I confronted my mother, once. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done.
15+ years later, my scalp goes clammy again at the memory of telling Mama she was a chicken for running away. Always running away.
Mama taught me to run, even as I hated it, protested against it. It’s cliche to say that I’ve become my mother, but I do see her in me.
“You’re not as smart as you think you are, Stacy,” she’d say. Snarky–but also a little frightened. What she meant, perhaps, was that I didn’t understand her or the world as well as I thought I did. This is still true.
Around 1995 or so, in a straight run, Mama drove all the way from Hopland, California, to El Centro. 13 hours on the road. She was exhausted, and, unbeknownst to me, extremely ill with the cancer that would eventually eat its way through her body. My sons were 5 and 7, and she was visiting them for the first time in years. I had visited her briefly a couple of months earlier, and that probably made me brave.
Jake, my 7-year-old, offended her by wrinkling his nose and telling her she had smoky breath. She viewed it as rejection, and I saw it as him speaking truth. She felt he should apologize, and I refused to force him to do it. He was not rejecting her at all, and he hadn’t been rude, only spontaneous. So I made a choice then not to re-create the rules I had grown up with. Part of it was a fumble. I didn’t know how to address the situation in a healthy manner, but I did know I was not going to silence my sons to protect any adults’ feelings. This would mean consequences socially, of course, but it would also mean that they would not be cowed.
So Mama jumped in her Jeep Wrangler and lit another cigarette. I jumped in with her and told her that she was being a chicken by running away, and that she was abandoning me again. Which was a worse offense? Jake’s comment, or mine? I could’ve handled that better– fifteen years later. :/
But again–Mama taught me how to run.
I think I understand that flight instinct. Perhaps the pain was too much in the space together with me…but if she had just taken some of it with her and not shut me out entirely after that, I think we could have worked through our stuff. Sure, it means juggling that pain like a puffer fish, but the understanding and peace that results from fighting through something is matchless.
I have run, but I have learned to go back, and the more I do that, the more I see the importance of not leaving in the first place. I think the running instinct is tied to shame, somehow. Am I running for cover? Or perhaps I just want to put distance between me and air that feels like broken glass in my lungs. That kind of pain is from hurting someone you love and knowing you were wrong and you can’t fix it. Ever.
But you have to face it and acknowledge your part, and you cannot say, “I did my best,” because on some shadowy level you knew the choices you were making. I remember being in therapy and thinking that it didn’t matter if Mama “did her best” because her “best” didn’t protect me. I remember thinking that it was horseshit, and now I am forced to see the truth in that for myself. I could have done better.
Mama said I was her blackest pain. She wrote that in one of her journals, then she went on to describe me as a baby, and how sweetly it all began for us. I wish I didn’t understand this so well.
At the same time, I recognize grace.
Mama did not, and so could not receive it from me.
I loved her even though she failed me. And why is that?
Why do we love our mothers no matter what? We are irrevocably stuck in a love/hate relationship….
I drive my youngest son crazy. I know this, and all I can do is give the grace that I need, and to always have a place for him.
I’m reminded of a saying: Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, then it’s not the end.