Okay, enough of the ass kissing! (She loves it, though). Today I have Danielle, who blogs at ProfMomEsq, can be found on twitter at @ProfMomEsq and on Facebook here. She can also sometimes be found with me at a bar in some random Bay Area location, but I'm not going to link to that right now....
I wanted to be brave enough to write this on my own blog. I really did. But, I am not. I wrote it down, because if I didn’t get this out of my head and heart, I’m sure the pain would’ve eaten me – quietly but viciously – from the inside out.
Since writing this story, it’s become clear that my mother will not chose help. She will not see either her psychiatrist or her rheumatologist. She will not medicate, and she will not go back to therapy. She is going to wait until her dog dies, go off the Richter, and end up back in the psychiatric unit. The only decision left for me to make is not if but how to extricate myself from her life – especially with a 14-year-old who is quite attached to her. The only thing left for me to do is to try to support my sister in whatever decisions she makes.
It’s early. I was the first one awake in the house, which is unusual. My five-year-old, who is autistic, ambled downstairs just as I sat down at the computer with my coffee.
“Good morning, Mama,” she said in her sleepy voice. She walked up and pressed her body against mine – her version of a hug. I kissed the top of her head and caught a whiff of her hair, fresh from last night’s bath. Her long hair is down – something she rarely tolerates – and she let me tuck it behind her ears.
“Do you want breakfast?” I asked.
“Nummies?” This is what we call pureed fruit mixed with Gerber oatmeal – because it is nice and yummy; thus, “nummies.”
She ran to the sofa with her blanket, patiently waiting for me to mix her breakfast. I handed it to her and asked, “Watch some TV?”
“Okay,” she said. I flipped to Nick Jr. and watched her lift an over-full spoon of oatmeal into her mouth. “Ank-you, baba,” she said with her mouth full. I kissed her forehead and told her she was welcome.
If you parent a child on the spectrum, you know what went into this moment - the hours of struggle, patience, speech therapy, occupational therapy, practice, love. You know the gross motor skills involved in descending the stairs. You know the social importance of a greeting with both language and physical touch. You know the fine motor skills that go into self-feeding. You know the textural issues involved in a preference for baby food (or a preference for any food). You know the miracle of spontaneous, question-answer conversation free of echolalia, no matter how many or how few words involved.
You also know that we do everything in our power – fighting exhaustion, disappointment, anger, limited resources, obstacles (necessary and bureaucratic), pain (physical and mental), anxiety, confusion – to raise our children in a way that opens to them as many of the possibilities the world has to offer. Frankly, this is true whether our kids are off or on the spectrum, though the obstacles may be fewer or different.
We don’t do this because we’re saints or martyrs. We do this because we are parents. We do this because this is what we signed on for when we chose to have children. We do this not so someone pats us on the back and congratulates us for hard work, sacrifice or commitment. We do this for the ultimate reward – the love of another human being. I confidently say that nothing feels as good to me – no material thing, no massage, no vacation, no medicine, no food (even bacon!) – than the words “I love you” uttered from my son or daughter’s mouth. As those words wash over me and energize my heart, I truly believe there is nothing I cannot do or accomplish. There is nothing within my power that I would not do to always hear those words; not as a rote response to my “I love you,” but as a genuine expression of affection for the bond we share, as an affirmation that they can count on me, because I keep my word, I keep them safe, and I participate with vigor in their lives.
I’ve come to believe that the truest words – in any language – are these: “Someday, when you have children of your own, you will understand.”
When my son was born, I began the process of forgiving my own mother for what I perceived as unjust treatment in my youth. Being a parent is difficult and fraught with pitfalls and dangers lurking in shadows. You are bound to make mistakes, but you do your best to learn from them. There are events among my childhood memories that I can identify clearly as parenting-fails that any parent could’ve made. I know, because I certainly committed a few head --> desk moments myself. Yet, the process of forgiveness also brought new and renewed anger and disappointment for the things I know were not mistakes but acts of selfishness, spite or just plain laziness. This anger I let burn inside of me, unspoken, until the most inopportune moments – the moments where some small slight would be the Jenga block that felled the tower of my rage, blocks of angry words flying carelessly about the room, leaving behind a heap of rubble.
