Love is letting them have the last cookie.

So, there have been 4 times my son has said things to me that have literally gobsmacked me…made my jaw drop and my eyes bug out. Did I get over it? Of course. Do I still bring these up to him around holidays when he’s shopping for my gift? Of course. 😐

The first time was when he was 18 and while I was walking out the door to get to school, he said this: “Ma, so and so moved to an apartment and needs help with the rent. I want to move in with him.” I said, quite reasonably I might add: “Over my dead body. We’ll discuss it when I get home.”

I got home and he was packed, the living room was full of his stuff, and 2 guys were loading up their van. I said: “O. What in hell are you doing?” He said: “Ma, I told you I was moving out.” I replied: “NO you didn’t! You told me that some boob I’ve never heard mention of before couldn’t pay their freakin’ rent so you were ‘wanting’ to move in with him. I said we’d discuss it.” His response? “Ma, I talked to him about it.”

So, discussing this issue with ME…the person who raised him, loved him, nurtured him, paid for private school for him, and spent every waking minute of his 18 years adoring every bone in his body is NOT who he discussed this with. Instead, he listened to this guy who promised living with him would be nirvana. Blech.

Little did I know how insignificant this was until he popped over about a year later and said this: “Ma, I want to move to Texas for a promotion at Verizon.” I said: “Over my dead body. You are NOT moving 800 miles away from me. Period.” This was all said with as stern a look as I could muster as well as forcing a couple tears in my eyes which were hard to come by through my shock. His answer? “Ma, I’ve already accepted the job, rented an apartment, and am getting a U-Haul on Tuesday.”

WHAT? As much as I love my son, there are times I wonder if he understands the difference between asking and telling…between throwing an idea out there to discuss and having a solid plan with monetary investment. I said: “O, we need to DISCUSS this! This is a HUGE step! I won’t be there for you when you need me…it will take me a day to get to you!” His smile couldn’t be hid and I starting looking for condos on Zillow. Unfortunately, I was married at the time and didn’t think relocation would go over well. Fortunately, I taught over-load every semester so I could fly down and grace him with my presence every couple of months. I know how much he longed for these trips. 🙄

The factory in better days.

The third time I was stunned by another revelation of his was when we were driving on an overpass in our town and went by an abandoned furniture factory that looks like a strong wind could raze it. He said: “Me and G have climbed up that a few times and messed around on the roof.”

Heh?

Me: “You did WHAT?” (please say WHAT in the screechiest voice possible)

O: “We climbed to the roof and played around…you know, doing flips against some of the ventilation hoods, sitting on the edge, and poking around just to explore.”

Me: “How the hell did you ‘climb’?”

O: “Mother, we shimmied up drain pipes until we could find pieces of fire escapes that weren’t rusted through and then pulled ourselves up by ledges.”

Me: “Ok. Let me get this straight in my head: You and G climbed up a dilapidated, crumbling factory that was built during the time of Jesus and used pipes and rusty stairs as a means. Then, when those weren’t available because of 1000’s of years of corrosion, you used ledges like a mountain climber uses rocks.”

O: “Yes! That’s exactly it!”

Me: “I forbid you to ever ever ever ever do anything that stupid again. What the hell were you thinking?”

O: “We were just bored.”

After he shared this little tidbit with me and saw my conniption fit happen while I was driving 45 MPH in rain, he said he would never tell me anything else he did as a teenager. As much as I’m a believer in transparency, I said this was for the best. I preferred not to have a heart attack in my 40’s.

The last time (and I know this announcement won’t be the last, but as of now, it is) was just this past weekend where we had a conversation that went like this:

Me: “O, have you thought about ever getting engaged to K? The woman who you have been with for a few years now, have bought a home with, have adopted pets with, and who you can’t walk by without hugging/kissing/touching her while calling her baby, angel, and love to the point I think you’ve actually forgotten her name?”

O: “No.”

Me: “Why?”

O: “Ma, I don’t ‘believe’ in marriage.”

Me: “For fuck sakes, why?!”

O: “Ma, it’s antiquated and only a piece of paper…there’s no reason for marriage in our society anymore!”

AAAAGGGGGHHHHH! I hate it when people say ‘it’s only a piece of paper.’ Let me tell you, that ‘piece of paper’ is powerful!

