Now that I am a parent I am learning how different my childhood was. Not in the geographical sense or socioeconomic sense. I grew up in south jersey in a typical middle class neighborhood. I mean in the presence sense. From a young age I remember coming home from school and just being alone. Alone to make my own snack, alone to play and then engage in homework. And it wasn’t because a parent wasn’t home. Almost always mom or dad would be there. But dad worked from home or was busy avoiding mom. And mom, well, she was closed off. Literally. She would hole herself in her room for days at a time and would only come out to make us some dinner or tell us to go to bed. Now as an adult I know it was due most likely to her mental illness issues but as a kid it was my normal. This behavior would roll into the weekends. I have a sister and I remember us just going to play in the basement with our toys for the entire weekend, left to entertain ourselves and later on, feed ourselves.
Weeks would go by where this behavior would go on. And then all of a sudden mom would resurface – full of life and energy and interest. My sister and I would lap up this attention like puppies. But then all of a sudden she would retreat, back to her room and the silence would envelope the house once again.
Mom never got a proper diagnosis. Over the years I theorized everything from Bi-Polar to Borderline Personality Disorder. She died two years ago so I will never know. And in the end it doesn’t matter. She was the only mom I had and knew. It was my reality.
But now? As a parent I see how crazy this behavior was and how different I am trying to be with my son. To not repeat the past. To make it different for him. I worry I will become her. And I know that is crazy. But this is me being honest. My fear to repeat the past haunts me at nights.
I remember one time mom opened up to us and admitted she moved when we were little to be closer to her parents because she realized she couldn’t do it. Be what we needed as a mom. And she was right. Our “Omi” became our mother. When my grandmother died I cried like I had lost my mother. The grief was so intense. It was not that way when my mom died.
For those of you out there that have had similar experiences know you are not alone. For SO long I thought what I went through was mine alone. But now that I am older I have met so many others that have experienced absent parents. Mental illness is the silent struggle in many families. So many people had no clue what was really going on behind our house walls. We looked like your average middle class family. We even had the dog and picket fence. But inside was silence punctuated with either violent outbursts or overzealous love. But those stories are for another day.
Repeat this affirmation daily – No One is you and that is your power. I am my own person, and I am blazing my own path.