Eventually, I tried very hard to let go of this anger, because just before Nate was born, my mother was committed to a psychiatric hospital and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. How could I not forgive her for her shortcomings as a parent – particularly in the emotional department? She did not know she was bipolar until that moment, nor did I. As I spoke with her doctors and therapists during my mother’s hospitalization, my anger was replaced by guilt – here I had been so hard on her when all the while she was battling enemies rattling around in her own brain. And, why shouldn’t I feel guilty? After all, I grew up to be a wife, a mother, a lawyer – by all accounts a productive member of society and fairly decent company. There were definitely worse ways I could’ve gone (lawyer jokes aside), so how bad was she really, given the circumstances?
I tried to do more forgiving but there would be no forgetting. It’s not that I wanted to create a mental notebook of her parental shortcomings so that I could throw them back at her. On the contrary, I wanted that mental notebook so I could avoid history repeating itself. I wanted to make a conscious decision and concerted effort to be a better parent, to learn the wisdom to be found in the lessons of my parents’ mistakes – particularly my mother’s – so that I did not repeat them with my children. It is a better description of that mental notebook to say it was a collection of how some of my parents’ actions made me feel. When the feeling was bad, I chose not to repeat the action on or with my children.
For example, whenever I apologized to my mother for something that called for an apology, her response was always, “I’m sorry, too.” My “sorry” meant I was contrite and repentant. It meant I genuinely felt regret about what I’d done or how I’d made her feel, and I wanted her to forgive me. Her “sorry” meant she was disappointed she even had to deal with me or with whatever had brought on the need for apology. Eventually, I heard “I’m sorry, too,” as “I’m sorry you even exist.” I don’t recall a time my mother said “thank you” or otherwise accepted any apology with what might be called grace. I don’t recall ever feeling I’d been forgiven; rather, the injustice was stored away in the bank of ill-gotten gains, to be spent on the purchase of a shield against any attempt at attack upon my mother for her own wrongs. Consequently, when my children apologize to me, I say “thank you,” whether I am ready to forgive the hurt. If needed, I say, “thank you, but I am still upset, so let’s talk about it again in a little while. I’ll let you know when I’m ready.” Then, I follow through. I hope that, as a result of this, my children understand both how to give and receive a meaningful apology. I hope they also understand that accepting an apology means putting the issue to rest – for good. It took me two years of therapy to learn this.
My mother and I never had what I would describe as a “close” relationship. (How’s that for a segue?) My family says I’ve been an independent person since birth. More than once over the years I’ve been told my favorite phrase was “I’ll do it myself.” I’m in no position to dispute this, because I have no memory of it at all and also because it’s pretty much true of me today. This caused tension – unbeknownst to me until much later – between my mother and me. My perspective on this now is that my mother hoped, in having children, that she would produce people who needed her – a feeling she did not experience with her own parents or any of her adult relationships (especially with my father). (Also, I think she has a lot of confusion about the meanings of “need” and “want,” but that’s another topic for another day.) When I speak here of “need,” I’m not talking about the practical things. Of course, I needed her to feed me, clothe me, bathe me. Frankly, I think she could have done quite without that, thankyouverymuch. I think the work and messiness of parenthood bothered her a great deal. Rather, I mean “need” in the emotional sense – as in needing her approval, her love, her pride and her acceptance. This did not happen. My mother does not understand the reciprocity of effort required to nurture and sustain a relationship. I started building walls around my heart by about 9 years old to stave off her sporadic attempts at invasion, because it became clear to me then the frequency with which she would disappoint me. To this day, I still feel (quite freshly) the pain and embarrassment of being the only kid in the orchestra without a parent in the audience; the only kid still sitting on the curb after band practice, waiting for a ride home; the only kid who didn’t bring anything to share for the classroom party.
Instead, the person whose love and acceptance I actively sought was my father’s, who withheld such things as a commodity to be traded for compliance and obedience or showered upon you in the brief period of euphoria that lit him up until he hit the one-martini-too-many wall. That I learned at my mother’s knee how to “work” at getting my father to love me is completely lost on her. Oh, the irony. (And I ain’t talkin’ about a black fly in your chardonnay, yo.) (From Jill: HA HA!)
