Judy is a feeble 78-year-old woman. She started smoking when she was 13, had her first child at 14, and her second (my mother) at 15. She had five children by the time she was 21 or 22 with her first husband, Dennis, and no children with her second husband, Robin, who adopted me when I was four or five years old.
Judy never learned to read and stopped driving years ago, so she greatly depends on me. She also loves me or says she does with a frequency that sometimes makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like a jerk just typing this. For all intents and purposes, she’s my mom and that’s what I call her. Of course she loves me, and I really do owe her my life. But it wasn’t always easy growing up with her.
Judy and I butted heads a lot when I was a kid. I didn’t understand that she had a learning disability and that her ignorance was largely not her fault. She had nothing for most of her life until her children were teenagers, and she and Robin adopted me. I was the lucky one who got to grow up in a nice home with tons of Christmas gifts under the tree. The paradox is that while they probably broke themselves buying me things at Christmas, Judy was possessive and selfish the rest of the year.
She also had a violent personality. Not often physical, mostly just screaming and cursing. She once chucked a heavy crystal ashtray at me. It missed and shattered against the brick wall behind me. I can only remember one other time she physically attacked me so it was really rare. Verbally, however, she could be mean and nasty. I now understand that she was shamed and treated this way as a child so she was behaving the way she was taught. At the time, I just resented her.
Now, she’s syrupy sweet, and over the top in her praise and loving words for me. She is kind and doesn’t seem to recall our tumult during my years growing up. No recollection that I had severely pissed her off on many occasions. She exalts that I was the “best thing that ever happened to her,” and she “never once was mad at me”. Having parented two children of my own, I know this is scientifically impossible. I don’t know if she blocked it out or if she just pretends not to remember.
I brought her from California to Texas after some family drama in 2017. Since then, it’s been an experience I often don’t know how to hold. I love her. I’m so very grateful that she and my dad adopted me and saved me from what would have been my life otherwise. I owe her everything. I know so much more now about how she grew up and the hardships she bore incredibly well for years. But there’s still a lingering anger that I often have to push down, and I feel so guilty for it.
Even as I type this, I realize there’s just too much I’d have to share to really illustrate the origin of all my feelings. I also don’t want to paint her in too unkind a light, even though she will never read this. It feels disrespectful when she is so dependent on me in almost every way. I am her only source of support.
I have never told her how her actions when I was a kid made me feel about her, and it’s too late now. It would only cause her pain and guilt. But I also know that sometimes it comes out when she needs something more from me at a time when I’m stretched thin, and I get short with her. Or when she nit-picks something at my house when I’ve worked my regular job all week and put together a spread of food to feed everyone so we can be together. I am always riding the fence between love and concern for her and being annoyed and feeling guilty for it. I feel guilty because I don’t have time to spend with her every week but annoyed because she refuses to use the amenities at her independent living complex to get out and about without me. Worried about her diabetes and emphysema and irritated because she continues to smoke and eat sugary sweets. Guilty for feeling irritated when she’s 78 years old, and I want her to enjoy the time she has left.
I know Judy loves the baby I was when she saved me and the daughter I am today. I actively try to get her to talk about her own experiences in life because I don’t think anyone ever cared enough to hear her story before. I appreciate being able to understand better how she became who she was and who she is now. I take her out to do little things but she’s not healthy enough to fly or go on long road trips. It makes me sad because she and my dad used to talk about traveling “one day” when he was still alive and healthy. They took a few cruises but, otherwise, never left California. I wish I could share my writing with her but she can’t read and doesn’t or can’t really listen when I have tried to read something aloud to her.
When I talk about my mom, it really is complicated. On every level. I sometimes wonder how I’m going to react when she dies. I know I will be sad because it makes me feel sad to think about it. I just don’t know if I’ll be sad because I miss her or because of how much she missed out on in life. I don’t know if I’m a good daughter or not. I wish I could feel about her the way I think she wants me to feel. I wish I could love her enough to make up for all the loss in her life. I don’t know how to tell her that. I hope somehow, she knows.