Last night, my daughter and I stood in line at the grocery. The store was crowded and of course they had only a few lanes open. While standing there, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me a hug and kissed me on the cheek. Then she leaned against me, her head resting on my shoulder. I smoothed her soft hair and we laughed about the cover of The Globe magazine. She then decided she wanted a candy bar and wandered off. I stood there, flipping through an US magazine when I was approached by an elderly woman.
“Your daughter is beautiful.” She said.
I smiled and thanked her. My daughter is beautiful. She has been fortunate to have had no issues with weight or acne and she has a tiny hourglass figure and milky white skin. I’ve never made a big deal about her looks or her slim body. I grew up with a mother tortured by her body and in turn she tortured her children. Instead, I figured if I let nature do its job, then she’d end up the weight she was supposed to be. This doesn’t mean I bring a lot of junk food in the house, but neither do I sweat it when she wants to eat a candy bar and a bag of chips before dinner.
The elderly woman reached out and patted my arm. “You did a great job with her if she will still hug and kiss you in public as a teenager.”
I thanked her again and looked over my shoulder where Nat was doing peekaboo with a baby in a cart in another aisle. There are a lot of things I did wrong as a parent. But when I see her laughing, when she walks me to the door every morning and hugs me goodbye, when she looks at complete strangers we encounter and finds one thing nice to say them, I know I did a good job.
We’ve had a rough time through the teenage years, but she’s still loving and sweet. There are days when all we do is battle, then she’ll come in the room and tell me she wants to do better at communicating with me. She hasn’t always understood the way the grownup world works, but she’s getting there. She is generous and compassionate and she strives to be a good person. In the scheme of things, maybe raising a considerate human being is all I could have hoped for.
My daughter joined me once again in the line and she smiled at the elderly lady. “That’s a pretty scarf.” She said to her. The elderly woman beamed and moved back to her cart.
Yes, my daughter is beautiful. Inside and out.
I’ve been asked by more than one reader about my mother. Apparently she’s missing from my blogs lately and people are curious about my very complicated and volatile relationship with her. It’s like reading a book and there’s a protagonist and you’re just so curious about what really happened to them. I’m not sure if in my case if it’s more Patricia Cornwell or Stephen King. The truth is, I haven’t spoken to my mother since October. Now, before you judge me…..
The last time I saw my mother was at my aunt’s deathbed. I held my aunt’s hand and watched as she succumbed to the cancer that had been periodically visiting her body for the last fifteen years. She was ravaged by pain and regret and although we had a falling out, attributable mostly to my mother and my desire that my aunt stop enabling her prescription pill habit, we were able to communicate both our love and our sorrow before she passed. I comforted my mother in her sorrow and ignored her painful outbursts aimed at my aunt’s husband and myself. It was time to put aside petty things.
I thought the pain and the sorrow of losing her sister would be enough to make my mother realize what she was inflicting on her children and her grandchildren. She was not speaking to my sister. My sister had been angry and said angry words, and according to my parents they were unforgivable. They decided to never speak to my sister again, and in doing that had not spoken to their grandchildren either. I played mediator for a period of time, and had clung to a small vestige of hope that all of it could be resolved. I talked my sister into visiting the hospital with me while my aunt was still cognizant enough to know she was there. I watched from the doorway as my mother snarled at my sister and rolled her eyes and the disgust was palpable. My sister’s egregious act was by telling my mother and my father she was angry, she was hurt and they had caused it. For this, my mother could barely even look at her as she sat crying at my aunt’s bed side.
I was certain death would be the catalyst to bring us all together. After all, hadn’t my sister and I forgiven my parents so many things? There were instances of neglect that were so painful, and yet we saw past them. We had overlooked my mother’s drug addiction for years and had forgiven my father for enabling it. Surely, words spoken would not be the straw that broke my family’s back. Yet, even in the tragedy of death, they could not see beyond their own selfishness. First one, then two holidays past and they refused to see my sister or their grandchildren. I pleaded and ranted at my father, and still he held steadfast.
So, how is my mother? To be honest, I have no idea. I haven’t spoken to her in three months and neither will I. It seems cold dead hearted to abandon my parent when she needs me the most, but I’ve extricated myself from the guilt I’ve carried all these years. I cannot have a relationship with her while she’s on drugs, be them prescription or not. It has been her decision to not speak to my sister and her grandchildren. Now, she’s locked up in her house, sleeping in a recliner when she’s not watching Law and Order and I can’t imagine a more miserable existence. I once believed loving her could make a difference, but it hasn’t nor will it ever.
I’d like to say at least I have my father, but I’m no longer speaking to him either. His choice has always been to allow my mother to erode our family. He has chosen not to see his grandchildren. He has chosen to disown my sister. There was a time when I understood his pain, but those are bygone days. The history speaks for itself and my parents have to live with the choices and decisions they made. It sounds harsh and simplistic, but it’s anything but. I’m a parent and I love my child more than my own life. I cannot imagine she could say something so egregious I would cut her out of my life. I cannot imagine saying to her that her pain and the words she may say in it, are unforgivable.
