My Mother, My Self

Hi, I’m Laura and I’m a bookaholic. This was to be the first sentence of  this past week’s post. I wrote it up, took pictures, and checked for grammatical errors. It was ready. My language arts teacher-self would be pleased. But I am not. For some reason I haven’t released it.

I don’t realize what an issue this is, until, with a self-imposed deadline looming, I go to a quarterly Sunday afternoon neighborhood art walk. Teresa has opened her house to visit and several members of our writing group set up displays of their art work. My brother is playing guitar at another house. The clue to my anxiety starts at the guitar-music house when Kathryn shows me a picture she has taken of my brother and me. I immediately hate it

“Why?” she asks.

“It reminds me of my mother. It’s goofy looking. And I’m looking more and more like her.”

“Oh that’s just your personality showing. It’s what we like about you.”

“That goofiness and silliness is what I didn’t like about my mother. She embarrassed me.”

“All teenagers are embarrassed by their mothers.”

“Yeah, but I never outgrew it.”

And here’s the karma, or whatever. I do have the quirks of my mother and her goofy personality. Here, on Sunday, I realize it’s about time to embrace it.

I think she embarrassed my dad too. He, the Midwestern stoic, had his own quirkiness. But she was the one on the hospital’s psych ward during my senior year of high school. And the family stoically didn’t talk about it.

Was it her response to being a mother of three teen-aged children, the beginnings of menopause, a practicing alcoholic husband, or trying to be a Southern lady when her parents were Yankees, like her husband, but from Pennsylvania?

I don’t know. But it seems to have stuck with me. Don’t be silly or goofy. Don’t call attention to yourself. You’ll end up like your mother.

And then there’s picture. The one in my face, of my face. And now it will be on Facebook. That evening it is, and friends comment on the “great picture.” Argh.

So, this is what I need to write about. Natalie says go for the jugular. That’s where the energy is. Ok, and this is where I am. All this national commentary of mental health issues. I think of my mother’s mental health issues. And suicide. I think of my son’s suicide. What does this say about me?

Ah. Mary Oliver says, Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Embrace it, girl.

But the post about books, written like a language arts teacher. Maybe it will  show up in September when I work at the college book bazaar, where there will be tens of thousands of used books contributed by the public and spread out across the gym for unbelievably low prices. I know where my energy will be then. In a room full of quirky bookaholics and their obsession.

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Author: Laura Flett

teacher/student, writer/reader, friend

4 thoughts on “My Mother, My Self”

  1. Love the photo, Laura… yes, really. More than a snapshot, it captures a decisive moment in the world of the Family Flett. It’s significant on a number of levels, this little slice of life. Photographers deal with continually vanishing things–“and when they have vanished, there is no contrivance on earth that can make them come back again.” (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

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  2. I love ❤️ you just the way you are!!!! We are all parts of others with our own special blend. Mental illness is all around (and in) us. I think talking about it is the only thing that’s going to help.

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  3. There is nothing wrong with having a bit of personality showing, it’s not like having your slip hanging out. (Remember when that was a thing? I was always doubling my petticoat over at the waist to pull it up.) Mental illness in a family is sad and scary, especially for a sensitive adolescent. Natalie would be proud–you went for it in this post.