What’s more, my father’s parents and his sister lived right below our house. I escaped downstairs to their apartment every chance I got. Why? No three people on earth loved me more and without condition than the occupants of that house. When people who know the story of my life wonder how I turned out “okay,” there is no need to look beyond my grandmother, grandfather and aunt. While I know my mother appreciated the utility of this – I was out of her hair for hours – she was not thrilled about the social aspects. In loving my grandparents and aunt, I talked freely -- sometimes about things that were not meant for public consumption. The more I expressed my love for them, the more my mother’s mind convinced her that I loved people instead of her rather than in addition to her.
The consequence of all this (and many other things in between that are not worth rehashing) is that I moved away from home at 17 to the great escape called “college.” One of the most joyous days of my life was the day I unloaded my belongings into my dorm room and watched my stepfather drive away. (My mother did not understand there to be any function in seeing her oldest daughter off to college.) The delicious taste of freedom was so satiating it was as though I ate an entire red velvet cake and had yet room for more. The profound euphoria made me wonder if I had a small inkling of what it was like to be released from prison after finishing a 17-year-sentence. The possibility of a life with only natural consequences was so vast in its possibilities it was nearly terrifying, like the anticipatory chug of a rollercoaster ascending the tracks toward the first plunging drop.
Drunk with this freedom, I amplified the emotional distance between my mother and me by moving to Georgia to live with my father. In her eyes, it was the ultimate betrayal. From my perspective, I yearned only for two things, neither of them to piss off my mother. The first was to know whether all the horrible things my mother said about my father over the years were really true. We moved away from him when I was 8. And while I had my own less-than-pleasant memories, some accumulated during post-divorce visits, I was unsure how much of that was warped or distorted by my mother’s constant harping on about my father and how much was truly a product of my own experience or perspective. I didn’t want to prove her wrong so much as to clear my own conscience. Second, I naively hoped that – even if history was as my mother wrote it – the future could be different. My father could love me and be proud of me and be full of fatherly advice, guidance and support before I reached true adulthood. It is only now, with the more-than-perfect vision of hindsight, that I see how very much like my mother I had become at that point.
When I arrived in Georgia, any illusions I had of a joyous, movie-scripted father-daughter reunion were shattered like a mirror dropped from a second-story balcony. I spent my time there trying to put the shards back together with a surgical precision, hoping, hoping, hoping that the glue of my persistence and wishing would make that mirror reflect my mind’s eye. But, on Christmas Eve, the glue failed. I was mugged on my way home from work, my purse with all my money and identification stolen. I arrived home despondent and only to find my father well into I don’t know how many martinis.
We were to go to midnight mass. As I sat patiently waiting downstairs for him, car keys already securely in my hand, story about why I needed to drive at the ready, watching the minutes tick by on the clock, I felt the weight of my mother’s I-told-you-so dragging my heart down into an abyss from which it might never return. Trying to convince myself my shoes hadn’t turned to cement, I trudged up the stairs to my father’s room. As I stared at him, passed out half-dressed on the bedroom floor, I knew I had to leave. Without a dime to my name, I made the only phone call that made sense in that moment. In exchange for a train ticket from Atlanta to Providence, Rhode Island, I let my mother rub her bitter salt into my broken heart, her voice ripping me apart with the shards of all that glass.
Why Providence, Rhode Island? I went there because I could not tell my mother of my intent to move to my grandparents’ house in Connecticut instead of returning to California. I had friends in Massachusetts, and I used a visit to “clear my head” as a pretense. What I needed was time to plot. What I needed was the safety of my grandparents’ dining room table. What I needed was the letter confirming my acceptance to Western Connecticut State University.
I had all that for a while, but the harsh Connecticut winters were too much for my aging grandparents, and they moved away to Florida. My father followed them, so I could not. Still, it would be another three years before I would relent and return to California, broken with sadness and financially destitute following a series of unfortunate mistakes that were the predictable result of growing up without any good role models, especially a male one.
