The last few days have afforded me the opportunity to sit and chat with my oldest daughter quite a bit, whether on the phone or in person. She sits and rocks and nurses her daughter at the end of the work day after I’ve had the baby all day. And, we visit.
I’m amazed by her memories. I’m not sure if it is her rendition of our history that wounds me so deeply, or if it’s her underlying attitude.
And, then, I even sometimes begin to think that perhaps I am crazy. Perhaps my memories are the tainted ones. I have to talk myself through it with questions. Where did that come from? Is it really how I remember it to be?
As Barbara sings, “What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget….”
Am I trying to forget that I invested zero time in my oldest children? Am I simply choosing to forget that I basically abandoned them to my mother?
As the song goes, “Has time rewritten every line?”
I’m finally at the point, after days of this, that I can’t find a safe topic at all. Every topic can be turned to become an insult on my parenting. And, if I protest she harshly states, yet while she smiles, that she remembers.
It can be as simple as talking about getting the younger children smoothies. She interjected, “We wouldn’t have even gotten smoothies! I always knew I was going to get blood drawn or something because that’s the only time I ever got a milkshake! We’d get one small soda and have to share it!”
Have I been foolish to have eaten myself alive with guilt over the lack these younger children have known in contrast to the extreme indulgences I lavished on my older children before I remarried? Because, in fact, none of that ever happened?
Did they not get kids’ meals every other Friday, on my payday? Did we not bake together constantly? Did I not sew matching outfits for all of us? Did we not get breakfast from the diner down the road on Saturdays? Did I really not take them to nice restaurants to use that time to teach them manners? What about her birthday parties every year? The Little Ladies Luncheon I arranged with the nicest restaurant in town at that time? I typed up a special menu for the girls, reserved a table next to the window (so they could see the river), and requested special menu items. The girls dressed in their finest and were little ladies for the afternoon. They were four years old and dined like princesses. Did we not have dinner at a local brewing company so often that the kids knew the menu by heart and feasted on torta before their specialty pizzas arrived? Did we also not meet my one single friend at a local Mexican restaurant often on the weekends? Did we not spend a season just hunting down old diners that smelled like cigarette smoke, in search of the perfect biscuits and gravy? Did I not occasionally get my car washed in town and buy them hot chocolate white we waited? Did I not have Schwann delivery scheduled, so they could have their favorite frozen treats delivered to our door? Did I not buy them new wardrobes at the beginning of each season? Schedule my vacation to take them to the fair daily for the entire week? Spend weekends exploring the lower half of the state? Just driving and finding neat things to see and do? Did I not enroll them in dance and choir and take them to every community activity I could? Did I not garden with them? And, BBQ for them?
Did none of that ever happen?
To listen to my daughter, it did not. Instead, my memories of home schooling them during the day and baking a casserole for their dinner before heading off to work the swing shift at the hospital vanish into thin air. My memories (including notes written at the time in my diary) of my anguish over coming home from work at 2 a.m. to find my children dirty and asleep on the living room floor in front of the TV are unreal. The bowls of half eaten canned chili in front of them because my mother had devoured the dinner I prepared for my children and myself (so, there was none left for me when I got off work) while she sat at the dining room table reading her newspaper or lounged on her bed, talking on the phone, are all fabrications of my own insanity.
No, Grandma was a saint. She played ball with them. She rocked them. She sang to them. She fixed meals for them and was always so careful and concerned about what went into their little bodies. If there ever was a time when she didn’t, there was a valid reason. Such as, she wasn’t well. Or, she was depressed over losing her parents years before and her loss of her womanliness as a result of her hysterectomy several years prior.
My daughter sat and looked at me blankly and coldly when she told me that she just doesn’t get the whole abuse mentality and thinks people ought to suck it up, Buttercup, because she had it rough as a kid, too. And, she’s done well with her life and gotten over it. She’s just too logical to understand people who live in their emotions. But, then again, she does feel that having one stable person in your life makes all the difference. Fortunately, they had Grandma. She was their stable person, and they always knew that Grandma was the one person who loved them.
I took the jab as it was intended. And, I’ve been bleeding from it all weekend.
Her hatred for me is not concealed very well. She tries. She really does. She smiles while she says these things.
And, as my mind spins into a frenetic blur of real memories colliding with her version of her young life, she tells things I know are false. And, she’ll argue them. Then, I begin to feel a little more secure in my own recollection of other events.