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  4. What I find so interesting and endearing in this blog are the uncanny similarities between us! All my life I was told I look just like my mother. I grew up with my father and my step-mother who always felt more like my mother. I hadn’t lived with my mother since I was 5. And it was a complicated, messy relationship. I didn’t really like my mother and being told I looked like her was to me like telling me I was like my mother, which was and is my greatest fear. Yes, this is the mother I moved from Steveport to care for after my stepfather was killed in a car accident. Like yours, my mother suffered from mental illness but unlike yours she was rarely diagnosed (just once with schizophrenia when she was trying to fight for custody and ended up being committed although she swore we was discharged with a clean bill of lhealth and had the papers to prove it) but mostly in recognized by my mother. She was, I think, in denial her entire life. There were some delightful things about my mother, her sense of humor especially and her love of books and reading and I do like that I got that. But, I’m frequently shocked when I see glimpses of myself in a mirror, a window, and I see her. And the mental illness is rampant in my family, I don’t think any of us have been unscathed. My brother, sister and I all battle mental illness in one way or another and you can’t imagine how long and how much counseling it took me to even admit to myself, I am mentally ill. I don’t want to be, it’s like my mother. And of course my Michael who, like me to as diagnosed as being bipolar. He told me once it wasn’t fair he got the crazy gene. I told him he got lots of other things from me, too, he was beautiful creative and smart and if he was bl seed in those ways he’d just have to accept the crazy gene and learn to deal with it. He was really unable to do this. I think part of the aging process is simply accepting who we are. Occasionally I would hear my stepmothers words come out of my mouth, especially with my kids. And with Melissa I often heard her speak my words at which I would say, Be carefyl, be very careful, you are sounding just like your mother. There were more things about my stepmother that I found admirable and wanted to emulate, there was much that was damaging and I’ve soent my life trying to avoid being like her in those respects, but I find it interesting, I don’t have the same emotional feelings of horror or fear with my stepmother that I do with my biological mother, despite having only lived with my mother until I’d just turned 5. I was 9 when Daddy and Bets got married, i was living with my paternal grandparents and I came to live with them as soon as I could. I never even wanted to live with my mother, and although I really was a daddy’s girl don’t know why. I loved my mother and in some ways we were close. It’s rather hard examining those unquestioned feelings. So, on one hand it seems like the mother I should have feared becoming was my step mother, and there was a lot I didn’t want to be, especially her alcoholism that was so out of control, damaging and caused so much pain. But I never feared it, I mostly just knew I needed to be careful my whole life because whether a predisposition towards alcoholism is genetic or environmental, I was pretty much screwed either way. My mother was, and still is the worst, most horrific drunk I’ve ever seen and I’ve seen way too many. Nasty, vulgar, sarcastic, cuttingly so, she was mean and hateful. Her entire personality changed so much when I first read Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde I thought it was based on her. Really. The change was that dramatic. I spent 8 years having no contact with her after telling her I never wanted to speak to her or see her again, unless she got sober and stayed that way. And she did, and I did welcome her back into my life. But so many things about her, I see in me , and I can’t help it! It really is a balancing act for me because for me to accept myself, to be able to get past all those fears, means having to accept my mother. And in forgiving myself, I forgive her. And I realize, in so many ways my mothers life was a tragedy, not of her own making perhaps, but nevertheless a sad tale. But I also think we can write our own tales, by our choices, our visions, our decisions made daily, our commitments. My mom lost custody of her three children in a time this was really rare. I’m not exactly sure why although she was always quite open with me and answered my questions. I got a different perspective from Daddy but feel their ”truth” is probably all the above, everything they told me and more that they didn’t, oddly enough I never really questioned the divorce. I never agonized over wondering why, or if they could get back together or if I could do something. I never blamed myself or thought it my fault. The simple explanation, for me was that I could remember my mother leaving us despite my baby sister being somewhere between 2 and 6 weeks old. She followed a traveling evangelist telling me years later she was trying to save her marriage and no, it didn’t make sense to her either. My mother let herself be defined by the loss of her children. She was “poor Peggy”, she didn’t deserve that, etc. she told me many times she didn’t blame her alcoholism or anything else in her life on the loss of her kids but actually, she didn’t have to. Her family did it for her, made excuses for her, felt sorry for her. I I have always said, from the beginning when I first lost my kids, that I do not want my story to be tragic, to have myself defined only in terms of loss and grief, surely I am more than that. And maybe that is where I can find it’s okay to be like my mom in the good ways, and reject the things I may see I have a tendency to lean towards but it is my choice whether to pick up that mantle and wear it ….or not.

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