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28th of June

Mothering Mother, Part 1


For the next few posts, I will be raising the shades of a window.  The view, at first, might look bleak.  I pray you’ll follow to the end, because it’s happy and I believe, like me, you will find great blessing in the whole picture.

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“If there’s anything here you want, you’d better take it now,” Mom told me as she was clearing the house, the house where we three kids grew up.  She had to sell and leave because of the divorce.  I was 22.  She was 44.  I had married that year.  Dad had left her six months after.  And now, all she and he had worked for came down to an equal division of property.  Is that what love-ever-after comes down to, after 25 years and three kids?  House value and paychecks and pensions?

All I wanted was my piano music—the stacked volumes of Bach, Mozart, Chopin, and Beethoven—the music I had played since I was ten after being discovered by my elementary music teacher as having a musical gift.

“You can’t have it!” she snapped, eyes bulging fury.  “I paid for it, so it’s MINE!”  The slamming door of her mouth caught me by surprise and made me wince in pain like it had been my fingers caught between door and jam.  How could she?

She was beyond angry.  My mother, a wounded mama bear running for her life, came down on me with sharp claws and grizzly fangs intent on inflicting harm.  Why?  Why would a mother want to harm her child?  Because her child, this 22 year-old adult-child, had turned on her.  In her most dire need, this mama bear’s eldest cub told her that she would not testify in court against her father in a suit where Mom and Dad were suing each other for divorce on grounds of mental cruelty.  This cub, now grown and out on her own, licking her own hidden wounds, had drawn a territorial line and told Mom she could not cross.  I would not testify in court nor take sides outside of court.  I would be a Switzerland during war, battles raging all around.  But in this war, in this marital minefield, neutrality on the sidelines can get one wounded or killed as quickly as grunts on the front lines.

I should have known.  Life with Mom was calm and sweet as long as everyone did what she wanted.  But the moment she was crossed, the moment someone had a different idea or plan, look out.  Claws came out and teeth were bared.  No matter if it was her classroom students, her colleagues, her husband, or her kids—going against her grain had soul-ripping, heart eviscerating consequences.  I had learned early on the consequences for crossing her.  And mostly, I learned to acquiesce.  Sometimes it’s just easier to give in than to stand firm.  And certainly, it’s a lot less painful.  Or so I thought.  Years of therapy cleaning up the bloody soul mess caused by years acquiescing turned out to be much more costly, financially and emotionally.

After boundaries were set, she began putting hand to paper, sending me lengthy letters of questions and blame and downright mean name-calling.

How could I do this to her after all she had done for me?  How could I take a neutral stance when she had always defended me against my father?  How could I abandon her in her darkest time?  Selfish, that’s what I was.  Cold, that’s how I felt.  Cruel, that was my brand.  Selfish.  Cold. Cruel. 

Mother-words have a way of marking the soul with indelible ink where daughters feel branded for life—confined by definitions and confused by contradictions.

Selfish?  Cold?  Cruel?

Those who knew me well would never describe me as selfish, cold, and cruel.  They would describe me as generous, warm, and kind.  But I knew myself better than mother or friends.  I knew I could be all—selfish and generous, cold and warm, cruel and kind.  Who was I really when really I could be anything to anyone at any time?

The extremes of perception fascinate.  We are complex beings, we humans, in terms of what we think and how we behave.  Through the years, I have wondered about the continuum of emotion and behavior we all find ourselves on at any given moment.  And I think of God, the Creator, who brought us all into being in the image of Him, with widest range of emotion and freedom of behavior.  With so much freedom, how does one choose?  Sometimes the choice is clear.

Sometimes we are asked to do things so wrong, so morally reprehensible that no matter how much we love, no matter who we love, we must draw a line—a line we will—not—cross.  I drew the line with permanent pen the day my mom asked me to take her side in court against my father.  I told her it wasn’t right, or fair, to ask her children to take sides, to choose between parents, to testify in court, damning one to save another.

I had two siblings—a sister, three years younger and a brother, five years younger.  Both agreed to support my mother in court.  We’ve never talked about our decisions and I wonder how they viewed mine at the time.  We kids all went our separate emotional ways, each experiencing the fallout of our once intact family from differing vantage points.  My brother was 18, still a senior in high school and the only kids still at home.  My sister was on the east coast in a music conservatory.  And I was in my first year of marriage, far away in Chicago.

Though I did not attend my parents’ trial, I imagined my siblings on the stand, speaking negative, damaging words about my father and I cringed.  Not that I felt sorry for the man.  In my view, my dad was mean and disrespectful, especially towards my mom.

The marriage ended, assets were divided, the case was closed, and life moved on.  And we tried to move on with life.  My relationship with my brother and sister was non-existent by the time the divorce concluded.  My mother, on the other hand, couldn’t let go of her fury, her pain.  Her letters kept arriving in my mailbox.  All amount of self-control I could muster kept me from opening envelopes and reading words I knew would hurt.  I gave the letters to my therapist who only told me what I might need to know, leaving all else out.  Those hurtful words—that heart and soul pain spewed—I chose to leave in the hands of God because God is the only one big enough and powerful enough to take on such pain and not lose Himself in the winds of rage.

Dad went on to marry again—and again.  And I sat in the pew cynical.  And I cried, again and again.

Seven years later, Mom had a wedding.  I had a divorce.  How could opposite be happening again, in the same year, just as her divorce and my wedding had been?  Mom was elated.  I was deflated.  She had found love.  I had lost . . .

Join me Monday for Part 2?

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