A clear memory:
I was 9 and in 3rd grade and I went with my sister to spend a weekend with my Aunt Bea and Uncle Alex. My older brother and my two younger siblings were going to stay with a family from our school. Mom was making a trip to attempt reconciliation with my Dad. The whole weekend I was busy doing crafts and playing at Aunt Bea’s house, but I was anticipating Monday. Monday, my dad was coming back with my mom. I just knew it. And then we were all going to live in Rhode Island together. The nightmare that my parents were getting a divorce was over!
A fuzzy memory:
I have no idea what, in particular, I did during those days. I remember going to sleep every night and waking up every morning wondering if it was Monday.
When Mom picked me and my sister up on Monday, I don’t quite remember how it went. Mom visited with Aunt Bea for a little bit and then drove us the 60 minutes back to Topeka and dropped us off at school. We were tardy, but I was in high spirits..
A clear memory:
No one said we were moving to Rhode Island, and that Mom and Dad had worked things out…but I believed it with my whole heart. Why else would Mom have been gone the entire weekend? They were looking for a house where we could all fit, checking out schools, right?
At recess, I was sharing my joy with the two girls I talked with/hung out with at recess. I was parlaying my big plans for our reunion as a family when one of the girls laid it to me straight. She said, “Michelle…your parents are not getting back together and you’re not moving. I hate to see you get your hopes up for something that’s not real.”
I cried. I tried to argue, but couldn’t find the words. I wanted to scream that she didn’t know what she was talking about. But at some point it hit me that I hadn’t actually been told for sure. I mean, my mom said something about how her visit went well with our dad, but he didn’t come home with her. And I began to realize that without the physical presence of my dad, I couldn’t trust the words that came from my mother and I couldn’t trust my feelings.
Looking back, of course at the age of 9, I couldn’t process what was happening. However, in that moment, I was beginning to see the dashed hopes and dreams lying within the falsehoods of my pronouncement. I can see now that the idea – the dream – that my parents were not getting divorced was entirely of my own making.
I died a little bit that day. It was the beginning of my realization that Daddy wasn’t coming to get me. And that Mom wasn’t taking me to him, either. I remember that as the last day I ever thought or wished that my parents would get back together. It was the beginning of what became an outlook on life that has stuck with me to this day: “You can’t rely on any one person in this world. Suck it up and shut up and move forward.” Eventually, I learned that I could rely on my siblings and I could rely on God. I don’t think I’ve ever completely believed again that I could go to my parents with a problem and get true help.
I consult my dad, sure. We talk about things. However, there’s a wall there that prevents his counsel from becoming something I completely turn to and rely on. Bits and pieces of his counsel find their way into my reasoning, but many times I credit that to the fact that my father and I have a similar worldview and I’d probably go that route regardless of whether my father put words to it.
Later – when the days and weeks had passed and I got brave again and asked my mother why certain things were the way they were, I got told many times, “Your dad walked out on all of us, not just me” or “Your dad didn’t want you” and “Your dad doesn’t love us anymore.” Only as an adult can I see the horror of those statements. Only as a mother who would never dream of killing her children’s hearts, can I detest the hatred behind those statements and the hurt they inflicted.
Yes, hurt motivated the statements. I realize that. My mother was hurting. She was rejected. She was desperate. But to share that hurt with her children is something I find so difficult to comprehend.
I am blessed that the hurts my children experience are “children-type” hurts…however, it pains me to see my children hurt. And if I am ever the one to inflict the hurt on my children (and let’s be real, I’m an adult and I’m human, so I have done it…I have hurt my children’s feelings) it absolutely breaks my heart back on myself.
Part of what led me to counseling three years ago was an experience where I was blessed to hear what I just said from my daughter’s point of view. And I remember thinking immediately after that…”oh my gosh, that is something my mother did to me and I was so humiliated.”
That night I pulled my daughter into her bedroom and I hugged her and I told her that I was sorry. I admitted my fault. I said I was wrong. I told her that sometimes, I need to learn to hold my tongue. I told her that I loved her and that I would try not to talk to her like that again.
And I called to make an appointment for counselling the next day.