Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day Meanderings...

Mother's Day is not my strong point or favorite day. I reviewed a daughter's blog, read her comments about me, and considered discussing my experiences as a mother, from my own perspective. I'm not sure I will be any more popular in doing so. I've stopped worrying about being accepted or understood. Each of my children has the right to their memories and their journey, and their choices even now, to cultivate a relationship with their own mother, or not. Occasionally one will call and I will listen and try to give a bit of guidance when needed, and I will hear appreciation for my efforts in the past or present. Other calls do not go well. Motherhood is such an enormous feat of sacrifice and loyalty and love. Its complexities could take up volumes.

I read a review once about Blaming Mother. I could be the poster child for that book. At 17 I escaped a chaotic, sad family life in which most of us had some flavor of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Second of ten, definitely not a favorite of my mothers', and unfortunately a triangulated favorite of my fathers', I can only remember a single conversation with my mother as a child at 16 yrs. old.  I do not ever remember her telling me she loved me. I felt lost and confused, alone, depressed and angry. 

It was a burden to have some sort of 'special' relationship with my father, yet watch how he treated my mother, at least the times when he was actually home. He traveled as a salesman. When I took him in to care for him in his elder years, he told me my mother would relentlessly criticize me, and he warned her that I would probably have nothing to do with her when I grew older, if she didn't stop. I cannot remember her ever talking to me, much less what she said. Extreme pain shows up like that. Our psych shuts it down so we can survive. My relationship with my mother laid an imprint on my life that has affected me greatly.

While in the 6th grade, I wrote a poem about Mothers that was published in the Mormon ward our family attended. A woman illustrated it, and it was given to the children so they could attach a picture of themselves or their mother, and give it as a Mother's Day gift. It was a poem that described what I saw as a mother's role, watching my mother interact with my siblings. I held my mother on a pedestal, regardless of my vacuous relationship with her. The poem was like an Elmer's Glue fantasy version of what a mother should be.

Years later, I wrote the following poem, below. Though my mother now has Alzheimer's Disease, and I have seen her two times in 21 years, once passing through Utah on the way to Texas after the onset of her dementia, and prior at my nephew's funeral where she asked if she could hug me, (though my children and I were not invited to the gravesite or the dinner afterwards), I asked my sister Alison one day to give her cell phone to my mother who was in her car at the time, and I told her I loved her. I know I do, though I cannot feel it often, especially after her choices in regards to denying the sexual abuse that took place against my children by my youngest sister and brother, and her then current husband, Frances Bernell Johnson, who also exposed himself to 3 of my daughters and at least one of my siblings. Another sibling reported molestation by him, to a daughter of mine. He is now deceased, buried in his Mormon temple garments, and praised as a WWII vet and the perfect father and husband as funerals tend to do. My sister unwittingly put my name on his obituary as one of his children. 

Though I didn't feel anything when I allowed my mother to hug me at my nephew's funeral, nor could I much over the phone, my sister told me that my mother smiled and was happy that day. I am truly glad. It may have been my last gift to her. Even though people with dementias are in some kind of cognitive/speech prison, I know that the last thing to go is our hearing, even in death. Perhaps she thought somehow all was well finally, or that her daughter Pamela had forgotten what had happened to her children, the betrayal of her entire family and the destruction of her hopes and dreams for her own children and grandchildren. I don't know. I am glad I made the effort.


Who is this woman who I called Mom?
I do not know her any more
Since she betrayed me once again
When I was Mom to little ones.
I see her face, the hopeful eyes.
The glossing over what is fact.
She begs me to forgive her 
For the deeds she readily forgets.
So used to covering the pain,
Familiar face, she asks me to
Take care of her, by paying for
The deeds she readily forgets.

