I didn’t think my family was unhealthy until my mom stopped breathing. It happened almost two months ago. She’s breathing now, again, of course, but things are different. It’s the drama that had to happen to open all our eyes. Except no one is opening them.
One thing that makes me realize that we may not have always been a healthy family is that this is the third time my mom has stopped breathing. I didn’t know about the other two until now.
My mom stopped breathing and she went to the emergency room with my dad. They didn’t find anything wrong with her but she told me later that she didn’t “bounce back” like the previous times. So then she took the prescription for prednisone the ER doctor gave her.
And that’s when she got really sick. So sick, in fact, it was the first time I ever saw her in bed. The first time I ever brought her water, a sandwich, a pillow. The first time I ever mothered my mother – myself a new mother, my one-year-old between us, climbing over her on the bed.
The prednisone was a big mistake – a misdiagnosis to begin with (it was highly unlikely and never shown that her breathing problem was due to inflammation), plus my mom didn’t start it until ten days later, and it was a massive dose, especially for someone her size. My mom is small.
And it messed with her head, and her heart. Not the organ but her soul-heart. She’s sad and she’s scared. And now she’s sick.
The reason she stopped breathing, the doctor (not the ER doctor) has now said was likely because of anxiety. And now, when every other day or sometimes many times in a single day, she feels “shaky,” she doesn’t know if that is still the prednisone working itself out of her body or if she is having a panic attack.
She wishes they weren’t happening.
I want to take care of my mother. I want to mother her, in all that word implies – unconditional love, encouragement, practical support, hot tea and comfy pillows, gentle hands, warmth and food to eat – but I can’t and that’s because my mother is married to my father.
My mom told me once that she ties her shoes backwards. What did she mean? She told me that when she married my dad, she saw the way he tied his shoes, and it was different from the way she did it. She figured she had been wrong all this time and she relearned. But then later she learned that my dad actually tied his “wrong” – he is a lefty. But by then it was too late, she kept tying them backwards. When I was five years old and learning to tie my own shoes, she told me: “Don’t tie them like me. I do it backwards.”
Pretty early on I had a sense of my parents’ relationship…. that my mom did not “stand up” to my dad, that my dad was loud and angry sometimes, and unfair. As a teenager, I often silently urged her on, but nothing. Instead, I became the one who stood up to my dad, and I was promptly grounded, or sent to my room, or yelled at. I remember, just now, being yelled at as a child, and the act being terrifying enough to start me crying, immediately. It didn’t even matter what he was saying. My father is a terrific yeller, and he looks especially horrible doing it.
My mom didn’t stand up to my dad, I did, and then there was the long, hollow and silent time, when my mom was our go-between. I simply didn’t talk to my dad throughout my teens. That was okay, I suppose, though I always felt bad for my mom, recognizing even then how she was forced between us and unable to take sides. But I doubt I would have survived adolescence if my dad had not backed off. He was smart enough to realize that we were headed for a full-scale rebellion that could be potentially dangerous or even fatal. So I got to be me and we went along, me in my normal, “healthy” family.
I grew up, went away to college, and I found some respect and kind feelings for my dad. I kept growing up, and I got married and became a mother. My father retired and became a grandfather. And he became a tyrant – he lost his place of power outside the home and he went about reclaiming it, over and over, at home. Who was home? My mom. Though I think he knows, deep down, that the situation is hopeless, but it doesn’t stop him from trying.
And my mom became smaller. And now she’s really sick.
I had dreams when she got sick: a house full of light and I find myself inside, she is house-hunting; a baptism that my father is forcing us to attend, I tell my mom, “I don’t want to go,” and my mom says, “Do you think I do?” and I am shocked to hear it for I had seen no indication; I am picking berries with my mother, we’ve never seen such a color of blue, she wants to know are they edible?; I see my mother a phoenix rising, and then I don’t see her at all.
I try to tell my mom of the renewal of the opportunity she has for growth. She says nothing, not a thing, and I hear myself, my silent urging, Stand up, mom. Please, stand up. I can’t see you.
I can’t say it. I am always the one to say it. I can’t say it because we both know change is impossible under the circumstances. My dreams are desperation. My dreams are hopes I try to impart – but it remains clear they are my hopes, not hers.
All I read about mothering – the advice to create space for your child to be who they are and not who you want them to be… where is the parenting book for mothering my mother? How do I do this?
I am always the one – the only one – to stand up to my father. It doesn’t really get me anywhere, except frustrated. After our most recent argument, I exclaimed: “Well, god, if he’s going to be such an asshole, I wish he would at least be logical!” I also apologized to my mom, for my part of the fight (which happened in front of her). She said, “There wasn’t anything you could do. You could’ve said anything and it would have ended up the same.” Is this what she’s learned that I never have? At what cost? How many more times will she have to stop breathing before he wakes up before she wakes up and says Me.
When I Was Ten
When I was ten years old, I was still part boy. The boy part was still there in me and so on the surface that I was often mistaken for one. There is an entry in my journal, the black book with white pages and frog stickers, written by me: “Got called a boy today, again.”
I liked being part boy,
wearing my tough jeans and chasing each other
around the playground,
climbing trees and salting slugs and fishing,
building rafts, riding bikes,
picking berries, climbing logs,
crab-crawling down the sewer pipes (euw),
daring and double-daring, chewing gum, burying bees, skinned knees,
kickball, football, whiffle ball, spotlight,
capturing the flag, tumbling over fences, fulfilling
my duties as an honorary “Doobie Brother” (which consisted mainly of sitting around in the Frank’s open garage with the other Doobies),
tire swings, tall grass, ravines,
snowballs and snowfalls
leeches in lakes and tadpoles
jellyfish in the sea, anemones, flashes of light
baiting hooks and dangling legs
sea spray and sunburns, diamond waves and murky depths,
rock-cod dog-fish eagle of the sky
salmon flounder halibut
sea otter and seals, dolphins at play
brown bear, hot springs, fish heads and slime
two piece bathing suit
bare feet on hot tocks
moss, tiny worlds, lichen
rocks to skip, crabs to unearth
salmonberries, devil club, bear bread
huckleberry blueberry salmonberry strawberry
oh! raspberry too
The world was nature and nature was smelly and big and full of tiny other worlds.
The world was fourth grade, the very edge of becoming a girl for certain… before fifth and sixth grades, when I looked for breast buds, when I carried a comb in my back pocket, when boys wrote us notes appraising our bodies (Vanessa had “great tits” and my legs were “nice”). When I was ten, Mount St. Helen’s erupted and the hostages were released from Iran and we got a new president, Ronald Reagan. When I was ten, the world went from my back yard to “out there,” where things like politics happened, and the earth rearranged itself on catastrophic scale.
When I was ten, I was small, still narrow and straight. When I was ten, I wrote stories about butterflies and squirrels and trees and dollies. When I was ten, I stole matches from my mom and when I got caught, I ran away, to the old hiding place in the woods.
When I was ten, I watched my thirteen-year-old sister preen in the mirror and I played star wars with my brother, who was seven. When I was ten, I was in the middle, between them, between being a kid and being a teen.
When I was ten, I played hard and didn’t know I was headed for girldom, or that I would survive it. I knew I had fierceness, and I fiercely protected it, fighting with and then against the boys on the playground, until after a while I didn’t fight or run anymore, I walked into my girl’s life, and survived.
© 2004 by Stacy M. Lewis (just putting this here since this is posted on the WWW)