Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reach out, reach out and...oh. wait.

When Emily was a newborn, I was amazed by so many aspects of motherhood. The reality can be so different from the imagination at times, but I'd never even really thought about how her cries would affect me. Yes, I thought I would pick her up and comfort her. I knew I would try to calm her with loving noises or songs or rocking motions.

I didn't realize the effect of a baby's cry on her mother would be so physical, so instinctive that I would react before I'd consciously acknowledged the cry. I lost count of how many times my body tensed, my arms moved and my breasts leaked. It amazed me there were nights she would cry and I would find myself by her side before I was even fully awake.

The night she had her first seizure, she was 6 months old. I was up late, trying to get some work done, and I heard a cry from her room that was different than anything I'd ever heard from her. It wasn't a diaper, hunger or discomfort. Something was WRONG.

I had her door open, light on and had her in my arms before the cry itself was even finished. It was an instinctive, gut reaction and while I don't know exactly what I'd have done if the boogey man had been in her room, I can tell you he'd have been very, very sorry he was.

As someone I once knew used to say - I told you that so I could tell you this:

I have tried to understand my mother, and it is just never going to happen.

So many times in so many ways she has let me down and I've been the walking definition of insanity, expecting one day things would be different. I've felt deep down that somewhere in there she has the capacity of being empathetic or at least understanding, but I'm finally acknowledging I was wrong.

I've tried picturing her as a young girl, as a teen, as a young woman with a family. When I think of her in this way I fully recognize that she never set out to be the way she is, didn't intentionally decide she was going to cause the hurt she has. It makes it a bit easier to think of her that way, but it doesn't erase the way she was and is. Doesn't make it easier to swallow when she lets me down, yet again.

My mom works in a profession where she is bolstered by the notion of being needed, and more times than I can count she has put the people she works with ahead of her family. Treating them better, being there for them when she is not for us, constantly reminding us that they need her, that they are like her children. Except she treats them better than she has treated/treats us, so the last one is hard to swallow.

I understand having needs outside your family, I get it. But when one of the people she works with had a medical issue recently, she called me in a panic and worried. She kept saying that losing him would be like losing one of us. Only, she's treated the medical issues I've dealt with in the last year as an inconvenience. Mostly I hear from her if she has a problem and wants me to help her with it. Financial or otherwise.

When she called about this medical issue, I was torn. I knew the person she was worried about and I prayed for his well-being (he's fine now) but I also knew that when I was having surgery, she really couldn't be bothered. She moved heaven and earth to take care of this person and even my dad took several days off. There was nothing like that with any of my medical issues. When I was put on modified bedrest and told not to travel more than 30 minutes from the hospital with the level III NICU, she didn't even come to see us for Christmas. They didn't see my son until he was a month old. They live 45 minutes away. She did offer to come when he was hospitalized for pneumonia, but didn't. She didn't offer when we went back to the hospital because he almost bled to death after his circ. She didn't come for my daughter's 3rd birthday. She did come for my son's baptism, last month (5 months after the last time they'd been here) but left early, in a huff, because I didn't stop cooking immediately when she wanted to show me something, even though I was just trying to get food on the table for everyone. But I digress!

Shortly after that phone conversation, my sister came to stay with us so my husband and I could go to an event. My mom called when we were getting ready to leave and said, "I've been thinking about our conversation the other day..." For a brief, stupid moment I thought maybe she was going to say something about likening her clients to us kids, about how that might have come out wrong or maybe say something about how she'd been worried about me too at some point in all this.

There was nothing like that, however. She has some health issues of her own, and she was calling about the pain medication I was given by mistake that I can't take. It was yet another example of me thinking that maybe, just maybe she might come through and kicking myself in the butt for having that hope.

She called last night, a few weeks now after the incident above. Not to talk to me. Not to find out how I am or even tell me how she is. To ask me to ask some billing questions of a company she deals with, when she had all the information to do so in her hand. I mistakenly decided to tell her I'm overwhelmed, I'm frustrated, I'm trying to recover from all the medical crap and not getting enough rest or relief. She really didn't sound interested, and the conversation ended pretty quickly.

I found myself wondering, how could she not recognize that cry? How is it that I can be so in tune with my children and want to do anything I can to keep them safe and comforted, and have a mom who alternates between clueless and uncaring? How is it that she's motherly when she has an audience, but not when I need her? What happened? Why? How is it that she gets so caught up in how much these other people need her that she doesn't hear her own children when they do?

Why can't she be there for me, if only to say something soothing?

More importantly, how do I stop reaching out for the mom that just isn't going to be there?


JuliaS said...

I'm so sorry - sometimes people can't see the forest for the trees, and your mom has no idea what she is missing out on.

Beautifully sad post.

Has your daughter outgrown her seizures? I ask because we have a history of seizures in our family too.

dee said...

I wish I had some answers for you. My own mother's mothering was less than stellar while I was growing up and I still have issues with it, but nothing on the scale of what you're dealing with.

I don't know. I guess I'd just go on living life, reaching out to close friends and your husband, in lieu of her. It sucks, when instinct tells you that parents will do anything to protect or help their children, but sadly, it isn't always that way.

The good thing that came out of it for me (and perhaps for you too) is that you know the kind of mother you are, and the kind that you'll never be (like her).

I just wish it wasn't so hard and painful a lesson.

Claire said...

My only answer - not every mother is a good one.

I don't understand how a mom could be so cold, distant, clueless and uncaring. How she could be so wrapped up in herself that she'd completely miss out on how much she has hurt you; miss out on what you need. I can't fathom it, because like you, I understand the power of my children's cry. And I know it doesn't just go away when kids grow up - my mom will tell you that.

I don't know how someone could screw up so royally with her own kids, and yet still have the drive to be needed, to nurture, to help. If she was cold to everyone, it would at least make a little more sense. But the fact that she treats others the way she should be treating you - it boggles the mind.

I don't know your mom, but I do know that her issues are about her; they're not about you. She doesn't treat you this way because you somehow deserve it; because you've failed to measure up as a daughter. She does this because she lacks the capacity to be the mother that you need. And she isn't going to change, she isn't going to get it and she'll probably never truly realize how much she's screwed up. If she let her mind go there, I don't think she could bear the pain.

And therein lies some of the answer. She does know how badly she's treated you. On some level, she remembers, and she understands. But she can't face it. So she pushes you away, compoudning the damage over and over again in a largely subconsious attempt to push down the pain and guilt she has for how rotten of a mother she has become. Seeing you, hearing your voice, thinking of you - it probably all brings out the worst feelings she has about herself because deep down she knows how bad she was, and still is, to you. So instead of facing it, she pushes you away.

It's a sad, sad spiral and I fear she'll never get out of it. The trick is, how do you get yourself out? Or do you remain the mouse who always pushes the button - usually you get zapped, but once in a while a food pellet comes out.