Confused and hurt emotions mix.
Her weakness takes me to disgust.
Her covering and fixing up
Can almost make me want to trust
Her fragment views, Her air of cheer,
And anger is my only rock.
To hold my head to what is real
To squelch the crying child within.
The child that cries for Mother Dear,
Abandoned, I must seek for light,
Comfort self or try to sleep,
And carry on, a Mother/Child

I recently signed up to speak at a Toastmaster's meeting for a 4-6 min. 'Icebreaker' speech about Mothers, but decided not to join at this time as money is thin, and I may be moving. I do have a bit to say about Mothers. I have compassion on my mother, and can forgive her for wanting to protect her youngest son and daughter from public scrutiny and her 'wallet' as my brother Evan termed her husband, but the price of all the secrecy and denial has been high. While I blessed my own father on his way, as he was dying, and told him I released him from what I knew he had tried to admit to me and what my memory still keeps in some Mason jar, there is still a melancholy mix of what was and wasn't and what any child might wish of their parents. While forgiveness frees us, it does not erase the debt of truth and justice or the scars that years of fraud, fear, frustration and disappointment create on the lives of those harmed.

Only when we are willing to look squarely at our own lives, and forgive others, are we truly able to forgive ourselves, perhaps. What makes the process very difficult, is when others like my family of origin never admit what they have done, and there has been no justice. The 3-step Admit/Acknowledge-Accountability/Amends never has happened with my family of origin. It is a burden that tips the scales. A friend of mine said to a son: "I've made my share of mistakes", but he didn't want to carry any others mistakenly assigned to him.

I have had the experience of being a scapegoat for my family of origin, who denied the molestation by my youngest sibs, even seeing an attorney according to my youngest sister, who advised the fam to pretend I didn't exist. The most egregious tactic, perhaps, was to accuse me of merely being a poor example, since I left the Mormon religion, and wasn't celibate for the last 26 years, attributing 'what my kids knew to go on behind closed doors in my personal bedroom' as the reason for the following response to sexual harm and betrayal of one's own: 
Grand mal seizures after my oldest daughter saw a third therapist, cervical cancer, shoplifting, grades going from A's to F's, running away, teenage pregnancy, foster homes, suicide attempts, telling the neighbors 'mom' was not giving seizure meds, was beating her and locking her in her room (no lock on the door), drug and alcohol use, wanting to be an assassin, therapist visits, stealing mom's car and driving it to Utah with the help of police on the way amid an APB, rape, seeking effective counselors when you're poor, eating disorders, more foster homes for at least two other daughters, running away from the foster homes and bringing other foster kids to our home, finding out there is no 'foster home' for older teens, a whole lot of chaos, shoplifting while in foster care, stealing, more shoplifting and mom calling the police to ensure a consequence, no counseling while in foster care for the reason 98% of kids are there, prison, jail, melanoma, abusive relationships, domestic violence of partners, DUII's, PhD's and law school and a lot of alienation, poor self-esteem, an inability to trust since you can't even trust your own tribe, ruined memories of holidays that reminded us of 'family', and rivers of sadness, anger and tears, etc.

Being a scapegoat also of my kids for the abuse and betrayal of Grandma/step-Grandpa/aunts/uncles and the loss of a silent bunch of cousins, and their father's own sexual deviance that caused the divorce, along with his animosity  afterwards was like being battered emotionally. All the chaos robbed us many times of any hope of normalcy. Depression would strike when yet another sibling hit teen years, and ended up in a foster home. One by one, we took hits. Sexual abuse and each family member's response can absolutely destroy the family as a whole. Single parenting alone is hard enough, and 7 children without support was an awesome task. I always felt inadequate. It was excruciating because I cared.

The family dynamic was entrenched. Mom was blamed for not being able to 'fix' it, and since there was no father or tribe, or village, though it is an honor for one's children to think your shoulders are strong enough to take all their pain and anger, the expression of it was not always civilized or short in duration. Sexual abuse is such a shaming experience, and the victim wants it kept quiet most often, yet their behavior is screaming the truth. I had my own feelings about my children not telling me, though I understood my brother had threatened to hurt my daughter. This usually is what was effective in their own silence, after their own victimization. 

