Monthly Archives: May 2013

Why do I talk to my parents anyway?

resilience - parentsThe other day a friend shared something I often hear. “It’s amazing you’re so close to your mom,” she offered. “It’s kind of unbelievable you are so good to your dad.”

I suppose, in some ways, this is true. I suppose you could justify my not taking care of Danny. After all, when he had his stroke six years ago and I centered my life around taking care of him, at least for a little while, my mother-in-law pointed out that “of course I had to take care of him.” All I could think, and point out in response, was that no, I didn’t have to take care of him. In many ways I owed him nothing, based on everything that had happened. But I chose to take care of him anyway. And I still choose to.

By the story line my parents left a lot to be desired as parents. They split when I was young, but many parents do that. In fact they split well – determining to be friends and friendly with each other since they had us (my older brother and me) to take care of. That’s pretty much what they did well. The rest may have been well-intentioned, but it was pretty screwy when you look back at it. And awfully screwy as you went through with it.

My dad’s rage, inappropriateness, and willingness to expose us to scary situations and people – screwy. He did put a roof over our head (when he had to take care of us after my mom left) and he did love us (though I never really knew or felt it).  But screwy nonetheless. My mom’s leaving – abandoning us with her father who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown so that she could join a cult and save the world – screwy. Left me feeling unloved, unlovable, and unable to find love. Screwy.

But over the years I’ve realized that they did the best they could with what they had. They hadn’t necessarily received all that they had needed from their parents (and who knows how far back that went). They were “babies having babies” and lacked the skills and experience to parent less selfishly than they did.

And besides, although I’ve had my moments of wanting to never see or talk with them again, although I have my moments of pain and anguish when all that happened seems to uncontrollably rise up within me and threaten to extinguish me, I’ve realized that I have choices in each moment to do what I want and have the life I want. I have choices of whether – and how – I will relate to them and what I’ll allow in my life.

With Danny, I’ve realized that as difficult as he can be to be around and care for, I wouldn’t be happy with myself if I didn’t take care of him. I may not center my life around him now, but I can’t just leave him alone.

With my mom, we’ve worked through many issues, talked through what happened, and tried (and try) to build a new path. It’s not always easy, but when I stop and notice, I notice how much she’s here for me now. It’s almost as if it makes up for when she wasn’t. Almost, but not quite, because honestly making up for isn’t realistic and it isn’t possible. All I have is now.

Maybe someone else would approach this differently. Maybe they’d choose to not have their parents in their life. Maybe that would be the best choice for them. For me, it’s best to keep going, to make the best of what I had and what I have, to be strong and compassionate (for my parents and especially for me), and find a way, whenever I can, to have a smile on my face and in my heart.

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The irony (and joy) of Mother’s Day

mother's dayIt’s Mother’s Day. I’m in the car, on our usual trek to join my husband’s family in celebration, and I’m deep in reflection. It’s a weird day for me.

Danny (my dad) would say that it’s a Hallmark made-up holiday. He’s right. And yet it’s a made-up holiday that nearly everyone observes…which can be tough for those of us with challenging mother-situations.

I don’t remember what Mother’s Day was like when I was young. Was it even around? I don’t remember what it meant to me during my Moonie years – when I referred to my mother as “Mother” and knew she could do no wrong. I know I did my best to ignore it in my early twenties when I felt most estranged from my mother. And now…

Have you ever tried to find a Mother’s Day card for your mom, when your mom did not walk the normal mom path? Most cards thank mothers for all they did and all they do. And while my mom is currently pretty great on the “do” part, all that she did back then leaves a bit to be desired.

I haven’t found many cards that say, “Thanks for leaving when I was young.” Or, “Thanks for leaving when I was young, but being around now.” I’ve yet to find “It was tough and I’m glad we’re working it out.” Or to open a card and see in beautiful script, “I know you weren’t really around back then, but thanks for everything now and I love you.” There should be a recovery-themed card line. Then at least I’ll find a card that says, “Thanks for doing the best you could.”

My mother and I walk a journey together to find and build our relationship. We have an agreement to always try to work things out when stuff feels tough between us. Or to at least acknowledge that things feel tough between us. I’ve done my best to stop blaming her for what she didn’t or couldn’t do back then, and she’s done her best to stop blaming me for blaming her. And we’re are remarkably, unexpectedly close now.

