This is the ninth entry of “The Chip On My Shoulder Is A Boulder,” a series on the complex relationships between black women and their mothers. The series will run through this week. Previous entries include “The Adoptee,” “The Rebel,” “The Gypsy,” “She Did Her Best,” “The Reluctant Mother,” “The Narcissist’s Daughter,” “The Survivor” and “The Baby.”
There is a familiar parable, oft repeated in churches across America, of a house with its foundation built up a rock versus that of a house built upon sand.
You can guess which house was able to weather the storm.
If a bond between a mother and child is built upon a rock that relationship can withstand the turbulence of a gloomy household, a broken family, the rebellious teen years and the many efforts to try, try and try again to make that bond stick. Even if you grow apart. Even if you grow away, The rock is still there for you to build on. Despite the fissures and perceived weaknesses, the heart of the rock is still strong.
I don’t know if I ever trusted my mother. I remember loving her but consciously it was in a protective way. I was her protector or at least I wanted to be.
I remember being 12 and asking her to leave my father because he wasn’t good for her. I tried to make her understand that it wouldn’t hurt me if she left him. It would make me happy. I didn’t think I was suggesting all of that for my own selfishness. I was a pretty compassionate child despite my nature at the time, which was very anxious and unsettled. But I became very calm and able to collect myself when I was in a position of giving advice or when becoming someone’s rock.
I was asking her to leave my father because I didn’t want to see her hurting any more. She had a naturally bright and sun-shiny personality, living in a self-made cave with a man who hated it when the curtains were raised to let the light in. Quite literally, our house was always dark, and to this day, my Father, whom my mother finally left, lives in a dark house where the curtains are always drawn. Maybe he is subconsciously simulating a womb that he misses or feels he was ripped from too soon. I don’t know. He was a misogynist for as long as I knew him, until my mother decided she was done hating her life and left the relationship.
I must have bore resentments towards my Mother. I don’t remember feeling safe and may have inadvertently projected my irritation with my father’s lack of ability or seeming willingness to provide security onto her. I wanted him to at least act as if he was concerned that his children felt they were secure.
I made my mind up early that men were weak and it was the woman’s job to guard her children, even from their father. The psyche is an interesting machine. My mother spoke to me rationally in my childhood. She laid the foundations for my interest in psychology by explaining that my father didn’t hate me, he hated himself and I was a reflection of him. It made sense. The logic made a lot of my anger go away. I was able to see him as a human with issues. But I wonder where my mercy was for my mother when she had her moments of weakness,and needed her space. Perhaps I had patterned myself after my father and thought that I owned her. Perhaps it was only OK for her to feel if she was sharing her feelings with me?
I started to bounce between the houses of her, my father and a few aunts around age 15. I wasn’t a nightmare of a teen, but I wasn’t innocent. I did lie about sleep overs to hang out after hours with groups of my peers. I started smoking cigarettes and enjoyed the occasional five finger discount.
By 17 my Mother and I weren’t much in touch and she moved to another state with her new husband, a man I could not stand at the time. Our relationship became very plastic after that. I eventually told her over the phone that I didn’t like the plastic nature of our relationship and she cried. It broke my heart to hear it. I really couldn’t handle it, and abstained from saying anything that would hurt her for at least another 10 years until I finally had to confront her again about a similar gripe. That time it was done without spite because she needed to hear it.
I was very busy unconsciously collecting pity from my social circle for at least several years and I was too angry with her for not being perfect and attending to my every need. I was too angry to realize that leaving my father was very difficult for a Catholic woman who’d been taught to stick with her marriage no matter what. It didn’t occur to me that she had probably envisioned a beautiful time for us in an apartment that was the very first apartment she’d rented without him by her side. I just expected her to adjust and realize I was a teenager and needed to spread my wings. Especially since we’d finally escaped the maw of the dragon we’d lived with for some many utterly depressing years.
Overtime we’ve come to be reasonably close. It’s a telephone relationship mostly, because she still lives out of state, but I enjoy her and am thankful that I’ve been blessed to know her and mend fences so to speak. I’m a mother myself now, and have (I think) a pretty firm grasp on the logic of how the Mother-Child thing works.
Mother = symbol of need fulfillment. Pretty tall order for a human.