I’ve thought a lot about this. After all, I was grateful I had sat at my aunt’s bed side and said goodbye to her. I was grateful I heard her apology and I was able to give mine. It’s beyond sad to waste moments that could be spent loving and understanding each other. But I hug my sister, this woman who was once this baby I loomed over in her crib. I had loved her wholeheartedly. She was a prelude to the daughter I would one day call my own. She is a beautiful soul, yet in so much pain directly caused by my parents. They did not keep us safe and did not protect us. She wears the open wounds of someone who longed for comfort and never received it.
It is a miracle neither of us are drug addicts or in prison. Instead, we turned to each other and found the comfort in our family of two. Our family expanded with our children and we swore we would do things differently, and we have. Our children have never felt alone in the world. We had each other. I remember laying in bed at night, whispering to each other in the room we shared, trying to cheer her up with funny stories. She deserved better. I deserved better.
So since my father insisted I had to choose a side, I did. I thought of my sister crying in a hallway with my mother smacking her and my father standing feebly by. I had pulled my mother off her and demanded my mother to leave. She didn’t and my father didn’t make her. But in that moment, we became all that each other ever had. So if my parents can’t forgive my sister for the words she said, then they have chosen to be alone. We are surprisingly happy and well adjusted. Not having to watch my mother slur her words and lash out while high on drugs is a relief. Not having to wonder why my father didn’t and doesn’t do more to prevent it is no longer an issue. We have each other. Maybe that’s what got us through it all.
Tomorrow my daughter is one step closer to fleeing the nest. It’s a monumental birthday and I’ve had moments of pride, delight and depression. I cannot remember a life before her, and it’s near impossible to picture a life without her in it day by day. She will move on and forge her own path in this life and I will be standing on the sidelines, cheering and offering support and guidance when asked. Only when asked.
I had this life once I was not happy with. I had this life that racked my soul and made me less than. She was a witness to this and it weighs heavily on my mind these days. Did she see enough to want to live her life differently or did she see too much to know better? Children are subjected to the life we inflict on them. I think of the paper cuts of childhood that still sting in my life. Will she be sitting, typing on a blog, and think of those things she has seen?
I had this life once where I was living with someone very unlikable. He was not always that way. In the beginning he had dazzled me with his charm and the ruse of very human like behavior. It was not long after it began that I saw the cracks in the foundation, the fissures in the carefully crafted illusion. The reasons I stayed, in hindsight, were not valid reasons. I thought I was saving her from something untenable, but instead the pain was inflicted anyway.
The day I told him we were over, he threw that pain into my face like a punch. How can you do this to her? He had demanded. You’ve ruined her life, he ranted. I had stood there, taking shots, knowing every single word had a kernel of truth. He hated me enough when I ended us that he punished her for it. Those years of his declaration of fatherhood dissipated in hatred of me.
I’ve been careful over the years since the break up to maintain some sort of dignity for him for my daughter. It’s not always been easy as I’ve had a cadre of lawyers attempt to protect me from him. I’ve never wavered in my belief that the best thing, the only thing I could have done, was to claim our independence. It’s been painful, not because I miss anything about the us that was, but because leaving him, leaving the state, did not end his presence in my life. I had hoped to maintain their relationship, but he chose otherwise.
Then came the news, he had fled the country. It has become something out of a Lifetime movie. He’s all over the internet. My daughter has questioned time and time again why he hasn’t called, and here’s the answer. I agonized over whether to tell her just before her birthday. I wanted her to have a day free from the drama he has caused. But then I reminded myself she has been unrelenting trying to find him. Trying to find the father he was.
I told her and she looked at me, with tears in her eyes.
“I’m sorry he’s put you through this” she said to me, and I saw what a wonderful mature young woman she has become.
I told her how sorry I was too. She told me she just wants me to have someone who is kind and loves me. I told her I wanted the same for her. And then she looked me in the eyes and said, “I’d never settle for less than that.”
I knew she meant it and I wish I had figured it out sooner. Then I remind myself, it’s all a journey to this one moment, this place you’re supposed to be. We endure the pain and hardships so when we get where we are going we can make the decisions clearly. It’s taken me a long time, but that’s been part of the journey.
My heart opened and I’ve learned to love. I’ve learned that pain is part of the process. I’ve learned the most important thing in my world besides my daughter is being true to myself. I’ve learned that even the simplest gesture of affection can be fulfilling. I’ve learned to cling to happiness and to not let the sadness overcome me. I’ve learned the best part of me is the one I’ve hidden away.
My daughter has seen the transformation in me. Maybe it isn’t too late.
