Lately, the question of forgiveness has been sitting in the front row of my mind, waving madly like Arnold Horshack.
An old friend and I had a conversation about our mothers. Her experience was similar to mine except she lived with her grandmother until she was twelve, then with her mother after that. At that same pivotal age, my mother left. Somehow, my friend has been able to forgive her mother, while I continue to stew.
“What has slowed me down is that I buy into my mother’s version of me: the demanding daughter with a big mouth. It’s our one point of connection. If we didn’t have that, we’d have nothing,” I said.
“You would not have nothing. My mother gave me my life, a few times over actually. When I think about it, I am so grateful I could cry. When she observed how badly my grandmother treated me, she took me away. And when my grandmother tried to stop my education, she didn’t allow it. Had my mother not intervened, I would still be in that tiny town in Jamaica. She gave me my life, over and over again.”
You would not have nothing. The thought seized my throat.
The next morning while I meditated, a summer rain beat down on the metal roof. A sign that the August heat had cooled. I threw on shorts, laced up my shoes, and set off on the steamy Miami streets.
As I ran, the gifts my mother gave me played like a movie.
An image of my three squealing kids discovering their Easter baskets popped into my head. We are Jewish. My mother had converted for marriage but had no qualms practicing her beloved, former traditions. To our Jewish friends, we referred to our Christmas tree as a Hanukkah bush, somewhat guiltily (like good Jews). I do the same thing, using my converted husband as the excuse. The truth is, I love our Christmas tree. It brings me true delight to collect ornaments from all the places we’ve traveled and mementos from milestone moments like marathons and play performances. Like my outlaw mother, I don’t allow the opinions of others to guide my choices.
With the excuse of research for my book, I asked my mother why she left us with our dad. After they announced the divorce, we never revisited what happened. No discussions or explanations, no repair. She replied that dad was able to afford four children, she was not. She didn’t want to repeat her own childhood experience of having the PG&E shut off when her parents split and her mother was left with seven kids. What did that mean for me? We moved across country with my father to the suburbs of Chicago. All the John Hughes movies of the eighties (including the sketchy bits) pretty well summed it up. My friends took for granted that they were all college bound, so I was too. Their parents, most of them, showed up at their games, knew all their friends and celebrated their milestones. Those people taught me how to be a family once I had kids of my own. Above all: SHOW UP. I wouldn’t have learned these Midwestern values if my mother hadn’t opted out.
When we were little, I recall my mother surprising us with thoughtful little gifts. I know she enjoyed it. Fresh gingerbread men from the bakery. Beautiful antique angel cards for Valentines Day with a little treat. Gift-giving is far from over the top in my house, but part of her is with me when I randomly order baked Alaska for my son who’d been curious about this flaming ice cream cake. At CVS, when I select hair ties and a keychain in the shape of a unicorn that poops sparkles for my daughter. Or when I make lunch for the whole street full of sweaty skateboarders so my youngest will feel special. Spontaneous thoughtfulness. I am reminded now to do more of it.
When my family broke up, I had to face facts. In some basic ways, I began to provide for myself. As a result, I don’t owe much to anyone. My decisions have been mine to make for a long time and I know that’s not true for a number of adults, even at my age. There’s a lot of personal freedom in that.
To her friends and sometimes to me too, my mother is a badass anti-hero. My mom did everything for us when we were little. We barely saw my dad. Even on weekends, he’d go rock climbing while we went swimming at Princess Jeanne with mom and our family friends. She cooked, she shopped, she schlepped. He underwrote the operation. After thirteen years of raising us alone, she left. When my own kids were small and my husband traveled for long stretches, it overwhelmed me. During those times, I understood the temptation to take off, allowing the whole scene to recede in the rearview mirror. If I had wanted to have my own Thelma and Louise moment, I had precedent. Mom’s oldest friends from that time are totally with her on this. As her kid, I didn’t get it, but as a mom, I do. Especially that one time Mark had a six week trial out of town and all three kids were puking and pooping their brains out. I chose to stay and I knew I didn’t have to.
So, this is what she gave me. I had a mom who served who I am today.
I am grateful that my friend shared her insight with me and am forever on the lookout for others who have transformed their pain into a richer understanding of humanity. Once such person, Ronit Feinglass Plank, has generously offered to speak with me on this topic TODAY(!!!) Friday, August 13, 2021on my Instagram Live Series Tell Me All About It. Ronit Plank is an author, podcaster, teacher and storyteller who shares her personal story in her first book, When She Comes Back. I was immediately drawn into the story of how Ronit grew up in the shadow of her mother’s devotion to guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. When her mother joins his cult and moves to India without Ronit and her sister, Ronit stays with their single dad who raises them alone. I won’t spoil the book by telling what happens with her mother but suffice it to say, Ronit’s big-hearted nature shines through and the end, you will cry happy tears. It’s a moment that has come back to me over and over. I so want that.
From these experiences, Ronit developed a passion for learning how other folks have survived hardship and have gone on to learn something valuable to pass along. She created the podcast And Then Everything Changed to highlight individuals who have had that transformative experience and made it their mission to help others find their way. Ronit has certainly done that for me and I can’t wait to talk to her.
WHO: Ronit & me in conversation
WHAT: Tell Me All About It on INSTAGRAM LIVE
WHEN: Friday, August 13, 9:00 EST, 12:00 NOON PST
WHERE: @elizabethheise1 on Instagram
When we learn from others who help draw out our own truth, we get the sense that it’s all going to be okay.
WRITING PROMPT: Who has helped you understand a deeper truth about yourself, someone else, or your relationship? What can YOU teach someone else about what you have been through?
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