Parents are people…

My mom finally gave me some home videos from when I was little (because I told her I could transfer them to DVD for free- she is cheap like that- I just bought a machine after she gave them to me).

So here I am watching these videos looking for evidence of neglect but hoping to see them actually loving me. Hoping that I’ve been wrong all this time about how it really was. I saw a lot in these videos but everything proved to me that I wasn’t wrong.

As expected, I saw my dad struggling to interact with his children and muttering negative commentary from behind the camera.

As expected, I saw my mom posturing to the camera, spending ten minutes holding a table of 20 family members quiet while she explained what kinds of grape juice she bought- and actually acting exactly the same way that she does today.

I saw my older brother being a jerk and, with my older sister, being too cool for everything and not really interacting with their parents or with us younger two siblings.

I saw my closer sister always smiling. A beautiful young girl trying so hard to be friendly and kind and trying to bring some happiness into the house (and always getting criticized and ridiculed along the way.) I also saw her, at eleven years old, being told that it was her responsibility to organize and entertain ten 5 year olds, by herself, at my birthday party. I saw her being told ( by my mother who was sitting) to serve h’or doerves to the guests at another party. Like she was a ten year old waitress in training.

I saw cute little me, being patted on the head by everyone but then ignored when I needed help.

So, no surprises here. The only thing that did surprise (and upset) me, was the video that spanned my eldest sister’s 1st, 2nd, and 3rd birthdays. She is ten years older than me and I’d never seen these silent movies.

I’m not sure exactly what upset me about these videos. On one level, it was very painful to see my parents so excited and fawning over their first baby- holding her, sitting on the floor playing with her at her level, celebrating her birthday. My dad not ignoring her, my mom not fighting her for the spotlight… It was kind of like seeing the family that I never got to have, but played by the very people that were so different with me. .. And now I’m crying.. Great…

There was another aspect of these earlier videos that hurt in a way that I don’t even want to acknowledge… There was a video of my mom giving her first baby a bath and cuddling her in a towel and hugging and kissing her and rocking her in the chair. But even though she was clearly happy and trying to be loving, especially for the camera… I can see the emptiness in her eyes. Like even when she was trying so hard (probably the hardest she ever tried) to be a loving gentle mother, she just couldn’t figure out how to love her baby. She just knew how to look like she was loving her baby.

This scares me because there was something about the subtle awkwardness that she picks up the baby with- the hesitant way she kisses her for the camera… I recognized myself in her.

When Soni was a baby, I knew that I loved her but I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to act towards someone I loved. I was lucky, I had a loving husband who knew how to be loving and could show me and teach me this most basic lesson. My mom didn’t have anyone like that. My dad was never cared for and a parent can’t give a child something that they have never had.

So, my mom wanted to do the best for her baby but she just didn’t know how. And she probably didn’t really know how much she didn’t know. How under loved she had been. What would have happened to me if no one was there to teach me?

Maybe I would have followed Dr. Sears’ attachment parenting book so that I could learn the actions that I was supposed to do? But would I still have an empty hole inside because I didn’t understand what it felt like to be loved and cared for- only what it looked like? As my kids grew and the books stopped working, would my anxiety have taken over… Would I have become her? Could I still?

I feel so sad for her. She never had a chance. Seeing the video of her mother always just sitting. Never interacting, never truly smiling, just trying to appear loving but never engaging with her grandkids for more than a quick kiss when they came to her. Never initiating a warm interaction. And seeing my grandmothers mother, also sitting, surrounded by all her great grandchildren, ignoring them, knitting.

I come from a long line of ice queens. A tradition of mothers who didn’t know how to mother. Am I really stronger than this legacy? Who do I think I am to be better than them? Will my love for my kids be enough to keep me from shutting down just like my mom did? I really hope so. But sometimes, when i can see myself in my mother at my age, I get scared…

I saw my dad sitting in the snow playing with my sister. He was clearly trying so hard to be a loving dad. But I think he also didn’t know how. But at least he was trying. He sat with her in that video for a long time, engaged with her,not shutting down, not running away to busy himself with some other task.

I also saw myself in that video. Why is it so difficult for me to just be with my kids without running away to clean the kitchen or switch the laundry or busy myself with some other task. As much as I don’t want to be my mom ( I really really don’t), even more, I cannot be my father.

There is a Madonna song that made me cry at work when I heard it. It’s called mother and father :

“My mother died when I was five and all I did was sit and cry…. My father had to go to work, I used to think he was a jerk- I didn’t know his heart was broken. Not another word was spoken. He became a shadow of the father I was dreaming of.”

I think that this hit me so hard because by the time I was born, my mother had three older kids and a lifetime of being ruled by her anxiety. She was done trying so hard to be a mother and was really just focused on making sure that things looked right. She was going through motions but not really alive. My father was also shut down and barely even going through the motions anymore. The year before I was born, his mother finally succeeded in killing herself and I think that was the last straw that truly broke his heart. He never spoke of her again.

The parents in that early video were so young, so full of hope, so eager to do it right for their baby girl, so full of potential… So different than the parents that I got ten years later.

I didn’t know his heart was broken, not another word was spoken.

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