Tomorrow is my dad’s surgery. We’ll find out whether or not his cancer has spread and whether he needs chemotherapy. As usual, I am blindly optimistic and steeled to deal with any bad news. It’s almost silly I will be sitting in a room for hours with my mother whom I am still not speaking to. It’s not enough to bring us together. Only one thing will and she knows it. But I’ll be there for my dad before he goes under and after. I’ll thank him for being the person who gave me the ability to sail through life relatively unscathed because I will undoubtedly find humor in everything.
Cancer is unfortunately a fact of life now, but it doesn’t have to be our entire lives. It’s just a small stitch in a quilt of so many good things.
Just as I began my search in earnest for my love of all things food, my father is diagnosed with colon cancer. It was a devastating blow to all of us. There is the worry and concern for my father, and then the worry and resentment my mother is in no way able to take care of him. There was one day of complete worry about the future for him or if there would be one. Then he saw his surgeon and hope sprang eternal when he was informed he would have a less invasive surgery and basically resume a normal life.
My sister and I sat at the table with our parents, and we both pleaded the case for healthier eating. My father is the type to eat a dinner, a second helping then a bologna sandwich an hour later. Their cupboards are stocked with chips, sweet treats and enough carbs to fuel the Boston Marathon. Their freezer is overflowing with frozen food and ice cream. My sister and I insisted he needed to change his diet not only for this latest health set back, but also because of his twenty year battle with heart disease.
The first thing my mother did is angrily insist his diet does not need to change. Our relationship now is cold and distant, there is resentment and anger simmering between us like a volatile moltov cocktail waiting to explode at any moment. There have been several times I’ve pleaded with my mother to not bring boxes of Ho Ho’s and Twinkies into the house. She insists my father should have more willpower and be able to not eat the things he shouldn’t.
When I first returned to Kentucky, I began cooking healthy foods for my father. We attempted a strict heart healthy diet in hopes of helping him lose pounds quickly after yet another heart stint was necessary. My mother doubled her efforts to bring home his favorite fatty foods and by the time I moved out, the diet was long forgotten and he had returned to enjoying fried foods with mom again. My mother also refuses to smoke outside despite begin informed by a Cardiologist she should for my father’s health.
So, I thought about food again but this time as a way to nourish and heal the body. I’m making double steel cut oatmeal this morning and I wish I could convince my father how it’s not only healthy, but delicious. I believe the biggest obstacle to my father changing his eating habits, is indeed my mother. She likes the attention on her and her illnesses. Yesterday, when we sat at the table, she began crying and everyone there completely ignored her. Within seconds, her tears were dried and she stomped off to another room. My father’s health has now become the focus of our attention and she does not like it.
I’m now not thinking about my love of food, but what it does for my body. When I eat healthy, I feel healthy. With the gene pool I’ve been cursed with, it’s more important than ever that I am mindful of what I do put in my body. It’s not enough I’ve given up meat and maintain a vegetarian lifestyle. I’ve given up coffee and have replaced my tea with decaf. I’m insisting my daughter make healthier choices. Who knows maybe by example I can convince my father to replace his ice cream with Greek yogurt.
So I woke up feeling fruity so I made a smoothie with almond mild (so yummy) and frozen strawberries and mango. This time I didn’t include my usual two packets of Splenda. I had my usual coffee sans cream. For lunch, I had a salad with sunflower seeds and feta cheese. Dinner was leftover butternut squash and greens.
Let’s be honest. Nothing exciting about today’s food. But the smoothie was delicious and the salad was filling. Dinner was more of a throw together because I was exhausted by the time I got home. I really wanted a piece of caramel, but of course I want a piece of salted caramel, so decadent and delicious a Werther’s will not do.
I’m feuding with my parents again. It’s a culmination of all these years with a dash of how they treat my daughter sprinkled on top. But exploring food, brings me home again. It was always food that brought us together as a family, that was a catalyst for a visit or celebration. It was food my mother taught me was a balm for the blues. Having traveled and explored, I learned to differentiate between good food and mediocre. There really is no going back. Not with food, not with my family.
So I’ll look for that salted caramel this week and try to be a little more adventurous.
I don’t buy into the end of the world prophecies. But I have a cold, my fever just broke, and I don’t exactly feel like frolicking in what I am told is the Earth’s last day. It seems so pretty out there too. But I will go see the latest Depp Pirate movie. I figure if I’m going out, might as well be after watching a mediocre movie my daughter is insisting we see.
If it is the end of the world…I do want to leave this:
I know love and it’s a many splendid thing. It’s never too late to find it. Don’t squander it. Chase it and hold it down until it calls uncle.
Children are indeed wonderful and horrible at the same time. It’s a crap shoot the kind of kid you’ll end up with. Do your best and love them anyway.
Kleenex with lotion is the way to go when you have a summer cold.
Don’t tan. Hear me Snookie? I’m relatively wrinkle free on my way to purgatory because of my ghostly whiteness.
And to my beloved D….you’ve made even the rainiest of days swirly and sunny. See you on the other side.