I closed my laptop and asked my waitress, Lila, why she was clearly having a rough day. She started talking to me about her mom.
I almost dropped my glass of lemonade.
Lila’s mom rivals mine and I didn’t think that was possible—I mean, anything is possible, but a mother using a super nice daughter as whipping post, poison pen recipient, heart-punching material (not to mention literal face-slapping material)? For decades?
I thought that was just my mom.
When I was a kid, my mother ran off with a Greek boy-god 15 years her junior, left us little ones with our alcoholic, depressed, out-of-work dad. She sent postcards detailing her explorations of Greek isles as my dad made our school lunches while sipping his morning coffee-with-vodka.
When the Greek boy-god dumped my mother, she reclaimed her kids and added a bad boyfriend to her instant-family. I wasn’t the only one who objected to him, cue my sisters and extended family members. But after Bad Boyfriend threw a patio table over on me, almost knocking out my front teeth because I told him his bullying was not okay, I was the kid at home wrapping my bedroom’s doorknob with string tied to a chairback: alarm system, in case Bad Boyfriend tried to kill me in the middle of the night.
It was the ’70’s. I had no idea CPS existed. If I had? I would have bugged them. Repeatedly. I was that kind of precocious, SAVE THE KIDS! kid.
When I fled ‘home’ at 17, my mother never said: I’m sorry I’m allowing you to go off and marry a misogynist three times your age.
Or: I’m sorry my addiction to abuse has caused you to enter an abusive relationship of your own.
Or: I’m sorry for abandoning you kids for the Greek boy-god.
Or: I’m sorry.
Instead, I got: “Your leaving caused me to have a nervous breakdown and only he (i.e., Bad Boyfriend) helped me through it.”
These days? I practice gratitude: Mr. Wonderful; our amazing son; our home, mini-zoo; our FUN.
It’s hard to imagine I was ever anyone’s whipping post, much less my own mother’s. And yet…she continues to repeat the past.
That doesn’t mean she is successful.
I told Lila.
Lila didn’t agree, or disagree.
But confessed she gave her mother the shirt off her back because her mother unleashed the ME-A-BLACK-HOLE energy and said: I want your shirt. That shirt. Right there. The one you’re wearing.
Lila felt sad for her mother, who at that time was recovering from a stroke. So Lila washed the shirt in her mother’s washing machine. Dried, ironed it. Gave it to her mom-along with a bowl of chicken soup. Shortly after, Lila was bitch-slapped again by: Guess who.
Lila doesn’t look like me at all, but we are sisters.
“I can’t imagine treating my son the way my mother treated me,” I told Lila, hoping I didn’t sound preachy. “Can’t imagine treating my 12-17-year-old self the way my mother treated me,” I added. “I think about that 12-17-year-old girl trying so hard to be an adult without knowing how to be an adult and I tell that girl: I’ve got your back.”
Lila looked doubtful, but nodded.
“I’m making progress, is what I’m saying,” I told her.
Lila cried a little as I handed her my therapist’s card. She moved to other tables and I cried a little behind my sunglasses as I packed up my laptop and drove to retrieve my son from his summer camp.