When in doubt, or I should say, riding some kind of mini breakdown, I call my semi-alcoholic mother. Over the years I have figured out perfect timing before she goes in for the kill—“utter disappointment” is her nickname for me after, say, five minutes on the phone. But until that point I find a kind of comfort, the imaginary mommy/cookies kind. Not that she ever was this person.
Despite my fifteen years of wanting to live in a lovely white house on the beach, instead I have lived those years in a crowded, unkempt home, albeit a nice one, though meant to be five years, add to that three kids, two dogs, twenty-five fish, three reptiles, a challenging job, low funds, and no help.
Here is the house I saw myself in, dang it.
And of course the pristine and perfect interior, replete with a grand piano, a chef, an assistant, and a masseuse.
Now and again I toy with the idea of driving off a cliff, but it’s another fleeting fantasy, more like a default, since I don’t drink, smoke, have affairs, gamble, or shop. Basically there is no escape. We all have our bad days. Plus this is just not in my personality makeup.
After accomplishing some difficult work, top-notch per client, instead of taking any kind of pride, I focused on how I still needed to go to the grocery story, make five complicated meals since everyone has an allergy to something, hang with the girly-girl twins, help with their homework, bath them, blow-dry their precious hair, read stories, tuck them to bed, speed clean the entire house, spend ten minutes with my eldest boy child, and catch up with my husband so we can get up and do it all over again.
Then I retreat to my bedroom/sanctuary to read, my greatest pleasure, and also a way to avoid a potential rabbit hole that is my “desk” filled with bills, papers, unfinished writing projects, pictures, and artwork never framed, thank-you cards never sent, a call sheet that is two weeks old and forget the calendar, all skyscrapers of tedium and unresolved and issues.
The next repeat morning, slogging through my local village and burdened down with Rite-Aid shame bags (I never bring my own), I am hit with my own tsunami wave of grief and my immediate impulse is to call my mom. It was good timing because she hadn’t started with the NyQuil yet. She in fact has the life I want; lives on a remote island, white house, white gorgeous furniture, writes, paints, and has two PhDs; hence a shift in our normal greeting.
“Oh, Dr. Judy, I’m falling apart, this is not fun, my life is over! I mean I love my kids, but the crocheting, knitting, reading books I already read, the homework, emails for school I ignore, when all I want to do is write, read, and walk on a secluded beach.”
I am sobbing now, sitting on a curb, sandwiched between two Priuses.
“Sweetie … I understand. But you need to change your attitude. You’ve accomplished so much, have beautiful children and husband that does so much. The girls adore him. I’m not a big fan but you can’t afford to lose him. You certainly couldn’t do this on your own! Where is your gratitude?”
“Oh, yeah. Well, not feeling it. He’s not going anywhere. I want to!” She went on, ticking off all the good things in my life, like my bathroom tile carpet. Her pep talk helped, or maybe not. Perhaps just sitting down and taking a break for five minutes was what I needed; thus I forgot my time limitation as she rattled on how great she was, so I wasn’t prepared for the oncoming insults.
“What the heck were you thinking having more kids? Yunno, for being bright … well … And the way you dress them! They look like Bosnian refugees. And you have a sense of style, I made sure of that, you also could have married a very rich man, what were you thinking?” And on … and on …
“Look here sister, you have twenty more years of hard labor, there is no escaping it, you have to see those girls through until they are at least twenty-eight, then you can have your house on the beach. You have to earn it. I certainly did. You wanted more children so now no playing little miss victim!”
“I’m not being a victim, I just wanted to talk. Twenty years?” I was stuck on this twenty-year comment.
“Twenty years! I can barely manage a day.”
“Oh nonsense. Stop being a baby. I didn’t raise you that way. I did it! And I had six kids and no husband, that horrible man still gives me nightmares!” (My memory of my father is quite different; he played board games with me every day, took me out for ice cream, taught me card tricks, how to ride a bike.)
Here, of course, she never elaborates. Yes, she had six kids starting at age fifteen, done by twenty-six, left my father then doled the kids out to various strangers, one to dad, the others, well, just people and to this day I can’t remember their names. I am the only one that stayed with her, mostly out of fear. At ten, I felt she needed someone to take care of her, given she was drunk most of the time and would often disappear for a few days. She was a Playboy bunny at some lounge and I worried, constantly.
I eventually left at age fifteen, determined to make something out of my life
My mother is different now; stopped drinking, but still nips at NyQuil every night.
Maybe she merely got too old for her insane Marin County lifestyle, falling off of bar stools, going home with complete strangers, jumping out of sailboats, getting arrested for drunk walking.
I glanced up and saw a pretty mom, laughing and enjoying her two small children. I did that once … and still do with my girls, on a good day, but her carefree attitude was something that had become foreign to me. Her children were well groomed, hair clean, faces washed. They were all having so much great fun, I had known that life, still do, but less so.
With my son, my entire existence centered around him, and I also maintained high-profile jobs. I even enjoyed building Lego rockets with him, using all 14,000 pieces.
My mother was still talking. “You think you have it bad! I made sure all of you kids went to great schools, ate well-balanced meals. I taught you piano, we listened to great composers, went to incredible museums. All alone, no help from a supportive father … libraries, dance, we were cultured! And I loved every minute of it. Sure we sometimes slept in the car, in community parks, in someone’s attic. But I paid a mighty price.”
“Yeah, mom. I know. I was there.”
“So stop complaining. I did not raise you that way!”
I hung up my phone, knowing this was just the beginning of her rant.
I looked around at my village and knew I was blessed. I just wanted to go home and bake banana bread with the girls. Sometimes a phone call to my mother reminds me that I broke the chain of neglecting children when I had my first one. Sometimes we just need a reminder.