In the U.S., there are 1,138 benefits that are granted to couples when they sign that paper. Examples are making medical decisions and being able to visit your spouse in the hospital (ICU, etc.) – God forbid that ever happens, sharing joint parenting rights, not having to testify against them (which in O’s case and his climbing predilection may be in his favor 🤨), etc. However, understanding my son as I do, as well as acknowledging the genes he inherited from his father, I know that hitting him in the wallet is much more appealing so I prattled on about income tax breaks, insurance benefits, spousal IRA’s, selling homes (in regard to capital gains), etc.

Now, this made him think a bit. Just a bit though. Then he said: “Ma. I am a wedding photographer and I’ve seen people that spent $30,000 on a wedding while demanding perfect pictures of their ‘forever’ day only to get divorced a year later.” OK. He has a point. A huge point. However, I see marriage and living together analogous to owning a house and renting an apartment. So I said:

Me: “O, in all of the apartments you’ve had over your many years of life (28), did you ever paint them, repair their plumbing, strip and re-varnish the cabinets, pay for new carpeting, shovel the walkway, mow, replace windows, or anything else that would fall under the heading of maintenance.”

O: “No, ma.”

Me: “Now that you’re in your house…your mortgaged home in which you have a long term financial stake (note: reasoning involving money seems to work best for him…), are you doing these things now?”

O: Rolling his eyes: “Yes, ma.”

The point I was making to his was this: renting and owning are 2 different things. Now, before you comment about how you are just as committed to a live-in as you would be a spouse, I don’t doubt it! I felt the same in relationships…totally! However, walking away from a live-in partner is easier than divorcing…and yes, I speak from experience. 😬

It’s kinda like when people say: “I love my dog/cat like I’d love a child.” OK. I’ve been there…done that. I LOVED my first little dog, Scooter, with all my heart…as I have every other furry sweetie in my life. {In fact, it’s been 9 months since Dottie died and I can’t go a day without crying. I miss that little shit so much.} However, after I had my son, I realized my love for pets and my love for kids is simply different (this may not be the case for everyone, it’s just my experience). The feeling I have for O is so much more ‘inside’ and that’s the only word I can think of. It’s so much more primal…emotional…deep. All animal species risk their lives for their kids…protect their kids to the bitter end. Channing Sargent writing for oneearth.org says this: “The fierce and protective maternal instinct in different species is at least equal to, and in some cases maybe even stronger, than ours. Biologically programmed to preserve their species by protecting and caring for their young, some species go to incredible lengths to do so…” Even wolf spiders will carry hundreds of their kids on their backs to protect them. Hmmm. Carrying O in a back pouch was difficult enough.

Would I do anything for O? In a freakin’ heartbeat. I can’t see myself in a situation where I wouldn’t run in front of a bullet or pin him down under me during a tornado. Not one. If you told me today: “Kristi, you have to die right now in order for your son to live, I’d say okey dokey.” If it were Edward or Mally? Honestly, I wouldn’t. Because I have O (and ma, pop, T, etc.) to live for. It’s as simple as that. Mom’s have been known to lift cars, walk into fires with no hesitation, jump into swirling water, and the list goes on. I’m not saying all people don’t love completely! Not at all! I’m just saying it’s a unique love with kids, whether they’re biological, step, adopted, nieces, nephews, or any kid you see as family. It’s just ‘more.’

Yes, divorces are easier to get nowadays and Lord knows I’ve had my share. But you’re always ‘connected’ in a way when you’ve been married…especially when you have kids. And even when you don’t, things pop up: when I applied for my passport this week, I had to list my last spouse and other married names I’ve had (thank the Lord I’ve kept mine for 30 years now…it would be too much to write out if I hadn’t). That’s why health forms ask if you’re married, widowed, divorced, or single…because it makes a difference in terms of stress and other potential physical and psychological issues.

So, O’s response to this ‘rant’? “Ma, you are just so old fashioned…you just don’t ‘get’ it.” And he’s right… because I am old and fashionable 😏.

