Claire Went There

And wound up here

Archive for the tag “mothers”

Please pay attention. I’m going to cry now.

In the house where I grew up, you had to do a lot to get noticed.  I was the classic “negative” attention-getter, screaming, lying, and throwing things.  My sister had some other method that I still don’t understand, but which seemed to involve punishing herself first before anyone else got to her. We are girls, so we cried a lot.  However, crying did not necessarily carry a lot of weight in the attention-getting wars, especially because it was literally never possible to out-cry my mother.

You could not out-drama her either, although I did come dang close.  Mom could beat anyone at the pain game. You have a skinned knee? Well shut your pie hole, mama’s kneecap exploded, help her to the couch. Your head hurts?  Turn out the lights child, your mother has a debilitating migraine slash aneurysm, now go outside.  Someone hurt your feelings?  Mom’s devastated on your behalf and can’t make dinner.  My childhood of being out-cried and out-hurt taught me two things: people who cry look stupid, and people who don’t feel good are faking.


I’m the jerk who showed up to work with bronchitis, coughed (loudly) for a while, and went home after everyone understood that I really WAS sick. I’d sooner throw up on my desk than call in with nausea. Something had to really, really hurt before I would ask for help. I actually walked around for 2 days with a ruptured ectopic pregnancy and internal bleeding before I let Coach take me to the hospital.  Not to be outdone, Mom showed up to my hospital room sporting a neck brace, whispering to my nurse to dim the lights for her.  I stopped asking for pain meds after that, lest someone think I was another faker…like her.

It wasn’t until a therapist turned my self-labeled “stoicism” into “a possibly fucked up response to living with a narcissist” that I truly learned how to just be hurt or sad or frustrated. I used to hide from Coach when I was upset because I could NOT let him see me cry. Crying looked ridiculous and fake to me – how could I be sure that he was sure that I was really upset? There were so many weird thoughts going through my head when I was sad/mad/frustrated, that I was never quite sure if I WAS faking or if I was truly emotionally bereft. How could I know? I would have these out-of-body moments where I would watch myself sob and think “well…you could stop but you won’t because he isn’t really sure that you’re sad, which you might or might not be, in fact you may be lying and just enjoying sitting on this soft bed with tissue and your man’s attention.”  Honestly, what husband could hope to penetrate THAT labyrinth?

So I finally got my girl-card; I learned how to cry and now I’m rather adept at it, although it isn’t pretty and wears me out. In fact, there are many moments when my children will look sharply at me, convinced that I’m about to break down in a movie or while watching a sports event or eating delicious food.  I do carry tissue and eye drops.  It’s possible that my new abilities are just hormonal fall-out. It could be that being a mom and a wife has softened me and reassured me and taught me how to be loved.  There’s a chance that I have just learned to be nicer to myself and to validate my gut responses.  Getting older has opened my eyes to humanity and suffering, including my own.  I only know for sure that I have a big heart and that a lot of things touch me — deeply.  I take Tylenol at the first sign of a headache and make appointments with my doctor.  I am not a faker and if I’m crying, I might let you watch.

This is Where I Start

I have a story that I don’t know how to tell.  I can relay the facts and some of the feelings, but there is no appropriate way that I know of to get started.  So, I’ll just begin.

On March 9 of this year, I Googled my mother’s name.  Sometimes I do this, because I haven’t seen or spoken to her in many years – ever since she called my then-9-year-old daughter a “bitch” at my sister’s wedding.  I knew the town where she lived, and had a pretty good idea of her mental state.  I would look her up periodically, just to see if I could find any information.  Was she working?  Was she on or even Facebook?  As much as I knew that I had to stay away from her for my own sake and for that of my family, it’s not easy to be estranged from a parent.  Sometimes, I just wanted to know where she was.

Only on March 9 when I Googled her name, her obituary showed up.  She had been dead for 4 months by then, since November 1, 2012.  No one called or wrote to me or my sister.  There was no deathbed plea to see her daughters, no brief extension of maternal love sent our way, no sad call from my Aunt or cousins, no “you may want to come down for this.”  Nothing.  I even looked back at my calendar to see what I was doing that day  — to see if maybe I could remember feeling something.

This is some hard shit to wrap my brain around, but I’ve gotten very good at living without a mom.  I knew she was in the throes of some kind of mental illness, and I knew that I’d never have a relationship with her, and I knew that she was telling her sister and my cousins that her kids were the most horrible children on the planet.  Still, it hurts.

And then I received her Will in the mail, but only because I harassed the county probate clerk for a week.  My sister and I are not in it, as she left all of her property to my Aunt, and the remainder to 2 churches.  And this hurts, too.

Parental estrangement is a nasty bed of thorns.  In my case my mother and I never quite got along, although she was brilliantly social and friendly to our neighbors and family friends.  My own friends remember her as beautiful  and engaging.  But living with her was a lesson in capriciousness, narcissism, and full-blown hysteria.  There was ALWAYS something not-quite-right with her, which later on became a real, bona fide mental illness.  And not a bumbling, forgetful kind of mental illness, but a mean one.  Some of the mom stories I tell my family and close friends are quite hilarious. There was one that made a therapist’s jaw drop open, but I tell it with a full appreciation of its ridiculous humor, and have never taken it too seriously.


That’s her, on the right, younger and happy.

In fact, that’s how I manage to stay relatively sane – humor.  I think almost everything that happens to me or around me is slightly or outright amusing.  And I think it’s humorous in a really bizarre way that I found out my mother died through Google.  I mean, it’s not funny, but it’s strange and sad, which is enough for me to have a periodic laugh or two at my own expense.  I have a healthy appreciation for the absurd, and this is definitely absurd.

Only, this one is hard.  I keep trying to process that my mother died hating me.  Our estrangement was mutual – I never heard from her, either.  Is this my fault? Was I a terrible daughter forever, or only once I knew she had a full-blown mental illness?  Was it her fault?  I can’t help comparing my own experience as a mom and knowing without question that my kids would NEVER be able to keep me away from them, no matter how hard they tried.  Why didn’t she try?  Why didn’t anyone let us know she had died? I would have gone to her funeral and I probably would have cried. I would have gone.

I’m almost 50 and I feel like I’m 8.   I have more stories to tell, but I had to start here.

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