The thing about my Mom…

San Antonio - Riverwalk

This post has been sitting in my draft folder, mostly complete, for years. Writing about my relationship with my Mom is tremendously difficult for me; I feel like I need to justify myself, defend myself, and to do that I feel like I need to give ALL the information, to prove my position a thousand different ways because then you’ll understand this isn’t a phase, or my misinterpreting a conversation, that I’m a good person with a crap history. But the truth is, I cannot provide twenty years of background in a blog post. I cannot stop a reader from assuming I’m just ungrateful and emotionally stunted and an unforgiving bitch. And I cannot continue to fight for the right to have my own history and feelings and emotions matter. They matter. My experience is my own. 

Many years ago I read and loved The Glass Castle, a searing memoir from Jeannette Walls of depravity, neglect, and one woman beating impossible odds. I remember loving the tenacity and sheer will power that brought Walls from an incredibly poor, dirty, trodden-down mining town in West Virginia to a town car on Park Avenue in New York City. Walls father was a raging alcoholic, her mother probably bi-polar, and the Walls kids were left to fend for themselves, fighting hunger, incredibly poverty, lack of shoes, clothes, blankets, no running water, electricity, trash removal services, or any sort of plumbing. They were left to fight child molesters and violent bullies on their own, their parents telling them (if they even noticed) that it would be good for them to stand up for themselves. The Glass Castle is not a happy book, it is heartbreaking.

Several years later (when I was in a much different relationship with my mother) I re-read it for book club and Walls’ experience hit me over the head and heart in ways it never had before. For the last 20 years or so I have had a tenuous-at-best relationship with my own mother, but for the last 7 I have hardly spoken to her at all. Before I moved to Arizona, she lived less than 45 miles from me yet I would only see her at family functions hosted by one of my siblings, never at her home, and I do not speak to her on the phone, or by email, or holiday cards, or text messages, or carrier pigeons. I don’t even think she has my current address. (To be fair, she never reached out to me either, and my phone number and email address have been the same for almost 15 years.) After reading The Glass Castle it became pretty clear to me that on some level my Mom suffers from some messed up brain chemistry. I don’t know if she is bi-polar, but she has a lot of symptoms that would lead me to believe she might be somewhere on the spectrum of social personality disorder. Conversations with my Dad, sociologist sister, and two or three of my aunts have confirmed this could very well be the case.

I did not grow up in a happy place, before I left home I experienced parental physical and mental abuse to a pretty significant degree, and was sexually molested by a family member and his teenage friends for several years while I was young (ages five-ish until I was probably nine). I don’t really have many memories of being at home while I was growing up. I remember some big events–birthdays, Christmas, cousins coming to stay for a few days–and I remember a lot of things about being at school, or church, staying at my grandparents house, or playing outside with the neighbor kids…but I have very few memories of being inside my home, most of the memories I do have are very dark: being hit with a yard stick; being hit with a dried cutting from a rose bush, thorns still intact; being dragged out of my hiding place in the closet and my stomach stomped on until I could feel her foot wiggling on my spine; being repeatedly touched and teased by a very messed up teenage boy in front of his friends….and then being touched and poked and prodded some more by those friends; being trapped in the closet under the stairs with the neighbor boy and my clothes pulled and bunched so he could see me while he touched himself, I vividly remember what he smelled like, what the musty cardboard boxes smelled like. None of those are isolated instances, most happened over and over, and there are countless other similarly disturbing experiences. I have always had nightmares–never ending nightmares–about monsters and boogey men coming into my room at night and hurting me while those I loved (and who I thought loved me) stood by and watched passively, never lifting a finger to help me.

Most of those memories–the worst ones, for sure–were buried for years. As a teenager I half-suspected something really terrible had happened to me when I was a kid, but I wouldn’t have been able to definitively tell you what it was. In November of my senior year of high school I was sitting in an AP Psychology class learning about neuro defense mechanisms, one of which is repressing memories that are too painful to deal with, or for which the brain does not have the skill or energy to process. And as I sat there in my 2nd period class, all these sort-of grainy old snapshot memories suddenly turned into a horror film that just would not stop rolling. I remembered everything. I remembered who, and where, and when, and for how long. I left class sobbing, my best friend following right behind me. She caught up to me in the hall and choking through my sobs I told her what I thought happened. We left school immediately and spent the rest of the day talking. Later that night when I went home I told my Mom what had happened and asked her if what I was remembering was true.