I guess I do want O to be more traditional…more willing to commit to someone by declaring it publicly and having a legal ‘piece of paper’ to show that. But really, all I want is my baby to be happy…to live a healthy, content life…and to eventually, give me ‘something’ (I can no longer say the g_______ word…I’ve been forbidden) to hold and cuddle since all of the people I went to high school with have them. If does this without paper, I’ll love him and support him. If he gets married, I’ll love him and support him. And, I’ll be able to buy a rockin’ mother of the groom dress too. In fact, I’m gonna start looking now. 😉

Kristi xoxo

“So darlin’, darlin’, stand by me” ~ Ben E. King

So, one of my students and I always walk out to our cars together after my last class and today she said something no one has asked me before: “How do you take everything people put on you?” I looked at her quizzically and she went on to say this: “We are always sharing things with you and burdening you with our problems…doesn’t that get hard to deal with?” I told her that it didn’t and I was just the kind of person people open up too. But, as usual, I started thinking about this more and realized that it probably does affect me more than I let on…or that I even admit to myself.

As the Grand Poobah would attest too, teaching Psychology (and Sociology) puts you in a position of teaching topics/issues/concepts that are so personal. For example, in my Marriage and Family class (my area of expertise…I have enough experience 🙄) we talk about issues including domestic violence, child abuse with special emphasis on sexual abuse, rape, infidelity, divorce, alcoholism, mental disorders and their affect on relationships and the list goes on. Pretty heavy stuff, huh?

In my Theories of Personality class that my student is in we talk about attachment, parenting, various conceptions of personality development that can go awry, personality disorders, theories that explore our neurosis, Horney’s Tyrrany of the Shoulds, the Inferiority Complex (Adler), our Shadow archetype (Jung), anxiety and defense mechanisms (S. and A. Freud), identity formation (Erikson), issues relating to freedom (Fromm), love (Fromm), conformity, social belonging, narcissism, psychopathy, real self vs. ideal self (Horney and Rogers), self-esteem, self-worth, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-image and you get the point. ALL of these topics can bring things up in students and even though it sounds absolutely horrible to admit, tears are sometimes shed.

Today we talked about Humanistic theories and discussed Roger’s belief in phenomenology and how it’s OUR perceptions, based on OUR experiences, that need to be the focus of attention. We live in our own bubbles based on things we have gone though which skews perceptions…but those perceptions, though maybe not rational, are real and need to be validated. After all, they’re ours.

So one of my students is a recovering heroin addict who spent 6 years in prison and has been clean since. She lost custody and contact with her first 2 children because of this but has another little girl she’s raising with her partner. The little girl has special needs and acts out uncontrollably at times. She’s in the process of being evaluated, etc. but it’s really hard for my student to handle. When we started talking about how our experiences shape our perceptions, she started crying and said this: “I’m a horrible mom. I get so impatient and so frustrated and I’m giving her these experiences that are going to screw her up. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a mom.”

This broke my heart. This woman is one of the kindest, smartest, and most motivated person I know and she works and tries with her daughter so hard. But, she makes mistakes. She yells and gets upset and cries and is now beating herself up over these times her daughter is taking in. After she calmed down I asked her this: “Name a perfect parent.” She couldn’t. I said: “Name a parent who is 9.9/10.” and she said YOU and I started laughing. WHAT? I told her that you could write every single mistake I made with O on the huge walls of our lecture hall and would still need room for more. I even called O on speaker and asked him to rate my parenting…he said he would probably give me around a 7.5-8. So, in other words, I have degrees in Psych and Family Studies, have worked with ages from 2- 70, have certifications out the wazoo…and I’m a C parent 😳.

She started laughing and we talked about how we are all going to ‘give’ our kids negative experiences because we’re human…they’re human…and when you have 2 imperfect humans interacting, there’s gonna be issues. But that’s OK. It’s normal!

Throughout the same class, students have also talked about lack of self-worth stemming from an assault, growing up in an abusive home where there was never any acceptance or positive interaction, feeling inferior to everyone else, confronting their ‘shadows’ and things they have done that they regret, etc. And I listen, validate, comfort, and sometimes advise if I think it’s appropriate.

And you know, in all of my 28 years of teaching at the college level, I have NEVER once talked about domestic violence, sexual abuse, rape, alcoholism in families, or anything else without a handful of students in each class talking about their own experiences or coming to my office to share with me. It breaks my heart. So much. And it’s hard to not bring that home and have it haunt me. I just want to take these young people and wrap them all up in a blanket and schlep them off to a bubbled island where they won’t ever hurt again.

