Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Unanswered Questions

I feel like I need to share a few more memories of who my mom was; who I was; and who we were as mother/daughter.

In some regards, my mom treated me a lot older than I was but most of the time she kept me as sheltered and as innocent as possible. To say she was over-protective is an understatement. I know that a lot of her parenting was cultural, but even my Latin-American friends didn’t have moms as strict as mine.

My mom never let me spend the night at anyone’s house. I willingly attempted one sleepover when I was about three-years-old at my brother’s house. It was such a traumatic experience that I still remember it 41 years later! My brother was so irritated with my crying that he slammed the coffee table with his fist. (Of course this only made me cry more.) He had to drive me home from Culver City to Santa Ana in the middle of the night because it was clear that I wasn’t going to sleep at anyone’s house but my own that night. I remember sitting on the floor in the back of his car, curled up in a ball, continuing to cry all the way home. The only other time I remember spending the night without my parents was when I was about 15. They went to Vegas for a weekend with a group of Argentineans. The only reason my mom agreed to leave me behind was because my dad and all of her friends gave her such a hard time about it. She wasn’t happy about it and to be honest, neither was I. It was one of those things that I was dying to do (be a normal kid who goes to sleepovers) but at the same time I was scared of out my mind about it.

1973 with my parents and sister.
Age 3 when I attempted my first (and only) sleepover

I was never left alone with a babysitter of any kind either. My mom and dad were my only caregivers during my childhood. I never got dropped off at anyone’s house for a playdate – not even with my own relatives. Shoot, I honestly don’t ever remember being left home alone with my dad for that matter. My mom took me everywhere with her. My parents never had date nights alone without me. The only times I remember staying at home with another adult was when I was 11 and my aunt (my mom’s sister) came to live with us for about a year. A handful of times, my mom ran to the store and left me with her. Other than that, I was never left with anyone and certainly never left alone at home.

To give you an idea of what I mean…When I was about 13 or 14, I remember being home with my parents one late afternoon. I was in my room and they were around the house. Or were they? I came out of my room to ask my mom something. I looked in the kitchen. She wasn’t there. I checked the other rooms of the house. I couldn’t find her. I looked for my dad. I walked through the backyard and peeked in the garage. He wasn’t anywhere either. Panic started to set in. I called out their names loudly. “MAMI? PAPI?” No response. I looked out the window to our front yard. They weren’t out there either. But I noticed our new Volvo was gone. As I was looking out the window, I began to cry. I remained at the window crying, waiting for them to hopefully return. I had NEVER been left home alone. I don’t know how long they were gone. Maybe it was just 15 minutes but to me it seemed like an eternity. As they pulled up the driveway, I ran out and clung to my mom. Still crying I asked where had they gone?! How could they leave me?! How could they not take me with them?! It turns out that my dad had taken my mom for a quick lesson in our new car. I don’t know what possessed either of them to drive away and leave without telling me, but it scared the bejesus out of me! I laugh now at how old I was and that I reacted in such a way.

The way in which my mom treated me like I was older is in the way she talked with me. I wasn’t just her daughter, I was her friend. She shared her feelings, thoughts, opinions, gossip, and anecdotes with me all the time. She confided her innermost fears and emotions with me too. She had a lot of friends and I remember her talking on the phone with them all the time. She was very social and much loved among her circle of friends. I’m not sure why she opened up to me as much as she did. I don’t think it was for a lack of support from others though. If she would have turned to her friends, I’m sure they would have been willing to listen. Maybe she didn’t feel safe sharing or being vulnerable with them. Whatever the reason, I’m grateful she shared with me. I’m fully aware that it is not the best choice for a mother to turn to her young daughter as a confidante but at the same time, I got to know her in a different way than just my mom. I got to know her as a real person.

Circa 1981 - Sunday drive with my parents to Lake Elsinore

My mom was extremely religious. Not the weekly-Sunday-mass-religious-type though. She liked going to church but she didn’t like going to mass. She had a phobia of being in a large crowd at mass. When we did go to mass (once a year on Easter) we had to sit in the back where she knew she could slip out easily if needed. Instead, we often went to church after school when it was empty. We would kneel and pray for what seemed like forever to me.

