Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Cat, The Sewing Machine and My Mom

She moved and left the cat behind.  I knew she was in a hurry to start her new life, ready to move on, get away, run away.  But it still surprised me that she left the cat.

"Well, she never liked me anyway," she said.  It was the same thing she said about me when she told me she was getting married and moving to California.  She was right, I didn't like her that much but I thought it was normal for most 16-year-olds to not like their mothers that much.  

I can't remember the final good-bye with my mother all those years ago.  But I do remember going back to the house and looking for the cat every day after school.  The new owners hadn't moved into the house yet, it was empty.  "Kitty, kitty," I called.  That's what we called her, even though her name was Furry Socks.  A dumb name my sister and I had given her a decade earlier.  My sister, the smart responsible one, wanted to name her Socks because she had white spots on her paws, yeah, like socks.  I wanted to name her furry because yeah, she had fur.

The cat really didn't like my mother, or me.  The cat liked my sister, but she left for college several years earlier.  The cat liked my brother, but he moved to Nebraska to live with our father a few months earlier.  My memories of the cat included moments of terror.  She used to pounce on my legs as I came down the stairs, clinging to my jeans with her sharp claws.  My mom would run and get the broom and hit her until she finally released my leg.  

Even though I hated the cat and she hated me, I went back every day for her after my mom moved.  Nobody should be left behind, not even a really mean cat.

She finally showed up and I swear she looked at me like "you? really? you are the one to save me?"  I picked her up and found her a home.  The family I was living with didn't want a cat, so one of my mom's old friends took her.


I don't write about my mother as much anymore because well, it is complicated.  Mental illness is complicated, addiction is complicated.  Being the daughter of someone suffering is complicated and frustrating and sad and upsetting and confusing.

My mother moved to California when I was 16.  It's a long story.  One that I understand with such deeper compassion and empathy now that I am an adult.  But at 16, I felt deserted, rejected, left behind, unwanted. My father moved away.  My sister moved away.  My brother moved away.  And finally my mother moved away.  I was the one that was left behind. 

Being rejected, being left behind brands you.  The scar fades but it never totally goes away.  

Over 20 years later, I have so much love in my life. I have not let the scars on my heart ruin me or make me a victim.  I have worked hard (and had a shit load of therapy) to use my pain as a tool for more empathy, more compassion.  In the last few years especially, I have learned to embrace my emotionality rather than be afraid or ashamed of it.

I have also tried to have a relationship with my mother.  She moved back to Michigan after being away for 15 years.  We weren't in the same town, but close enough that I could help her a little or at least try to help her.

The doctors called, I went.  When I showed up in her hospital room, she often gave me the same look that our old cat did "you? really? you are the one to save me?"  I felt like I could take her insults, her misplaced pain--the result of her addictions, her mental illness and her plain old meanness.  I tried to help her through several episodes of withdrawal from the million prescription drugs she took like candy, surgeries, tried to help her quit her addiction to the Home Shopping Network, make peace with her neighbors, find the right doctors, clean her house and find her a driving service.  I stopped going to her house alone with my kids because she would either pass out in front of them too much or be rather mean to one of them.  I took a break when she accused me of stealing things from her home and called the Better Business Bureau (again) on the service I hired to help take care of her.  

It was all kinds of complicated.  But I wanted to do it because it was the right thing to do.  Because she had no one else.    And maybe just maybe, if I am really honest about it all, I thought there might someday be this moment of clarity, a moment of real mother/daughter connection.  It seems so silly and ridiculous to even write that, but it's true.  It's sad and upsetting and confusing.

I thought it was going to be like this until she outlived us all.  But a few weeks ago, she informed my sister and me that she was moving.  She'd found an "Over-55" apartment complex that had an activities director, access to an emergency button and people that checked in on her.  It was cheap and in Alabama and she was leaving.  When she told me my heart raced and I instantly felt 16.  I felt like I hadn't done enough, been there enough, helped her enough.  but 40-year-old me knew it was never enough for her. 


"If you don't want this old sewing machine, I'm going to give it to Good Will," my mother told me last week as she was getting ready to move. 
There is a more modern sewing machine built inside of my great-grandmother's original foot-pedal sewing machine.

She was leaving the sewing machine behind.  The sewing machine that belonged to my great-grandmother.  The sewing machine that my mother used to sew all of my Halloween costumes when I was a kid and so many of my clothes.  I remembered playing at her feet while she made matching sundresses for my sister and me.  Years before any complicated-ness.  

How could she just leave the sewing machine behind?  Nothing that important should be left behind for just anyone.  I decided I had to go get it, even though I don't know how to sew.


Last week, the movers packed up my mother's things in a truck.  My sister got ready to drive her down to Alabama.  And I loaded up the sewing machine in my minivan and said good-bye.

