Everyone on Facebook is posting pix of their moms and showering them with all sorts of praise. I can't be so brief, soft, or fuzzy. I'm in a situation where it seems all there is to do is pathetically beg for my mom's attention, which of course is lame. Let's see how this one goes...
Being a mother's son is largely an abstraction for me. It's an idea more than a reality. I've never really lived with my mother though I've had three more concentrated spells of time when she's been in my life and I was "welcome" to be in the midst of the larger family clustered around her. Most of the time though, she was just not part of things. And even when she was, there would be maybe a lukewarm response to reconnecting. Following that, usually periods of increasing tension and finally some kind of a cold war leading to a prolonged period of silence of a number of years until something stirs in me, feeling the profound wrong-ness of it all to have gone on so long with no resolution or at least no functional communication. Forget about loving fondness or the idea of being any momma's boy. She's far too bitter and I have gone too long to know much about relating to her as mother.
Since 2011 I've been more insistent at trying to reach her or to find inroads into the family wherever I can. Social media has helped find the cracks in the wall where usually I had to face the fact that I did not have direct contact information with everyone constellated around her, and typically, if she was not having me, no one seemed to, making for pretty complete blackouts lasting years. Since 2011 in particular that has begun to shift. Those who will risk being in contact with me do run some risk of her wrath. That might just mean more strain or estrangement. Depending on the particulars of who lives at her house, it might earn a place at the curb, I suppose. (Though I don't think that has happened because of me so far but it's not inconceivable either.) So I applaud the individuals who have made the decision to be in touch, even if only by electronic means. That's a whole new thing.
With more insight from the complicit parties (lol), mother has become both more interesting and one dimensional at once. The newer input I have from a few different voices has indicated that she can be as petty and harsh as I've experienced. She's been caught in some rather stark contradictions and outright lies that seem to be resented widely. I've been assured that lending money to her when she's in distress is sure to cause more problems than it heals. All that. That's sort of the one dimensional side though. Knowing that her tendency that way was not customized for me has been liberating and has led me to wonder more about her than before.
I understand she's a hurt woman like any other. What I don't yet have much understanding of is how at least in my case, she allowed herself to give up the fight for a relationship with me even after the legal situation with my old man ceased to be valid. What I can't really understand is how when I do make the independent attempt to get to know her, humbled by my own nicks and bruises in life and wanting to connect, she can't go there. What kind of momentum keeps her judging me as if I was my old man? Or why in the world did she not even tell me my brother was sick and was about to die just over two years ago? (She had no intention to, since I found that out six months later just because I dared drop in on her house unannounced for the first time in nearly four years.)
I did talk to her last November, two days before Thanksgiving. Coincidentally that was an echo of the third big reunion in 2000, with a reunion just two days before that holiday. That day though was also her mother's memorial service. All these years later, stories are told of how that experience caused fractures for many. But last year, trying to talk to mom in what I hoped would be a heart to heart talk, even as a drop in once again, was kind of like playing racquetball against a mattress. No rebound, even as solid as my game was. Maybe it was because she had recently had a stroke or maybe it was that my sister was moving in to the house and it was a bit noisy and distracted, but she was just there. No real response to some of the most heartfelt stuff. Cold. When she did respond at all it tended to be a toned down bunch of her now-typical "just like your dad" talk. Even though I reported that he's hurt me and I've not talked to him for six years by then. She sat there unimpressed at all I had to say about how this estrangement is killing me. No attempt to reach out. No parting hug. Are you my mother?
After a terrible visit in March 1996—one which was intended to be a sit-down-and-talk-it-out-after-a-year-of-silence visit that ended up putting nearly five years of space between us till the November 2000 reunion—I drove home from mom's place in Long Beach. My girlfriend at the time, Robin, had been up in the apartment for a while during the conversation then left. It was tense enough for her to leave but after she did, it was pure firefight. Maybe an hour afterwards, I came down to the car, feeling banished and defeated to the core. It was Robin that had to remind me that a mom was supposed to love her kid unconditionally. I had to be reminded of it. Or maybe told so, since it seems it was so far from my mind at that point, or maybe it was never my experience in the first place.
Before I had left that day in November 2012, she threw me to the wolf. My younger sister has not spoken to me in nearly a perfect dozen years though she's been vitriolic in any online exchanges, where we've egged each other on. Mother dearest, not even interested enough to see this divide as something worthy of some attention, just let me have a go at talking to my sister. For my daring, I was ripped apart for talk I made 11 years ago about single parenthood, fatherless families, and the like—the observations I had made from my black sheep status outside the family unit, looking in. Completely unforgivable, it seems. She's fond of naming me—completely groundlessly except by association with a man who has done a bit of this stuff—as a child abuser, pedophile, stalker, and all that. No hyperbole out of my sister's mouth is worth calling to task, apparently. Nothing concerning me is worth mending. Not even suggesting we sit and hear each other out. (Okay, we're all big boys and girls now, but still, for all the talk about moms usually wanting family harmony, she surely didn't get that memo about helping to foster it when it's so evidently needed.) Thanks mom :-/
I try not to be so harsh in my assessment but mom has given hell to more than just this black sheep son. I'm not simply imagining that she is difficult and petty, which helps me step back and try to be compassionate. I tried to visit on her birthday last month, even to say the words to her face—an act which is a small bit of pay-it-forward garden tending, and that has not even happened since 2001! A text message thread the next day, had with my older sister and self-proclaimed protector of mom's virtue and sanity (ha!), said mom hid away when she saw it was me at the door. She just turned 69. She's not going to be around forever, and given her heart attack about 20 years ago, and a stroke last year, it's hard to tell if she's got more than a few years ahead. We're never going to be all loving and fond of each other, but with time ticking mercilessly, even knowing her just to learn things about her life or even mine is fast becoming a lost opportunity. Even my late brother James said the words in 2001: "we can't just keep letting five years go between visits..."