She laughed and told how she remembered sitting on a couch cushion because she didn’t want us to burn “Grandma’s old couch” that she loved so much. Grandma had to lift her off of it and set her down to get to the couch cushion. (And, these stories are always peppered with how Grandma called her Sweetie, which is something else I don’t remember). She described the couch with great detail. I was so confused.
That was my couch. When I moved back in with my mother she didn’t have furniture. She had one old couch that had belonged to her parents. Typical. She never purchased anything or even paid her own property taxes in her entire life. Of course, my daughter will tell you different, but that part I distinctly remember. The couch in question was a hide-a-bed I bought from a friend who was moving to California. My first husband and I used it as our couch and our bed. I cajoled my mother into carrying the other end of it out the door, after I dragged the big, heavy thing to the door myself, because I bought a brand new couch. And, when I picked out the new one, I also bought a miniature couch the children had fallen in love with. There was no sentimental hardship in saying goodbye to “Grandma’s (MY) old couch.” There was excitement over the new furniture the children and I had chosen and purchased together.
But, time has rewritten every line.
I didn’t play in the snow with them. I didn’t struggle to learn to home school and spend hours teaching them.
My mother did it all. She truly was Wonder Woman. And, I? Well, I was a poor excuse of a mother who probably shouldn’t have even been allowed to keep those tender children my mother loved so much.
The thing is, my mother told my kids that when they were two and four. I caught her. My 2 year old son was hysterical, as my mother, in a very strange and sing song voice, said, “Your mother is crazy. We’re going to have her taken away. And, then we can live together forever. No, no, it’s okay. Then, we’ll always be together.”
It sunk into my daughter’s little brain and became her version of her own reality. And, she’ll argue it to this day.
It hasn’t been this intense for awhile. Not to my face anyway.
But, this weekend she and her husband are removing things from my mother’s house. The place they’ve allowed to completely fall apart. The things they’ve allowed to be ruined by water, mold, and rats. The things my mother bequeathed to them because she “trusted them to take care of it.”
The belief that my mother left all of her worldly possessions (all of which had been inherited or given to her by my father, my step-father, or my grandparents) as her one last way to say, “F you!” to my brother and me is just another one of my paranoid, self pitying, emotional responses. No, no. Grandma just wanted to make sure that the property would stay in the family. Uncle R planned to sell it, and everyone knows that I will never have anything. I’d have just let it go and lost it forever because of my irresponsibility and my emotional weaknesses.
The fact that everything was to be left to my daughter’s husband should my daughter have passed away within thirty days of my mother is of no consequence. The fact that she didn’t leave it to my very responsible second child doesn’t matter. The fact that she didn’t leave ANYTHING to any of her other grandchildren is insignificant. She WANTED it to stay in the family, and that is why she bequeathed it to a guy she’d known a few years!
I can’t argue that my grandparents, including my dad’s mother, my mom’s friends, and I all supported her throughout her life. She, in fact, was the irresponsible one. She was given everything and made nothing out of it. No, that argument falls on deaf ears. Because, she remembers.
I look at the pictures from all those years ago. The pictures that show me actively involved and playing with my children, posing with them, loving on them tell me my memories are right.
The fact that my daughter can twist a simply story about an old couch of mine into a tale of the grand tenderness of her grandma and her provision for her grandchildren, tells me that she’s making things up as she goes.
Her ability to justify her receiving everything that rightfully should have passed to the generation before her and/or been shared with her own siblings, tells me that she rewrites the lines to justify her acceptance of Grandma’s cruelty and wrongdoing because it benefits her.
And, those things help me to realize that I’m not crazy. My memories are intact.
But, in a strange way, I’m not sure what’s worse. Fearing I’m crazy because I remember nothing of my life the way it’s being told. Or, realizing that my own first born child has inherited my mother’s hatred for me and ability to enjoy causing me pain.
“What’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget……..”
Perhaps I should try to forget this. Perhaps I should stick my head under a blanket and pretend these conversations don’t take place. Perhaps I should choose to remember only that I’ve babysat my newborn granddaughter all day and that my daughter and I hang out together at my house several times a week. This can become our new reality. I can create these beautiful memories of our time together, learn to be logical and suck it up, and pretend that none of those lies are, well, actually, lies.
My mother lived a lie. Her entire existence hinged on her performances. My brother laughed and said that she was a psychiatric cocktail and that she “rearranged reality.”
I’m tired of that. That’s why I’ve spent the last two years wallowing in my emotions, digging down to the truth, past the lies of my abusers.
I’m not willing to rewrite every line. Even for my own daughter.