Life is not Pass or Fail: A Mother’s Day Remembrance

020-20120504_0185I have always seen “weakness” as a defect and here on this blog I say a lot about what I consider to be my own weaknesses – the narrative playing in my head and here on these pages for years has been a fear that I am too broken and weak to be useful at all.

This story starts with what has been and where I came from.

My mother has suffered most of her life.  I know this intellectually and because as her children we hurt alongside her in my father’s home.

For most of my life I thought she was weak to stay with him.  I resented her sticking in there with him.  Looking back, I hated the way she propped him up, when his fragile ego quaked and he wanted to quit this or that ministry, or when he felt betrayed by someone, or was sure that so and so was out to get him or them. She was the strong woman behind the ministry “leader.”  Only back then, she didn’t look strong to me.

After being angry at her for most of my life (and receiving a lot of therapy) I now see that she was strong all those years, and is, today.  I can see how much she loved my father and was loyal and faithful and good to him.  I see that she thought that she was helping us all by propping up the ego maniacal and abusive man that was my father sometimes.

But you see it wasn’t that simple.  He was a beloved man who did many incredibly good and important things.  He served well and long, and loyally. He loved his family. He sincerely wanted to please God.  He loved his few close friends deeply. I can see this looking back, even though he came home and took out his internal demons on a fragile and devoted woman, his wife and my mom and on his daughters. 

Apparently, he was only physically abusive to Mother once.  So the restraint he showed to never hit my mother again was … commendable?   And yet she lived with that intimidation and threat for forty-five years, knowing what he was capable of doing she was faithful to him.

Today a woman would have packed her bag the night that, in a fit of rage, he put her head through a wall.  Here’s the thing. Once you do something like that your household is always terrified, no matter how you promise, regret, or apologize.

And he did often, after a fit of raging, make promises and express sorrowful regret.  We experienced his rages.  Things “the public” never knew.  Things you wouldn’t quite believe possible from a man who could also be tender and gentle, who so often eloquently expressed his faith and devotion to God.  Perhaps she should have left him.  I used to think so.  And I would have, I frequently thought to myself in my twenties and thirties as I was learning about feminism and independence.   Though I never did choose to leave him and I even went to work for him for nearly a decade.

She stayed and so did we.

It was complex and codependent.  How he longed to be perfected by God but in his lifetime this never happened.  This skewed my view of men, of fathers, and especially of a Father God, for a long time.

But this is about my mother, who was loyal and strong; yes strong even though all my life I looked at her and thought of her as weak.

What kind of strength is required to endure the unyielding shouting and frequent berating over years,

and years,

and years?

Her depression was not obvious to me then but now, of course, palpable and understandable.  Frequently in poor health, she stayed in bed and that became her place of refuge from the strain and stress of our home.  She internalized his anger and used her illnesses to escape.   She had very few if any personal friends.  Abused women are often very isolated. And, she withdrew from her children emotionally. We got very little physical comfort growing up, though I’m sure there was much she wanted to say and do. She just didn’t.

Or couldn’t.

She’s apologetic now, at seventy-five and expresses openly her love, physically and emotionally, and her regrets which are many. Now that he’s dead, she has chosen to make her life incredibly simple.  She likes her condo, and her health remedies, and baseball or basketball on the television. She plays memory games on her hand-held game.

She’s chosen this unassuming, even guileless life.  This makes sense to me considering that my father dragged her all over the world for most of their married life; as it turns out most of the moves we made (two or three dozen) she didn’t even want to make.  Today her life consists of getting a message or her nails done.  She does energy work.  Much of it I don’t understand completely, but I respect the obvious need for self-care and lack of relational complexity in her life, still.

I’m grateful that she is quick check in on me, if she thinks I’m disappointed or angry with her.   I’m glad that she’s finally content with her life, set up just the way she likes it.  And I respect her for these choices, even if I wouldn’t choose them.   She’s seventy-five and is finishing life in a way she seems to like – justifiably simple and safe.

This Mother’s Day I honor my mother for surviving. I honor her for her quiet internal strength.

I honor her for her loyalty and commitment, even when I didn’t understand it.

As children we watch our parents and want them to be our idea of perfect.  Each time they supposedly fail we have a choice, to be disappointed or to accept knowingly that life is made up of hundreds of these choices.

Life isn’t pass or fail. 

Life is to be examined carefully and closely, to be lived openly and yet with great care for the people in it.

You never know why someone chooses a certain path. 

And in the end, you can only live your own life, embracing your apparent weaknesses as well as strengths, knowing that each one makes you who you are today.

Life is fragile. Love is unimaginably complicated. Parenting is by example but no one is perfected in their lifetime. 

I think life’s purpose is found in how we take the journey, in the small and seemingly innocuous choices that become important along the way.

I honor my mother this Mother’s Day for being both strong and weak – for being human.

MHH

Other Posts about my parents:

Remembering Daddy, Ten Thousand Tears, A Message From my Dead Father, Forgiving is a Miracle, My Father is Dead, When Did you First Believe God is Male, A Good Day Is, Watching My Father Die, Lessons From a Monastery, On Parenting Deeply & Well, On Putting the Dark & the Light Together, Strongest in the Broken Places, Who Needs a Heart When a Heart Can Be Broken?, Parenting by Free Fall, What Kind of  A Mother, A New Way to Be Human, Forgiveness: Expect Miracles, A World Of Possibilities, My Mother.

I Never Wanted to be Like My Mother

I never wanted to be like my mother.

My mother stayed for more than 40 years in a marriage that broke her heart.  She admits now that she was afraid.

She married in the late fifties, when women couldn’t even have a bank account in their name.  She was a teacher and worked to put my father through college.  In the first year of their marriage, in a rage my father put her head through the wall.  He promised to never do it again.  And to my knowledge he kept that promise.  But  that was the beginning of being manipulated.  He threatened and he yelled.

The man could rage.

The smallest thing would set him off.

I never wanted to be like my mother, because all those years, I thought she was weak.  Weak for staying.

Or so I thought, for many years, until I became a mother.  And when that happened I began over time to see that she did it all for us. 

My mother is strong.  She stayed for us.  She was the buffer all those years between us and my father’s angry raging.  She took it more than we did. (And we took it a lot.)

And in later years as the weight of it became more than she could bear, she began to find comfort in the bottle.  I never wanted to be like my mother, but I became an alcoholic too.  I buried my fears for years in the numbing relief of alcohol.  As is often the case in a family with addiction, I carried it on.  And in the end I realized, I am very like my mother. I hide my pain even now, though I have been sober for almost five years.

I am strong and would do anything for my kids, just like my mother.

I never wanted to be like my mother, but I am.

I am strong, loyal and sober.

Happy Mother’s Day, 2012

Melody

I’ve written about my alcoholism here.

I’ve written about my Dad here

{A Good Mother}

What does it mean
to be a good mother?
Limits, but it’s also that tender balance of sweet
unconditional grace,
even total acceptance and then, the hard core follow through
that is so tough for me to do.
Rules, limits, follow through. You can’t let them
totally fail,
but falling down every once in a while, just a little
is a part of life. Skinned knees
no matter how much it hurts to watch must be okay, even good.
You will wipe the blood dripping, clean the gravel from their wounds,
place a band aid on their broken heart. Consequences are important.
But how to offer, even allow that
and also confirm, that no matter what
you are holding a safety net.
You want your kids to jump high, even fly
but then there’s the risk.  They may fall, or even fail
or they may fly away.
That’s what it means
to be a good mother – to know the end of the story
is written before you
began with that first suck of life’s breast milk you offered, tender and sweet.
That one day they will go and that’s the aim you always knew,
to set them free.