“We all pay for life with death, so everything in between should be free.”
– Bill Hicks
I am the youngest of my mothers four children; born breach during what is often considered the most tumultuous year in modern history (the year of unraveling). I grew from a collicky baby into a petulant child then an exceptionally rebellious teenager and in due course, a rudderless young adult.
Eventually saying good-bye to the angst…most of it anyway.
Given all that it won’t come as a surprise that my relationship with my mother was often, errr, strained. Never too bad, there was always love, but I suspect I was a source of confusion, and often frustration, to my mother.
Even as a child, I don’t think she knew what to do with me.
My first day of preschool my mother had her friend, Mrs. Moore, take me. Now, I don’t know my mothers reasoning, but pawning a monumental life event like that off to a neighbor always irked me.
It still does. I guess it did then too.
I remember clinging to Mrs. Moore’s leg, crying and screaming, while she kinda shook her leg. You know, like you might shake it when a dog is humping it. She did this until one of the attendants/teachers peeled my off her leg.
All these years, and tens of thousands of dollars in therapy later, I have created and chosen to accept a narrative where my mother was too upset, and couldn’t handle taking her youngest child to preschool.
Truth is, I’ll never know why my mom didn’t take me to my first day of preschool and it no longer matters, I have my reason.
Considering that inauspicious academic beginning, one can only imagine how that manifested itself in the ensuing years.
Each new school year brought with it the inevitable Escape from Alcatraz type of efforts from me. Not just once either, this was usually a week-long series of mini-events culminating in no less than two attempts at skipping out of school. I had varying degrees of success:
- In kindergarten, my plan was foiled somehow and I was locked in the bathroom. Yes, you read that correctly. Locked. In. The bathroom. I was what? Five? Six? (Why did no one report that savage hun of a teacher?)
- In the first grade, we lived within walking distance of school and I made it about halfway home before my mom picked me up. (FAIL she brought me back.)
- In the second grade, I made it all the way home and hid behind the couch. But our stupid dog, Barney, gave me away by standing near the couch wagging his tail as my mother came in to find me. (FAIL she brought me back.)
- In the third grade, I was presented with an incredible opportunity to take my escape efforts to a new level. We lived in Canada that year (we moved a lot) and since my mom drove me to school each day (God bless her) I knew how long it took to get there. I also knew on this particular day my mom was out and had left my half-sister with the keys to the car. So, I excuse myself from class to the go to the bathroom. My original plan was going to play sick and go to the school nurse UNTIL I noticed the principal was not in his office…and had left the door open. Seizing this incredible opportunity, I went in and made the call to my half-sister telling her I was sick and to pick me up. I nonchalantly returned to class and watched the clock. What made this plan so perfect is that there was a door in my classroom leading to the playground by the field that led to the way into the school. Just at the right time I got up from my desk and blew out the door. I ran as fast as I could across the field (losing a shoe in the process) just as my half-sister was pulling in and just as the school secretaries were pulling out to get me. I jumped in with my half-sister as they pulled up. Since she was completely clueless and not in cahoots with me, she simply rolled down her window and said “I’m taking him home and you can deal with my mom later.” (VICTORY!)
- This Canadian period was the most creative period of my school avoidance period (sorta like Picasso’s Blue Period). We lived way out in the sticks so I would get up before everyone and run out into the fields and hunker down in the tall grass to get away from going to school. At eight years old, I thought I was brilliant…but not as brilliant as my folks…or Barney. They would just let the damn dog outside while my parents would stand on the porch and drink coffee. Barney would tear around looking for me. Of course, he would always find me and bark wildly, wagging his tail thinking I had created the most AWESOME game of hide and seek. My parents would listen for his bark and look for the wagging tail popping out over the tall grass. I can picture my mother standing on the porch with a cigarette in one hand and a coffee cup resting on the rail as she bellowed “ARE YOU HUNGRY?” and me sheepishly replying “No.” “OK, well, don’t stay out too long, you’ve got to go to school.” (FAIL.)
- In the fourth grade, we were back in the states and I just simply walked out and made my way home. Mom found me about a block from my house and I seem to recall us going out to get something to drink. She asked me if I wanted to talk to someone, which actually was less a question and more a directive. I was eight/nine years old, like I knew what therapy was. (MIXED, she brought me back but that was my introduction to therapy.)
- In the fifth grade, I hung up my running shoes and decided to accept school as a necessary evil. Ironically, by going to a private Catholic school. I’m not sure if it was just me getting older, exhaustion or whether nuns just scared the hell out of me, but I stopped running. (It’s worth noting I’M NOT CATHOLIC. I was baptized, and we were practicing, Lutherans…seriously, come on, is it really any wonder at all I disliked school?)
So that ended my Escape from Alcatraz period…until I got my driver’s license. Then shit got darker, and stranger, but those are stories for another time. Eventually, I came out of the dark tunnel…like I always knew I would.
I’m not so sure my parents knew that.
I know I hurt my mom and dad a lot more than I ever meant to. I have no excuse other than pure selfishness. I’d love to say I would take it all back if I could, but that would be a lie. All of those experiences, even the dark ones, when my mom and dad had to bail me out, literally and figuratively? Well, those are the things that have made me the man, for better or worse, that I am today.
And without revisiting those experiences, I won’t be able to hear my mother’s frustration, her infectious laugh and her brilliant motherly exhale as I recount them.
Sadly, the last few years saw my relationship with my mother grow more distant. I am fairly certain I know why, but that’s for another day. I would call my folks and it seemed like she never wanted to talk to me. That’s what it felt like but I know that isn’t true. It can’t be. Can it? I must admit that as a kid, my mother did tell me frequently, and I’m not entirely sure she was joking, “I love you, but I don’t have to like you.”
But every now and again we would connect on those calls and talk about God knows what. I’d usually talk shit about whatever was irritating me at that moment or go off on some rant about something. She would laugh and tell me I was awful (I curse a lot and can be very impassioned about certain things) but I knew she didn’t really think that. Although the calls were few and far between, I believe that she enjoyed them. I know I did.
Hindsight being what it is, I suppose I can trace much of the strain between my mom and I to this; my mother only wanted for me what many parents want for their children. But with a twist. My mother wanted me to want what she wanted for me…and I just never did. She wanted me to want, and to have, the education, the wife, the kids, the nice job, the cars, the holiday visits, blah blah blah. For many years when I thought of those things I thought of the entrapment, the divorce, the alimony, the suits, the costs, the travel.
For me, there wasn’t anything about that life that I found appealing. There still isn’t and I think that just confounded her.
My mom has now moved on I am happy that she did get to see me realize some of those things she wanted for me. I did get myself the education (and have the receipts to prove it), I got a decent job (had a few…quit a few), fell in love with some terrific women (some of whom my mom actually met…and liked).
My mom finally got to see what I always knew was there and what she had always hoped was there, maturity.
There was love.
There was anger.
There was laughter.
There was crying.
There was crime.
There was punishment.
There was failure.
There was support.
There was success.
There was a family.
I was never my mothers disappointment.
I was always my mothers confusion.
I am 25% my mothers legacy.
I am 50% my mother.
I am 100% my mother’s son.
I will miss my mother.
I love my mother.
Good bye mom.