With Mother’s Day in the air, I’ve been thinking a lot about mom’s, what it means to me to be a mom, what makes a good mom, and how to be a good mom. I’ve thought about all the cliches, all the stereotypes, and all the examples of which we, as a society, agree fit the definition. And for a moment, I got stuck there. My thoughts spinning in my mind, unable to break free from the sadness and despair sucking me down into self-pity for my own does not fit the mold. My own is not the stereotype. Rather my own is atypical, if you will. An aberration of the characteristic symbolises, a misrepresentation of the socially compiled definition of Mom.
Then it dawned on me that I don’t have to walk with crowd, not ever! I don’t have to fit the mold to belong, nor do I have to have someone else’s model of perfection to say mine is good enough. I may not have one single, great, over-the-top, super fantastic, amazing mother, but all of the moms, (Yes, I said MOMS as in, more than one.), that I have had in my life, all put together, are that perfect model of a mother for me. Standing alone, each would fail miserably at meeting the full course of those qualities that we can all strongly agree upon to be deemable as purely motherly in nature. Yet, when brought together, united as a whole, the few stray tendencies of motherly-ish nature each possesses its able to mold into a mother of award-winning, show-stopping capabilities. It’s just too bad that I couldn’t actually smash em together Frankenstein style and have the actual perfect mom all at once, all the time. But, alas, it’s illegal to perform unlicensed, self-trained, bqasement of your house, medical research, amputation and reattachment surgery, and genetic cloning and reassignment procedures in real life. So I settle for what I’ve got.
1. My Biological Mother- I have never had a mother-daughter relationship with this lady who gave birth to me. She was the perfect mom through my first few years, giving me a brother and doing everything that a storybook picture of a mother should do. She created a warm, loving home and bonded with me in those early years of my life, then severed that bond, as swiftly as a machete would slice right through some overgrowth down a forest path. When her and my father couldn’t make their marriage work just two years after my brother’s birth, she left us kids with my father and moved on with her life, occasionally coming along just to appease some small amount of guilt that just as infrequently nagged her conscious. This was abandonment in my barely four year old eyes, becoming the root cause of early childhood trauma that triggered my genetically predisposed mental health diagnoses of PTSD and (cyclic/situational) Depression. It broke my innocent, unconditionally trusting spirit, but it fueled my resilient, fight for what I want, endlessly giving, survivor’s spirit. That is something I have only recently learned to appreciate.
Over the course of the next five or six years, the visits became few and far in between, and this lady, the one who gave me the very life coursing through my veins, beating my heart so the valves keep pumping, and flowing through my lungs, became more of a distant aunt than a mother to me. I wasted almost my whole life after that, trying desperately to force myself onto my mother, expecting that relationship to reappear instantaneously. It never has. Every opportunity in life to do something for my mother at her request, to be there for her anyway that she’s needed, or to give her more than she’s asked for, I’ve jumped at, like a frog desperate to catch that darn trickster of a fly. For a long, long time I followed that path of letting my mother use me for her benefit. Even going so far as raising her three daughters from her replacement family while she worked and went to school to move her family up the social rungs of the status ladder. Only in my early teens, I was disconsolate, full of despair, so eager to push back my mother’s constant rejections, that I sacrificed my fleeting childhood to play the mother I wanted her to be, though I never received so much as a fragmented glimpse of the relationship I believed that I needed, in return. Just knowing that I could have a purpose in her life was something-better-than-nothing in terms of filling the void in my soul I blamed her for creating.
It would take a long, augmented amount of time before I could break through the freeze the trauma of losing my mom, as I had known her, seemed to have put on my emotional development. I ended up on a tragic, downward spiral of self-destruction that finally ended shortly after having my own children. My last outcry for help landed me in the office of the best therapist I had ever had before in a thirty day recovery program. With her help, I was able to dissect the trauma, my distorted image of my mother, and my obsession with needing to have that relationship. Finding acceptance in who she was as a person and not just her failures as a mom, especially in light of the discreetly kept knowledge of her longtime, ongoing battle with Bipolar Disorder. I found the strength to close the door on my mother, realizing how toxic her presence was to me, stunting me in ways detrimental to my own mental health. My heart was scared too deep to continue with the insanity I had been living until then.
Over the next couple years, I fought myself to keep her at bay while working on my own recovery. Only when my grandmother died eighteen months ago, did I allow myself to speak to her again. And only after she was diagnosed with End-Stage Congestive Heart Failure, did I give her a chance to speak her peace and let her back in on a probationary period, just for the sake of my kids being able to know their grandmother before it’s too late.
