I became a mama to my daughter when I was 31. Before she was born, I lived a pretty crazy life as a stereotypical 20-something year old. I dated around, and got married and divorced. I lived all over the Southeastern U.S. and traveled around the world. I knew a bit about life. Needless to say, everything I thought I knew was blown to bits when the nurses placed that tiny little 7 pound bundle on my chest that December evening.
My mother was in the room with me when my daughter was born, and two years later she was there for the birth of my son. It was fitting that the woman who gave me life was there to see her grandchildren born. We have always been close.
Growing Up Wasn’t Easy
My mother went through a lot in life. She grew up in an abusive, alcoholic family during a time when people still didn’t speak about it openly. She married my father when she was 17. My father was only 19. They had me when she was about to turn 19 and he was 20. They lived in a cute little mobile home on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida and all she wanted was to be a good mom and a good wife. It was the early 80’s. She didn’t have a college education – neither did my dad. He worked in construction for her father.
We moved into our first real home when I was three. A home my dad helped build. It was a simple three bedroom, two bath, ranch style house with a nice backyard and walking distance to the elementary school. My mom didn’t have a drivers license until after my sister was born. She was 23. Looking back, I cannot believe my mom was 23 years old and had a kid in kindergarten and one in diapers. Crazy.
The Diagnosis and Downward Spiral
When I was in middle school, my mom was diagnosed with bipolar depression. It’s sad that it took her over thirty years to get such a life-altering diagnosis. She started on medication and I didn’t notice a huge difference in our life.
Fast forward to my parents marriage at nineteen and a half years. In the throes of a mid-life crisis, my father walked out on her. On us. He blamed it on the fact that she threw dishes to the kitchen floor when she was 20 during a heated argument. In reality he had an in-office affair and was too ashamed to work through his marriage.
Her life as she knew it was turned completely upside down. She married the first single man she met after my dad left in an effort to create some normalcy. My stepdad was a good man, but it took several years for her to love him despite the fact they were married. It was then that I saw her disease for what it was. She always did a great job of hiding it, but it was the first time I would see her spiral downward or upward depending on if she had consistently taken her medication. I was now in my 20’s and could relate to my mother as a young woman.
My stepdad passed away from colon cancer in January 2012, after twelve years of marriage. Again, my mom’s life spiraled out of control. In the months that followed she lost her job, their home, and went through their small savings. I had to deal with my own losses at the time (going through a separation and divorce) so I holed up with my own grief and couldn’t give her the attention that she needed.
The Realization of our Relationship Today
For the past five years we have had an ongoing roller coaster of a relationship. I have watched her date men who treated her terribly and her go back again and again for more. She has stayed in my home when she had no where else to go. I have watched her make terrible decisions with jobs and money. It is heart-wrenching. I wonder sometimes if it is worse watching a parent spiral downward or watching your child?
A few weeks ago we had another argument that ended in tears and me blocking her number (again) because she was choosing to put herself in a dead-end relationship with a man that I loathe. As I threw my phone across my bedroom and sat with my head in my knees, I realized that it was very similar to how my 3 1/2 year old daughter felt when she was throwing her tantrums because she couldn’t have what she wanted at the moment that she wanted it. It was surreal, actually.
I was a 35-year-old toddler who just wanted her mom to CARE about herself.
It wasn’t that she was a bad mom or that she had mistreated me or my sister. She is in fact a wonderful Gam-Gam to our kids and is always there for us, at the drop of a hat. But in that moment, I just wanted her to myself. I wanted her to see herself for what I saw her as. I don’t know when or if that will ever happen, but I will say it helped me gain perspective the next time my daughter threw her iPad across the floor in sheer frustration at something I couldn’t wrap my head around.
The realization made me pause. I simply sighed, and wrapped my arms around my little girl. Yes little one, I understand. I truly do.