Forgiveness, forgetfulness, privilege, and strength.

Max just rolled over! (There’s a full-length video of his struggle, but that’s the highlight.) This means no more looking away when he’s on the changing table, and I’m really going to have to start strapping him into his swing. Every day, I feel so lucky to have him – to witness all these special moments – and so blessed to be his mom.

He’s about three months old now. I started to worry that I give him too much attention every day, almost as though I fear I’m going to lose him – like this whole thing is just some wonderful dream that’s going to end. From what I’ve read (and what my instincts tell me), it isn’t actually possible to give a baby too much attention. It did occur to me, though, that this is the first permanent relationship I’ve ever had, and while it’s natural for a new mom to feel this way about her new baby, that fact might make it feel all the more important to me.

With my own mother, it’s a constant struggle. When she reaches out, I tell her to stay away because I know she won’t bring anything positive to my life or my family. I know she’s inconsistent. I know she’s manipulative. I know I’m likely to forgive, forget, and hope that everything will be better. But when she doesn’t reach out, it makes me sad, too.

I’ve been told a million times that you only have one mother. That’s what kills me. I don’t want her in my life. I know that I don’t. I know that I’m better off. But she’s still my mother, and I want a mother. And she knows that, and that’s why she won’t change.

After a year or so with my abusive ex, I wrote up a list of rules for him in an attempt to set boundaries. One of the rules was that, if he drank, he’d be suspended from seeing me for some period of time (between 24 hours and one week, depending on how bad things got – i.e. if he did something that necessitated police intervention then he’d lose me for a week – crazy, I know). I wasn’t good at staying mad, and I wasn’t good at staying away. But one weekend, when he was suspended, I went to New York without telling him. It allowed me to stand my ground rather than continue my pattern of forgiving, forgetting, and moving on.

A month later, he was going through my phone and found pictures from that weekend in New York. He screamed at me and told me that he knew I couldn’t stay away because I was “a weak piece of shit.” Of all the things he’d ever said or done to me, for some reason, that hurt the most, because I thought it was true.

I couldn’t stay mad. I never could. But it wasn’t because I was weak. It was because I was strong.

All my life, I had to heal quickly. My mother used to take me by the hair and throw me into the floor. She used to kick me in the stomach while I was down. I had to get back up again. I had to live, and so I had to just get over it.

That’s how things always were. When I was removed from her home, it meant I didn’t have my mother anymore. That hurt, but I had to keep going. So I had to just get over it.

And so when this guy started to do similar things to me, I couldn’t let it hurt that much. No matter how bad things got, I thought I had to just get up and keep going.

I found that I act the same way when it comes to systemic issues like sexism and racism. At a recent staff meeting, we played Power Pictionary. The group was divided into two teams. For one team, the moderator clearly explained the instructions. For the other, well, we tried to hear what she was telling the first team. One team was able to use a big piece of paper on the board so that their whole team could see what was being drawn. The other team was told to “figure it out.” We quickly realized the purpose of the game: we were learning how things played out when one team had privilege and the other team did not.

I was on the unprivileged team.

The moderator gave each team the words we needed to draw. The privileged team got the word “food,” and the unprivileged team got the word “racism.” The privileged team sent someone up to the board, and she drew a slice of pizza. Someone guessed “food,” and they got the point. I grabbed a pencil and a napkin, and I drew four stick figures — two on each side of the napkin. I colored in two of the stick figures on one side of the napkin. Someone guessed “racism,” and we got the point.

The game was supposed to teach about racism, power, and privilege in our society, but it taught me something about myself: I’m not unaware; I’ve just accepted that life for some people is harder than it has to be, and I’ve learned to deal.

That’s what my experience with my mother taught me, and that lesson has had its benefits: I don’t get discouraged easily. I’m strong.

What I need to remember is that I don’t have to accept every awful thing that ever happens to me. That’s what keeps me from turning back now.

2 thoughts on “Forgiveness, forgetfulness, privilege, and strength.

  1. Hi, pumpkin. You do only have one mother…. *birth* mother. This does not mean that she can be or is even WILLING to fill that role in a loving way. She has made it obvious that she can do neither, and if you know in your heart that her being in your life in way, shape, or form only causes you pain, especially if she hasn’t really tried to change at all but expects you to believe empty promises, then I don’t blame you for *not wanting* her there.

    You can, however, find someone who fills that role for you in other ways. There are women you can respect, look up to, and even love similar to the ways that others’ birth mothers do. There is not anything wrong with this. I have found someone to fill that role for me, and her whole family adopted me. She and her husband treat me like one of their daughters. Their *real* daughters treat me like I am one of their sisters. I call them mom and dad. I call the girls my sisters. They are my family. They provide love, support, and guidance when I need it. They are there for me when I need them, they don’t judge me, and the rest of the time we joke around and mess off like we are blood.

    No one has a right to guilt you into having any type of relationship with your mother. NO ONE. This is your decision to make, and if you feel it is best, sweetie, this is what you need to do. For your sanity, your emotional health, stability, and well-being. I think part of you showers Max with so much attention and devotion because you were clearly starved of it growing up. I don’t think anyone who knows you well enough will ever fault you for this. Just be loving and attentive to him the best way you know how. As long as you find middle ground with this, Max will be fine. But all new mothers I am sure experience this struggle on some level, so don’t be so hard on yourself.

    Think of all the things YOU will be able to show him and teach him as he grows. How to treat others, family, friends, strangers even… How he should treat the person he chooses as his partner in life… and most importantly when he is the right age, just how strong his mommy really is.

    You are right that you have been strong for all these years. I may have only known you just over a year, but I adore you, and just knowing even but a few of the struggles, chaos, hurt, and suffering you have endured and came through the other end is a source of encouragement and inspiration for me. You could have chosen another path, full of anger, hate, rage, and melancholy. But that you did not speaks volumes for the love that is overflowing from your heart. One thing I don’t think you realize is exactly how strong you are. It brings tears to my eyes to think how far you have come even in this past year alone. That Max is one blessed child to have you for his mother.

    Just love him, pumpkin. And love yourself. If others can’t appreciate that, then you do not need them stirring up the darkness. I adore your light too much.

    Love you :*

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    • What’s funny is that that guilt/pressure comes from no one but me. I don’t think I’m looking for someone to fill that role; I think that I sometimes just get sad that she hasn’t. And then I move on :)

      I appreciate your kindness & thoughtfulness. You’re right: I’m just gonna love him – and I’ll teach him to love unconditionally.

      I think I just struggle with what kind of relationship I want with my own mother, if any at all. Sometimes I think it’s hard to blame her for everything because I know she suffers from mental illness; at the same time, it’s hard not to just want to stay away and save myself from the frustration. It’ll probably be an endless struggle.

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