She’s certainly got plenty of issues, still, but I’ve learned, am still learning, to accept her for the woman she is instead of the mother she’s not. It’s taken most of my years to let go of that fantasy, but now I can say happily that she’s, at least, my friend.
2. My First Stepmother- She was just a baby herself when she came into my life. Partially the reason behind my parents irreconcilable relationship. Well, okay… mostly, then. My dad is a narcissistic chauvinist who likes his woman to be more like the girls in his locked drawer movies than the ideal, respectable, motherly-type. Moments after returning home from dropping my mother’s last boxes and suitcases off to her at her fresh new, single lady, start life all over again apartment, my stepmom moved her two garbage bags worth of belongings in. I can look back now, and pity that girl a fool, but then, even only at 4½ years old, I knew she was someone I should resent. Hate. Love. Wanderlust over. Be jealous of. She was seventeen. Everyone will tell you eighteen, because it’s even more taboo now then it was back in the eighties for a man of 34 to bed such a youngin’, but she was just shy of her eighteenth birthday and they had been seeing each other inconspicuously since she was really only sixteen, so what’s the point in denying the truth?
Our relationship was definitely one of a love to hate, hate to love quality throughout my childhood. All of the misplaced blame I had over my mom’s abandonment, I thundered down on her with all the force of my bottled up rage. Yet at the same time, I wanted to make her mine, force her role in my life to fit into that missing piece of my heart, oblivious to the reality that you can’t force two different people to fit in the same hole. The inner turmoil caused by my budding mental illness, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, only complicated my relationship with her more. I also blamed her for the changed the dynamic of my relationship with my father, because I was still too awestruck with the king of my childhood castle to believe that he indeed had grown distant from me on his own accord, because of his chronic functioning alcoholism and the stroke at 36 which destroyed just a miniscule part of his frontal lobe. He began to live for his selfish wants and desires alone, putting everyone else that wasn’t his spawn second, and those that were, head last.
As a mother myself now, and a grown woman with more wisdom and maturity than that old Barn Owl sitting perch and taking in all the life moving around it, I am able to see my stepmother’s role in my life for what it really was, appreciate her for all that she did. Even though, when the sun went down every night she became my father’s real-life Bratz barbie-doll Gone Wild, by day she was the best mother to us kids as she ever could’ve been in her predicament. Learning as a tween that she had met my dad working nights at Taco Bel to pay for her family’s electric bill. Her own childhood was spent in poverty, mistreated with corporal punishment by her father and stepmother, physically and mentally abused by her step-siblings, and raped by a prowler taking advantage of her unlocked bedroom window at only fourteen, didn’t affect me then. I only used it as ammo for my case against her because I couldn’t deal with the burden my heart carried and she was the closest person to me to lash out at. The closest person to me, because all along, had I not been so consumed by the hurting over my mother, I could’ve seen my stepmother was the mother I wanted as a little girl, just not in the stereotypical package.
Unlike my real mother, my stepmom was there day in and day out, taking care of all of my needs without a single complaint or rant. Never showing rancor for raising someone else’s uterine trophies, especially since that rape left her unable to ever conceive her own baby. (Modern technology finally did make it possible to fix previously damaged baby ovens, though.) She cooked for us, did homework with us. Went on field trips as our chaperone and when I was sick, she held my hair out of my face and rubbed my back in small circles ever so softly, while I threw up in the toilet. My advocate at parent-teacher conferences standing up for my right to read for pleasure behind my textbooks, she got the teachers to agree to it, so long as I continued to maintain straight A’s, because my elementary school didn’t have a gifted program. My advisor on friendships and the shoulder to cry on when those friendships went awry. The creator of craft store deluxe holidays that made my spirit burst with amazement at all the wondrous decorations, special activities, and homemade treats she pulled out all the stops for.
She was, also, the Queen Bitch of the household and delegator for all chore duties and punishments. The first person to have ever spanked me. The one to declare me a chronic liar instead of seeing through my exaggerated dramatics to the mental illness taking hold and finding me help, making it even harder for me to cry out for help, because everyone stopped believing in anything I said. My stepmom wasn’t able to understand what was going on inside of me, because I never let her get close enough. If I had, she would only have left me, too, said the depression that took over in my head. Because she was my dad’s Playmate Bunny by night, the older that I grew, the more fascinated my friends were with her, especially the boys, because her wardrobe didn’t change for the daytime. The reputation I gained at school for the atypical package that showed up in place of my mother, only fueled the negative feelings I fostered, making me love to hate her even more than I hated to love her. By the time I was in high school, wrapped under my biological mother’s thumb with the hope of renewing her want for me, I was a ticking time bomb. My depression phased into bipolar, with the teenage hormones racing through me acting as the trigger switch, and the fights between us reached their climax. I moved out at 16, never looking back.
