In 2010 while waiting to begin the editing process on my first book, which will soon to be republished as “No Other Choice: The Naomi Chronicles, Book One”, I discovered that ‘Real Simple’ the one magazine I subscribe to was having a contest. Those who were willing to write about themselves and a ‘real life issue' could enter, and although I didn’t know it when I wrote this, rereading it, I realized that in many ways my life mirrored my heroine's because until I married Ron, I had ‘no other choice’ either.
If you’ve ever felt like I did, this post is for you. If you know someone who’s going through difficulties, this post is for them too
I never thought I’d be…
The 50’s were a time when girls seemed to grow up emulating their moms. Because my mom pressured me to be like her, I thought I’d never become the person I wanted to be. I believed that being an authentic individual was not the norm. And according to my mom, I was far from normal. Knowing she disapproved of me left a hole in my heart. All I wanted was to be was to be loved for who I was and whom I would become. And I was but not by the woman I needed love from. For me love came in special packages labeled grandma and aunt. Nowhere was there a package of love labeled mom.
Mom was the woman whose house I slept in and from whose house I escaped every morning when I ran next-door to spend the day with grandma. I was certain that mom would have treated me better if she weren’t worried about my baby brother who’d been born sickly and seemed to worsen everyday. As altruistic as I wish I could have been, her concerns took a back seat to my need for love, which grandma and my aunt met. My days were filled with grandma’s love, my nights with my aunt’s who shared a bedroom with me.
Whenever mom found fault with me, I would remember the unconditional love they lavished upon me. Where my mom did not seem to understand me and wanted me to be a miniature version of her, their love helped me believe that my life was as close to perfect as possible.
When I was seven, that illusion shattered. My aunt married and grandpa bought a home which was hours away from us. The day they moved I cried so hard I couldn’t say goodbye to my grandma. I remember waving as I turned, and entered mom’s house. I walked to my room, thought about school ending in a few weeks and wondered what summer would be like now. During dinner, I discovered it would be far worse than all the school years of my short life put together. The principal had told mom that I would be held back since I hadn’t learned much during my years of school.
It took a trip to the ophthalmologist’s office, a pair of glasses, and a summer with a retired schoolteacher who taught me every shortcut she knew, for me to pass the proficiency test.
The first day of that new school year is as fresh in my memory today as it was the day I lived it. Mom drove us to school and parked the car in front of the main building. I saw large block letters on its façade and read, “Thomas Jefferson Elementary School,” for the first time.
When school ended, mom picked us up and drove us home. Upon entering the house, she called me into her bedroom and took a book titled, “Why Johnny Can’t Read” from her bedside table. “We won’t need this any more,” she said nodding in my direction. Her message was easy to understand. I was to become what she wanted and give her no more grief or create another situation where she had to visit the principal’s office.
I was certain life couldn’t get any worse. But, I soon discovered that I was wrong. Dad told us we were going to move to another city. It was hours from where we lived and further away from the women whose love had succored me. His job required that he travel but he was certain we could manage without him. Aware that I was going to be alone with mom who viewed me as my brother’s keeper, I became fearful.
My angst motivated me to learn. By the time, I graduated the seventh grade I was on the honor role and remained an honor student throughout my school years. However, I felt a fraud since I didn’t learn anything. Rather I memorized everything as a hedge against failure.
At home, I struggled to be subservient to my mother’s wishes: an unhappy, plump version of her, whom she reviled whenever the feeling hit her.
After graduation, I searched for myself through a series of jobs. A year later, I met and fell in love with a man who loved me. He envisioned a future for me where I could grow into the person I was desperately trying to become. I grabbed hold of him and all he promised.
I entered Beauty College; grateful for the money my aunt had left me, which allowed me a future of my own choosing. For 18 months, I toiled away, aware that I was sacrificing a comfortable life for a life worth living.
The date of my Cosmetology State Board test drew near and so did my wedding. Mom had tried to dictate every aspect of my nuptials. My fiancé interceded and I walked down the aisle in the white wedding gown I had chosen, rather than the off-white suit mom had insisted would do. From the moment I spoke my vows and my husband affirmed his, I felt loved and free to be me.
Our first years were spent settling down, beginning a family, and growing together. When my thirtieth birthday drew near, I thought mom and I had achieved a sort of stasis in our relationship. That illusion proved false when I entered college. Mom had urged women to go to college. Yet, she seemed angered by my attending and vented her feelings, alternating between accolades and putdowns. As painful as this was, I was buoyed up by the fun of actually learning, my husband’s support, and our daughter’s encouragement. I was becoming an authentic me.
When I look back, I remember many were eager to hear about everything I was learning but it was mom who prodded me for more information. She’d bait me with a question, hoping I would say something she could take umbrage with, and then she’d pounce. Since attending college gave me information that she did not have, I believe she felt one-upped by me.
However, by the time I had completed half of my studies, what she thought didn’t matter. I had fallen in love with learning. And, the girl who couldn’t read was working at the tutorial center with students who had learning disabilities and a few like me, who feared failure.
Before I graduated, I began working with women who had experienced abuse in childhood. I helped them see, as I had, that everything makes us what we are. We are over-comers!
And mom…as the years passed, her life took a turn towards senior dementia. Because her demands affected my dad, my husband and I moved them close and spent as much time with them as we could.
On one particularly difficult day, dad was pulling their car into its assigned parking spot when mom yelled, “You’re parking in the wrong place!” Her arms flailed at him as she screamed horrible things.
I put my hand on her shoulder.
She patted it and calmed down.
Then I said, “It’s really hard being you.”
She looked at me and smiled. “Now you understand.”
From then on, I uttered those words whenever the need arose. They reminded her that I understood her. That as hard as I had fought to become me, I knew it was time for me to pay attention to her.
Several years later dad died and mom was diagnosed with cancer. She was in constant pain. As the end of her life drew near, she sternly forbid me to visit. I knew she wanted me to remember her at her best. It was hard not saying goodbye to mom but I acquiesced to her wishes.
When she died, I knew that we had come to understand, forgive and enjoy each other. Yet, I felt a sense of loss for the mother she hadn’t been. I was, however, finally at peace with the woman she was.
After the memorial, stories shared, and pictures viewed, my brother and I found a quite place and talked.
“You know what mom called you?” he asked.
“She called you a saint…Saint Paula.”
I believed this was the final, unwanted, but not totally expected putdown.
“And here’s why…” He enumerated what she meant. I listened as he shared all she had seen and never commented on. When I thought he was done, I began to rise. Then he added, “She said she admired your wanting to be yourself even when she tried to stop you.”
When I look back on becoming the person I wanted to be, I realize we never fully understand who we want to be until we see who we don’t want to become. Each of us faces the choice, to self-actualize or not. In the process of becoming me, I fashioned a life I could truly call my own…thanks to my mom.