Burning bridges

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(This is a really long, self-serving bit of cathartic writing. Feel free to ignore)

Many of you, who have kept up with me over these past few years, know that my family background is…diverse. Having been adopted at the age of 2 into a marriage that ended in divorce a handful of years later, only to have yet a new “mother” in my life by age 6…well…that gets messy eventually. All told, there are three women in my life who hold the moniker “mom” or “mother” in some way, shape or form. Add in a doting foster mother and it makes four.

Thankfully, there is only one person whom I call “dad.”
For years, the woman who generally raised me from age 6, has been my go-to mom, both out of respect and love. To keep things simple, let’s call her Mom #3. She has been there for me when I was hurt, both physically and mentally and I know that at any time I could call on her, and she would be there. But none of us are perfect. I’m certainly not and I’ll be happy to provide anyone who asks, with a litany of my shortcomings.

Despite my love and respect for my “mom,” it has not been an easy relationship. Since day one, I’ve had to deal with her jealousy of other “women.” As a child, if my brother and I spent a weekend with our adopted mom (who divorced us a few years after our adoption), more often than not when we returned home, we’d be greeted with silence from Mom #3. Her method of dealing with things was to walk away from it—just push it away until she could come to terms. This was also how she dealt with misbehavior from my brother and me, as well as her marital disappointment with my dad. I remember one especially bad spell when I was younger. It had been about a week since we’d gotten any meaningful communication from Mom #3. I don’t remember what happened, but whatever it was, it didn’t warrant such a protracted silent treatment. And much like my older son, I was a very emotionally sensitive child. Something happened at school and I just broke down and ended up in the Counselor’s office where I just remember blubbering about what was going on at home. They called my brother in to corroborate and when he did, I remember them talking in hushed tones about calling our house. Both my brother and I flipped out and begged them not to. They said they wouldn’t, but as I look back, I would imagine they had a duty to and probably did anyway.

This cycle of behavior extended in my early adulthood. When I got married, my soon-to-be bride and her mother spent endless cycles trying to figure out how to seat all my different “moms” in the church just so Mom #3 wouldn’t get upset. They didn’t do the typical groom dance with the mother for fear of offending anyone and Mom #3 in particular. At the one bridal event that Mom #2 was invited to, Mom #3 got up and walked out. Couldn’t even be in the same room with her. And that’s how it’s been.

Mom #3 lives about 3.5 hours away, so going up and seeing her is not exactly a weekend trip you want to make with three kids too often. When we do go, CareerMom and I do pretty much the same thing we do at home, which is constantly watch the kids. Only, we do it without much help from the Grandparents. She never plans anything for the kids. She never cooks anything special for the kids. She never buys “gifts” for the kids outside of birthday or Christmas. In short, she treats them much like she treated me…kids should be seen, and not heard. When she does play with them, it’s forced and more often than not, as she’s trying to hold them and force them to be “lovey” with her, they end up crying and clawing their way out of her reach.

Things began coming to a head this past summer when we invited them to spend a week with us in a condo at the beach. The plan was for us all to arrive on Tuesday and stay until Saturday. Most of Mom #3’s family is down around Mobile near the beach, so they went on early and did the family round-robin and joined us Tuesday evening. That evening and most of the next day CareerMom and I spent with the kids—alternating between the pool and the beach. Mom #3 appeared sporadically, never really joining us, only watching from afar. Late Wednesday afternoon, an aunt came by and everyone got in the pool together. Mom #3 alternated between whispering with her sister and grabbing at my youngest son and trying to make him play with her. He finally began yelling at her to leave him alone and it got so bad that CareerMom finally had to step in and tell her to “Let go!”

Things went downhill from there.

I headed upstairs to start dinner. Mom #3 came up later and locked herself in her room-her husband clearly mad, banged on the door for her to let him in, which she finally did. An hour later, dinner was ready and they were still in their room, so my family began eating. A few minutes into dinner, Mom #3 appears with her bags packed and announced, “We’re leaving.” I followed them to the door in shock to see what was going on and was told, “We’re having problems and we don’t want to ruin ya’ll’s vacation.” And with that, she left. Didn’t hug the kids…didn’t even tell them “we had a great time and we love you.” Just walked away. I called her the next day, because they’d left with our camera, and expressed my displeasure, which was met with more of the same martyr-like speak I’d come to expect and we both hung up.

Fast forward to three weeks ago, acting as if nothing had happened over the summer, Mom #3 calls out of the blue and asked if they could come down. Trying to just “let it go” I heartily welcomed them. It was her birthday on Saturday, so I got a cake; the kids made a card; really, I was trying to make her comfortable and happy.