By the time I had reached full adulthood and was getting ready to start nursing school, my stepmom had had her surgery to fix her baby oven and because my dad still refused to get unsnipped and give her all she ever wanted- her own baby, she walked away from her 18yr relationship with my father without looking back, herself. She found a new spouse and had two little girls of her own, right around the time I had my sons. A few years later, thanks to that handy dandy thing called Facebook, we reconnected, in a way we never could’ve experienced all those years before, when I was the perfect storm of childhood innocence mixed with trauma, mental illness and, confusion. We still aren’t close, but we can now stand together on common ground. Getting over the loss of my biological mother gave me the chance to open my heart up to get, fitting her piece in where it was meant to be all along, closing up most of the gap where the piece for my mother fell out.
3. My Surrogate Mothers- During my childhood and teenage years, I craved that close knit togetherness, the kind seen in the perfectly captured storybook relationships between a mother and her daughter. It was a novelty to me, the idea of having an all-knowing, ever-doting, confidant with which to break into fits of the giggles with over something only we could understand, like a hidden punchline to a secret joke we made during one of our dates to the mall. I wanted to know the warmth of a mother’s arms who could never see you as broken or someone else’s unwanted leftovers.
When I made my first best friend in life, I also weaseled my way into her mother’s heart, idolizing the relationship between her and my best friend. Instead of playing solely with my friend, I would sander off to find her mom and help her with her work. Need your laundry folded, sure thing, not a problem. Want someone to tidy up the three brothers’ room, I’d be more than happy to oblige. Then, the whole while I would help her out, I’d chatter her ear off, letting out all the good stuff that I had been holding onto, unable to share with anyone. My best friend was just that for the fact that she seemed to unspeakably get it, because she had that same hole in her heart for her own father who had committed suicide just a couple of years after her mother left him because of his instability. Having that extra mom figure in my life was good for me. She was someone on my side, someone I could always turn to when my two mom’s were against me. She helped me see what a real mom should be like, how they can unconditionally love their children and be the perfect package without abandoning them or turning them away. Watching the way she raised her kids with an iron will, a penniless pocket, and gracious heart not only got me through my childhood, but helped shape the mother I am to my children today.
In high school, when my relationships with my real mom and stepmom were at their worst for me, and my best friend’s mother was gone with her a few hundred miles away, I found a new mom to cling onto. She and her husband were longtime friends of my father’s and both worked at my school. She was no fan of my stepmom, either. Employed as a school security monitor, her duty was to monitor the student and teacher parking lots, preventing pranks and catching the kids trying to skip class. She would let me get away with hanging out in her van with her, sneaking me off campus for a cigarette break. Sometimes, she would surprise me and make up an excuse to have the office send me out to the car I didn’t actually have, just to surprise me with some Mom-time. She let me vent about anything and everything before responding with something that would make me feel like I was going to be all right no matter what because I was special. She encouraged me to find my inner strength and take pride in myself. Helped me to try and understand the adult’s side of the story, the reasoning behind their actions, emphasizing that it had nothing to do with me personally, because she wanted to help heal my pain. I don’t think I would’ve came back to school after I ran away from home, had she not been there waiting for me every day to spill all my secrets, fears, and worries to.
When I got married, it was a time before I reconnected with my stepmom and during the time where I was falling apart at the seams, unable to cope with the failures of my real mom. My husband’s mother was easy to attach myself to and become close with. Her warm, friendly soul was refreshing and the bond between her and her son impenetrable. It was the kind of bond I had always wanted and wanted to create with my own children, so I took note. Her and I ended up bonding over my husband’s childish habits and need for some more maturity. We lived together for a short while in the beginning, as my husband and I adjusted to married life and it allowed me to take in all she had to offer, filling my bucket over with love and self-esteem. Like everything else in life, soon she began to change for the worst under the spell of love, and just as quickly as she came into my life with her arms wide open, she pulled back and ran off to get married again, leaving us all in the dust, completely bewildered. The time I had with her as a surrogate mother, though, was wonderful and taught me so much more about what it takes to be that perfect mom than I was aware of in the moment.