Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Different Kind of Mother's Day Story

My kids as I always picture them:
Alice, age 5, and Davey, age 1.
I adore our children. They are really wonderful people,
and they pretty much arrived here that way.
I just tried not to screw them up.

Tomorrow will be the first Mother's Day I have ever spent without my mother.

That fact has been on my mind a great deal lately, and it evokes a powerful mix of emotions in me. Because sadly, not every mom is as admirable and wise and loving and real as Patti Weir.

My 74-year-old mother passed away very unexpectedly, alone in her home one morning last July, from a massive heart attack. She had just spent the previous week visiting me and my family to celebrate my birthday about ten days early, which she oddly had insisted upon doing. I will always be grateful that she did.

I have countless memories of my mother, and I choose to focus on my warmest remembrances of her.

But the truth is that our relationship was always stunted; was never what it could have been; was forever shaped--or rather, warped--by the extraordinary emotional and physical cruelty that my father visited upon me and my sister with terrifying regularity. And which my mother not only knew about, but allowed, even sometimes encouraged.

"Abuse" hardly begins to cover it, but it's the best word I have. It was our family's dark secret for a very long time. My parents always appeared to be such an upstanding couple in our community--well-spoken, well-regarded, financially secure; she a writer and a high school English teacher, he a long-time college professor--and no one outside our family knew. Aquaintances did often comment on how well-behaved and extremely quiet my sister and I always were, having no idea that we were that way because the price for stepping out of line--which, in our world, could mean just uttering a single word, or being in my father's line of sight, or merely existing at all--was very, very high.

We were raised by two people of such extreme self-involvement that they spent their entire lives angry, resentful, and in mourning that parenthood had happened to them, as if it were cancer. My sister and I both got the message in a thousand ways, from the time we were born until both our parents were gone.

My sister chose to remain a victim to this day, seeking abusive relationships and consoling herself with the comfortingly repetitive, self-destructive behaviors of anorexia and bulimia.

I chose to be a survivor. I chose that before I met my husband, but part of the credit goes to him, my partner of twenty years, in whom I confided details of my childhood that I had never shared with anyone. It was difficult for him. He despised what they had done, but he understood that even though I could perceive my parents pretty clearly and unflinchingly, I still wanted some kind of relationship with them--well, mostly with my mother. So he was always very, very protective of me around them, and he urged me to set strong boundaries; but most of all, he encouraged me to forge a relationship with them based on the truth of what had happened, and not a game of let's pretend.

The truth will set you free.

(He also has kindly helped me whenever I've had doubts about my own parenting skills by reminding me: "As long as you're not doing  ANYTHING your parents did, you're getting it right.")

But one thing my husband could never understand was this: That even though my mother was awful to me in many ways, I still loved her.

So much. To the very core of my being.

I loved her as deeply and ferociously and overwhelmingly as he loved his mother, a truly wonderful woman with whom I did not get to spend nearly enough time because she died during the second year of our marriage.

But that's how children love their mothers, I think. Because ultimately that's who she was to me: My mother. My tie to her and my need for her went far beyond any words; nearly all children, at any age, know this feeling.

And we did have many good moments together. I could always, always make her laugh. And I did everything I could to help her and take care of her after my father--nasty, miserable, and twisted to the end--devastated her by committing suicide just four days before Christmas and two weeks shy of his 72nd birthday.

When he died, I was mostly just furious. And relieved.

When she died, I grieved with the raw intensity that comes with profound loss, and my children and my husband did--and continue to do--everything they could think of, bless their hearts, to help me through it.

But even that first night, in tremendous, shattering, wordless shock and grief, there was a very, very tiny voice in the back of my mind whispering, again, the real truth of it all, a voice that had waited my entire life for this moment:

Dear God.

At last.

I'm free.

Tomorrow: A Mother's Day tribute to Patti Weir!
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copyright 2010 / Binky and the Misfit Mimes / Lynn V. Ingogly / all rights reserved


Anonymous said...