They came in this past Friday night and everyone acted civilly—no problems. Saturday, we all went to my older son’s football game and Saturday night, I bought VIP tickets to the Stone Mountain Laser Show. The VIP tickets allowed us all to sit in seats rather than on blankets on the ground like the rest of the masses. Both Mom #3 and her husband have health issues and I was hoping to make it all more comfortable. We were seated down a short hill and Mom #3 mentioned to me that she’d left her Asthma inhaler at home (along with her purse/phone) and that when we left, she was going to be really slow coming up the hill so that we should all just go on. Around 9:40 p.m., we all decided to head back to the car a bit early. Both my youngest son and daughter were asleep anyway and literally, there were probably 10K people there and if we didn’t leave early, we’d get stuck in traffic and get home at midnight. I carried my son and CareerMom grabbed my daughter and some bags, leaving just a cooler and a blanket for Mom #3. We headed up the hill and I looked back a couple of times to make sure they were OK, which they were. So CareerMom and I headed back to the car, which was a straight-shot walk from where we were seated. Arriving at the car, we got everyone settled and I stepped out to look for Mom and her husband. They never showed. For the next hour, I walked all around the park, back and forth three times from our car to our seats, looking for them. I called my aunt hoping she’d be able to give me Mom’s husband’s cell, but she wasn’t home. I finally found them wandering around a parking lot around 10:30.

Obviously, I was frustrated at this point, but upon seeing them, I walked up, took the cooler from her husband and said, “Well, at least you’re OK!” We’d seen a couple of ambulances go roaring past, and not having any way to communicate with them, had no idea if they were OK or not. Now, when I get aggravated, I get quiet, and I remained quiet on the ride home. When we did get home around 11:30, we all piled out of the car, CareerMom and me carrying sleeping children to bed. When we came back downstairs, Mom and her husband had retired to their room.

Sunday morning, my family was up, as usual early. Mom #3 came upstairs around 8 a.m. and sat, stone-faced, on the couch. I offered coffee, which she refused, stating, “No, we’ll get some on the road.” She got up off the couch and started walking to the door. I followed and said, “Come on, you’re going to leave?” And she said, “Well it’s obvious we’re not wanted here.” I replied, “So, when things get hard, you’re just going to leave, like you did at the beach? You’re going to let your being upset with me, get in the way of you spending time with the kids?”  She said, “Well, they didn’t want to spend time with me at the beach, and they haven’t here either. I asked Ethan yesterday who I was to him and he didn’t know. I asked him who his grandmother was and he said, “Not you!”

The conversation followed with me getting more and more incredulous. I finally said, “You can’t expect to have a relationship with them when you spend 24 hours with them every 4 months!” To which she replied, “Well, you never come see me! You give everything to everyone else, but I get nothing.” I stood there just aghast, groping at what to say next when she continued her tirade. I tried to interrupt and couldn’t until finally, I said loudly, “Can I talk?”

Oh no…

She then said, “Don’t you raise your voice at me and treat me like one of your kids. You treat your wife and kids like shit and I wouldn’t talk to anyone like you do them!”
I quietly said, “You need to leave. Right now.”

“I am leaving,” she said and as she walked out, she continued, “I’m not going to let you talk bad about me and make me feel bad like you did your father.” And with that, she left. I returned to the living room where her husband and my family sat, listening and I told her husband, “I’ve asked her to leave.” He hopped up and started walking out and I said, “Can I talk to you for a second” hoping to have a second and tell him that I appreciated him and that the kids loved him like a grandfather and that I hoped he remembered that in years to come, but he wouldn’t stop and talk to me. He just said goodbye and left.

I stood there just devasted. Not because she’d left, but because of what she said. I walked back to where my wife sat and asked her to come up to our room to talk. She’d not heard the full conversation, only when I’d raised my voice. I told her what my mom had said and she too was shocked.

For the next day and a half, we would both re-run the weekend through our heads and tried to figure out where all this hate and vitriol came from. At no point had I raised my voice at my kids over the weekend and beyond just telling them to “stop this” or “stop that,” I’d said nothing bad to them. And certainly, my wife and I hadn’t had any back and forth that would have contributed to my “treating her badly.”

