I’m 32 years old and have the immense pleasure of getting to watch my Mom interact with my children. She reads them books and helps them build Legos. She scratches their backs and soothes them to sleep. She chases them through the park and tells them about Jesus. She prays for them and loves on them. Their relationship is beautiful and pure.
If only all relationships could be this easy…
I’m five again. She’s opening a box of white L.A. Lights. The laces are pink and white. She laces them up and unleashes me upon the backyard. I run as fast as I can, returning to her sweaty and smiling. “These are the fastest shoes ever!” I hug her.
Daddy is away for work. Off on a dive boat. The little girls are sleeping in the bunk beds and somehow I finagle my way into her bed. We talk all night. I fall asleep about the same time the sun comes up.
We move from Pasadena to Pomona, California. A little corner lot with a giant backyard. We watch Winnie the Pooh. I’m afraid of the Heffalumps and Woozles and squeeze my way into her “nest”. My sisters and I are so often doing this; squeezing into the space behind the bend in her knees and the couch cushions. There are three of us girls, so we are always rotating and fighting for the space. How she sacrificed her physical space for us. We were always all over her. It never seemed to bother her.
But then there is one day. I remember it still; she’s pulling our beat-up station wagon into a parking spot. We’re being crazy. We’re a horde of insanity. The four of us. Jeremiah, Rachel, Sarah, and Stacey, baby Joshua on the way. And she says it; “You’re making me crazy, I’m going to the loony bin.”
What’s a loony bin? We shrug it off but quiet down for fear of spankings.
It’s Dads birthday. We’re at Knott’s Berry Farm having a blast. The sun is going down and we hear our last name being called over the loudspeaker. “Douglass, Darren Douglass, report to the front.”
There’s been a fire. The house is essentially gone. Just about everything in it, gone. All of my brand new birthday gifts for my 10th birthday, gone. The ruby ring passed down from my great-grandmother, gone.
She doesn’t even cry. Not in front of us anyway. She’s like a rock. We’re in a hotel for days while looking for a new house. She keeps us sane, activity-filled, like the destruction of our home is somehow a fun vacation opportunity.
I’m struggling in my new school. I’m having a hard time making friends. I feel lonely and sad after our move. She becomes my best friend. She plans early morning dates. Almond flavored tea and cookies, fresh berries, and Bible stories. She holds my head above water as I transition my little life.
But then there is the scream. The one I’ll never forget. The one with the bad news. The one that changes everything forever. I find her slumped next to the phone. I’m 12. She’s whimpering and I think she’s been attacked. I look for wounds but don’t see any, they are all on the inside, a heart shattered. They aren’t coming home. Jeremiah, Daddy, they are gone. Just like that, gone.
I’m standing in her room. I’m screaming at her. “Get up! Get up! I hate you! I hate you!” My face is hot with anger and tears. I’m not mad at her, but I can’t verbalize my pain. I need her to be my rock again. I need her to get up and take care of the baby. He’s crying, he doesn’t understand. I’m just 13 and I can’t be his mom.
She does it. Like the walking dead she lifts her covers and walks. She’s like a ghost. But she’s going through the motions anyway.
I’m getting bullied at school. It’s middle school and kids are mean. I’m trying to hide it. I’m trying to be brave. She knows me. She sees me. She steps in. She rescues me. She’s broken on the inside but she still shows up and protects me.
She’s remarried and we move to Big Bear. I’m in high school now. She sits down with me Freshman year and tells me about goals. We write them out, working backward. She encourages my dreams and gifts.
I’m 16. I’m fighting for my freedom. We butt-heads. I scream at her and call her names. She’s doing this parenting thing on her own. She fails. She succeeds. She makes some really nasty horrible mistakes out of her brokenness. I hold hate in my heart. I’m good and rebellious all at the same time. I’m confused about myself and yet so sure of myself.
I’m 18. I’m leaving home. My car crammed full of my things. Off to college. I don’t call often. I leave my siblings with a sense of guilt. It’s my first Christmas away. I come back to visit. Home doesn’t feel like home anymore, I’m homeless, a nomad, a wanderer.
She’s not the woman that cradled me in her arms, that held me in her nest. She isn’t, but she is. She’s fighting this internal fight that I don’t understand. She’s barely holding her head above water. I judge her, I cruelly and deeply judge her. Things fall apart. Her marriage. Her life.
Rebuilding. Slowly, one brick upon the next. She invites me over, and asks for forgiveness. I say the words, but my heart doesn’t really get it. I wasn’t even the one she wronged. She’s working to repair the relationships she can. I’m still judging, in secret. I’m still angry. For years and years, I’m angry. I’m still holding that day, the day I screamed at her to get up in my heart. I don’t know how to exhale it out. I can’t be free of it.
He’s born. My son. Blue eyes and bald head. My heart breaks and is rebuilt bigger. I look at him one afternoon; he’s laying on his Daddy’s chest. It strikes me, if they were gone, taken in an instant, would I get up, would I continue to live? Would I fight back at the pain and be brave enough to make mistakes, to grapple, to claw at life?
There it is, through my own experience, that exhale, that ability to forgive, to understand, to have compassion and empathy. She’s made some mistakes, my mother, some big some small. She’s been broken, but she’s been brave. She’s clung to faith and slivers of light in the darkness. She’s held my hand as I baby-stepped through life, she’s pushed me when she knew I needed it, she gave me wings and allowed me to fly.
My experiences with her are my own. Unique, different to each of us children, and yet with commonality. In a way we still seek that nest, that refuge. We’re adults now, forging our own paths. Carving out our identities, standing on our own two feet. But on those days that life is too much to bear, when the pain of existence knocks the air out of our lungs, there she is. She’ll cry with us, talk us through the pain, the injustice. She encourages and loves in a way that is beyond comprehension.
Our relationship is not perfect. We don’t always see eye-to-eye. Sometimes we just have to shrug our shoulders and change the subject. We try to fill those gaps and differences with love, and for that love I am forever grateful.