I have come such a long way, both literally and figuratively. It almost doesn’t matter where I started. I was born, discarded, then brought into a family that I was not well suited to living with like a wren in a nest of cuckoos. I was not so much raised as taught how to survive violence, aggression and horror. I read everything I could lay my hands on. Reading was my only escape from the world around me, a world that screamed and shouted and threw things. My world smashed plates, threw suppers against walls, beat the woman who called herself mother. My world brandished shotguns, that somehow he had fooled the Powers That Be into giving him a license for. I would rock on my knees, smooshed up in a corner, my infant self knowing to say nothing, do nothing, be still and deep inside bargain for this woman who called herself mother, to survive this latest threat. I watched her hair torn out. I watched her clothes torn. I watched her never ever leave. I watched her time and time again fall into line. When I was older I would beg her to leave him. She never did. She insisted that she stayed, that WE stayed with this monster. She was a monster herself. She was cruel to me, a bully and a sneak. She showed me no compassion preferring her biological daughter to me, and making no bones about it. “The thing is, Dee, when you adopt a kid you never know what you are gonna get. They just don’t fit in right. You don’t know what troubles you are going to be taking on. They just don’t belong.” Then she would glare at me as if she could transmit her hatred via her eyes. She managed to succeed. I knew I was not just disliked but utterly detested.
My Mother was a horror. In later years I managed to free myself of the guilt of having run away when I was a teenager. When I was about 17, I finished my last exam, and was feeling suicidal with my home situation. I had alopecia. My hair was falling out. I was nervous and constantly under siege. I could not take another moment of living with the man who called himself ‘father’ who was actually my uncle, and the woman who called herself ‘mother’ who was actually his wife, and no biological relation to me. They constantly accused me of things I was not doing. If I used the toilet too much I would be in trouble. It was not available after a certain time at night. If Mother caught you getting up to use the bathroom after you had gone to bed, and it was not after 6am, then you would be in huge trouble. I would make sure I drank nothing after 7pm, in a desperate attempt to not have to lay in bed, desperately needing to piss. I was accused of taking drugs way before I had even touched any substance. I was in trouble for being bullied by other children at school. I was in trouble when a bully much bigger than me beat me up.
I was a tiny child. I suppose I am still a tiny woman. I was not only the smallest in my year, but one of the smallest in the year below too. Not only was I tiny, but I was also bookish and nerdy. Children who are different should not be abandoned to schools in rough parts of town, nevertheless I was and I barely survived their teasing, hitting and general threats. It made me utterly miserable. I loved learning, I adored school. I detested how other kids treated me. I became a school librarian in an attempt to stay closer to the safety of adults. Every break I would run for the sanctuary of the library and the sweet teacher who ran it, and embed myself amongst adults and books, and the few other outcast children who were also being bullied. There was a red-haired skinny lad, the same age as me, a deaf girl, and a girl whose mother never washed her clothes and who smelt unfortunate. We would huddle around a table and hope beyond hope that we would all just be ignored. My mother’s response to this bullying? I was told to be ‘less weird’ to ‘fit in’ and to ‘not antagonize other children. I could not be less strange. My main fault was my studiousness. I was a boffin, a nerd, a freak. My other fault was being small. I was also a serious child who was immensely nervous due to my terrible home life. The children picked on these things I could not change in the way a pack picks on an injured member. Gang mentality and I was never one of the gang.
I had no where to go to for comfort, sympathy or protection. I was utterly on my own. Everybody hated me. My ‘sister’ who was actually my cousin detested me with every bone in her body. My mother, my ‘father’, most of the school…all of them seemed to hate my guts and want me dead. All I wanted was to be left alone to read and stare at books about horses. I think I liked horses because it felt as if I could climb on their sinuous backs and ride far away, escape from all this. I knew from the books I read that not everyone lived this way. I knew I was unlucky. My biological father, who I had to call ‘uncle’ clearly loved me in his own useless way. The days I got to see him were the best days of my childhood. My mother had to behave, and I was taken out for long days with him. We always had a splendid time. He was useless but his disney-dad behavior was a welcome respite.
When I finally had children I made up my mind to not be like my mother. I made up my mind that my children would never have to suffer being bullied in school. The Boy has never set foot inside a school. He has always been homeschooled, and is going to graduate soon, not having been bullied in school a day in his life. He spent his infant and young childhood years running round forests and building fires, and running all day long. He read what he wanted to – there were always books, even on the road there were books. He did as he pleased. We played together, and I hugged and loved him every second that there was to do so. I tried to be gentle, kind and generous. I tried to pour all the love I felt into mothering him. Today, on mother’s day I am celebrating my son. My gorgeous, sweet, kind son who adores me as I adore him. I try very hard not to let my damage impact him. Perhaps I don’t always succeed, but I always say sorry.