….she said she knew what was happening. She knew, at the time, what was happening. And she left me with this boy anyway. For years. I didn’t know what to say (I still don’t), my Mom started crying and the only thing she said was “You never said anything, so I guess I thought it didn’t bother you.”


I can’t…I don’t…I still don’t have a response to that.

The next few weeks were impossible, I hardly got out of bed, I lost a lot of weight, my grades plummeted. When I did go to school I started blacking out and was taken to the office to lie down and I’d sleep there the rest of the day. This was November, by early January my Mom kicked me out. Technically the reason was because I came home late three nights in a row (12:05 when my curfew was midnight; yes, I’m serious). I remember my Mom screaming at me that I was just impossible to live with, to get out. So, at age 17, halfway through my senior year of high school, I left home and have never gone back.

Sixteen years and hundreds of therapy sessions later I consider myself a mostly well-adjusted adult. I have dealt with the abuses of my childhood and have moved on. Sure, they still pop up every now and then, and must be acknowledged, given a cursory examination, and then repacked before putting them back on the shelf, but for the most part those terrible memories are not part of my daily life.

Last year I had a huge breakthrough, I finally got to tell my mother, to her face (and with no small quantity of swears and screams) what I thought of her, what I remembered, and how she had failed me, how as an adult she should have known better. It was….it was really, really hard. And also exhilarating to finally be free of all those words. I wrote about it here, thinking that perhaps this would be the first step towards some kind of reconciliation. There has been no reconciliation. I do not care enough to put in any time or effort to regenerate a dead relationship with my mother, and she has not reached out either. I don’t know if that is old habits dying hard, or if she truly does not want or need a relationship with me. I am certain, however, that I do not need or want a relationship with her. And I’m okay with that. I am at peace with that. I kept thinking that after a huge blow up with all the chips down and feelings out in the open I’d finally want to explore having a mother in my life.

Turns out, nope, I don’t.

And she doesn’t either.

And that no longer hurts. I am sitting here staring out my window, trying to get myself to feel something about this: Harriet, your Mom doesn’t care about you. She doesn’t love you. She was horrible for years and despite all the manipulations and emotional blackmail, she still doesn’t want you in her life. You are unwanted and unloved.

Nothing. I feel nothing.

That’s not entirely true. Sometimes I do feel sorry for her, I am fully aware that she has something messed up in her brain that is, most likely, at the root of her actions and behavior. Part of me knows she cannot control that, but part of me also knows that there are things she can do to be a better mother, sister, and friend. Medication, therapy, something. She chooses to pretend that a) everything is fine, and b) the things that are not fine are not her fault, because she’s the victim in all scenarios and has zero responsibility for their outcome. She is not willing to see, or she is incapable of seeing, and that is not something I need to take on and fix.

I feel nothing. I have felt nothing for years. I feel even less nothing now than I did a year ago. I am not heartless. But when it comes to my relationship with my Mom, I feel…nothing.

Harriet sig

When Mother's Day hurts

Pinkn blossoms_feistyharriet_April 2016

Mother’s Day can be one of the cruelest holidays for women who are unable to easily or naturally conceive a child, for women who have made a choice not to become mothers (yet feel continually judged for said choice), for women who have a turbulent relationship with their own mother, and for women who fulfill a sometimes impossible and lonely role of stepmother.

I am all four of those things.

I hate Mother’s Day.

I do not hate you, my friend who is also a Mom. And I don’t hate your Mom either. I hate all the glowing, fluffy, emotional, social-network-y hubbub surrounding Mother’s Day. I really hate all the pointed advertising and sponsored content for weeks and weeks before to remind us about Mother’s Day, to remind us to celebrate, and appreciate, and buy stuff to let mothers know that they are Important and Appreciated and Valued. The Facebook posts and comments about the joys of motherhood hurt, the rapturous monologues about mothers who are your best friend and role models hurt. All of it hurts.