I'm not saying this to distract from fault I have in things that have happened, but I'm sure most rational people would agree that those were some awkward moments that anyone could have had, decisions that were boneheaded but not malicious, and especially that the punishment of estrangement (if not outright hostility and vitriol) was doled out more generously than is warranted in such cases. A number of those missteps come from being a foreigner in their midst, and never having any one of them experience my life in San Diego. Something is profoundly wrong though. The rational mind says, "there's not much here to work with. Move on." You can bet plenty of people have told me that. Even some of my family "informants." The other mind, caught in a total tangle of hurts and contradictions is holding out for a diamond in this rough.
To the extent that I could say I feel like the son that would send flowers or post the warm fuzzy messages on Facebook, I could say that those sentiments amount to maybe a few occasions or periods that might condense down into maybe a week or two of lived experience. I could congratulate her hard work, or her almost incomprehensible role as mother to six kids (five in practical life since I was raised by my father and step mom before even she was gone by the time I turned 10). I suppose those props are due for mom. But I never lived it myself. I visited it. She did all that, apparently, because she couldn't make relationships work. Or because somehow she managed to become mother again and again by being with men who treated her like trash. I don't know how to come down about that. It's one of the enduring mysteries. The irony is, my old man was the only one who actually took an interest in his child. (Some of you can appreciate what a bind that puts me in, if you know the story about him!)
The fact is, I don't really know what to make of her motherhood or the patterns of motherhood in her side of the family. It seems like there was an element of chance and some lack of control about all of us being born. I don't think any of us got here because two people really loved each other. Sure, she made something of it but I really can't relate to it. The fact that she has done what she's done to provide for the others, and her almost militant attitude about not needing a man does not endear her to me. She's used the whole thing as a weapon. A wedge. What she has accomplished with the life she's led does not account for what has not happened were the opposite true, a scenario in which she might have some collaborative partner to demonstrate some kind of give-and-take and some kind of balance in life. My younger sister, last to be born and the one with essentially no knowledge of any father figure in life, not even a stepfather, is essentially a savage. (And that isn't just my own assessment.) She's got all the loathing and bitterness of mom, it seems, but with hardly a share of the lived experience and drama of her own. It seems she's inherited and absorbed stories from mom and our older sister and harbors as much resentment as it seems has accumulated prior to her being born.
This very line of confused thought and ambivalence gets me in hot water. I am said to be "judging" her (or my sisters) when I talk this way, or when I seek to be enlightened. Understood. But they have mostly kept me at a distance and so I am left with what evidence I have around me, comparing what I know about them with other observations. With new information, new understanding. Seeing how some of my friends and acquaintances have met their motherhood struggles has softened my heart toward my own mom. The thing is, the understanding I seek calls on higher levels of thought than may be possible with these folks. I'm probably going in circles hoping anyone could explain much beyond just what has happened. Good luck with more nuanced thought that touches on bigger themes in life. That's my lot as I try to deal with these relations. At times it's driven me to anger. Usually hurt and confusion. But always some kind of wonder at it all. It's the blueprint for the things I find myself concerned with in life. It does get abstract and nebulous, even as the people I am dealing with are not abstract. Nor are they really completely grounded. Odd.
One of the most interesting teachers I had on this matter presented herself to me as a reservation mutt dog named Sky at a sheep ranch in New Mexico in the spring of 2011. She had a litter of puppies that were born under the trailer where I was staying. She had to feed them. There were four giant dogs tasked with guarding the sheep but they seemed to be more keen on eating Sky's food on the porch, probably 100 yards from where they were supposed to be. She ate and drank voraciously. She was scrappy and would fend off those bumbling sheep dogs that kept cutting in on her food. She was small enough and wily enough to figure out a way into a trash enclosure to extract more food. She had the enclosure to herself while the sheep dogs lurked and watched. Somehow I felt the need to feed that dog. Keep feeding her. Don't question it. So I filled her bowl serial times if needed. I sort of served as the camp chef for a week and a half and fed her the scraps and broths. She ate it all. She'd drink a gallon of water at a time, it seemed. I never saw her pups but I didn't question her need. She was a newly relocated dog to that camp. A single mother. Helping the widow and the orphan and the stranger all in one relationship. It was a real spiritual lesson that softened my heart about my mom and helped me formulate a new resolve to visit my her that summer when an opportunity presented itself. Little did I know that by the time I had this experience in New Mexico that my brother had died days before.
While Sky did help me envision my mom's past in another way and to feel compassion for her in a way that had not registered before, the challenge remains of what to do with that insight, despite trying to pay visits to her house. So we're in limbo. If my older sister isn't exaggerating, and mom is really hiding from me, then it seems there isn't much to be done. Flowers, Facebook messages, and fuzzy things won't work. Those are just shallow things of the most superficial order. For Mothers Day all I can do to honor her is to hold up the story and ask if that's the way it's supposed to be. I've made my moves toward reconciliation and some attempt to get into some orderly relationship. I know she's hurt from many things but is that all there is to it? Will there be no growth from that? Call me pretentious but after losing one son to death you might think she'd reconsider what it means that I'm alive and trying to be in contact. After all, I was the one son lost to the law, but that's not relevant now and the door has been open to be in restored relationship for a long time now.
The heart is an irrational thing, isn't it?