The flip side of Mother’s Day is the joy I have at being a mother. I generally think I do a pretty good job. (Although I’m sure my kids will find something to complain about as they get older.) And my teenage daughter’s Mother’s Day gift to me was a three page plus letter that told me that I actually do an excellent job. I think I’ll frame it. (She did repeat a killer sentence – “You are an absolutely super-duper incredibly unbelievably amazing mommy” – in a set-off section so that I could cut it out and tape it to my office window where I keep all my inspiring messages, as well as love notes from her).

Today and every day I get to look at my children and relish the surge of adoration and appreciation that overcomes me. How lucky I am to have them. To mother them. To know them. I get to glance at my husband as he drives and bask in how blessed I feel to be part of, to have helped create, this family unit.

Maybe my relationship with my mom was tough at times. Maybe our situation and all we’ve been through – separately and together – can not be captured by a Hallmark card. And maybe it’s precisely that past that’s molded me into the mother I am (which again can’t be all that bad, as my daughter also posted a picture of us from when she was two on her Facebook page in celebration). And it’s precisely that past that’s driven me to appreciate what I have, to be the best mother I can be, and to take this Hallmark made-up day and make it mine.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Bottom line – there is always hope

hopeMy daughter is a runner. A high school varsity athlete – twelve times over. It’s something to be proud of, especially because before high school she could barely walk around the block.  Now she runs three seasons – cross-country, indoor track, and spring track.

Therefore I’m a “track mom.” I even have a sweatshirt, with “MOM” on the back, to prove it. I love to watch her race. Except for during her junior year cross-country season, because as she’d get somewhere near the finish line, she’d start to stagger. She’d make the 5K distance, but barely. Her face would pale, as white as a sheet; her eyes would glass over; and she’d stumble, stepping over the finish line to collapse into my waiting arms.  I’m sure there are worse things than watching your child physically falter, but not many.

After the third or fourth time, we (obviously) took her to the doctor to have everything checked. Good news – her heart and lungs were fine. In fact everything was fine. Bad news – we’d been starving her. She’d been diagnosed with high cholesterol when she was young, so had been on a low-cholesterol diet since she was about nine. And overall, we ate healthy. And she’d had a scare the previous year with dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, so she was pounding electrolyte-enhanced water.  Bottom line, she was not getting enough nutrition or enough fat.  She was starving.

We rushed her to a nutritionist who began to teach her (and me) how much she needed to eat. The difference between her requirements and her actual was alarming. Also alarming – I am a former anorexic. That happened during my college years. With this in my past, the focus on her weight and food, albeit from the need to increase both, was a challenge for me.

Each session with the nutritionist they’d weigh my daughter, to make sure she was gaining. They had her step on the scale backwards – the recovering anorexic way – because they were afraid the weight gain would upset her. It thrilled her.  But watching the process haunted me.

The mom guilt kicked in. The “I should have known better than to starve her” chanting in my head. Coupled with that was the “how did food become an issue and what if it pushes her in the wrong direction?” anorexic terror. I was a mess, when I most needed to be there for my daughter. It took deep breathing and my hard-fought-for self-love to let go of blaming myself and let my daughter have her process.

Because, again bottom-line, it was her process and her journey and it had nothing to do with me. She most likely wasn’t sick because of me. In fact, she wasn’t sick. And I hadn’t single-handedly starved her. I hadn’t intentionally starved her at all. And she was eating and gaining (six pounds in six weeks) and doing fine.

She asked for a scale at home, so that she could make sure she never again went underweight. That confused me. How did one, why did one, work to not lose weight? It also terrified me. What if I found myself once again stepping on a scale daily (before I’d eaten anything, of course, so the number would be its lowest possible)? What if I got addicted to numbers, and lower numbers, and even lower numbers, once again?

I’m happy to report that I did step on the scale, about once a week, for a few weeks. And then I forgot it was there. Until I just wrote about it, when I remembered. I might go step on it again, but probably not now, as I’ve eaten two meals already…and then I’ll most likely forget about it again. Which is amazing. I never thought weight wouldn’t be an issue. I never imagined a scale would slip my mind.

Last bottom line – there is always hope. My daughter’s senior year she injured her calf, and then her foot, so we didn’t get to see her run hard and be fine, but I’m sure she will in college. There is hope for that. And for me, I remember the days when scales and numbers scared me.  When a scale in my house was an accident waiting to happen, or a cliff over which I might throw myself. I remember when nearly twenty pounds below 100 made my day. And I see today, when I simply don’t think about it and I enjoy my food and my life. When I somewhat effortlessly find my way out of self-blame when the “scars” from anorexia raise their gnarly heads. I know there is hope for me as well.

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