Another blogger, ABM, has been writing about the strain that has affected her relationship with her mother since she decided to adopt from foster care. She has been a voice of transparency of how adoption is not only a decision for you but ripples out through your entire family. Sometimes those ripples look like huge waves, threatening to take your relationships underwater.
It made me think about how my mother and her parenting will inform my relationship with Nana. I am my mother’s child. In some ways, that is a very scary statement. I’m afraid that our strain of motherhood has been damaged so much that perhaps the seed shouldn’t be given the chance to take root and grow again. I mean, our generational history doesn’t give me much hope that I’ll end up with a loving mother/daughter relationship with my child, let alone add in the complexities of adoption. On the flip side, when I look at everything holistically and consider who I am now, I think, eh, she did pretty good. I turned out alright because of and in spite of.
My mother supported my curiosity. She used to type things on an electric typewriter and I was absolutely fascinated. She signed me up for a typing class at the community college when I was still in middle school. I was the youngest person in class but I was enthralled. And when I became fixated on spending all my time at the library playing games on the computer, she made sure we went every weekend and signed me up for robotics class during the summer.
My mother made me pay rent when I was in high school. Even though I was an honor student and had a job and was able to take care of much of my own extras, she still made me give her 20% of each paycheck. It bothered me that other children only had to just live and be kids and I had to pay money to live at home. It wasn’t so much the money, it was the fact that she called it rent. Like I wasn’t her child and it wasn’t her responsibility to provide shelter for me.
My mother was involved in our extracurricular activities. She was Girl Scout troop leader and made sure I had every badge sewn on my uniform. She took us to the YMCA to learn to swim. She drove me back and forth when I decided I wanted to be in a gospel dance troupe. She made sure she took me to all my Suzuki violin lessons and came to my state championships. She scrimped to buy the sneakers that everyone had to have for basketball.
My mother put us in harm’s way. When her husband drank, he became violent. He would beat her and I would try to protect her, which meant that we would both get the beat down. This went on for almost 7 years. Once he threw a brick, hit me in the back and knocked me unconscious. My mother made me write it all down on a small yellow pad so I could tell the judge, but on our day in court, she told the judge that she wanted to drop the charges. I was so hurt that she would make it seem like we were going to stop the abuse but then turn against me. I didn’t even get to speak. I still have those small yellow pieces of paper.
I don’t remember my mother ever saying a negative word against my father. Even when I bragged to her that he was going to give me an allowance of $20/week and she knew that I would never get a cent, she didn’t say anything. Not even an “I told you so” when no letter ever came and the phone calls stopped. It had to be so hard, listening to me make a hero out of someone who never sent her a dime in child support and didn’t even know how to spell my name correctly. I so admire her for this.
My mother let me become a ward of the state. I remember being in the courtroom and the judge telling her that she had to make a choice between her alcoholic abusive husband and her children. I guess she thought she was taking the high road when she told the judge that she didn’t feel like she should have to choose. Well, the judge chose for her and I lived outside of the home for almost a year.
My mother did her best to spend time with us and inspire creativity. I remember baking cookies and cakes with her. I remember making Christmas ornaments on our dinner table. She taught me how to knit and crochet. She took me to sewing lessons when I indicated an interest. She taught me how to needlepoint and macrame. Since she was a teacher, she took us to the “teacher’s center” and let us run wild with cutting out letters and shapes and creating posters. She was generous with her materials and her time. I get my creativity from her.
My mother never hugged us, kissed us or told us that she loved us. She was often cold and unfeeling, biting and hurtful in her observations, or alternately annoyingly fake cheerful and concerned. The first time I remember hugging my mother was when she was leaving after helping me unpack my things at college. Even now when we get off the phone and she says that she loves me, I hesitate before mumbling something like “love you too” and quickly hang up.
I used to go weeks without talking to her, because for most of my adult life, I learned not to need her. Over time, and with Wood’s role modeling of talking to his parents every day, we have started to talk more often. Even so, I rarely ask her for advice about anything – her life choices are lessons in themselves. I don’t trust her decisions or her opinions, so I don’t ask.
We are not estranged, but we are strange, not anything like what a mother and daughter should be. Our relationship is tentative and tense, heavy with the weight of an ugly history, unsteady with the knowledge that a innocuous conversation could lead to a sinkhole, dragging any progress down to the muddy emotional bottom. We tread softly, realizing that we might not have the energy to pull ourselves out of the hole again.
It is with this maternal backdrop that I begin to render my relationship with Nana. There is no clean canvas to start on, mine covered in muted colors, with large dark splotches that obscure the actual picture in places.
What if I’m not able to cover the dark spots? Will they bleed onto Nana? Will my colors be bright enough to overshadow the dark start of her own life? My only hope is that when Nana says “I am my mother’s child” she is talking about me and she is proud of it.