Oh, Binky...I´m very emotional right now.
I don´t know what happened to you,abuse happens in a lot of ways, but I feel like you talked to me who is still looking for a close relationship to her mother after having a troubled time growing up. I believe we will always be the kids who just wanted to be loved and respected in every way by our parents.


WheresMyKoppy said...

It's not easy to tell a story like yours, but thank for sharing it anyway. You have beautiful children and a good life partner.

Anonymous said...

Thank you.
Thank you for your existance.


Anonymous said...

Dearest Binky,

I cry for you. And I can tell from all of your messages that you did indeed make something beautiful out of ugly.


bsontwit said...

thank you for your openness in this blog. as you said, the truth will set you free. I admire your desire to rise above and be the mother you wish you had had for your own children. it sounds like your kids have a great mom.

mothers really shape our lives forever, i have struggled to be the mother my children deserve instead of what i was taught. i always wonder what i could have accomplished if i had felt more loved and supported, and i try to give that to my kids as much as they will let me...

happy mothers day Binky!


Anonymous said...

Oh God.
Misfit, I come from a very loving family and to be honest, I won't say that I fully understand what you went through, but my husband was victim of abuse (yes, the word barely covers it) by both the complete indifference of his father and an abusive stepmother. I can only tell you that to this day I can't understand how a beautiful person came out from that environment. And how can he love the man that was there physically but acted like nothing was happening.

My heart is really with you this mother's day, hun. I hope the love of your children overshadow the bad things (surely will) and that one day you can only remember the good things.

With love,

akiko said...

Thank you for writing and sharing this, for choosing to be a survivor, for becoming and being you. I admire your life, your courage. I have been always impressed by your writing, and now I know where your gift came from.

Happy Mother's Day, Binky, Mama Monster!

auntyamyj said...

Well my dear, you have captured my heart. How very eloquent and piognant all at the same time. I'm sorry for your loss and am happy for your freedom. I am also sorry for what you had to endure as a child. It is encouraging to hear that you have moved forward and choosen the path of survivor and rising above, your children will undoubtedly have a very very different perception of their childhood.
My relationship with my own mother has always been challenging to say the least. A very different experience than yours, as she decided when I was 14 years old that she was done being a mother and a wife. So she left. Which instantly turned my 42 year old father into a single dad. My older siblings were already gone and out of the house, so I pretty much got to have a single front row seat to DIVORCE 101. Which is really awful. Anyway, it worked out fine in the sense that my Dad is a wonderful parent and was pretty much put on this planet to be just that. (Hence, he now comes to stay with me on occasion and clucks at me like a hen because I am not quite the immaculate housekeeper he is.)
Now, 26 years later, my Mother and I manage to get along OK, but just ok. It's hard to wrap my mind around sometimes, I love her because I was connected to her in the womb for over nine months and as a little girl, I was constantly attached to her (when I wasn't attached to my Dad). But there is a very keen sense of disconnect. She is really only on the perifery (sp?)of my life. I'm not angry with her anymore, I just don't have a close parent/adult child relationship with her at all. It makes picking out a Mother's Day card very challenging.
Now all this being said, I'm making a Mothers Day brunch tomorrow for my Mother and my Grandmother. My older sister is out of town for the weekend and that means I'm up and on deck. So, I'll dazzle them with my sumptious fare and paste a big happy smile on my face and try very hard to live and love in the moment and enjoy myself.
Happy Mothers Day my dear Binks! You do rock Mama Monster!
Amy J.

Maggie St. said...

Very moving piece. I'm left here crying; crying for the fact that your parents could not enjoy their children, could not fully enjoy their lives.

Tears of happiness that you were able to break this cycle, to realize that you deserve to be loved for who you are and to have found a man who loves you.

and for the fact that even with all her short comings and faults, deep down, you still loved your Mother.

Wendy said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's heartbreaking to imagine that life for a child. Your post made me incredibly sad for all that you went through, and also proud of you for getting past it enough to be such an amazingly supportive parent to your own children.

