My dad was in the military and left early every day for work. When I woke up I would go to the kitchen and find something to eat. Then I would hear the crying. My baby brother would plead with me from behind his locked door. My “mother” Cindy secured him in his bedroom with a chain lock because “he would get up and make a mess” without her knowing. I guess he was a really tough toddler. I got a chair and let him out once. When she got up around noon we were in big trouble. We made a lot of mistakes while she slept.
As the years passed…
There was lots of fighting, physical and verbal, between her and dad. Sometimes the yelling woke me up in the middle of the night. I stumbled into the hallway once where dad was rushing past towards the front door. I tried stopping him. At 6’7” he was too tall to even see me in the pitch dark…I fell down. He scooped me up and cried, telling me how sorry he was that he knocked me down. I wasn’t hurt though. I was happy, because the yelling ended and dad stayed.
She rushed us out of the house another time, shoving my brother and I into her car. My dad came walking out and stepped in front of the car…she must not have seen him before she stepped on the gas. We helped carry my dad back into the house and laid him on the couch to fix his leg…another fight ended.
I don’t remember Cindy packing or leaving, but I do remember multiple babysitters for my brother and I. We didn’t care for most of them so they didn’t come back. Dad didn’t give up. He kept bringing new sitters until we found one that fit. We visited Cindy’s apartment once and saw her proudly displayed kindergarten picture of me. I thought her new place was pretty cool, but I didn’t live there.
She was crying one night. Drinking vodka from a large bottle. The latest boyfriend Brian had dumped her. He played in a cool band and I liked him a lot. It sure broke her heart. She must not have known her limit because pretty soon I couldn’t wake her up. I went next door to get our neighbor Donna to help me wake Cindy up. An ambulance came. I watched paramedics take her into the shower and turn it on. Then they smacked her face multiple times. I cried because they were hurting her. We had a fun sleepover at Donna’s that night.
At some point I had moved in with Cindy. Yet another new boyfriend had moved in as well. I went into her bathroom to search for something in her drawers. Or maybe I was just snooping. I found a straw on a mirror with white powder. School had taught me well about drugs. I cried as I showed her what I had found. She assured me that she would have a serious talk with him.
I guess the talk didn’t go well. We moved his bags out onto the porch and left the house. Apparently he didn’t need a key because when we got back he was in the house. Cindy was angry and they yelled. He knocked her down onto the glass coffee table. She wasn’t asleep for too long, just a few minutes. They said it was an accident and decided to work things out.
We moved to lots of houses. Duplexes. Apartments. I made lots of friends, especially at our last house. But I missed my dad. Weekend visits weren’t enough, so I asked if I could go live with him and his new girlfriend Kim. I moved into dads right away, but my brother stayed with my mom.
Cindy packs up and leaves without a word.
I got to visit Cindy on the weekends. One weekend we kept calling and calling to confirm the visit but there was no answer. We thought maybe she didn’t pay her phone bill again. Sometimes money was tight. Kim said she would drive me over to her house. We pulled up and I ran up to the door. The house had huge windows in the front and since there weren’t any curtains I could the emptiness inside. There was the phone sitting on the floor. It was the only thing in the entire house. I was so confused. I ran next door to the sweetest old couple to ask them “where’s my mom???” They were dumbfounded. She had left they said. In a single day packed up and gone.
The half hour drive home felt like hours. Kim cried along side me. Cindy must have moved to a new house and forgot to tell us. That must be it. In fact, she must have forgotten to tell us for a few years. I didn’t give up trying to find her. Even though I was angry, I wanted to talk to my brother. I called my grandmother Jackie every few months or so. Surely her own daughter would let her know her whereabouts. I knew they had a troubled relationship from our visits to her because they usually ended with us leaving in a hurry after a lot of yelling. But every time I called she told me she was so sorry that she didn’t know where she was.
Years of calls answered…
About three years after Cindy left my phone calls to Jackie paid off. Cindy answered the phone. My heart sank. I was speechless. My eyes welled up. Through gritted teeth I said “I want to talk to my brother”. Her stuttering meant she was surprised as well, but she just said “okay” and put my brother on the phone. I cried. I asked him if he was okay. Kim sat next to me crying as I searched for what to talk about. I was shocked and angry and didn’t have much to say that day.
