Believe her!

I just read in the news about a woman in California who has been arrested for causing lethal harm to her children. The children’s ages ranged from 2 months to 3 years.

I am writing about this because I am feeling so strongly right now. I want to share my voice with anyone else who is feeling so so so lucky that they avoided her fate.

The last line in the article I read was this:

“The children’s grandmother said that the woman had called earlier in the day and said that she was going crazy.”

She was begging for help! She knew she wasn’t okay!

Can we please just learn from this that if a mother ever tells you that she is ‘really going crazy’, please believe her! Please don’t force her to be alone with herself or her children when she doesn’t feel safe. Just show up.

You will never understand the power of bringing some comfort and compassion to a suffering mother.

The mental chaos that I experienced in the postpartum period was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever been through.

I learned that there is something else to fear other than fear itself.  I feared myself.  I can think of nothing worse than knowing that your greatest fear is yourself… and knowing that fear is real.

No one should ever have to be alone with that.

I shudder to think of where I could have gone if I had been left alone or shamed when I had asked for help. And I did ask for help, over and over again. There could never be enough help.

For everyone who knows me and was there (if you are reading this, it means you were there), Thank you. I love you very much. I may not tell you this often enough because it scares me, but you saved my life.

Thank you.

Good grief

In my younger days, I kept some Charlie Brown comic books stashed in the bathroom. I loved the bathroom. It was the only door in the house that had a lock on it. I also liked the Charlie Brown books. I could identify with Charlie Brown’s depression…

There’s a running gag where Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown and then pulls it away as he kicks. The worst part is that she acts as though she did nothing wrong and keeps convincing him to trust her again.

Charlie Brown comic strip of the football prank.

My brother sent me a very long email on Sunday (mother’s day – of course). Apparently he’s beginning to suspect that there may actually be something wrong with our mother. (shocking!) He wrote me to tell me that he’s finally read the book that I gave him over a year ago (Understanding the Borderline Mother) and he’s taking the first steps on his journey to finding himself…baby steps.

I guess I’m happy for him but I’m not really sure why he felt the need to tell me about this. Does he want a gold star? Shall I buy him a cake?

It’s not like I’ve been sitting at home waiting for his call. He ignored me and shamed me when I actually needed him so I figured out my own way. I built my own family. I’d love it if he’d invite my kids to play with their cousins, but that’s pretty much all I’m waiting for.

He wrote, “I am sorry it has taken me this long to get here, but I am here to talk with you, on your terms, whenever you are ready.”

Here we go, Charlie Brown. I'll hold the ball, and you come running up and kick it...

The email itself was benign. Just as benign as Lucy offering to play football. But I’ve been invited to this game and I knew what was coming next.

I tried to put it aside and even managed to make pancakes for breakfast (#momoftheyear). But later in the day, the emotions from his message caught up with me and, in the middle of my mother’s day dinner, in the bathroom of the sushi restaurant, I couldn’t hold back the tears. Big ugly heartbroken tears.

I wasn’t sure exactly how or when the burn was going to come. But I knew it would sting. I knew that he’s been speaking to my sisters and it made me question the security of my boundaries. Have I shared too much? Is my openness going to be used against me?

I needed to understand what he wanted. Why he sent that and what he was planning next.

That evening, I called him. He didn’t answer, which is fine. Then, an hour later (9pm), I get this text:

“Just saw that I missed your call. I do want to talk but I am exhausted and done for the night. Can we try for some time later this week?

Charlie Brown saying Oh no, not again while Lucy holds a football

Then I cried more. Why the fuck did he get to randomly interrupt my nice Sunday to make me cry? And worst of all, when I reached out to him for some answers, something to soothe my fears (that he caused), why does he get to just back out and be “done for the night”? Of course he’s not going to understand how hurtful his subtle rejection is.

Charlie Brown falls as Lucy pulls the football away

The next day… I woke up with red eyes (from crying myself to sleep) and a big black dog of depression laying on me. My husband and I worked together to push him off and get me into work. (My husband never gets to be “done for the night” either.) It was a huge accomplishment that I managed to get into work, not eat a box of cookies, and stay there for the entire day. I tried, but couldn’t get any work done.

No word from my brother.

I was getting more and more worried that my brother was going to violate my boundaries with my parents in a misguided effort to help our family reunite. I had to make sure he knew not to do this.

So I phoned him right after my work day. He answered and before saying hello, he told me what a busy day he had at work and how he still had more work to do that evening.  “Could we do this some other time this week?” …sure…rejection #2…but I had something I needed to say now.

So I told him in a vague way that my personal life and struggles are not his to share with anyone else. He told me “of course, I wouldn’t talk about you with anyone.” I’m not sure if I feel completely reassured but at least I made my wishes clear.

Then, we had this conversation:

Brother: I emailed you because I would absolutely love to please speak with you more whenever you are ready.
Me: Ok. We can talk a bit now.
Brother: I’m just so busy from work today.
Me: Should we get dinner on Thursday night?
Brother: I’m…uh…. I’m not sure if I have something that night.
Me: Ok. Or another night.
Brother: Yes. Whenever you are ready, I’m here to talk.
Me: Ok. Let me know if you are good for Thursday.
Brother: I don’t think Thursday will work.
Me: [waiting for him to propose another day… or suggest getting back to me with availability.]
Brother: But I’d really love to speak with you. Whenever you are ready.

