Thursday, March 26, 2015

File Labeled "Mothers"

"You are exactly where you need to be," the older woman told me. 

"I feel like I really am," I told her smiling. 

She went on to tell me about seasonal shifts and time and mindfulness and feelings and embracing change and how we should stop using the words crazy and weird and be kind to one another.

"Thank you," I told her. 

Then she hugged me. 

That woman was a stranger, but she changed my life just a little bit.  I just happened to walk into the small bookstore that she owned in Detroit.  She told me things that I needed to hear, things that were in my heart that needed validation.

I tucked the memory of my new friend into the file in my head labeled "Mothers."


Years ago I sat in an Olive Garden with my mother talking about how we will never understand each other.  I was 16 and after a terrible fight with my mother, had been staying with friends.  She was in her early 40s and was mad at me and the world. The Olive Garden was neutral ground. We sat across from each other trying to relate, trying to understand each other, trying to move on and trying to remember and forget at the same time.  That one night stands out so clearly to me because somehow I knew we would never be able to do any of those things, ever.

The situation with my mother was/is complicated.  She suffers from mental illness and addiction.  I suffer from co-dependency, denial and confusion.

I talk a lot about getting older because, duh, I'm getting older all the damn time.  I also talk about my mother because here's the thing, the older I get, the more I wish I had a mother.  When I was 20 I was a badass who didn't need anyone and I felt proud that I had survived my mother.  I wanted to be on my own and make a life for myself, by myself. I worked hard, set boundaries, put up walls and didn't take any crap from my mother or really anyone.

And then I fell in love and got married and had kids, and got soft.  
Over the years, I've tried to have a relationship with my mother. Even though not much has changed since the Olive Garden. I do have so much more compassion for my mother and what life and bad choices and bad wiring have done to her. But loving someone who struggles with addiction and mental illness is complicated and full of slippery slopes. Being vulnerable and open and hopeful and empathetic are not helpful traits. Sure some therapist might tell you that they are, but really it just sets you up for disappointment. At times having hope is like wearing a big target on your heart. My mother can bring me right back to that table in Olive Garden in an instant with hurtful words and accusations. Even though I know she is not rational, it hurts.   

The last time I spoke to my mother she said a lot of unkind things.  Things that I've heard so many times. Things like I'm a horrible person and I don't do anything right. That was a couple months ago.  

What's funny is that I don't even need to speak to her to hear those unkind things about me. It is the inner voice in my head and heart, full of insecurities and messages that yeah, she probably planted.  But I take full responsibility for replaying those messages over and over.  Especially when I'm stressed or unsure.  Like when I am planning a show and I'm not sure I'm good at it.  Or when I'm parenting and I'm pretty certain I have no idea what I'm doing.  It's my mother's voice, it's my voice, telling me I am horrible and can't do anything right.

Then I get angry and I say fuck that.  Anger has always saved me and helped me move past all the shit that my mother put in my head growing up.  But now love saves me too.

The other day, I told a friend (who is also a mother mentor) that I was feeling a little anxious. She sent me this message: be brave, little buckaroo. you got this 

Yes, I am vulnerable and soft, but I am also open.  I am open to the idea of filling the folder in my head labeled "Mothers" with advice and validation and moments and hugs and names and love from women who are my "mothers."

The file is full of people like Brenda, Melissa, Satori, Lil, Sylvia, Jeanne, Nancy, Minerva, LeAnne, Anne, Susan, Donna, Carol, Judy, and the woman in the bookstore and more.  Women who have encouraged me, loved me, given me advice, held my hand, shown me the way or told me to go my own way, took my call, told me it was going to be okay and helped me when it wasn't, told me stories, paved the path and shared what they knew.

It's the pharmacist who told me "things are going to be okay" when I went to pick up JT's ADHD medication.  I told her we were new to this diagnosis and just trying to figure everything out.  She told me how "it was a long road" but that her son was on medication on and off and is now 35 and doing really well and has a job he likes. She cried, I cried. It was in the drive-thru at Walgreens, so we couldn't hug, but it was another moment for the file. I find mothers everywhere.

Yeah, I think I do got this, maybe. I hope so. With a little help from all my mothers, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be.


  1. I hate to read that your relationship with your own mother is so tumultuous. But I know what kind of mother YOU are and what a beautiful family you have so it's really wonderful to know that you have broken the cycle. Much love to you my awesome Mother friend!!

  2. aww babe.
    Pissed off is a much easier emotion than sadness. But I'm glad you've got love to lead the way.
    The bookstore woman? So great.

  3. This was a beautiful piece. I love that you collect mother mentors. What a great idea. You may have all of these internal struggles but your love, energy and strength are what we actually see.

  4. You could have gone down a different mothering path, having the mother that you do. But you went down the path of love, light and understanding, and for that, you should be proud. Love you!