My oldest daughter claimed she behaved as she did not because of the sexual abuse, but because of me. She was effective in punishing me and making her sibs feel sorry for her one minute, while acting like an angry perpetrator the next. Blaming Mother was alive and well when the poorly trained Child Protective Services ordered a 'Psychological' on me, which I refused. Later my daughter told them in front of a judge how stupid they were to allow her to punish her own mother. 

I often felt like I was asked to be a Jesus Christ, with no limits or bounds. I was anguished if I was angry with punishing teens-5 at a time-, but the guilt was unfounded, as I told them they were lucky I was not a child beater with what they pulled. I could not understand why I was still alive, and when I was diagnosed with endocervical cancer in 2004, having fought it for 10 years prior, I was not surprised. I have never taken the role of 'Mother' lightly, and remained devoted, though not unscathed by the ensuing chaos. How could I not be absolutely furious, and at the same time, grief-stricken by my two youngest sibs whom I loved dearly, having changed their diapers and cuddled them as babies.? One sister left a message not to come to her wedding. ??

Though I was over-protective and hyper-vigilant, the one place I relaxed was with my family of origin. I left home first, and was happy to have a family birthday dinner, Grandma's Halloween Carnival for the grandkids,  the Easter egg hunt, etc. to reconnect to my family. It was in the day before a lot of publicity came out about sexual abuse. I had taken two of my daughters with medical issues like headaches and biting nails and another one with bedwetting to the medical doctors. None of them even suggested sexual abuse as an option. My naive assumption that my family was loyal and honest, and at each other's back and thought like me,  was rudely erased. It was not until I began taking Psych courses in college that my children's  behavior started making sense as symptoms of abuse, and one Mother's Day after we arrived back home from Grandma's, the truth began spilling out.

Because of my own lack of love in childhood which I did not understand back in those years, I was determined to make sure my own children knew I loved them. I wrote in my journal about their births, milestones in their lives and in their own journals about what was best in their day, etc. I wrote poems about them, took photos of them, kept a clean house, baked bread, gardened, taught church classes, taught my children to read and how to memorize poetry, etc., sewed underwear, levis, pj's and teeshirts, etc. And I would still meet people who asked me if I worked.

I'm writing a book of my life called When Love Is Not Enough: The Price of Sexual Abuse on Children, Families, Country and World.  I specialized in research and treatment options for the victim and offender as a Social Worker. 

I know I've taken you on a long journey beginning with my commentary on Mother's Day. There is more to share. I hope I have helped you in some regard, given you hope for your own relationships, insights into forgiveness or warnings of how important truth and justice is. On Mother's Day I never know if I'll hear from any of my 7 children, as we are all tired. We all carry a lot of pain still, as is evident with the quick reaction to various subjects. 

Being spread out now, it's hard to solve problems of the past. When I feel like a dart board or the target as the 'bad guy', I let them know. It's not unlike a woman who is abused for years by her husband, and simply won't tolerate any more. My children are wonderful people, each struggling in their own lives, and I am proud of them. What remains is a Herculean effort to mend the past, so we don't pass on grief and isolation to the next generation, the grandchildren. I have found it impossible to effect change, to learn or mend gossip in the sibling group, and communicated my feelings the best I could in family emails over the years. Adding family by marriage has also added complexities. Not to trivialize 8 person's realities, I acknowledge that family life had its wonders and its griefs for all of us. Sometimes lessons cannot be learned without a certain Stage in life, and my beliefs are that we probably signed up for our college classes on this earth.

Six of my 7 are uninsurable for various reasons; a marker for the cost of sexual abuse without justice. It is difficult if not impossible to fully develop as an individual amid chaos. Someday I will share another poem called Invisible Wounds from Invisible Winds. Perhaps in my book.
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