10 May 2008

Ode to my Mother on Mother's Day

My mom, Carol Ann, was born July 10th, 1941. She died June 13th, 2004. It's been almost 4 years since her death and I still miss her. We didn't have that great of a relationship, her and I, but I still miss her.
My mom was what most would call a troubled person. She was an only child of a clueless mother and a drunken father. I don't really remember my mother's father, he died when I was 5. What I know of him is mostly from the stories people told. And most of those stories weren't too pretty. Seems like the dysfunction in our family started back pretty far. I loved my mom's mom. She doted on her grandchildren. It was only as I got older that I began to understand that a lot of what she did for her grandchildren were things she wished she had done for her own daughter.
The pain and trouble started early for my mom. She suffered great emotional and physical abuse. She never got over it. It affected the rest of her life. She married young, and had children young. Too young to really be a good parent. She was never really parented, so she never learned how to parent. My father didn't have a great life either, so really, neither one of them really had a clue about how to raise children. They did what they knew: they controlled, they yelled, they beat and they ignored. I do think they loved us, they just had no idea how to show it.
This ode to my mother is not meant to tear her down. I actually had a fairly good relationship with my mom when I was very young. We moved to Illinois when I was 8 years old. My mom was born and raised in NYC. She loved the city. She moved very unhappily to "suburbia" when my father was transferred with his job. It was during those years that I became aware of my mother's problems with depression. I spent most of my childhood remembering my mom being in the hospital. It wasn't until I was in 7th grade or so that I was finally told what types of hospitals my mom was in. Sure she occasionally had a regular illness that required her to go the hospital, but most of the time she was in the psych ward. I think a lot of her physical ailments were also caused by her psych problems. I remember spending many weekends driving with my dad to visit my mom. I used to count the dead animals on the road while we drove. I don't know why I remember that. I remember the time they let her out for Christmas. She had to go back the next day.
I am the youngest of 3. My sister is 5 years older than me, and my brother is 4. So by the time I was in high school, my siblings were out of the house. It was around this time I guess my mom felt I could take care of myself. So, instead of heading into the nut house when she needed it, she began taking off. She would just up and leave. Drive to Florida, go visit friends, just leave. I remember being at work one day, and she called me at work to tell me I needed to go home and feed my grandfather dinner (my dad's dad lived with us) because she was heading to Florida. No one knew she was leaving that day, she just left. I asked my dad many years later why he stayed with her. (Life with Carol just wasn't easy.) He said he stayed for us kids. Not sure how his staying with her helped us, but in his mind it did.
Again, I am not trying to slam my mom. These are just memories. All of us kids really raised ourselves. A lot of times it seems like the roles were reversed. We needed to parent Carol.
I fought with my mom. I always told her what was on my mind. In reality now, I know I am a lot more like my mom than I would like to admit. Despite her many faults she could be a very strong woman. She did teach us to stand up for ourselves, (probably because she was unable to do that for herself). We learned how to survive in the real world. I know a lot of people who are book smart, and have no life smarts. She taught us life smarts. I'm sure living in NYC helped with that. I know that no matter what happens, I CAN take care of myself.
It wasn't until I had my own children that I better understood my mom. I was 27 when I had my first. My mom was 27 when she had her 3rd (me). I think if I had 3 children at 27, I too might have been a bit loopy. I remember she came to visit me when my first born was 3 weeks old. I still felt like I had no clue what I was doing with a newborn. I remember crying to her and telling her I should have just kept having cats. She reassured me that I would be a good mom and I just needed to give it time. For once she was right.
My mom was loud and over the top. She liked to party and was often the life of the party. I remember so many parties she threw while we were growing up. Every Christmas Eve we had an open house. My mom loved to cook and entertain. She loved to drink and dance. People really liked my mom. She often helped those outside her family more than she helped those within. She could be a really wonderful person at times. It seems that those were the times she had her demons under control. But they always came back. She had many self destructive tendencies.
After my mom died my brother, sister and I went through her house to sort out her belongings. (My dad had already died 6 years earlier). Years ago, my sister and I had given her a book called (I think) "For My Children's Children". It had questions to answer and spaces to write info about one's life. When we gave it to her, I don't think my sister or I really thought she would fill it out. She did. It was surprising to read some of the things she wrote. At the very back of the book it asked what was the one thing the person was most proud of in their life. My mother said "her children". None of us expected that. She wrote more, but suffice it to say, we were the most important thing she felt she had ever accomplished. She never verbalized that to us. I don't think she knew how. It was comforting to read that upon her death.
So here I sit 4 Mother's Days after her death. I wish I had been given more time with her. I wish she had been given a chance to purge herself of her demons. I wish my children had been given the chance to know her.
I do know I will see her again. I hope she is happy and finally free where she is.
Happy Mother's Day mom. I love you.
I miss thee, my Mother! Thy image is still the deepest impressed on my heart.~Eliza Cook

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