My mother convinced me to come “home” by promising that she would help me get back on my feet. She did let me move back into her house, rent-free. And, she helped me get a job. I re-enrolled myself in college, and I graduated with honors. But, I then made the fatal mistake of applying to law school at Syracuse. When I came bounding in with the mail that bore my acceptance letter like a child wielding the balloon bouquet of her wildest dreams, my mother matter-of-factly stuck a venomous pin in every last one.
“Well, I hope you can find a way to pay for that, because I am not paying to move you back there.”
As I always had done, I took her “no” and let it fuel my motivation to find another way. My “way” didn’t travel via New York, but I got through law school somewhere else with a Samuel L. Jackson-like vengeance.
I spoke to my mother as little as possible between 1995 and 1996, when she was committed to the psychiatric hospital for the first time. Our relationship has gone in waves in the years since then. There have been periods – when I allow myself to be sucked into her swirling vortex – during which she’s been a good companion, and I have enjoyed her company. She was – in no small measure – an indispensible ingredient in my ability to finish law school and pass the Bar exam despite being a new, first-time parent – and a newly single one at that.
When I think about these times – the times when she and I were on good terms – the commonality is that she was medicated. She was in therapy. She was properly (or at least more properly than not) managing her health. Every time it fell apart, the reverse was true.
Now, my mother is 63 years old. She will be 64 in October. She has let her hair go entirely gray. Her body is covered with huge red patches of scaly, painful skin, which are caused by psoriasis. The psoriasis spread internally onto her joints. Eventually, it will spread to her organs. She is overweight to the point of being clinically “obese” but not morbidly so. Achieving a healthy BMI would mean losing about 30-40 pounds. She smokes (and has since she was a teenager) somewhere between half to a whole pack a day. She does not exercise and spends most of her day in front of a computer or television. She leaves the house only when absolutely necessary – her part-time job, the grocery store, the occasional visit to my sister’s home and the even less frequent visits to my home. She has no friends. Her closest living sibling lives a few hours away. She has not had a romantic relationship in at least 15 years. She was married three times, each time to a man who was physically abusive, emotionally abusive, or both. She has twice been hospitalized during depressive cycles. She has narcissistic and agoraphobic tendencies. She had a heart attack on New Year’s Day two years ago and required angioplasty of an artery that was 85% blocked. I heard the cardiologist tell her that if she didn’t make drastic life changes – exercise, diet, quit smoking – she would likely be dead in 12 months from a massive heart attack. She has done none of these things. That she has lived beyond the predicted 12 months in spite of her doctor’s dire warning only emboldens her choices. Indeed, she told me a few months ago that dying would be easier than quitting smoking. She once threw an actual temper tantrum – complete with fist pounding, screaming and crying – because the morning after she got home from the hospital, I made her a bowl of fresh oatmeal with organic blueberries, honey and ground flax meal instead of instant cinnamon/sugar oatmeal. She also hollered at me for cleaning out her refrigerator of – I shit you not – six opened jars of pickles (some with expirations dates in the early ‘00s), rotted vegetables, expired condiments and the like, then replaced all that with fresh, washed, cut and ready-to-eat fruits and vegetables. I would seriously give my right boob for someone to do that for me, so you can imagine my mouth-agape expression of puzzlement that slowly morphed into my bezerker-ninja-no-you-didn’t face during this little doozy of an encounter.
In the past four years, my mother experienced the death of her mother (who lived with my mother for about 10 years), her oldest sister (to whom she was probably closest – at least in adulthood), two dogs and a cat. She spent every dime of the considerable inheritance my grandmother left her, and she’s blown through most of her retirement savings. On what, I couldn’t say.
Her way of “coping” with these triggers has been to stop taking any and all medications (whether for psoriasis or bipolar disorder) and to adopt a huge Alaskan Husky. (More on this later.) No therapy, no exercise, no natural remedies. She has been on an unrelenting downward spiral and refuses to acknowledge any evidence of it, whether delivered with honey or a sledgehammer.
