No More Wire Hangers, Mommie Dearest!



Previous journal entry about my biological mother, who suffered from mental illness. Her neuroses shaped my life in so many ways.

 May, 2008

 I'm really not fixated on this, I swear.  But occasionally, my thoughts turn to my experiences with my Mom(s).  

I know I seem to talk a lot about my Mother (the one who actually gave birth to me), but really for me it's like putting together a puzzle with missing pieces.  I'm honestly baffled at times, trying to turn the memories of my life this way and that, attempting to make them fit somewhere, and they just don't; discovering empty places that I just can't fill.  

Today I was brushing my daughter’s hair, pulling it up into a ponytail as we were getting ready to go out for the day, and I was struck with one of those sensory-type memories:  my mother, brushing my hair, making a ponytail.  I was ten years old. It was one of the very few times we visited her after my parents' divorce; we were at my grandmother's house (her mom), and she had fixed us some grilled cheese sandwiches.  I was feeling especially awkward, because she asked my permission to brush my hair.  I shrugged, mumbled "I guess," and prepared myself mentally for actual physical contact with her.  I was still so confused and angry about everything--from her inpatient admission at a mental hospital, to the divorce itself, and her seemingly obvious relief to be free from the responsibility of the three children she bore.  The wounds were too fresh; I was terrified.  

She found a hair tie, got the brush, and started, very gently. To my surprise, it actually felt good.  Her hands, small and soft, mimicked each stroke of the brush, smoothing my golden blonde strands and guiding them upward into the ponytail.  After what seemed like an hour, she finally finished, pleased with her handiwork.  I don't think I breathed a single breath that whole time.  It was probably the single most motherly thing she ever did for me...and it made me very sad.  It only added to my confusion--how could my mama be so loving right now, when she had essentially abandoned us for most of our lives? Would she continue to be this way? Had she decided that she really wanted us, after all?  Or would I be disappointed again, waiting for someone to love me that just didn't have the capability of loving anyone other than herself?  Something as simple as a ponytail really had a profound effect on me as a prepubescent introvert, struggling to make sense of my crumbling family, my crumbling childhood, my crumbling innocence.  

I could fill this page with stories of things she did that made me miserable.  One time she painted our porcelain bathtub with interior wall paint, then gave my sister and me a bath.  The paint flaked off, of course, and we picked paint out of our hair for weeks. Another time she used a curtain rod to discipline me, leaving marks up and down the backs of my legs.  When I was in Kindergarten, she locked my brother and me out of the house for hours after we got off the bus.  I used to hide in my closet all the time--the only place I could find away from red fingernails, red lips and cigarettes, megalomania at its ugliest. I halfway expected her to beat me with a wire hanger; just like the movie...I feared her and yet craved her love. 

Over the years I have often wondered if I could have inherited her neuroses, the way I inherited her blue-green eyes and small hands.  As it turns out, I'm actually a lot more like my father--hard working, loving, intuitive, inventive. It makes sense, considering that during my formative years he was forced to be both mom and dad to the three of us.  I can't think about it without getting choked up (another one of my dad's fine qualities--so tenderhearted beneath a tough, take-no-prisoners exterior).  Thankfully, he later found a good woman and brought her into our lives.  She was so good for us.  She filled up a lot of those empty spaces where the puzzle pieces had previously been; there are still holes, but not nearly as many as there could have been.  Her parents became my grandparents, her sister my coolest aunt--her whole family took three frightened, broken little children and loved us as we so desperately needed.  

I spend my own motherhood creating memories to continue filling up my empty spots.  The women in my life now remind me of past events, tell me about my post-war childhood, and give me the courage to be more than my mother was; to be the kind of mother that I needed.


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