I SAID OKAY!!

Either be there for me or don’t. I don’t care anymore! Just leave me out of your decision making process.

What is with these people and interrupting my barely stable life to pledge their love and support, beg me to see them and then renege on their offer as soon as I show interest?

Charlie Brown football gag where the whole gang is trying to trick him.

Dear people who deserted me when I needed them most: if you’d like to see me, invite me to see you. I’ll probably say yes. If you’d like to feel like you are helping me, I don’t need your emotional support anymore. You can send cash or cheques. Otherwise, please stop inviting me to play football…and shove your guilt up your ass. Thank you very much.

comic of Charlie Brown football gag where Lucy makes him feel guilty and then tricks him again.

She broke my broken heart…again

I’ve been stalling writing about this…I’ve been trying to be very zen and sweat it out on my yoga mat and not let it get to me. Trying to convince myself that it’s not so upsetting, it’s not such a big deal, that it’s just a bit off the normal spectrum. But it hurts too much.

I need to write about it. I need to share to answer anyone (especially future me) who might question why I don’t see my mom.

Remember when I was writing about how I wanted to see my mother? I was getting myself emotionally ready to expect nothing from her.

I was preparing to ‘forgive’ her and stop waiting for her to recognize the pain she caused me. I thought that I could just be kind to her and we could have a bit of a relationship. I was texting with her more often and talking about the weather and her bridge games and her trips to costco. It wasn’t much but it was nice. Every few days she would ask if she could see me and my kids and I’d say ‘not yet’ and she’d drop it. It was nice.

At the Passover Sedar, my son sang a traditional song (ma nishtana) beautifully. I was so proud of him and so proud of me too. I can’t remember a Passover Sedar that I didn’t spend the whole time having a panic attack upstairs. Here I was enjoying my children, enjoying the traditions, enjoying my life and being an active part of it.

So I thought maybe my mother would be proud too. Maybe she would be happy to see her grandson singing the song that she taught me. Maybe she would be happy that I was warming up to bringing her into my life by sending her a video of him. She hasn’t seen my kids or even a photo of them for 15 months (not that I’m counting…).

But I wasn’t completely kidding myself, I knew it was more likely that she would feel that I was rubbing it in her face that she could barely recognize her grandson. I was prepared for the anger but I wasn’t prepared for the response I got.

Without further ado…here is the text conversation spanning of that week:

Friday
Me: I want to send you something sweet but I don’t want you to show anyone other than my dad.
Mom: Okay.
Me: Here… [attached video of the sweetest boy in the entire world singing ma nishtana]
Mom: Everyone’s just walking in to my apartment for dinner. I’ll watch this later when I’m alone.
[insert radio silence]
[insert more radio silence]

Saturday
Mom: Can I see you alone this morning.

Sunday
Mom: Hi Lyla. I’m just leaving a funeral. Bea was in her 90s. She had been at the Seder on Monday and was an active involved lady til she died. Her son said even though his mother lived a full life it felt like a shock and too soon. Lyla. Your Bubie [grandma] misses you. You’ll feel better to be in touch with her.

Monday
Mom: Hi Lyla. Beautiful day today. I have a friend coming soon for lunch and then we’re going to play bridge. Tomorrow morning I’ll be going to shule for yiskor. [subtle reminder that her father died 4 years ago]. Lots to do this week but I will sneak in a walk sometime if the weather stays nice. What’s doing with you?

Wednesday
Mom: Hi Lyla. I wonder if you know if there is somewhere to donate my wig? [subtle reminder that she had cancer]

Thursday
Mom: Hi.

Friday
[this was the day before a family reunion that I was obviously not attending]
Mom: I’ve tried to print a picture of Crosby from the video you sent me. I watched it many, many times. But I can’t figure how. Do you have a recent picture of the kids that I could have?

Ya. So, that happened. Why is this feeling so familiar? O right- because it’s the way I felt when I finally gave in to the pestering and said yes to my dad’s request to see the kids on the day he suggested to see them but then he remembered that he had to fix the dishwasher that day. Might as well have told me he had to wash his fucking hair…

You hound me and guilt me to let you into my life and when I finally show you my kid (who is by all accounts, the sweetest boy ever), you respond with silence, you ignore him and he’s not even there…and then a request for photos that you can show your stupid friends.

I know my mother too well. I know that she just doesn’t know how not to punish me for the grave infraction of living my life without her. I can’t blame her but it still stings. She would have been happier if I had sent her a time lapse video of my crying in bed every day for the past year to explain why I haven’t seen her. Rather than evidence that I am a mother with happy children.

She punishes me so subtly, for living my own life, using a weapon she’s perfected… selectively withholding her love.

I guess I am a glutton for punishment because I know I’ll keep coming back trying to get that love that she will never give me.

This post has been really hard to write. Happy Mother’s Day. 

When everything goes to hell, the people who stand by you without flinching -- they are your family.