I have a younger biological sister and an older brother by adoption. These details of the relationships are important, because my adopted brother was adopted only a couple years ago. He is the eldest of my former stepfather’s two biological sons. The boys’ mother abandoned them when they were young. After my mother and stepfather divorced, my brother and mother continued their relationship, and she legally adopted him shortly after my grandmother died. At the time, I was very supportive of this, because – even with my challenging childhood (or perhaps because of it) – I couldn’t fathom the pain of being abandoned by your own mother, and I thought this would somehow right that wrong. What I didn’t anticipate, but should have, was that my mother’s motivation in adopting my brother was to right the injustice she perceived in her life being a constant 2-against-1 battle: my sister and me versus her. Now, my mother would always have someone “on her side,” because my adopted brother’s fear of disappointing a parental figure and being abandoned yet again absolutely forbids him from going against my mother’s wishes, even when he knows it would be the right thing to do. I learned this lesson when, on Christmas Eve day, my mother went to the hospital with chest pain. The doctor wanted to keep her overnight, because she needed an EKG, but it couldn’t be done until about 5:30 the following morning. My mother, on the pretense that she wanted to be home for Christmas Day, but really because she hadn’t had a cigarette in hours, convinced my brother – who I had very specifically instructed not to retrieve my mother from the hospital until after the EKG – to go and get her at 2:30 a.m. Unsurprisingly, my mother didn’t go back for the EKG until she had a fucking heart attack.
My sister and I are both in therapy for various reasons. (I know. Shocking that we are both in therapy, right?) If I told all the stories of terror, frustration, sadness, loneliness and confusion growing up with my mother and father (with a nightmare step-father thrown in just for fun), it would fill a book. So we will simply skip closer to present day.
My daughter was diagnosed as autistic in 2010. All I can say about my mother and this without needing Valium is that she acts like it didn’t even happened. My mother has not read one book about autism. She’s done no research. She doesn’t talk to me about it. She had the audacity once to say to me that the reason she doesn’t talk to me about it is because I act like it isn’t a problem. How I fought down the urge to physically assault her by ripping her heart out of her chest via her throat I will never, ever know. My fury was driven not by how insulting she was to me but by what a verbal slap in the face it was to my daughter. Against all odds and despite the infrequency of their contact, my daughter acknowledges her grandmother and shows affection to her. My mother has not one ounce of appreciation for the significance of this. Not one.
Case in point: my daughter struggles with anxiety. She is particularly fearful of certain animals, including birds and dogs. Yet, without any thought of that, my mother adopted a dog – a huge, constantly shedding, slobbery, tail-wagging, jumpy, hyper, one-year-old Husky. It would be comical if it wasn’t so fucking sad. Of course, my brother – who lives on the other side of the country and so can’t really meddle too much usually – was her accomplice in this, because he happened to be here when she got this wild hair up her ass. He giddily went along with this in his childless-naivety, because anything that makes my mother happy makes him happy. And, of course, no one called me.
Theoretically, the dog was to provide companionship; someone to keep my mother company in the ridiculously too-big-for-just-her house she refuses to sell and as motivation for her to exercise. The dog has since become a replacement for my deceased grandmother – a cover for my mother’s agoraphobic tendencies. And, given that the dog looks like a giant, fuzzy marshmallow about to explode under its own weight, I think we can safely rule out exercise, no? (I felt so bad for the dog, I once took him for a run with me – at least until he sat down while I was mid-stride. How I didn’t break my neck tripping over him I will never know. And, I’m pretty sure he told me to fuck off with his eyes as I dragged him back to the car.)
Anyway … I don’t take my daughter over to my mother’s house anymore unless it is absolutely unavoidable, because the dog freaks her out and makes a huge mess of my mother’s house. There’s nothing fun about dealing with a stressed-out kid who then has to get into your car wearing a furry blanket of dirty fur that smells vaguely of pee. Especially when said daughter is not what you’d describe as “cooperative” when it comes to bathing.
