Nobody really taught me how to be a woman. Womanhood was something that sort of happened to me. It fell onto my lap in a box that was already opened by someone else. I just happened to be the lucky person to pick it up. And there it was.
I was embarrassingly close to 13 years old when I realized I could put my own hair in a ponytail. My dad had always done it for me. I remember my mom braiding my hair once, in pigtails. A boy made fun of me for it, asking how old I was because I looked like a baby. I didn’t care. My mom had done my hair.
I was about the same age when I started my period, when I became a woman – secretly – not really sure who to tell. I knew what it was, but I sure as hell didn’t want to talk to my mom about it. She would have told every friend and family member with a phone.
As a women in my 20’s, I learned that I had worth as a person and a partner. In the last 25 years I’ve found myself in awful relationships, being used and cast aside like trash. At some point I became used to the feeling of being somebody else’s discards. Then, I pulled myself through the darkest days of my life and realized that I had to stop blaming her.
The one thing I have learned is that all people are both good and bad. I am both good and bad. My mom is both good and bad.
My mom was still a child when she got pregnant with me, she wasn’t a grown woman. She was 15, and events that occurred before I arrived had already affected her. I can’t blame her for not growing up fast enough to tend to the needs of a baby. Unfortunately, this meant that I had to grow up quickly to compensate for her inabilities.
When I was little, I would take pride in being such an easy child to care for. Being able to clean the house, finish my homework, and make dinner at 10 years old made me feel like a woman. I was changing diapers, keeping straight A’s, and coping with severe depression by the time I was 13. I was trying to be perfect because I wanted to impress her. I didn’t want to give her, or anyone, a reason to push me aside.
I see now that doing “perfectly” does not work. It was not my worth that made my parents abandon me emotionally and physically. That was related to issues of their own. I could have been perfect at everything and they would have rejected me exactly the same way.
In order to really understand the complicated relationship with my mom, it is important to know that she left my half-sister and me when we were about five and one. I would occasionally visit my mom and whatever boyfriend she had at the time, while living with her second husband, Keith. He became my dad in every way. He worked a full-time job and never shirked his responsibility as a parent. The parent he was never obligated to be – at least to me. He never made me feel that I wasn’t his biological daughter, he was the parent I needed.
I would spend visits with my mom reading quietly and sleeping on futons or couches. I remember three men distinctly, and none of them were particularly kind. My mom didn’t work often, and we never seemed to have anything of our own. Everything was theirs.
When I was about nine my mom became pregnant with my little brother and married her current husband. I came to live with her and three step-siblings in an environment that was hectic and unhealthy. I just couldn’t fit in, and I was missing the only source of comfort I really had: Keith, my stepdad. I was a quiet, isolated, and melancholy little girl. To me, it seemed as if they couldn’t sit still or avoid fighting with each other. Now, I realize they were normal. I was the weird one.
My mom was always inaccessible to me. I couldn’t “get” her. I don’t really remember any fun times with my mom. We didn’t have thoughtful conversations. We never spoke woman to woman. We didn’t go on vacations, except to visit my step-dad’s family in Texas. I was resentful because we moved so often. I couldn’t be alone for longer than five minutes, something I desperately needed. To be able to take my 10-minute shower every night was my biggest respite because I could cry and just enjoy some semblance of quiet. I couldn’t tell my mom what I needed, mainly because I knew she wouldn’t do anything about it.
I remember her yelling at me to watch the babies. She was so irritable, and I think she disliked the position she got herself into. She didn’t seem to particularly like children, yet she had six to deal with every day. I always thought that kids happened to her; she didn’t necessarily want them.
I remember being told we were going to move to Texas, even further from my real home. I love my mom for telling me before the other kids, by myself. We couldn’t be alone together very often, so she told me on the way to the furniture rental store to pay a bill. I cried and cried. She was choosing to take me away from everything I had just started to get familiar with, and now I was further isolated from every single person in the world I loved: Keith, my sister, my aunt, and my grandparents. Less than a year later, she delivered the news that I would be moving back to California to live with Keith. That one was bittersweet, but I was still so pissed off. Why couldn’t I have something to hold on to?
I remember crying for hours in my room, pretending to be asleep or reading. I rarely felt any sense of joy. Not on birthdays, and not when good things happened. I also started accepting the bad events as just the sort of thing that happened to me. When you have so little to look forward to, everything sort of blurs together.
I remember not being able to keep a journal because she would read my most personal thoughts, many of which involved situations I’d been in because of choices she made. I was hit for breaking a glass once because I had said I’d tripped over my mom’s shoe. My mom threatened that I wouldn’t be able to go to my band performance that night if I cried. I was stupid enough to write down what happened and how I felt. My mom grabbed the diary from my hands and read it. The only small, private place I had was stripped away from me.
I remember being so sad about life, and I was not even a teenager yet. I have been depressed for as long as I can remember, and I don’t even know when it started. I don’t know if my depression is related to my childhood or if that’s just the way my brain works. I kind of feel it’s a combination of both.
My mom’s presence has had a tremendous impact on my life, positive and negative. She never told me anything about dating or love, but she taught me a lot with her actions. She never taught me how to become a woman, but I saw what was wrong and right in the process of growing up. I knew that I didn’t want to have children. I knew that I would never put myself in the position to be as miserable as I felt she was.
I think about my mom a lot. That’s only natural when you love somebody. Perhaps we do not share a great mother-daughter bond; however, I sympathize with her experience, as a woman. I do love her, and I know that she loves me to the best of her ability. It doesn’t feel like enough when I see love between other parents and their children, but I know it’s there.
She was just a kid when she had me, and I can’t bring myself to feel malice toward her. We aren’t close, and we don’t have a warm and fuzzy relationship, but I understand her. She was a little girl once too, lost and afraid. I know what that feels like. She coped with her issues differently than I did, but we can’t change that now. I’m okay.
By the way, Keith legally adopted me last year when I was 24. I am so thankful that my mom married him when she was too young to know better. He has been the most positive parental figure in my life. While he could not teach me how to be a woman, he taught me what it was like to become an adult. I guess my mom kind of did that too.
Read me of Ashley’s work.