To be clear, if you post about Mother’s Day I’m not deleting you from my feed reader, nor will I harbor some kind of resentment on your happiness in being a Mom, or having an awesome Mom. I like to think we are better friends than that. Please understand what I’m trying to say. I know that I am on the VERY FAR END of the Mother’s Day Tolerance Spectrum: I’m an outlier. I get it. Hell, even the Olympic Mom commercials don’t get to me, I cannot relate to a lifetime of support and encouragement from my Mom. I am not allowed to fully support and encourage my stepkids because their “Real Mom” is threatened, she thinks I’m intruding and makes it clear that I am unwanted and unnecessary. Years of not relating and being pushed/shoved to the side has made me bitter and probably jealous. I’m not proud of that, but it is the truth. When it comes to mothers I feel like I’m over here in the Untouchable section all by myself. Part of me wants to just skip the internet for the rest of the week, open my feed reader on Monday morning only to immediately mark everything as “read” and then move on with it. The other part of me knows that there are probably women like me, and we should stick together, and even if we don’t know what to say we should at least throw up a white flag we can all flock to, birds of a feather, and all that.

Harriet sig

On Mothers

I have started and saved, edited and deleted “The Mom Post” for two or three years, never knowing how to proceed and not sure what to share or how much, feeling like a small slice could never properly explain and a larger portion would be complete overload. For the first time in ages I feel some kind of…comfort? Closure? Distance? Freedom? I don’t know, but I feel something strongly enough that I can finally write this down and hit “publish.”

* * * * *    * * * * *     * * * * *

There is a spectrum for almost everything which covers a wide range of possibilities with a pretty good distance of “extreme” on each side of a more moderate “normal.” We’re all familiar with bell curves, right? And to some extent we probably know where we personally fall on any given spectrum, with a least a relative amount of certainty.

The Mother Relationship Spectrum:
A Super Scientific Explanation

Extreme Pro-Mother/Mothering: Those who call/email/text/Skype their Mom or child every day, or multiple times a day, and consult on all major and minor decisions, offer advice both solicited and unsolicited, and experience positive feelings of happy co-dependence and interdependence.

Normal (or, at least how I perceive “normal”): fairly regular phone calls/emails, perhaps 2-3 times per month, maybe more, visits on major holidays, distance and funds allowing, and general feelings of positivity and warmth and love going from mother to child and back again.

Me: I can go months and even years without any motherly communications whatsoever and be a-okay; I very much prefer that route. There are general feelings of nothingness surrounding the relationship with my Mom which at times can involve strong negative emotions and can swing heavily towards dislike or disdain (hate?) but with a general sense of indifference.

For the last five-ish years this lack of relationship has been the norm for me, I can count on one hand the number of birthday, holiday, or Mother’s Day cards I have sent and despite a one-hour commute the visits have more-or-less been limited to a few hours on major holidays, but nothing more, and sometimes not even that.

About a  year ago that not-really-a relationship became…well…non-existent. She said things and I had very, VERY strong, very hurt, and very negative reactions; both to what she said/thought and how she communicated it. I cried. I yelled (a little). And I walked away feeling misunderstood, angry, hurt, incredulous, and baffled. I felt like I’d been smashed flat yet again by a truck filled with Teh Crazy and I just…I couldn’t and wouldn’t do it anymore. I made an active decision to cut her out of my life completely.

Insert twelve months of absolutely nothing. No communication. No visits. No Christmas card. Nada. I was content and happy and did not miss her or our always volatile relationship in the slightest.

About a month ago (ish) it all started over again. She said All The Horrible Things, she levied All The Horrible Accusations, and she made All The Crazy Non-Factual Assumptions on my character and my life choices. Only, this time I didn’t walk away. I responded to her very long, nasty email with a much shorter, more concise argument that, in no uncertain terms, told her that her behavior and communication was absolutely unacceptable and I would not be part of whatever it was she was trying to do. She could be kind and polite or she could shut the fuck up. I also told her she needed therapy. Lots of therapy. With a few swears. I added a few swears…in an email…to my Mom. In my 32 years I don’t think I have actually cussed her out in person, not even once, so a “bullshit” and a “damn” and a “hell” seemed like a REALLY big deal. Kind of like lobbing a missile, actually, and waiting for the inevitable explosion and ensuing shrapnel.