Yes, the dog is put outside while my daughter visits. But, as it turns out, the dog has seizures. The last thing I want is for my daughter to see a dog having a seizure. If she’s terrified of dogs as it is, can you imagine? There is also no way I’m ever leaving my mother alone with my daughter and an epileptic dog. That such a situation is not good is pretty damn obvious, I think. [Pointing to elephant sitting in corner…]
All this is the backstory necessary to give context to what happened a few days ago. At the completely independent suggestions of both my therapist and my sister’s therapist, my sister and I had an intervention with my mother. The purpose of the intervention was to ask my mother to make a choice: either see her psychiatrist and start managing her bipolar disorder, narcissism and agoraphobia again – in which case we will support her to the best of our abilities – or don’t do anything – in which case, we will choose not to have a relationship with her, because neither my sister nor I are compelled to watch her slowly kill herself. To the contrary, we have a right to extricate ourselves from such a thing, both for our own benefit as well as the benefit of our families. As my therapist said to me, no one has a moral obligation to support a loved one – even a parent – in his or her poor choices. If my mother is not willing to choose life, she is in fact choosing not to have a relationship with us.
Sounds reasonable, right? Sounds logical? You have no idea how impossible it is to believe this when you are talking about your parent. Or maybe you do have an idea, in which case, you know it is unbelievably, gut-wrenchingly hard. You know what’s harder? Sitting across from your mother in the living room of her foul-smelling, filthy house and saying these things to her face. Listening to her make excuse after excuse about how none of her behavior is her own fault. Hearing her “justify” her reasonless and haphazard spending as an adult with a potential life span of another 20-30 years but a working life-span of maybe another five, by saying that my sister and I spent money with abandon when we were in college, and she didn’t get on our cases about it. (Never mind that she should have, FFS). Trying to stop yourself from violently shaking common sense into her as she points out every injustice committed against her – real or perceived – as a “reason” for why we are in no position to ask or tell her to do anything now. Feeling the crushing pain of hearing her say that you are an adult, so she doesn’t “have to be your mother anymore.” Hearing her say she “needs” to keep the behemoth, dilapidated house with a yard she can’t manage and that creates bills she can’t afford because our brother will not have a place to stay when he comes “home,” as if he wouldn’t rather stay in a dog-hair, poop-stain free hotel. Containing the sheer frustration of her refusal to take any medication because it makes her sick to her stomach – as if the alternative isn’t worse?
The final blow for me – the one from which I probably can never recover, from which I will never find peace, for which I can never, ever forgive her – all of her “isms” and “phobias” aside – came from this exchange:
Me: I want to be clear about why I don’t bring [redacted] here anymore. It is because of the dog. I wish you had consulted me before you got a dog, but …
Mom: [Interrupting] Did you consult me before you got a cat? I shouldn’t have to consult you. It’s my life.
Me: Well, Mom, you’re not autistic, are you? You aren’t afraid of cats, are you? And, we got the cat, which is now dead, before [redacted] was even born. But, I’m pretty sure that if you had a fear of cats, I wouldn’t have gotten one if it prevented you from enjoying yourself at my house.
Mom: [crying] I miss my granddaughter! (I should pause here for a minute to say that my mother has gotten her way a lot in her life by crying. That shit does not work on me. I was a bit of a crier myself when I was a hormonal teenager, but since then, my sister’s nickname for me has become “Tink-tink,” which she says while pointing to her heart. The more emotionally charged a situation gets, the more objective and cold I get. [Unless there’s straight anger involved, in which case, I am afflicted with the unfortunate anger-cry disease, often misconstrued as weakness, much to the regret of those who misconstrue it.] So, this calculated emotional performance is about to have the opposite of my mother’s desired effect…)
Me: [Inside my head: Then you shouldn’t have adopted the mother fucking dog!] [Speaking] We live four miles away. Does it ever occur to you to come to our house? Do you have any idea what a project it is to take [redacted] anywhere – how upsetting that is to her routine? I can’t just “swing by” for a cup of coffee when she’s with me, which is all of the time.
Mom: Well, I’m sure she sees [her other grandparents] at their house.
Me: Yes, about once a month. And, they don’t have a dog.
Mom: Well that’s twelve more times than I see her!
Me: Actually, that’s about 36 times more, because – you know what? - they come to our house the other three weekends per month!
Mom: Not without calling first, they don’t!
