Mother’s Day is one of the scariest days of the year to me. It shines a humongous spotlight on what kind of responsibility it is to raise a child. It is also a reminder that Mother’s Day is really a one-sided holiday for me.
Like countless other people, I had less than an ideal childhood. I was a child of contentiously divorced parents who lived on opposite ends of the country. I was was shuttled back and forth during summers and holidays originally because my parents were sharing custody of their children but later because my mother has paranoid schizophrenia.
There is absolutely no shame in having mental illness – unless you’re in denial and have children to raise. Only as an adult do I have any inkling of what it must have been like for my mother who never got over the pain of my father divorcing her, remarrying a younger woman and being left with 2 young children to raise. As a child I just knew something wasn’t right.
My mother was “kooky” but not outwardly unstable. She was self-absorbed and even at a young age I was embarrassed that she never even gave the outward facade of trying to do more for herself or her family – Blanche DuBois would pale in comparison to my mother’s ability to “rely on the kindness of strangers” when it came to taking care of herself and two children.
I never thought I’d be a mother as an adult because I was forced to be my own parent at a very young age.
I was called the “responsible one” by my mother and had to remind her to do things like pay bills and go grocery shopping. I didn’t realize until I was an adult that it was NOT normal to send a 10 year old to the liquor store 2 blocks away with an authorized note from your mother to buy cigarettes.
Only later when my mother had her first of many nervous breakdowns, was I relieved of my parental duties by my grandparents. Eventually, even my grandparents could not manage my mother’s illness and two children. In 1982, I left California to be raised by my father and his wife in New York and my sister followed me the following year.
While it took some adjustment, I was lucky to have a second chance to learn what a mother could be from my stepmother, Michele. When she died of cancer after an extremely brief illness in 1987, at 17 years old I had as much of a mother as I would ever know. Michele’s death devastated my father, my sister and me and it unraveled the only real sense of immediate (and extended) family I knew. I gave a woman who is not related to me by blood the greatest honor I could, I named my child after her.
My mother is still very much alive but I have little contact with her. She is still ill and in denial. When my mother does call me she most often says extremely delusional things, demands money or says unbelievably hateful things about me or Jay. I’m lucky that I have a mother-in-law that treats me like her own.
My mother and I live in the same state now and every day when I see the cell phone with the phone number that she has, I pray that she doesn’t find out where I live. My grandparents no longer take care of her (my grandfather passed away 2 years ago and my grandmother now lives with my uncle in Florida).
It might seem heartless of me to not be helping my own mother but it took me many, many years to come to terms with the fact that she is beyond help from me. I’m not being spiteful but I can’t nor do I want to be responsible for her well-being. I am her child but I am not her parent. I know that my mother needs help and when I think about it, it pains me that I feel more obligation to help “my fellow man” than my own mother. The fact may be that I often feel the need to help others because I can’t help my own mother.
A few years ago when my mother was in jail, I was asked by a psychiatric nurse if I wanted her to be placed under a California mental health conservatorship. I said no because even though I knew it would get her off the streets (she’s voluntarily homeless) and the medication she needs, I didn’t want to be the one responsible to make the decision to that would involve “confinement to a locked psychiatric facility” where she “would be denied of personal liberty” according to California law. It seemed cruel to be given the power to do that to any human being.
Wild Boy has rarely asked about my mother (or father but that’s a story for another time) but the last time he did, it nearly killed me to tell him that he wouldn’t get to know his grandmother when we moved to California. When I told him that he couldn’t because my mother was ill, as a 5 year old would do, he asked if she could go to a doctor and get medicine to “make her better”. Wild Boy didn’t really understand that we couldn’t “make her take her medicine” because she didn’t believe that she was sick but he stopped asking questions.
Mother’s Day is Sunday and while I’ll enjoy being honored and loved by my family, these will be some of my underlying thoughts:
– I’ll be second guessing my choice to become a parent and my parenting ability
– I’ll be hoping that the genes that I carry for mental illness don’t get latently expressed in me (or my child)
– I’ll be wondering when/if karma is going to come and bite me in the ass by having my own child someday want to have nothing to do with me.
Mother’s Day might be when I have to answer some more questions about my mother and stepmother from the child I’m (jointly) responsible for raising and I know I’ll have to show a side of myself that may not be well received by someone who loves and respects me without question.
I’m not sure how I’ll answer the questions when they come but I know that as a parent it is my job to find a way to love, protect and educate my child no matter what and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
You can also see this post on Sisters From Another Mister – 20 Bloggers Making A Difference* by posting about Motherhood from May 8-18th to raise awareness about the importance of global vaccinations on behalf of Global Moms for shot@life and UN Foundation. *Every twenty seconds a child dies of a preventable disease – Twenty dollars can save a life – Twenty bloggers are making a difference.