seek her comfort and guidance. But, sometimes I talk to her about the times she fucked up. She tells me not to use that word. Then, she says, "I'm sorry" because in this dialogue, where she lives now, my mother is always her highest self. She is the self she always had it in herself to be if she weren't human. When I find myself fucking up in similar ways to how she did, I imagine what my mother's highest self would advise, and I usually change directions before it's too late. I apologize to my children a lot. I talk to them constantly. I listen fervently. I want us to KNOW one another as humans. Even though they always will anyway, I don't want them to think of me as a god or the universe. I'm not saying I'm doing it any better than my mom did. I'm saying I'm taking what I learned from my mom and putting it into practice. That's what we all do. It's exactly what she did. She learned she wanted more affection as a child so she poured affection on us constantly. Now I'm giving my children what I wanted. They will give their children what they always wished for. That's what I mean by all mothers do the best that they can. They do what they believe their mother's highest selves SHOULD have done.
I think my mother's highest self recognized that she shouldn't have rolled her eyes and said, "deep" in response to my story. I think she would have followed that up with, "no, honey, I shouldn't have done that, of course I love it. It's interesting...what's going on with that Jesus character...?" And she would've drawn me into her and we would've had a nice long chat about my story over some tea.
I guess what I'm saying is this: if you are a child who has been hurt by a mother -- maybe especially a mother who left you behind before you could figure out, or talk to her, about all the ways she fucked up -- the kindest thing you can do for her and for yourself is to learn to know them as their highest selves and to see that human beings can't live in a state of highest self all of the time. You can forgive her for being human. And if you can't forgive her for her sake, you can do it for your own sake, especially if you are a parent too. If you keep holding your mother to the same standard as god, she will always seem at least a little fucked up. She isn't god. But in your forgiving heart, she CAN be her highest self. And THAT's quite a gift.
If you are a mother who fucks up (and trust me, you do), forgive yourself. Now. Right now. Accept that you are human and you are doing your best. And being somebody's god is about the hardest, most unbelievably exhausting thing ever. Forgive yourself because you are not god. You are human. Just like your children. Love yourself the same way you love them-- fiercely, protectively. Know your highest self is in there but you can't be her all the time. When you can't be, ask for your child's forgiveness. Know that one day, you will be your highest self all of the time. In the hearts of your children, you will be.
If you are BOTH that hurt child and that fucking up mama...oh baby...draw up a nice warm bath and soak in it until you can't possibly anymore, take a million deep breaths, day-after-day, begin to write it all down or tell it all to someone you trust, be as gentle with yourself as you would with a tiny, new baby every single day because it's going to be a long haul of forgiveness and patience and love... hold your children close to you when they want to be close to you... when they want to be free, marvel at them from afar...and when you hurt them, forgive yourself then ask them to forgive you too, think of your mother's highest self guiding you and love love love love love.
And if you're living in Stepford, baby (mentally or physically), get the hell out!
Forgive your mothers, with love.
Namaste, the QP