Me: [Dumbfounded at this left turn.] Uh, you’re right. They call first. What’s your point? Your phone doesn’t work? You can’t call me and say, “Hey, feel like a cup of coffee?” or “I don’t care what you’re doing, I’m coming to play with my granddaughter”?
Mom: Well, you guys are always busy, and you’re so short with me on the phone …
Me: Seriously? Have you ever even read a book about autism, Mom? Have you done any Internet research, read a blog, talked to someone in special education, a doctor? Anything? Anything to try to understand what goes on in our lives?
Me: [My in-laws] have. And even though they sometimes annoy me, at least [my father-in-law] has read enough to know that if he calls [redacted] every night and has her talk to him on the phone, it helps her build her social communication skills. So, he does it. Every night. Like clockwork. Do I love having to talk to him every night? Not really. But, do I love that he loves his granddaughter so much that he does that for her? Absolutely.
Mom: I’ve offered to help!
Me: You offer to help, but then you expect me to help you help. I can’t do it, Mom. I give all my energy to my kids, and everyone else around me – you, you [pointing to my sister], [my husband] and my in-laws – all have to take responsibility for your relationships with the kids. Educate yourselves. Find you own way. If you want to “help,” have a relationship with your granddaughter on her terms.
Mom: [crying] I would do any … [looks at dog lying on floor] … practically anything to have her here.
I have reflected now for two days on this conversation. My heart is growing blacker and blacker. This isn’t about whether my mother should keep or euthanize the dog. I have my own feelings about that, which are completely independent of my mother’s mental health, except that the dog is going to die – relatively soon – and I have no doubt that my mother will need to be committed shortly after.
This is about how terribly, terribly selfish she is. She never considered her granddaughter before getting a dog. She won’t accommodate her granddaughter’s autism by driving the four fucking miles to our house to see her granddaughter. She has no concept of why it’s not a good idea to expose her granddaughter to a dog prone to violent seizures. My mother doesn’t even understand why it isn’t a good idea to expose herself to a seizure-prone dog.
But what hurts me, saddens me, frightens me, and angers me the most is my mother’s complete inability to see outside her own little world. I have two children who need and deserve my emotional and financial support. My daughter may need me to care for her – physically and emotionally – for the rest of my life (and to ensure she has those needs as close to met as possible when her father and I are gone). I have a deep moral, ethical and philosophical responsibility to ensure that my son is never burdened – financially or otherwise – with his sister’s care, whether that means ensuring he has every opportunity for higher education or ensuring his peace of mind that his sister is cared for in our absence. Loving my son and my daughter means (among other things) that they always get to choose their relationship – whatever it may be when they are grown – not that they need it because of dependence.
My mother has known – for many, many years – that she’s not been blessed with an ability to age gracefully. Even with proper medical care, there is a strong likelihood that she will live her senior years with emotional and physical pain. It is inevitable that she will require some type of skilled-nursing/assisted living environment. Yet, she’s done NOTHING to prepare for this, leaving the burden of planning, funding and supervising to her children. In fact, my mother has done this even after living through the burden of caring for her mother for the last twelve years of her life and witnessing first-hand the financial and emotional toll of her health care and death.
Indeed, despite that my mother will leave me the Hobson’s choice of caring for her or caring for my children; of leaving my sister to shoulder the financial and temporal burden of my mother alone (or Heaven help her – with my brother) or leaving my husband the financial and temporal responsibility of caring for our children alone so I can help my sister. These aren’t choices if choice implies any freedom of selection. But, these especially are not choices that any parent should ask, expect or leave a son or daughter to make.
Interestingly, in my last session with my therapist, I left agitated because my therapist suggested that I hadn’t considered the possibility that my father loves me in spite of his bad behavior and poor choices. As I’ve thought more about my mother, though, I have acknowledged the possibility that my therapist is right. Perhaps his decision to extricate himself from my life was an act of love – perverted though it may be – because he chose not to impose on me the burden of his care or his inability to be even a fraction of what his father was to me for my children. My heart – having long since repaired the fracture of his absence – cares not. But, it is possible to make my mind believe this. And that, my dear Alanis, is ironic.