For most of my life, I have had two mothers. My first mother, of course, was my biological mother. I lived with her until I was two years old. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember much of my early years with her. But I do remember some. After her, I met my second mother, who was the one shining light in a childhood of darkness. Both of these women, for better or worse, shaped me into the woman and mother I am today.
My earliest memory is of my biological mother. I don’t know why I have this memory because it seems so insignificant. I was sitting on the living room floor watching tv. My parents were sitting on the sofa behind me. My mother told me it was time to go to bed. She picked me up, carried me into my room and put me in my crib. Then she left. I remember looking through the slats of the crib out the window. There was a thunderstorm. I was scared and decided that I didn’t want to stay in that crib by myself. So I climbed out of the crib and went right back out to the living room, sitting back down on the floor in front of the tv. I fully expected to be picked back up again and put in the crib. But it didn’t happen. I wondered why not. I sneaked a peak behind me and my parents were just sitting there, watching the tv. So I turned back around, shrugged it off, and watched the tv, too. I was relieved.
My last early memory of her was the day my dad and I left, when I was two years old. They were getting divorced. I was in his truck, in my car seat, and we were driving away. I could barely see out the window. He was telling me, “Wave bye-bye to Mommy!”
I twisted to look at her and wave. She was standing in front of the house, at the end of the walkway. She had long, wavy brown hair. She was smiling and waving. I thought to myself, as I waved goodbye to her, “Why is she smiling? She is sad.”
About a year later, I met my second mother. My first mother lived very far away and was not involved in my life. My second mother became my mom, her son my big brother. We became a whole new family. We were, for the most part, a happy family. She was a teacher and she knew exactly how to manage me as a high-spirited child. I was only spanked maybe twice my entire childhood, which was rare in those days. I was allowed to roam free, play sports, climb trees, get dirty and generally be myself. She never made me feel bad about who I was. She always told me and modeled for me that a woman could be or do anything in life. I fully believed her. She was one of the only working mothers I knew. When she found out I was being abused, she put a stop to it immediately. She did not cover it up.
When I was eleven years old, my second mother and my father divorced. My first mother had me for a summer visit, the second one ever, and refused to send me back home. I was devastated. But I never did go back home. This new family was very different from my previous family. I now had little siblings to play with. And she and her husband were very involved with their church and nutrition. I adapted quickly. The most difficult thing to get used to, though, was the physical violence. Her husband had a vicious temper. He attacked her regularly and it only took a couple of months before he attacked me. It wasn’t just the outbursts I had to deal with, it was also the discipline. They both believed the bible verse that “spare the rod, spoil the child,” meant they were to purchase rods from hardware stores and spank their children naked.
I believed their religion and tried my best to be good. They wanted me to be a “lady” and refused to allow me to run track, even though I was the fastest kid in my school. I was enrolled in ballet, because that was a “girl’s” activity. I had to ask permission to eat, even a snack. Every move I made was controlled.
I eventually moved out during my senior year of high school. I loved my first mother and her husband very much, and their god. But I felt that I could never please them. I hoped that with some distance, we would get along better. They told me the day I left that they would never have anything to do with me until I repented. What they didn’t tell me was that they would keep my little brother and sisters from me for the next fifteen years.
At least I was finally able to see my second mother again. I was able to begin to repair the relationship with her that had been completely broken during my years in my first mother’s home. I had not been allowed to speak to her or see her for seven years. I had been forced to call her by her first name. Her letters and cards had been censored, with words and lines blacked out before I could read them. It was a joyous, but awkward reunion. I questioned, for the first time, if she really was my mother. I had been thoroughly instructed that she was not.
Any conversations with my first mother over the next twenty years only consisted of her demanding that I apologize to her for leaving. I was unable to do so. It was a stalemate.
I went on to get married, have children, get divorced. I struggled with spirituality. Religion had been used to abuse me for so many years. I yearned for a bond with a mother that I didn’t feel I had. My second mother, who was once so very much mine, had been ripped away from me, and I was not completely sure she ever was or would be mine again. My first mother wanted nothing to do with me, or her grandchildren, though the offer was there.
My whole life has been a lesson in forgiveness. I have experienced every form of abuse a child can endure. As much as I thought I knew how to forgive, what I still hadn’t learned was how to both forgive and embrace. I am learning this through my relationships with my mothers.
Almost twenty years after leaving my second mother’s home, I finally told her I didn’t need her to accept why I left. I didn’t need to win that argument. And I could embrace her presence in my life, as she was, without ever resolving what happened. I was ready to move forward. Remarkably, so was she.
And throughout these years of mothering, when I am afraid to call my second mother for advice or comfort, because I don’t believe she really wants me or is connected to me, I am learning to set that aside. Because she taught me how to be a strong woman and because without her I just don’t know where I would be today. While my first mother gave me life and modeled what not to do, my second mother gave me all the tools I needed to survive the trials of my childhood in one piece and have a hope of being a competent mother today. I owe her everything. And I very much need her.
My two mothers are not perfect. They have disappointed me in many ways. But that’s the point of this whole exercise. No woman is perfect. No mother is supposed to be the one and only source for any child. She can’t be that. It’s unfair to ask her. All mothers have gifts and flaws. We give that which we are able and where we cannot, it’s okay for other women to fill in the gaps. If that doesn’t happen, it’s okay to forgive. I know I’m not perfect. Why should MY mothers be?
Your thoughts, comments and suggestions are always welcome!