All the feelings of being the person a mother can't wait to get away from came back.  It overwhelmed me.  There would be no more caring for my mother.  There would be no more real hope of a moment of mother/daughter connection.  

It's complicated and sad and frustrating and confusing.  

While my sister and I helped pack up my mother's things, two of my children laughed and played in the back yard.  They had no idea that anything was heavy or weird or sad or complicated.  They  laughed and chased and played make believe and distracted my sister and me.  And reminded me to get out of the past.

I got back on the highway after the good-byes and headed back to my very full life of busy, laughing children and so much love.  A life I never want to leave behind.


  1. Oh Angela. Parents leave us with so many FEELINGS don't they? As a parent it is nice to know, I suppose, that we'll leave a lasting impression on our kids, but... sigh. I can't really comment here how much some of this resonates because the part that resonates isn't my story to tell. I'm glad you're writing it. I'm glad that YOU'RE the one who saves things, or tries to, and I am glad that you haven't let your mother change the incredible mother that you are.

    Sending hugs and wishes for lots of beautiful days ahead with your beautiful family.

  2. There is so much complicated and so much hurt, but all of that has crafted you into one of the most empathetic people I know, one who cherishes and loves her family with all the passion in the world. I wish, so much, that you didn't have to wade through all that mess to get where you are, but where you are is amazing. xoxo

  3. Wow, thank you for writing such an honest and raw post. It seems like you did get that moment of clarity after all, just with your own kids and not how you had hoped. It's very complicated indeed and you are not alone - I'm glad you saved that old sewing machine and yourself in the end. Love to you, you are awesome!

  4. You are one of the most beautiful, kind and loving people I've had the privilege of meeting. To know that you come from a place of hurt, yet, to have turned it around to love and not hate (which truly, is the easy path to take) - that is a reflection of your resilience and good heart. You are loved.

  5. Angela, that must have been so, so hard. Thank you for sharing. Your mother's behavior is in no way a reflection on you. She had/has her own demons to battle, and unfortunately you have spent a lot of time in the crossfire. I've wondered many times how hard I'm supposed to try, when is it okay to give up, or IF it's even okay to give up. Parents leave us with so much confusion sometimes. xoxo

    My grandmother has the exact same sewing machine table, I think with the original machine inside. I hope to take ownership of it someday, as it's always been a part of their house and my memories. I think it would bring me peace, and I hope your mom's machine brings it to you.

  6. Angela,
    I just found your blog & I am so glad I did.
    I can relate to some of what you have written. My mother also left when I was 16 but I was also pregnant. Just when a girl would need her mother, she was gone. She decided to move to NC from NY to be with her boyfriend.
    I did have my Dad though, thank God, he became my rock. Sadly I lost him last month after his battle with cancer.
    I look forward to following you. You seem to write from the heart & say it like it is, love it !

    You can follow mine if you would like at
    - Elizabeth

  7. Parents have so much power over us, don't they. It is a complicated relationship... even the good ones. I had a rough relationship with my mother too. She didn't leave like yours nor was mentally ill (that I know of), but she just didn't talk to me.

    Thank you for sharing this side of your life. I love the candor and beauty in which you told your story.

    It's a lovely sewing machine and I'm glad you have it.

  8. I am so sorry that you have had to wade through this experience and these feelings, Angela. I know that these relationships can be so very complicated. So glad that you have come out with so much happiness and love within your own family - that means so much.

  9. Oh hon. I wish I could hug you. No matter how old we get we always want a parent to love and take care of us. We always want to feel like they want us and love us. I'm sorry that you don't get that from her. I'm sorry that she left you behind. You deserve so much better. And none of that is on you. It is all her.

  10. My first thought is "how could she do that??" of course. But then we don't usually know why anyone does something that hurts us so badly. They have their own reasons that we cannot full know but still. I'm so sorry for your pain and loss in this situation, Angela but what I admire the most is that YOU did not let this part of your life drag you down. You rose above it How wonderful. And I'm so glad you got that sewing machine!! xoxoxo

  11. Oh, wow. This is so powerful, Angela. Being with our parents stirs up all our first feelings, no matter if they're good or bad. It sounds like you've figured it out, though - this is your life to live, not hers. Our parents teach us so much, whether or not they mean to. You have grown so much and learned so much from her life, and you are wonderful for that.

  12. Thank you for sharing your powerful words here. I am sure writing this wasn't easy. Hearing the experiences of others -how we are alike and how we are different - adds to the narrative of my own life. It gives perspective. Thank you for that. All I have to offer in return is an empathetic ear, an open heart, and a virtual hug.

  13. I clicked through from Two Cannoli, and I'm glad I did. I know complicated though we can never truly understand each other's versions of complicated, you know? Just wanted to say that I've known that 'not wanted' feeling and I admire how you've channeled all of those feelings into a life that you love. AND I have a similar sewing machine in the corner of my living room :)