I later called my dad and asked if there was any validity to what she’d said about me and him and he was incredulous as well, saying that it was quite to the contrary. He finished his comment up by saying, “And anyway, how would she know?” (Mom #3 divorced my dad a few months after I graduated from high school and joined the military. Before the divorce was over, she was bringing her current husband to family functions.)
I have done everything I can think of to make sure there isn’t a grain of truth to Mom #3’s accusations. I know I’m not perfect. I have yelled at my kids. When I get angry, the kids know to get out of my way, but not because I’ve ever hit them…only because when I get angry and my voice gets deep, I can seem larger than life. Most of us could say the same of our own fathers.

Even today, I’m at a loss. How something so hateful can come out of a person who preaches God and love, is both appalling and cliche’ at the same time. What I think is most surprising to me, is how her husband acted on the way out. Maybe he was just supporting her, or maybe she’s filled his head with her nonsense too. If so, I feel awful. I’m sure, as time goes by, the aunts, uncles and cousins that I grew up with, will all be spoon-fed her side of the story and that I will become the black-sheep—never knowing how much more to the story there really is.

But when it is all said and done, it makes you stop and evaluate all of your relationships. Maybe I’ll be a little more patient with my kids in an attempt at preventing a self-fulfilling criticism. Maybe I’ll cut Mom #2 a bit more slack because after all, despite the things my brother and I endured during her time, she has changed and she, more than any other, makes an effort. She remembers birthdays, anniversaries and sometimes “just becauses.” We’re going to see my dad in a few weeks and I’m sure I will cherish our relationship all the more for it.

But for Mom #3, there is no coming back from what she said. I can forgive, but I won’t forget. I won’t let her poison my kids, my marriage or my thoughts. The loss, is hers. She has no other children, or grandchildren. She has only her miserable work and her husband. The rest of her family is 500 miles away. I don’t wish her ill, but I hope she woke up today and realized the horror of what she’s done.

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2 thoughts on “Burning bridges

    pamajama said:
    September 13, 2011 at 9:44 pm

    I didn’t think this was really long at all and I’m so glad I didn’t take your advice and ignore it. God, Chris, this breaks my heart for you. I get the sense that sometimes you feel like using your blog to express some of the childhood stuff you experienced is self-serving or selfish or shouldn’t be necessary since it’s in the past. But you know me, and I’m sure you know I would disagree completely with that assessment. A friend of mine who spent most of his childhood in foster care called me recently after seeing an episode on TV where an older man was begging to “go home.” It sent him into a tailspin. My theory is you can overcome things but you never leave it completely behind.

    What this woman did to you is so unforgivable. She has taken her own neuroses and directed it at you for most of your life, never putting you first or doing the job of a mother but expecting the rewards. Then to think she continues to expect you to jump through hoops so she can complain once more and convince you that there is something wrong with you, never with her, makes me spitting mad. She did what she knew would hurt the most, she attacked your vulnerabilities, the places where you questioni yourself . . . and she knows what she’s doing, she’s a master of manipulation.

    A child who grew up with healthy parents who taught them boundaries and acceptance would never have bent over backwards to please anyone while disregarding their own wants and needs and feelings. I can only imagine how often her prior treatment of you, the silence in particular, has affected you in countless ways. Nothing is worse to me than someone who refuses to communicate, refuses to let me fix it if I’ve done something wrong. I find myself nearly begging people to explain themselves when I know they’re upset and I don’t understand what’s going on. And of course that’s when it’s time to turn it around and realize, “HEY, I didn’t do anything wrong at all, this is passive-aggressive bullshit.”

    To think she put those negative thoughts in your head, thoughts that I know will come back to you over and over again, questioning yourself even more than you ALREADY do, makes me nuts. I don’t care that I’ve never met you, or that I’ve never observed your behavior in front of your wife and kids, I know you at heart and I know you try to do your best more than the average bear and you succeed more than most by far. For some reason so many children who grow up with neglect and abuse are the best adults by far, and you are one.

    Please don’t let this woman take up any more space in your head than she already has. Anyone who knows you, extended relatives included, will also know her. I imagine she has done things like this to numerous people, although the stories may not have been shared with you because of your loyalty to her. Most of all, your family consists of five people at the core and she was adding nothing positive to it, now treating your children as objects to satisfy her own needs, just as she did you and still tries to.

    You are so much better than this. She was lucky to have you in her life and too much of a pathological narcissist to ever recognize the gift.

    Allison said:
    November 2, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    This account is heartbreaking. And I think you are looking at it with amazing perspective to not sound angrier than you easily could, actually going so far as to see if there’s something positive you can take from it. It’s definitely her loss. I’m just sorry it affects you too.

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