Restless and caffeinated on a Saturday morning, I’ve been buzzing around the house like a bee. I’m cleaning like I’m Lady Macbeth saying “out damned spot” to every spot I can find. I can’t unsay those words. You can’t unhear them. I think you knew but didn’t want to know, the way family secrets go, but you’re never prepared to hear or speak one like that out loud.
I try to comfort myself with platitudes. “We’re only as sick as the secrets we keep.” “The truth always comes out eventually.” I fear the years of silence about this one gave it power. I want to make something sweet out of it, but I don’t know how yet. I have no map. It just slipped out, that thing I’ve managed not to say for seven years. You kept your composure, but I saw how it stung you.
I’ve thought about telling you so many times, for wrong reasons, and right reasons. I endlessly questioned which was which, and just kept my mouth shut. A few years ago, a writing workshop prompt “Something I never told you…” opened a door to pour my heart out, on the safety of paper. My writing buddies puzzled over my zero judgement for the other party involved, but I think you would understand, if we ever go there. Let me slow down. I need to find a better starting point than that.
You have been my inspiration to be resilient. I’ve wanted to model that for you. I’m eternally grateful for that drive to heal myself, to be healthier for you, which has helped me through some dark times. There may come a sad twist to our story, like in the movie “Castaway,” when he finally gets back home to find the woman he loved had moved on with her life. Even so, the love kept him going, gave him a reason to save himself, and that is precious in itself.
I thought we could keep that conversation at bay forever. Usually, you avoided the topic. Once you caught me off guard, asking directly what happened with the divorce. I panicked and danced away from the subject, talking in generalities about life lessons and silver linings. Why was yesterday any different?
I think we were both just tired. Our defenses were down. You applied more pressure for me to be friendlier with dad. While exerting power in your world is a good thing, I tried to emphasize how the status quo in this situation, the peaceful civility, is the best possible outcome from the things you don’t know about. I can’t blame you, pushing for the harmony you want. I can’t blame myself either for being depleted of energy to dance around that elephant in the living room. I just blurted it out. I’m so sorry it hurt you.
Speaking the secret has brought back memories, more through your eyes. You drew a picture when we first separated, depicting yourself in the middle, between us. In case you need to hear some of the things from “the talk” again, I’ll repeat them. We both love you and always will. You don’t have to choose. You haven’t done anything wrong. None of this is your fault. Most importantly, at least to me: It’s our job to take care of your feelings, not your job to take care of ours.
After I dropped that bomb, I felt your quiet anger. I’m accustomed to the way you keep your emotions from me. I’ve told myself that’s normal for a teenage girl not to open up a whole lot to her mom. Your demeanor felt different, though, more like freezing, like a snowglobe full of glittery innocence, stunned into an eerie stillness. Freezing can pass for strength to those who don’t sense what’s inside it, but I do. I wish you’d confide in me. We have the opposite problem from my dynamic with my mom. I can only conclude God has a sense of humor. She’ll probably give you a kid like me, full of sensitivity and feelings she wants to talk about.
I wish you’d express that anger, like when you were a strong-willed toddler. Some of your tantrums were legendary, but I cherished the aftermath, the cuddling that comforted both of us, restoring calm and connection.
Remember that time they sang the alphabet song at the library, and you were so mad they stopped at Z, depriving you of the closure of “next time won’t you sing with me?” One good thing about growing up is how you get to create your own endings. Your story doesn’t end with the things you had no control over as a child.
Yesterday was surreal, as we parked at the school and went about our tasks inside. I watched you with fresh eyes, proud of how you carry yourself in the world. Your pleasant, genuine friendliness was poignant after what had just happened. Back in the car, I apologized for what I said, explaining I’d had no intention of doing that, and asked if you wanted to talk. I knew you would refuse, but you had to repeat yourself once before I stopped. “I said I didn’t want to talk about it.” Okay.
I worry about losing you. That has driven more of my decisions than I like to admit. I can’t say the fear is gone. It’s not. Each time I face it, though, like now, I discover how much the love trumps it. Maybe I’m learning unconditional love. Thank you. It is truly a gift to be your mom. I love you, just because I can, and I’m grateful for that, just because you’re you. That’s rock solid and true, whether you ever return the sentiment or not.
Unrequited love has been a theme in my life. The last few years, I’ve become the unrequiter, which is new. The unrequitee is more familiar to me. The critical lesson I keep getting from the struggle, both sides of it, is redirection to loving all of myself. It’s okay to be selfish in that way. That kind of love expands and nourishes everyone.
As a sensitive person, I’m learning to establish healthier boundaries for myself, instead of being a lightning rod for others’ pain, absorbing it myself, thinking I’m protecting them. That just keeps us all stuck, especially me. I can’t feel and release anyone’s pain but my own, but I’m finally learning how. I can’t feel and heal yours, although I sure as hell would if I could.
I was listening to XM Coffeehouse on the radio yesterday because you weren’t here to change the channel. A song came on that spoke to me. “Tell the truth to yourself, and the rest will fall in place.” The words were a soothing, strumming, harmonious bit of comfort from the universe. I’m impatient to know just how long the falling in place might take, but I’ll wait.
There were problems before the divorce, of course, that I’ve mined for clues about what love is and isn’t, to pass along to you. If you ever want them, if my clues might be helpful to you on your journey, please let me know. Until then, I won’t impose them on you.
Do you remember how much I loved “Waitress,” the musical? Of course, you do. I wore out that CD. Do you know why I loved it so much? Jenna the character played by Sara Bareilles wrote these “Dear Baby” letters through her pregnancy. I did too, by the way. I wrote to you in my womb. I still have that journal somewhere. It’s probably a hot mess of my efforts to work through my own issues and darkness, to parent from a place of more love and light.
Jenna’s letters were the best. She nailed my hopes for you with this one. “Dear Baby, I hope someday, somebody wants to hold you for 20 minutes straight. They don’t pull away. They don’t look at your face, and they don’t try to kiss you. All they do is wrap you up in their arms and hold on tight without an ounce of selfishness to it. I hope you become addicted, baby. I hope you become addicted to saying things and having them matter to someone.”
That part about the ounce of selfishness gets me every time. The mattering too. Selfishness gets a bad rap though. I’m a work in progress, learning to treat myself like I matter, as I’m caring for you. You’re my inspiration there too. No pressure. If you choose motherhood, I want you to love it, and not make a martyr of yourself. I’m as much a diamond in the rough as any mom with that one, but I just might be getting my spark back. Parenting is the best kind of tumbler for polishing rough edges, so I thank you for your generous contribution.
My deepest wish for you is to find your own shine, and for life’s trials to brighten it. I want you to never forget your immeasurable worth, or how infinitely loveable you are. I’d like to send you the love and light of as many of those “Waitress” hugs as you want or can handle. During this delicate chapter of our relationship, I’ll offer you the Hawaiian Ho’oponopono prayer instead:
“I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.”