Being a mother, to me, is about overcoming the past. I was not going to ditch like my mother did with me. I was not going to live in violence and terror. I was not going to allow the Boy to suffer as I did. I have been a mother under intolerable circumstances, but tried to make a cocoon around the children (when I had two of them), and weave my protective magic over them both. I kept going beyond that which I was physically capable of. It has cost me my health. All that bravery in escaping my brutal (towards me) international marriage, all that bravery in surviving being on the road, being undocumented as a result of my escape, all that heavy hauling of things that I was not physically strong enough to lift, like shopping, cases of water, suitcases, children, but that I did nevertheless, all that mental withstanding of threats and violence has taken its toll on me. And now, here I am. I had to cope with going out with a cane yesterday. My balance is no good and my leg gives way thanks to the connective tissue disease. I get dizzy and it has got precarious. I feel as if I have used all of myself up on survival, but it was worth it. It was worth it to see the smile on my son’s face and feel loved and to love back. It was worth it to raise him, and see him thrive. I would give it all over again if I had to.
The good and bad that can be done as a mother is immense. I don’t have the forgiveness in me to truly forgive my biological mother for not wanting me, nor my adoptive mother for being a psycho bitch from hell. All I could ever do was not be like them. I hope I have succeeded.
All I want from today, this mother’s day where I am trying to face up to this disease which scares the living daylights out of me, is to know I have done a good job and that my love was enough, and is enough. I can’t look too closely at the past. I see their two little infant faces beaming up at me, and I feel their tiny hands in my own and all I want is to time travel for a moment back to those moments. I did my best. There is a contract, an agreement between mother and child that both will survive and thrive and stay together. A love that is abruptly interrupted is a pain beyond pain that I would wish on no one. I did what I could. All I can do now is hope that in the future, when my son writes about me, that he will say, “my mother did her best, and it was more than good enough, and I love her.” I hope he will write about favorite memories and chocolate bread sticks and making pizza in Japan. I hope he will write about theme park trips and forest days and campfires and baseball games on tv. I hope he will write about hugs and kindness and conversations. I hope he will never ever forget me or the love I have for him. In the end it is the only thing that really matters to me.
I had to pop out yesterday to pick up some cbd pills which help deal with the pain. When I came back The Boy met me at the door with a gift wrapped box. Inside the very neat wrapping paper was a Grateful Dead bear mug. I am on a big Grateful Dead kick at the moment and I listen to them quite a lot. It was the most beautiful mug with a psychedelic blue bear on the handle, shaped like a honey pot. He had bought it with money he had earnt for himself. It made my heart sing. “A little pre-mother’s day gift for you!” he said as he pushed it gently into my hands. As I looked up at my tall, strong young teenager and the kindness on his face I was absolutely overjoyed. Things have been so hard getting diagnosed with a serious connective tissue autoimmune disease, and these moments that prove we can still have joy and not be sad are worth the world.
I got sick. I really very unwell, and I am scared. I know this could kill me (hopefully years into the future, but nothing is assured), and it terrifies me not that I will die young, but that I will die while he still really needs me. I can barely look at the fact that this disease is probably what will end me. We all want to live forever, but the vast sense of nostalgia that I am struggling through makes me very sad indeed at times. The feeling of everything winding up is like slamming into a brick wall of regret.
It terrifies me that he will be scared, that he will miss me, that he will be alone in the world. He sat with me after I broke the news to him that I had a diagnosis and it was not good, and he cried and cried. He hugged me and patted my head and looked at me in a way I have never seen him look. He wanted to protect me, fix me. It broke my heart. It still does. I am writing with tears falling down my face. I never knew what it was like to truly love a parent, and know them very well. I never knew what it was like to be close to family. The Boy does, and I know that losing someone you love hurts. I just hope I get a miracle and I live a normal lifespan and don’t become too disabled as a result of the autoimmune disease, though I know he would rather I was disabled than gone.
Sometimes I wonder if life would have been easier if I had not ever loved anyone at all, if I had been utterly alone. But that is a cowardly life that is not full of richness. Pain and loss is as much part of life as love and the fullness of being with those you love so very much. I live brave. I live with courage and though I am shaky on my feet, my heart is still brave, despite the fact that my future is more uncertain than ever.
I keep telling myself that this will not, can not be my last Mother’s Day on this earth, but if it is I hope beyond hope that my child knows what a joy and a privilege it is to be his Ma.
~Detroit, Mother’s Day 2023