grace: unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification; a virtue coming from God, mercy, pardon, disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency, reprieve
“There’s a story behind everything…But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story…Because her’s is where your’s begins.” – Mitch Albom
When I was 15, I was a sophomore in high school, whose primary concerns were getting a marching band routine down pat, completing my English reading assignments, and deciding which boy I wanted to like that week. When my mother was 15, she was also a sophomore in high school, but instead of football games, writing papers, and talking on the phone to boys, she was having me. I’ve been told that I was conceived behind a skating rink…nice. And I know that my father is at least 3 – 4 years older than her. All of this leaves me feeling some kind of way…sad for her, a little angry at him…questions fill my head, did she feel obligated, afraid to say no, did she do it to feel loved? What was he thinking, well, it’s easy to blame him and assume we know what he was thinking…he’s the older guy, right? But nevertheless, whatever the circumstances, I am glad to be here and I am supposed to be here.
From this sketchy beginning, I was born on April 6, 1973, to a teenaged, unwed mother. I was told that my aunt took me from her the minute she came home from the hospital, and that after that, my grandmother pretty much raised me, with my mother living in the house, but pretty much made all of the decisions and wouldn’t let my mother do too much with me or for me. I am not sure to what extent my mother was ever “allowed” to actually “mother” me, but I do know that, growing up, I didn’t feel that she was very maternal. Many times, I didn’t feel loved by her at all. I remember times where I would beg for her to make me breakfast, literally cry and scream, while she laid in the bed, oblivious to my needs. I remember her taking me to school, but when I tried to kiss her goodbye, she would turn her lips toward me, but not her face, as if she didn’t want to make much of an effort to show me any affection. I remember, a lot of times, her absence. She just wasn’t there.
My mother would randomly stay gone for weeks at a time, sometimes with different girlfriends, and more often, with different boyfriends. She would call sometimes, crying, and apologize to me. She’d sob and tell me how sorry she was for not being a better mother. I’d forgive her, but she would just do it again and again. I came to resent her and started to think of her as a liar who cared more about men than she did about me. I grew up thinking that I never wanted to be like her.
Later in life, my mother became addicted to drugs and alcohol. What little relationship we had got worse. Again, I felt she had something else that she loved more than me. I was always left wondering why I just wasn’t enough for her, why my love wasn’t enough to sustain her and fill whatever void she was feeling. She told more lies, she became erratic, she cursed me and called me out of my name. The woman who was supposed to love me the most, I felt hated me. I felt like she was jealous that I was smart, and that I was “okay,” well-adjusted (for the most part) when it came to school and activities and having a normal teenaged life. Instead of feeling that she loved me, I felt that she loathed me.
For nearly two years, I didn’t speak to my mother because she called me a bitch. I was done. I had had enough. I was now a mother myself and I set out to prove that I could do it better than she did. I felt like my mother had no excuse for the way she treated me. I didn’t care that she was just 15. It didn’t matter to me. She was supposed to be a mother to me, and in my mind, she failed. And I hated her for it.
I have carried that anger, that hatred, but most of all, that feeling of being unloved and rejected by her for most of my life. It has affected most of my adult relationships in one way or another. I have spent a great deal of my adult life feeling unworthy of love. When you feel that your own mother doesn’t love you, you feel like you’ve done something wrong, like you aren’t good enough. I am only beginning to realize that I am good enough, I was good enough, and that she was just a child herself.
I’ve sat the past few days and tried to think of typical 15 year old behavior. What did my 15 year old mind think about and act like? I had pop stars on my walls, teddy bears on my shelves, and was just starting to wear make-up and like boys. I was not thinking about babies and growing up and responsibilities. I had big dreams of becoming a singer and travelling the world. I knew I wanted children, but I imagined a husband to help me and to love me.
I opened this blog with several definitions of the word “grace.” God gives us grace to forgive us when we’ve done wrong. He gives us room to make mistakes. The Bible admonishes us to “love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) Where was my grace for my mother? Why have I demanded so much perfection from one who was so frail and innocent and immature when I came into this world?
It was not until my mother’s death a few years ago, a death from a drug overdose, that I started to feel empathy for her. As she lay in a coma, I felt protective of her. I felt angry at anyone and anything that had ever hurt her. I felt responsible for her for the first time in my life. I wanted to protect her, but instead, I had to let her go. It was the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do. I had to say goodbye, but we hadn’t fixed anything. We had spoken, briefly, about a week before when she had almost had another overdose. I remember arriving at the hospital and the nurse telling me that my mother was afraid to see me because she thought I hated her. I told her that day that I loved her. I hope she believed me.
Today is mother’s day. I text my aunt to tell her Happy Mother’s Day, and she wrote back with this: “She loved you, ya know? I’m just sorry that she didn’t love herself.” And it hit me again: this was never about me. My mother loved me, the best she could. She never learned to love herself. At a time in life, when a girl is just figuring out her way, and what’s important to her, and who she wants to be, she was thrust into parenthood, and then possibly, not even really allowed to parent. I can’t imagine how she felt, and my heart breaks for her all over again, and I know, that now, I have grace for my mother…I give my mother grace to cover the times I felt wronged, or unloved, or just plain rejected. I forgive my 15 year old mother. I forgive my confused, scared, lonely, unsure of herself, mother. I forgive my drug addicted mother. I forgive my mother that loved me the best she knew how. I know she loved me. We did have good moments, and those are the times, that I’ll hold in my heart forever, and I’ll let grace and love cover the rest. On this day, and every day, I love and miss you, mommy.