No explosion. No shrapnel.

At least, I thought.

A week or two ago my mother sent an equally horrendous email to my older brother with an incredible set of unfair and untrue accusations–Unimaginable Accusations–levied against him, and all somehow relating back to Me, My Character, My Life Choices, My Marriage, My Innate Problems, Etc., Etc., Infinity, Ad Nauseam. I was literally sick to my stomach reading her words about me. This was a Friday evening. My brother was fuming, I was livid, we talked for 90 minutes about Teh Crazy without any real resolution except to steer clear as much as possible, no matter the cost.

And then I stayed up all night thinking about it, having arguments in my head with my Mom about how wrong she was, and how misinformed, and how presumptuous, and how twisted her thinking, and how WRONG (I won all those arguments, obvs).

And then repeat all day Saturday.

And all Saturday night, no sleeping, lots of teeth grinding.

And then continue the pattern most of the day Sunday.

By this time I was not so much fuming as literally (figuratively) foaming at the mouth. I hadn’t eaten for almost 48 hours and was so twitchy inside my arms and legs wouldn’t hold still.

I wrote down a list of what I wanted to say, hoping it would help me get rid of all that angst.

It didn’t.

So, I did what any rational, well-rested adult would do: I drove an hour to my hometown, pounded on the door, and yelled and screamed at her for two hours until I finally felt like she heard me. Until I felt like she understood me. Two. Hours. I brought a clean notebook and made her write down what I said so she would for sure remember it clearly afterwards. I yelled at her until she wrote down how I felt and why. I have not lost my temper like that for probably 12 years, since my very early 20’s, and despite a truck load of “what the fuck!?” and “that’s bullshit!” and “who the fuck do you think you are!?” and “BULLSHIT!” and “YOU ARE WRONG! YOU ARE FUCKING WRONG!”…yes, even with an enormous quantity of in-person, ragey swears, I have zero regrets.


For the first time in over fifteen years I feel like my Mom finally saw me, not as this very messed up child and adult that existed in her head, and not even as a ragey, furious, cursing feind (which I kind of was at the time). I feel like she finally saw me a grown woman who had a rough childhood and had worked for years to escape those clutches, I feel like she saw me as a human who had been consistently misunderstood and hurt, as a girl who more-often-than-not felt bullied by her parent, who had been unfairly judged and unfairly criticized (by her) for a lifetime. And I finally feel like she truly saw how that background shaped who I am now, a relatively well-adjusted and happy adult, but one who was no longer willing to lay down and be run over by her, keeping quiet and retreating to lick my wounds. I feel like I was finally able to say what I needed to say without any fear of how she would react; she couldn’t possibly have been more upset or angry than I was and I had nothing to lose in the first place. I feel like I was able to correct a LOT of misunderstanding and set the record straight. She learned a lot about Adult Harriet that afternoon, perhaps even more than she had learned in the previous decade. I learned a little about her too, and I feel like I understand some of her choices and behaviors, I may not agree with her, but I truly tried to see the available options from her perspective. And if it took two hours of serious feist and swears and an incredible amount of adrenaline, then so be it. I do not regret clearing the air, even if it took a damn nuclear bomb to do so.

I don’t know what will happen next, I’m still trying to unravel all my feelings and emotions and look at them with some level of objectivity. I feel less animosity towards her than I have felt for the last five (or fifteen) years….but I also am not actively perusing Hallmark for the perfect warm-and-fuzzy Mother’s Day card. To be honest, anywhere outside of the far end of the “No Relationship With Mom, Thank You” spectrum is pretty new territory for me and I am still trying to figure out what it means to be two steps closer to the middle. This relationship took years and years to implode and crumble to nothing, so I’m not suffering from any delusions that it will magically be “normal” after one lengthy conversation. I’m still kind of shell shocked at my own verbal violence and how firmly I stood up for myself–they don’t call me Feisty Harriet for nothin’. But more than that, I am baffled that she actually sat there and listened to me, really listened with the intent to understand. I didn’t think that kind of communication would happen in my lifetime.

I also…don’t really have anything more to say about it right now. I guess I don’t really know what my expectations are, or what a normal next step would be.


Harriet sig