The pain was not enough to stop me from wanting a mom. My relationship with Kim was strained. My dad didn’t understand. When things got really tough at 15, I decided to run away from dad’s and seek out Cindy. At least she wanted me now. I needed the nurturing, bonding and comfort of a mom so badly. Surely we could work past her leaving and disappearing for years. I convinced myself that all of the years of neglect prior to her leaving weren’t her fault. It must’ve been the drugs and alcohol because surely she was a good mom.
We couldn’t work past it. Instead she was all of the things I didn’t remember. Manipulative. Controlling. Narcissistic. I dealt with all of them because everyone HAS to love their mom. Tried therapy. Bit my tongue. Played her games, careful not to upset her as I would surely pay if I did. I would pay with angry words, backlash about my dad, threats and manipulation.
She had another daughter. Michaela was born when I was 17. I spent many years enduring Cindy to make sure I was around to protect Michaela from the same treatment. It worked to Cindy’s advantage for a very long time. Even after I had children, I had to endure. Every child deserves a grandma. She wouldn’t treat my babies like she treated me. I was there to protect my kids and would never let her hurt them.
The breaking point…
It took me 32 years to reach the point of loving myself and my family enough to kick this sick individual out of my life. As a mother, I had now experienced unconditional love. I couldn’t imagine not soaking up every amazing moment with these tiny humans. Even on the tough, exhausting days, I couldn’t imagine ever hurting them or bribing them or manipulating them or leaving them.
I realized I didn’t love my mother. And I finally realized that it was okay not to love her. That the title of “mother” was just a label for someone that only biologically gave me life, but in my case, tried to take life away from me. Not everyone knows how to love.
My experience inspired me to be the best mama I can be.
I am my babies’ mama. It is my favorite title, my number one job and a privilege some never get. I will do anything and everything in my power to protect them from the wrath of anyone that might hurt them. And I will not feel the slightest bit bad about it.
Not everyone we lose is a loss. In fact, once I took that step to remove the toxicity, I was suddenly less anxious. I didn’t have to worry about nasty phone calls. I no longer had to wonder what lies I would be told or what would be hidden from me. This was MY time. To be the mother I never had. To show my children that love is a gift.
I soaked up those moments right after my babies were born, I was completely in love. I remember the utter exhaustion, but also the hours spent gazing at them as they slept. It was crazy to me how suddenly nothing else mattered except these little beings I had created. I had this amazing mother in law that taught me so much. She was so wonderfully calm. I saw the way it affected them…to be soothed with such a temperament. So THIS was how it should be.
I learned to enjoy all the moments and the messes.
The toddler years were sweet. We snuggled in bed on the weekends, jumped in puddles, and played pretend. Some of my favorite memories are messes; baby powder everywhere, hot pink nail polish on the toenails (and toes), lines of matchbox cars from one end of the house to the other and diving onto fresh warm laundry out of the dryer. I learned the value of just playing…enjoying the moment… from watching my Auntie Carrie with her boys. MESSES can wait until tomorrow!
I learned so much in those early years. Like the heartbreak of taking your kids to preschool, but getting to hang every single handprint art piece on the fridge. Following just far enough behind your kindergartner as he rides his bike to school on the first day. And the second day. And the 184th. Learning how to gently guide them through the heartbreaks of their first elementary squabble. Reading every night. Oh how I loved this part of every day. I think it was the pediatrician that first recommended reading when they were babies. So smart.
I was blessed with other amazing female relationships.
I have this extraordinary grandmother. She would pick me up and take me away as a kid every chance she got during school breaks. I got my love of travel and exploring from her and have been trekking my kids around since they were born. To teach them the importance of visiting family and friends. The excitement of visiting new places. And the value of long road trips with great music.
Just as we all have, I’ve made lots of mistakes along the way of this wacky road that is parenting. But the one thing my kids can always count on is me. They will never feel abandoned or manipulated or hurt by me. Even after we make it through these teenage years…they will know my love was constant.
Maybe I didn’t have a mother, but I had a strong dad that did his best. There were lots of amazing women in my life to help shape me. I learned everything I never wanted to be as a mother. I want you to know that you don’t HAVE to love anyone.