I was once a girl who was desperate for love. A gypsy, wandering the earth, looking for souls who would see who I am and not turn away.
I was a tumbleweed, rolling across the plains. I found myself in relationships and situations I did not belong because that girl, the one who was seeking, never saw herself completely.
Through the course of my travels, I did come across some beautiful souls. Some of them are no longer part of my life. Many of them have stuck it out, loving me when I could not love myself. Reflecting for me the person they saw, not the person I would see in the mirror each day.
As I fumbled around, I hurt a lot of people. Traumatized early in life by abuse, neglect, loss and fear, I pushed so many of them away. Anger and fear were my armor and shield. Too many had hurt me, so I put up a wall, thinking I would be safe. In reality, I was my own worst enemy.
Many left on their own. We had lessons to teach and to learn from one another but I took my sweet time. I went to the next person, and the next, seeking the same things but refusing to embrace the lessons I was being taught. My Momma and Daddy always said I had to learn things the hard way, and they were right.
I did not want to listen to either of them. Both of them hurt me early on, so their advice was not welcome. Keeping them at a distance while I maintained respect for them as my parents was a dance I did every day.
I lost one of my dance partners when I was only twenty-one. My dad passed away at the tender and young age of forty-one on a Saturday in May, 1988. When I got off the phone with my sister, I realized I had messed up. I couldn’t go tell our father how much I loved him, give him one of those big hugs he always asked for when he got home from work, or tell him I forgive him for being less of a dad than I so stringently expected him to be. Now, he had left me for good. It was so final. The one parent I felt had understood me, at least more than the other, was gone.
So, I turned to my mother.
Because I believed my mom had failed me in every way, I felt compelled to carry that bag of bricks around and show the world how much it hurt and how heavy my load. Our dance continued. Even after having children, and realizing how hard things had to have been for her and my dad, I still resented her. I would not let it go. So, while I did the things a good daughter should do, I burned inside.
I tried to do things differently with my children than Momma had done with me. I sat in the floor with a mess of toys around us and let them crawl all over me. I read books to them—every day. I put supper on the table at exactly 5:15 pm every night. I carried them to bed after cuddling and reading and singing with them. I stood outside the doors to their bedrooms and listened to them breathe as the moon and stars fell in a soft caress on their little faces through the window to their rooms.
When my kids were little I took them to see their Granny. I told them how much she loved them. I called her every week. I told her I loved her. But inside, I ached. I seethed at the memories of her betrayal and abandonment. I grieved the loss of my childhood, and resented my continuing need for her when I was sad, exhausted, sick or lonely. I missed my Daddy. I longed for my Momma.
I loved her from afar, wishing only for her cool hands on my raging forehead as the fever of anger and pain washed over me, wave after wave.
One of my friends used to tell me, “You have to learn to mother yourself.”
Because I had no idea what that looked like, I emulated her and some other women who showed the kind of love, attention, and nurturing to their children that I wanted as a child, and wanted to give to my own children.
I learned to play. My children taught me, and it was a wonderful awakening. I watched them as their chubby little hands smeared paint across paper, wrote their first letters, put together their Legos, and turned the pages of their books. I delighted in their laughter as they watched a movie or we sang songs together, as we fed the ducks and geese at the Duck Pond, and when they hunted Easter eggs or opened Christmas presents.
I learned to nurture. I wiped their tears, kissed their boo-boos, nursed them when they were sick, held them close when they needed to hear my heartbeat, and tucked them in safely each night.
I learned to love. They saw me as this amazing and powerful being. I wanted them to know they were amazing and powerful, too. I encouraged them to be themselves, to think independently, and to go for their dreams.
But I hurt them, too. In my quest for a life of purpose, I overlooked that I was fulfilling it by being right where I was with them. I made mistakes. I forgot (or maybe never knew) that loving myself was loving them, and I didn’t have to find all of this in another relationship or another town, or another part of the world. While overlooking how perfect my world was at that moment, I dragged my kids around seeking the love and approval I thought I needed from others. All the while, I kept trying to do the “right” things. In my attempts, I utterly failed so many times.
Today I am a strong woman who has finally found herself. I found my voice. I took back my power. I look in the mirror and see a deeply flawed woman who is creative and intelligent and brave. At last, I learned to mother myself and I realize I did the best I could with what I had in my life. When I see how my children have grown, I realize I didn’t do such a terrible job after all. Despite my lack of skills as a parent, I learned enough along the way to teach them one important thing: be yourself and love it. Maybe they have fears and bags of bricks of their own, but they know they cannot question they are loved and respected for being who they are. At least, that is my hope.
A few nights ago my mother sent a text. “Kim, I read your stories! They are amazing. You’re such a gifted writer. I wish I could write like that. I’m so proud of you.”
I was in bed, getting ready to read and go to sleep. My husband was sitting next to me with his book in hand. Quiet enveloped us as we sat together, a cat on each corner at our feet, and a fourteen pound Chiweenie snuggled between us.
He looked at me as I stared at my phone, mouth wide open.
“Did the world just tilt off its axis or something?” I asked, bewildered.
He smiled, “What was that, Zach?”
I laughed. My oldest son Zach calls me about twice a year. Hearing from him is always a delight, but waiting can be torture.
“It was my mom. Look at what she said.” I handed the phone to him.
He smiled after he read it. “Your Momma loves you.”
I talked to my mom a couple of days later. I actually called her on the phone. Imagine that, a call instead of a text!
We were chatting and I brought up her text. “Mom, what you said the other night about my writing, that means a lot to me.”
“Well, I meant it.”
Uncomfortable, I moved to the kitchen to wash dishes while we talked. “Yeah, but you’ve never said anything before, so I didn’t think you read my work.”
She laughed. “I always read your writing. Sometimes I take a while, but I read it.”
“Then why haven’t you said anything before?” I prodded.
Mom was quiet for a few seconds and then she said, “I don’t know. I guess I thought you knew.”
Our dance was complete.
I knew at that moment a truth I had refused to embrace. My mom loves me and always has. In all her glorious and imperfect ways, she has done her best to be my mother, the mother I needed, and though she failed to meet my expectations, she loved me just the same.
Peace comes to the gypsy, the wandering girl who became a warrior and found her purpose and voice, the tumbleweed who settled down back in her place of birth and began to love herself. I see now how my expectations were blocking the love that was there, however imperfect it may have been.
I thought about this in regards to my own children. How hard was it for me to let go of my misconceptions and resentments? I will turn fifty this year if I make it to my birthday. My kids are still so young. Though a couple of them have been more forgiving and understanding, the other two wear their anger and fear in full body armor and build walls of ice.
As I chip away at the armor and the walls, I know peace will continue to come.