My mom carried a big blue hardcover bible (about the size of a dictionary) with her everywhere she went. It was the only book I ever saw her read. I’m pretty sure she read it every day. She read her bible in the motorhome, in Doctor’s waiting rooms, on long road trips, on airplane rides to Argentina, etc. (That bible meant so much to her that we put it in the casket with her.) My mom also had a little altar set up at home in our spare room. It was a little table about the size of a nightstand full of little Jesus and Mary and Saint(s) prayer cards and statues as well as a crucifix. She would light a candle at the little altar whenever she needed extra prayers for someone or something. Every room of our house had some type of religious knick knack. I can’t think of a single area of our house that didn’t have some image of Jesus or Mary or a Cross. Well, I guess the bathrooms and garage were Jesus-free, but other than that, we were surrounded.

My mom carried a small zipper-case (like a make-up bag) in her purse that had a big stack of prayer cards, a rosary, small religious charms, prayer booklets, and a mini bible. I don’t really remember her taking them out to read them or use them in any way. They were just something she carried in her purse like her wallet or keys. I still have that zipper-case to this day. She influenced me so much and made such an impression on me with that habit that I have had two or three prayer cards of my own tucked in my wallet for the last 25+ years.

My mom would kneel at the foot of her bed, facing the wall that had a giant wooden rosary hanging on it. She had a set of prayers she said every single night after she was done cleaning the kitchen. I remember being very young, kneeling beside her, repeating after her nightly, until one day I had learned them all. That felt like a huge accomplishment. I felt so proud and grown up. I remember I ran to call my dad so he could watch me say all my prayers with my mom. 

Another part of my mom’s routine with me every night when she put me to bed was to bless me with a little statue of Jesus in a red cloak that sat on my nightstand. She would use the statue to do the sign of the cross on me and she’d mumble some little prayer. At the end of the prayer, she’d make me kiss the statue’s head and then she would kiss it too. She kissed it so many times that Jesus’ head was covered (caked) in lipstick and you couldn’t really decipher his face any longer. This ritual went on every single night of my life with her. Even when we went on vacation anywhere, the statue came with us, wrapped in a towel in the suitcase. The statue is also in the casket along with her blue bible. 

My mom also had memberships to a few Catholic associations via mail. I remember she belonged to one for The Sacred Heart of Jesus as well as one for St. Jude Thaddeus. She would send donations to them and in return they would send her more prayer cards.

As religious as she was and as much as she read the bible, she wasn’t the preachy kind of person you would expect. I don’t remember her quoting scriptures or acting holier than thou. I guarantee you some of her language was definitely not very Christian-like. She cursed like a sailor (which I always say is where I learned it)! If anything, I just remember my mom as very human; a real person, with real feelings, fears, and emotions that she wasn’t afraid or ashamed to let me see.

As I wrote before in A Different Mother , we learn what we see at home and it’s only natural for us to become a lot like our parents unless we make a conscious effort to do otherwise. Between the way I was mothered and my own life experiences, it has been quite the challenge for me to trust others to care for my children; to allow my kids to do the things I never did (like go on field trips, playdates, or spend the night away from me); to allow them to experience life without fear; and for me to recognize the difference between protective and over-protective. 

It’s not easy for me to trust others to take care of my kids. I don’t even think it’s about trusting others, honestly. The issue is more about letting go of the control. But I have made huge strides in comparison to my mom. I admit I have yet to have a weekend with my husband, away from our kids – and my son will soon be 10 years old. We have left my son overnight with family members for things like weddings or birthday parties or date nights, but never more than one night at a time and probably less than 10 times total in his life. My almost three-year-old daughter has never spent the night away from us both. On the flip side, I have been away from my kids three weekends total – to Chicago, Austin, and Tucson. But they were home, safe and sound with daddy. Baby steps, Jackie. Baby steps.

I look back on all these moments I witnessed as a child and my first feeling is sadness – not for me though, for my mom. I feel sad that she felt like no one was trustworthy enough to take care of me; like she couldn’t leave my side; like her happiness and security relied on me being with her. Sometimes I have even thought that she needed me even more than I needed her. I feel sad that she viewed the world as such a scary place that she had to protect me so fiercely. I feel sad that I was who she turned to for comfort and support; who she vented to about her issues with my dad or others in our family. I even feel sad that she was religious to such an extreme degree. All of these things about her make me wonder why. Why did she have that need to immerse herself so heavily in religion? Why was she so overprotective? What did her past hold that led her to be that kind of mother? I will never know any of these answers. Despite feeling sad for my mom, I also know one thing for sure...Having me made her happier than anything else and I know my existence made all the difference in the world to her.

Mom and me when I was about 1 year old

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