June 3, 2010

An Open Wound

I've never been a huge fan of overly confessional blogs as they can reflect self-indulgence on the part of the writer and voyeurism on the reader's part. It's a fine line to walk, but with strong self-policing skills developed throughout my entire adult life, I like to think I've limited my public displays of self-indulgence. Have I always been successful? Hell no, and as a result I've made a spectacular ass of myself upon occasion, both online and in real life. Probably four years into my old blog's six-year run, I began to password-protect certain entries as a way to increase the personal nature of my online writing while at the same time maintaining the illusion of privacy. It wasn't something I did often, but in the end it satisfied my needs.

As this blog is not the blog of a person who once published a large and influential website but is instead one of hundreds of thousands of blogs by individuals whose circles are substantially smaller, I have the "luxury" of sharing, upon occasion, some intimate details of my life without fear that they are being read by a great many people. In fact, on a daily basis there are maybe 15 who will read what I write here. Which is why I can relate a recent incident in my life that once I would have been too embarrassed to share with anyone. Indeed, only my husband and daughter...and three people at work...know about it. Until now. If my daughter, husband, and I had not worked as hard as we've worked in the past three and a half years to better our lives, I would not have learned the lesson that I am often embarrassed not by the things I do, but by the things that are done - or not done - to me by others. In other words, I accept shame that belongs to others because I somehow "deserve" what they did or did not do to me.

That fine line I mentioned earlier still applies, and I will attempt to give some history without doing damage. My father died when I was in my mid-20s. While we were never as close as he was with my older sister, I thought we had resolved outstanding issues during the last several months of his life, during which time my husband and I worked all week, got on a plane Friday evening, flew to Los Angeles, and spent the weekend (usually at the hospital) visiting before returning to Dallas late Sunday to do it all again, and again, and again, and again...

A couple of years ago it was made painfully clear to me that none of that mattered; although I was unaware of it for years, my father did something in the last months of his life that expressed his displeasure with me in a way that tied into what was most important to him. My mother apparently did not know what my father had done for some time and in recent years has tried to fix it as best she can, but regardless of whether or not it all works out as she promises in the end, what I am left with is something every child secretly fears: the knowledge that they are loved less than a sibling by a parent.

Since I came into this knowledge two years ago, it's effected my relationships with my mother and my sister. Because of my pain and anger, I began to communicate less with both. It's not their fault, it's mine - just as what my father did was his fault and not mine because he was the adult and I was the child and any "fixing" of relationships should have come from him.

This pulling back didn't happen all at once. The realization occurred during a time when my mom needed her daughters to help her through a painful surgery with a long recovery period. We came together as a family because we needed to...and I treasure that time of closeness. But then my life got messier and my sister's life got messier and I could no longer deal with her messes and instead pulled inward, which is what I do.

That's my sister...what has that got to do with my mom? For starters, she's a difficult person. I'm a difficult person too. Anyone who knows me knows this - it's no surprise. But she's also been incredibly generous, paying untold thousands for private schools and wilderness programs. When I began to hold my sister at arm's length, it automatically, by default, happened with my mom as well, because of their co-dependent relationship. And the more I heard, "Why don't you call your sister?", the less inclined I was to call either. Throughout a series of unfortunate family events in 2009 it became apparent to my husband and me that we needed to further disengage from my sister. But because of all of my family's intertwined screwed-up-ness and boundary issues, I also pulled back from my mother...again...some more.

All of which fed into the existing anger I had over my mother's forgetting my wedding anniversary, my husband's birthday, and my own birthday last year. She called and apologized the day after my birthday, explaining that because of her surgery the year before, she'd never properly organized her calendar for 2009. Because she'd been having some memory problems and because she was still at the tail end of her recovery from neck surgery, I let it go. But while continuing to feel immense gratitude for her help in paying for school, I unfortunately held onto some of the anger.

This year my wedding anniversary occurred while we were visiting our daughter in Utah. Because I hadn't been calling my mom frequently enough, I tried to let it slide when she once again forgot to call or send a card or gift. That was in March, and though I tried to let it slide, I took out my anger by continuing to call only infrequently. I did talk to her the day before Mother's Day when she received the flowers I sent her, at which time I wished her a Happy Mother's Day a day in advance, discussed with her the plans she had with my sister's family the next day, and told her I'd be working Mother's Day. I did not call on the day itself. Should I have called? Honestly, at this point I'm not sure. But a week later my husband's birthday came and went, again without recognition from my mom.

My mother has two daughters and one son-in-law. She has precisely one child's wedding anniversary and the birthdays of two children to remember. While all this anger in me built and built (beginning with our missed anniversary), I continued not to call my mom even though I've been blessed by her generosity, but on Sunday I finally called, found out how she was, talked about her macular degeneration, her plans for a vacation shortly after ours later this summer, which includes a visit with her, and put her on the phone with Rachael for a few moments. I gave her plenty of opportunity to remember that the next day was my birthday, but Monday came and went without a phone call from my mom. I heard from all of my husband's relatives, and lots of friends, but nothing from my mom. And nothing on Tuesday and Wednesday as well - no call, not even a card in the mail.

Obviously I brought part of this on myself because I chose to pull back from family out of pain and instead avoided sharing my true feelings. My need for self-preservation caused me to avoid my family without explaining myself because, like most of us, I don't enjoy confrontation. I know this hurt them, but I've not quite figured out how to pull back appropriately without pulling away entirely. Perhaps I even set myself up for it by talking to my mom the day before Mother's Day but not on the day itself, and maybe I confused her when we spoke the day before my birthday. But I hold certain things sacrosanct, and birthdays of siblings, parents, and children are among them. If this was a test, she failed.

The old me would have been horrified to share this information, with the thought process something like this: "Wow...Laurie must have been a really bad daughter for her mother not to remember her birthday. I can't imagine what kind of things she's done if her mother forgot her birthday." I am no longer that person. Yes, she made it possible for us to care for our daughter. Yes, I know her memory isn't what it used to be, but she does keep a calander. When I told Rachael how upset I was - all the while realizing I don't want her to have bad feelings about my mother because of it - she tried to appease me and suggested, "Maybe she thought she said happy birthday to you on the phone Sunday and so didn't call Monday," but that only works for the call...what about a card? As for my husband, his, "I thought you already accepted the reality of how your mother feels about you" made me want to lash out at him. Yes, intellectually I understand this, but emotionally, stupid, sad little me wants mommy to remember the day I came out of her birth canal and into this world. My guess is that if his mother forgot his birthday, it would screw mightily with his head.

And so, I sit here with an open, raw wound, sharing it with you in the hopes that writing it down will allow me to put it out there in the world and forget about it. I risk being amazingly, incredibly self-indulgent (and conflicted because of all the monetary help she's provided over the years) because I want to know...is it too much to ask that a mother not forget her daughter's birthday?


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