My mother is from Bay Ridge Brooklyn, New York. Growing up in the little suburban Village of Greenhills, this stood out to my friends. Having heard her special way of twaalking all my life, it was quite normal to me. I didn’t think about it and thought that all moms spoke that way. But as I got older and new friends would come to play, they undoubtedly would bring it up.
It was a joke in my family to tease her by imitating her and I think she got a kick out of it. “Don’t twaalk to your maawdda until she’s had her cawaofffee!” There was a lot of laughter in my house growing up. There were five kids: my half-siblings were more than a decade older and I was the second last but had a middle-child-like upbringing. We were pretty free range; our front door was never locked and we often took off on our bikes or ventured out to the nearby woods and creek always coming home in time for supper.
We lived in the same house my whole childhood, no one close to me had died. My dad had a steady job with the city and my mom stayed home only taking part time work when we were older. We were good kids, following all the rules. There was zero drama at all. My mother doted on us – especially my little brother! I thought grown-ups to be infallible beings free from childish and adolescent insecurities and full of wisdom.
This simple carefree upbringing I quickly resented, however, when I arrived to college and found myself in my English Composition class at a loss about what to write about. College was a huge culture shock to me as I met so many different people and was all on my own. The people I met came from all sorts of backgrounds and many had been through so much. They all seemed SO MUCH more interesting than myself. They say to write about what you know, but what did I know about anything? I was really mad that my childhood and life was so boring.
Looking back now, I wish that my childhood really was boring, because you see, there was a lot that I didn’t know about at the time. My mother was holding onto a lot of pain that she kept hidden. She wanted her children to have a better life and childhood than she had and that started the second she agreed to marry a man that she met in the US Virgin Islands when she was a struggling widow with two toddlers in tow. She saw in him stability and safety and that was good enough.
I was ignorant to my mother’s past until I took her out on her Birthday the year I was 22. It’s startling what a bottle of Chardonnay can unleash! Sometime during that meal and after a glass or two of wine, my mother decided to unload on me stories that seemed straight out of a novel or movie. I listened and took it all in like I was watching scenes that were too strange in that they could not have happened to someone I had known all of my life. How could it all be true and none of us kids were clued in on it?
I had never met anyone from her family, although I had heard her talk about a brother back in New York and an elderly aunt in Texas. Both of her parents had died before I was born, as did her grandparents who raised her. I knew her dad was from Scotland, but that was all I knew of him. My father’s family was very active in our lives, though, so it never occurred to wonder about her family. But she sat there talking to me almost like in a trance.
She did not have a happy childhood. She felt like an unwanted burden and was verbally and sometimes physically abused. She grew up along with her two brothers with her very tough maternal grandparents and her mother in a brownstone house. Her mother was stricken young with MS and was more like a sister to her. She was quiet though and did not or could not show affection. She remembers having to push her around in a makeshift wheelchair that was made from a folding chair on a little platform with wheels. She resented her at the time and would purposely knock her into things. She felt deep regret about that later. Her father was an alcoholic and was abusive, having spent time in jail for throwing her mother down the stairs, causing a miscarriage. My mother said that after she was born, her father tried to steal her from the hospital wrapped up in a newspaper. He didn’t get out of the hospital with her though. That occurrence intrigued her deeply as she didn’t know her father on a personal level and she wondered what would have happened to her.
There is a whole lot more to her story, including her not-so-nice first husband, but it is not for me to tell now. Let’s fast forward to me at age 22 with my mother sitting across from me. She was struggling with anxiety and past traumas and I didn’t know what to say or how to react. My whole life up until that moment was only a façade. But she had created that life for me so that I would not have the traumas that she had. I felt really guilty about my previous wish and resentment. I learned a hard lesson that a boring life that is pain free can be a beautiful thing!
There is a second lesson in this: that everyone has a story. Sometimes the story that a person has is nowhere near what your imaginings are. We must be reverent to the stories and see in each person a mystery that we cannot know. Treating all with a delicate kindness that acknowledges that we do not know where they have been or what they have been through, and appreciating the boring times in our lives, are both some of the significant ways that we can all navigate this life journey together.
I appreciate and revere you all!