My energy level is finally returning to normal--which means I have too much. It means I'm thinking constantly, and researching, and asking myself questions that have no answers. It means that to keep all those questions at bay, and to make sure I can't dwell on anything too long, I've taken on four new students and another online job.
Therapist will tell me I need to not take anymore students and I should ponder only having one online job, especially since the class load I'm teaching fall semester is about three times as heavy as what I normally teach. I'm not going to tell him that I also agreed to accompany four competitions and festivals in the next four weeks, which means learning music and rehearsing with more than 100 students. He'll just roll his eyes at me and ask if I really think it's a good idea, which is irrelevant. I've committed. And it will be over by mid-May.
I've been thinking about my mother for the past few months.
I've changed my mind about many things, but not about everything. I maintain that most of what was said and done to me by her should never have happened. But it did and it belongs to us both. My mom's brain is deteriorating. At this point, she makes her own past and in her mind, it's very real. Currently, according to my mother, I was a sweet, congenial little girl who rarely was in trouble. The person she has conjured as her Samantha child never existed. I was stubborn and willful and under the best parenting, I would still have spent a great deal of my young life in time out. I have never been congenial or sweet.
My mother has created a past in which I lived a charmed life, we played together, and rarely disagreed. When I first became aware that she was living in this delusion, I was angry. I'm not anymore.
I cannot imagine how she felt as an abuser. She grew up in a home where she experienced what it was like to be abused physically, and dominated completely by her father. She was not allowed to think for herself or express an opinion. Her dreams and aspirations, if spoken aloud, were demeaned and criticized. My mother knew how it felt to be a victim. It is speculated that the brain damage that now spreads dark, dead spots through her mind was caused in her childhood--a result of the physical blows she felt from her drunken father.
My mom was the youngest of three. She wanted to have children--lots of them--and she did. But she had no idea how to be a parent. Her mother was absent, working to provide a steady income because her alcoholic husband had difficulty holding jobs. Her father was drunk most of the time. There was no real example of good parenting in my mother's childhood.
I remember, as a very small child, watching my mother, silently weeping as she sat in a rocking chair, holding one of my infant siblings. It was after an episode when I had been severely punished for using one of her potted plants as an anchor for a blanket tent. The ceramic pot had fallen and broken, spreading dirt and plant parts across our hardwood floor. I felt terrible about breaking the plant and it's holder. I wanted to apologize. I wanted my mom to stop crying.
I remember touching her shoulder and saying I was very sorry. At first she didn't acknowledge me at all. I apologized again. Still nothing. I said, "Mommy, I love you. I'm so sorry." Finally, an answer: I heard her whisper fiercely, "Go away."
So I did. I ran to my room, flung myself across my bed, and hated her with every ounce of my six-year-old self.
I used to believe she was still angry with me in that moment--the tears springing from the loss of a stupid plant. In my adulthood, I arrogantly judged her, calling her a terrible parent, vowing I would never value an object over my own children. I don't believe, anymore, that she was angry with me. I believe I have misjudged her.
I believe, now, that my mother was often overwhelmed with her own monstrousness. I think the tears shed in that moment were expressing the pain of her own childhood, coupled with her inability to control her angry impulses, culminating in her abuse of her own children. I believe she was aware that she was perpetuating a cycle that had robbed her of self-esteem and hurt her deeply, and I think that knowledge caused her incredible pain. Though I was willing to attempt making peace with her (and perhaps she wished she could meet me halfway), knowing she was acting in the abhorrent ways her father did, and without the aid of alcohol, kept her from making peace not only with me, but with herself. My expressed love could not be accepted--how could I love someone such as her?
My mother lived with untreated clinical depression. Her neurologist believes that the injury to her brain happened when she was very young and her ability to control her emotions and actions began to deteriorate when she was a teen. By the time I was six, her emotional stability was nonexistent.
I wonder, now, how much responsibility she can claim for the actions that harmed me. Her erratic behavior and extreme punishments, her inability to connect emotionally with me, and the mental and emotional abuse that were part of my everyday life--how much of that was beyond her control? My mother was cognizant that what she was doing was wrong; she has told me so. She has also said that she didn't know how to stop herself. I believe her.
And so I allow her the luxury of making up a new past; one in which there was no abuse and I was obedient and sweet, and she was loving and firmly kind. For a long time, I made a fantasy life of my own, and I completely understand the need to do that. It's a coping device that allows us to keep living. The difference is that I have recovered from my past and I no longer need the fantasy, but my mom will continue to build her fabricated past for the rest of her life. It will become her reality and I will not contradict nor compel her to face the truth.
I suppose I believe that she has suffered long enough. We both have. It's time for me to touch her shoulder and ask for forgiveness once again. Because while it is true that she bears the burden of causing me pain, I have borne anger and resentment toward her for actions I no longer believe were within her power to control or suppress. My mother has a good heart. She wanted more for me than that which she received in her childhood home.
So in my attempt to reconcile the real past with her new one, I will acknowledge that there was good in my life because of my mother. She believed I could do anything--and so did I. She made certain I received musical training when we could ill-afford the cost--and that training has led me to my vocation. She read to me, sang with me, taught me to clean and cook and sew and take care of myself. In short, my life, in spite of the abuse, was better than hers, and that was what she wanted.
So I will say to her once again, "I love you, Mom. Please forgive me," and she will, even though she'll have no idea why. And though she may never ask again (for she has asked me repeatedly in the past decade), I will forgive her, too. Because I understand that her tears were not for a broken potted plant, but for herself--broken in spirit and mind--for her inability to love naturally and her uncontrollable impulses that brought violence and fear instead.
Therapist once told me that I would know that I had made it "through to the other side" of my resentment and anger when I could feel empathy for my mother. I didn't believe him when he said it, but I think I'm finally there. It's a good place to be.