I don't know why so many of *us* like to call you Mama, but you clearly have a kind spirit that comes across even for those of us who only know you through your writings.

Happy Mother's Day to you Mama Monster/Mama Love. Those are some lucky kids you have, and I believe they know that.

Anonymous said...

You are an incredible woman. And I am really touched by how you chose to be a survivor -- an emotional, physical survivor -- and how wide your love for others is today, despite all the past traumas you have faced. I really do hope you have a fabulous Mother's Day with your family, and that your love for this world will continue to grow, although frankly I'm not quite sure where you'll put it all because you have so much already!

I love your family picture, btw. Your children are very beautiful, and you are very beautiful.

Allison Shea said...

I completely understand, sympathize and relate and you, missy, have balls! I believe I've succeeded in raising my children in the exact opposite way than my parents, and I couldn't be more proud of them. But our experiences make up who we are, and what we do with them makes up our character. And your character is undeniable Binky, and I am privileged to have found out about you.

aaaack said...

You are so very thoughtful, brave and wise. You have broken the chain of abuse and set your children free. Out of the rigidity and ugliness that was your childhood, you parented yourself and created a beautiful, playful, funny and adventurous soul. This entry brings me to tears of both sadness and joy.

Very likely your Dad, too, was a victim of ignorance and abuse. Otherwise, how could he have been so hardened as to not see the connection between cause and effect?

Hearing your story gives me more hope for humanity. Thank you for digging deep, baring your soul, and sharing your journey. This makes me want to go back and read your older posts.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing, I think that you are very brave for allowing other people to see into the pain of your past relationships. I know from past experiences that talking and sharing makes things easier to deal with. My relationships with my mother/parents were rocky during my early years, but lately, since I went away to college they have improved tremendously.

I also am aware of some of the hardships that you have discussed, being that I have suffered all throughout my schooling from bullying and it got pretty bad at at times. I was able to focus on music to help quell the storm, so to speak, and I discovered these song lyrics that always make me feel better.

Happy Mother's Day!

If you find the courage within you
To face the path ahead
It matter's not the outcome
If what you will gain instead
Is a heart deepened in the knowing
That experience carves the soul
And the very thing that empties you
Will surely make you whole
Where the silent voices whisper
Find the course that is your own
And however great the obstacle
You will never be alone
For I have watched the paths of angels
And I have heard the heavens roar
There is strife within the tempest
But there is calm in the eye of the storm

~Lauren A.

Misfit Mimes said...

Thank you all so much for taking the time to read and comment--I really, really appreciate it.

@ aaaack: Actually, that's one of the hardest parts: My father was NOT a victim of ignorance and abuse. Ever. Both sets of grandparents that I had were the kindest, most loving people who were thrilled at being parents and later grandparents. And both sets confronted my parents periodically about what was going on. Until finally my father packed us up and moved us 2,000 miles away so he wouldn't have to answer any more awkward questions.

Years later, when I turned to my extended family for help in bringing everything out into the open, they were all extremely supportive. I was very close to my father's only sibling, his older sister, and she often said that she and my grandparents were completely at a loss as to what drove him to be the way he was. My mother's father, a very quiet and dignified gentleman who loved being a grandpa, was my rock my entire life. When, at age 30, I laid out in detail many incidents he had not known about after we moved away, his only comment was: "We always knew there was abuse. We had just tried to hope that it wasn't as bad as we feared."

The only explanation anyone ever came up with was a wonderful counselor I saw during a critical time in my 20s. She suggested that he was perhaps a "rage-aholic"--someone as addicted to rage as another might be to alcohol. Although I personally am not a fan of the disease model of addiction because, IMO, it removes too much responsibility and personal accountability for one's actions. "It's not my fault I beat the kid until she was bloodied--that was just my disease." I disagree.

So honestly, I think there are many reasons why he was the way he was, but bad parenting by my grandparents truly was not one of them.

And there was no reason at all why he couldn't have chosen to stop himself.