I’m a mama’s girl but I’ve been so angry and frustrated with my mama lately. Until about two months ago we spoke from twenty minutes to an hour each day. But I’ve been falling in lust, and while hormones swirl in my body leaving me elated and joyful when I think of my lover, I become simultaneously agitated and detached the moment my thoughts turn to my mother. To make it even worse, now she has breast cancer and it feels like everyone is waiting for me to step up, but there isn’t a single cell in my body that can worry or give a single shit about my mother’s life or her tits. Tomorrow she’s having a partial mastectomy and we will find out if the cancer has spread to her bones or to her lymphatic system. I feel petty, and twelve, and feel that she is being melodramatic and that she enjoys the attention. I mean, why wouldn’t she, it’s not exactly like she has a lot of friends or attention in her life. Most of the attention comes from my siblings and myself and I’ve been less than a doting daughter these past few months. I would have had money to take time off work and care for her but I decided to go to Idapalooza and think about what my life would be like if I decided to live a little bit differently. Still, my thoughts return to my mother and this time they are a lit bit softer. She must be really frightened.
My mom likes to remind me that the reason she had kids was so that she would have someone to take care of her when she got old. This makes me furious.
“That’s what a 401K is for, Mom!” I know that this is preposterous and does not make any sense in my culture. It’s the cycle of life, kids care for their parents when they are no longer able to care for themselves, unfortunately all this started for me when I was still just a kid myself. I asked her two weeks ago if she had told my tía and tío about the cancer.
”No! I’m just going to wait until they call me to ask me to baby sit and say ‘No! I can’t babysit! I have cancer!”
Normally I would be amused by her melodramatic antics but when I was a child my uncle stepped in to care for me when my mother or sister could not, and this last winter my tío and tía helped me care for my mother for months when she was raving mad. They helped me sneak out so that I could take time for myself. They helped me insure that she was med compliant every night when she was delusional, and blessed my ass and tits with holy water because she was sure I was being raped by demons in the night. It seems like they deserve a phone call.
I know my mother has psychological disabilities and I have them too. Although, thankfully, my disabilities allow me to function at a high capacity: I’ll take run of the mill depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation over visual and auditory hallucinations any old day. At least I know that all the cruel voices in my head are my own. I decided a long time ago that I would not have children because I would not want them to experience the neglect that I did when my parents were too sick to care for me or when symptoms of their illness resulted in psychological abuse. I am not saying that people with psychological disabilities should not have children, I’m saying that maybe my parents shouldn’t have.
My fourteen year old niece gets straight As and my mother likes to tell her that she had better not let her grades slip; that my sister, brother and I got terrible grades, which makes me furious. My brother witnessed the anger rising in my throat at the breakfast table as we all sat around in our jammies having coffee and pan dulce, and interjected:
“Well, we were all very smart, it’s just than Gracielda has a lot of structure in her life. Graci has what she needs to succeed in school.” says my brother. A bit of the anger dissipates. Someone sees me. My brother understands. It feels impossible for me to separate the neglect that was a result of my mother’s own disabilities from what was a result of carelessness and bad decision making. When I look back at my marriage and all the mistakes I’ve made, I have a difficult time telling the difference between behavior that was a result of clinical depression, and mistakes I made because I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I know that mental illness and disability is often conflated with laziness and that’s not right, but my whole life I’ve struggled with thoughts that I was stupid and lazy. It’s been very confusing: As a kid I was always placed in ‘honors’ or ‘gifted’ classes but failed them miserably because I couldn’t keep track of assignments, or because my mother kept me home, or I was too scared or anxious to go to school, or we didn’t have paper or pencils, or supervision, or whatever it was I needed, to complete my assignments. When I grew up and went to college I had similar problems, and this helped to reinforce the idea that I was ‘bad at school.’
When I was five I was placed in a school for children with learning disabilities. The children were dyslexic, had processing problems and ADD. I literally rode the short bus to school. I could tell that the adults around me were ashamed that I went to this special school. Eventually my mother removed me and placed me in a regular school where I was picked on. I was a perfect target: a poor, smart, fat, depressed kid who missed lots of school, was eager to be liked, had low self-esteem and a chronic case of head lice.
So when I think about the sweet little girl that I was, I think about how I wasn’t getting the care that I needed, and how that’s affected my entire life: the relationships I chose, my inability to accept gifts or kindness because I think I do not deserve them, the terrible challenges of performing basic self-care tasks like bathing, brushing my teeth, and cooking for myself. I struggle with these things and it makes me angry and sad that even with twenty-five years of practice they are still a struggle. These were all areas in which both of my parents struggled.
I get very irritated at people who sit around and blame their parents for their low self-esteem, their eating disorders, etc. I hate when my sister complains that she didn’t get a childhood because she had to start taking care of me when she was seven, but it’s true: she wrote all of my notes and even attended my parent teacher conferences. I don’t like those people who complain about their shitty childhoods because I am one of them. I want to kick them all in the teeth and give them a healthy dose of “shut the fuck up, stop whining!” and “grow the fuck up, nobody gives a shit about you!” And “you (by which I mean ‘I’) should just be able to hold it together without crying about the tiny injustices of the past!”
Most of the time, almost all of the time before two months ago, I could see my mother with tenderness and compassion. A lot of the time I can look at my mother with compassion and see that she was my age when I was born, that she probably also has ADD, and that she feels helpless, like managing everyday life is nearly impossible. I am her primary emotional support system, and though I am still able to be gentle with her, she has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is having surgery tomorrow and I’m finding it difficult to find concern and compassion.
Some part of me says what I need is just a healthy dose of forgiveness, which, I swear, on most days I am full of. But these days I am just filled with anger and fear that I will have to care for her always and forever, and never get any care or learn to care for myself. I don’t know what to do with my anger. I don’t know what to do with my frustration and irritation. These emotions feel foreign to me. Many people comment on my sweet and caring disposition. I think in situations when most people get angry I feel only hurt and depressed. I need to learn how to express and feel anger. For now, it feels like I need to learn forgiveness. Perhaps if I can let go of the hurt and anger that I feel for my mother I can learn to be more kind and gentle with myself.