Mothers

I sent my mom an email last night, recapping the results of my genetic tests. I told her that I had really wanted to talk to her last night and didn’t think I would have much chance in the next few weeks for a phone call because I am so busy right now and juggling so many things.

She sent me a text today after she read it, apologizing for not being available to talk last night and saying that she misunderstood how much I really wanted to talk. She apologized repeatedly and said that she would be willing to drop everything to talk to me if she knew how badly I needed it.

I appreciated her apologies and we’ll see if anything changes in the future. I’d like to say that I believe her and that things will be good in our relationship going forward, but I’ve been burned by this hope so many times before over the years. We keep trying to repair our relationship but some of these issues are so deeply entrenched. She is the reason that I always open up my heart to trust people too easily and nearly always end up getting hurt by them.

But in the spirit of Mother’s Day coming up, I’ve got a lot more to say about mothers, and I don’t dare write any of this in an article where either my mother or my mother-in-law might read it.

Mother’s Day is always difficult for me. Even though my mom and I are trying to fix our relationship (and a lot of that comes down to me learning to accept her as she is and stop trying to have expectations of her), choosing Mother’s Day cards in particular is an annual source of a great deal of pain for me. This year, I had the extra challenge of having to pick out a Mother’s Day card for my mother-in-law, with whom my relationship is painful and difficult in completely different ways.

Mother’s Day cards speak to what I believe is a minority of adult mother-child relationships, describing the relationships as warm best friendships that you rely heavily upon, sources of endless support and selfless giving on the mother’s part. I know these kind of adult mother-child relationships exist because I’ve observed them. I think that millions of us–men and women alike–yearn for this kind of mother-child relationship and its absence creates a mother wound that on some level we spend our whole lives grappling with. (And it’s ridiculously hard to find a Mother’s Day card that basically just says “Happy Mother’s Day, I hope you have a good day, and I love you.”)

I am wrestling so much with my mother-in-law’s relationship with her son–forget how she feels about me. We used to be close and of course, I miss that, but our lack of closeness pales in comparison to how I feel about her failure to step up and be the mother that J deserves now. I am actually seething with unexpressed rage about the way she is handling everything.

I think she knows that J’s cancer is terminal. (If she didn’t before, one of her other family members who are still on my FB list surely saw the article I wrote about our marriage and the probable outcome of his cancer and told her.) If there was ever a time to show your love for your child, it should be when they have a terminal illness, but she is not changing a thing.

I don’t know how much J wants me to write about his relationship with his mom, so I hope I don’t screw anything up. Basically, she was a single mom until he was 7, and he remembers a remarkable amount about his early years. He remembers her as being fun and warm, even though she was very young and very poor. Then she married his stepdad, who was violently abusive to him, and everything changed.

They still had some type of bond despite this, but his mom broke his trust repeatedly in his teens by sharing the things he had told her in confidence with her friends and family members all across the country. Eventually, he just stopped sharing anything,

By the time we got married, she would call us nearly every Saturday morning at some ungodly early hour because of her repeated, rude failure to account for the facts that we were a time zone earlier than her and that we worked second shift. We didn’t even get home from work until after midnight, yet she insisted on calling us at 6 am because she was a morning person. I remember dreading those calls because she and J would get in screaming matches every time about politics. It was such a stressful way to begin every weekend.

They never got along about politics, but for several years, they could still manage to have some communication anyway by just avoiding that topic. Sometimes, she’d still bring it up anyway, but J could sidestep it to avoid fighting.

Now, there’s basically no way they can have a conversation at all anymore because she has gone totally off the deep end in pretty much every way. She’s barely recognizable as the same person. On so many topics, she is completely divorced from reality, in a way that makes it impossible to reason with her. There’s no such thing as “agreeing to disagree.” There’s really no way at all to have a normal conversation with her anymore; each call is just listening to a one-sided rant for an hour.

She’s always been incredibly self-absorbed and narcissistic (and I don’t use that term lightly), but she’s gotten so much worse in recent years. She has some health problems that in my opinion she makes WAY too big of a deal about and feels so incredibly sorry for herself. If you do have a conversation with her, she most likely will never get around to asking you anything about yourself, let alone allow you to get a word in edgewise. Either she doesn’t really care to know or she just wants to make sure you know every detail about her health.

She rarely asks J about how he’s doing, even with the cancer. She almost never asks about me or the kids, either; it’s like we don’t exist in her world. And despite the fact that she and I had a falling-out a couple of years ago, I really don’t think that’s why she doesn’t ask about us. I think she’s too wrapped up in herself and her health dramas to think about anyone else. (Never mind that J has fucking stage IV cancer and I have two progressive genetic diseases; they can’t compare to her concerns about her own health.)

When she does say anything to J about his cancer, she’s always suggesting some already disproven crackpot “cures” for cancer like lemon water or baking soda and maple syrup. (Just because something kills cancer cells in a petri dish does not mean it will actually cure cancer in humans.) It’s like she’s scouring YouTube for the cancer version of those people who believe in weird bullshit theories and call everybody “sheeple.”

I understand that she’s probably terrified when it comes to his cancer. No parent ever wants to outlive their child. I am compassionate about that fact. (Though I am also very worried about how she’ll react whenever he does die, because I predict that she’ll even further lose her grasp on reality.) But the way that it’s manifesting is the exact opposite of helpful and caring.

I’m just guessing here, but I think that what J probably wants from his mom now is for her to just ask him about how he’s doing. Express some sympathy for what he’s going through, taking chemo and still continuing to work full-time and then some. Tell him that he’s doing a great job and is being so strong. But she never does, nor does she ask him if he needs anything from her, and I just think it’s so fucking sad that it breaks my heart.

She can’t seem to see beyond the end of her nose to the fact that her youngest child probably only has a few years left. (I HOPE it will be a few years.) These are the times when she could be making memories and trying to rebuild and strengthen their bond, so that she has some happy things to reflect on when he’s gone. But she’s not doing any of that. She is very literally wasting precious time and honestly that makes me so sad that I feel nauseated.

He already said that he dreads having to call her on Mother’s Day because he has no idea what kind of conversational landmine, completely detached from reality, he’ll be confronting. There are no Mother’s Day cards for that kind of relationship or situation.

When I look at him and when he talks about his mom, I see the little boy inside him that he once was. Being a mom myself, I also think about when my own kids were that small. I didn’t always get things right, either. But dammit, I keep trying to improve and to meet my kids’ needs, because I don’t ever want them to dread calling me on Mother’s Day.

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