But I have my own issues too. Ever heard of ‘Imposter Syndrome’? This is when you feel like a fraud in what you do…that you really aren’t good enough for the position. I feel like this a lot! Here I am…someone who did shitty in high school…standing in front of future lawyers and counselors and executives and teaching them for a grade that will be on their transcript forever. Sometimes I think I should be in one of the seats…not out in front.

And today? We’re talking about DV in class and I always get choked up. How can I not when ma suffered 28 years at the hands of a batterer? And then we listen to a 911 call placed by a little girl, 7, who’s reaching out for help while her step-father beats her mom in the background. This resounds with me. I used to hear R beat mom when I was in bed. The fear and paralysis and sounds and powerlessness are still there in my head. The first time I heard it I couldn’t believe what was happening. It was the most awful night in my life and growing up in a home with that throughout my teen years has affected me. So when I hear the call, I can understand the girl’s anguish. (And yes, I called 911, my grandparents, my sissy, etc. and we all tried to help ma as much as we possibly could but ultimately, it’s the victim that has to take the help 😔).

When I lecture about sexual abuse, how can I not think of the 2 years I was abused by my psychologist? How can that wound not be re-opened every single semester in multiple classes? Then, when my sweetie students start to share their stories with me, it crushes me.

I never get through my lecture on divorce without choking up to where I sometimes need to take a breather. I hated my parents divorce…it was so hard on sissy and I, and I swore my kid would NEVER ever experience the break-up of their family. Yet he did and I remember his pain. His tears. His shouts. His haunted eyes. And I beat myself up again and again for that.

When we talk about mental illness and it’s stigmatization and how hard it is to live with, I get angry. Why is there still so much shame associated with illnesses no one wants or deserves or asks for? And then when my students message me and tell me they experience depression or anxiety but can’t ask for help because they’re scared people will look at them differently, I cry…because they’re right. You are looked at differently.

So I guess I take on other’s burdens because they need me too. They need someone to share with and talk too and learn from…something I didn’t have in school. They come to me because I’m open about things I’ve gone through…they know about ma (she has actually spoken to some of my classes), me having bipolar, me having been abused, etc. I share with them because they need to know there are people behind these statistics…text chapters…articles. When I say to them: “I understand” they know it’s true. Look, they’re there for me everyday…the huge family I never had and they let me live out my passion to teach and make me feel like I might be making a bit of a difference in their lives. I get back so much more than I give to them so if another student ever asks me why I take so much on, here’s what I’m going to say: “Because I love you all.” It’s as easy as that.

Kristi xoxo

A Good Mom can say Bad Words.

ocean water wave photo
Photo by Emiliano Arano on Pexels.com

Dear Son,

So, I don’t know what it is with letters right now.  I’ve written to Lady Gaga, Kim Kardashian ( 🙄 ) and Robin Williams lately, but now I’m writing to the most important person ever…you.

Anyhoot, I know I could have sent this to you directly but you know how important education is to me (even though you didn’t complete the 2 classes you need to get your degree…we’re still not done discussing that, SWEETIE 😒) and I wanted other mentally ill mothers to read what I’m going to say too.  I know you won’t mind since you got such a rockin’ birthday present this year…just sayin’ 😬.

Baby, I know it wasn’t easy having a mentally ill mom.  You can deny that all you want and say it never affected you but I’m not stupid (even though from 13-20 you thought I was) and I know it did.  You always tell me what a great ma I am and I think I remember every time you’ve ever said it because that’s how much it means to me.  But I’m going to let you in on a little secret:  I don’t believe you.  (I also don’t believe you didn’t drink before you were 21…and I’m pretty sure I’m right 😳).

I think I was a good mom…better than some but worse than others.  I do know I was the kind of mom that was a go-getter and worked hard to give you the life I wanted you to have.  I didn’t always succeed though…not by a long shot.

bipolar-quote-4

You know how freaking happy (I won’t cuss in this…gramma would yell at me for a week and you know how screechy her voice is 😐) I was when you were born, but I was scared as hell too.  There were so many times in my life that I didn’t understand myself…didn’t understand what I was feeling, or why I was doing the impulsive things I did so often, or why my head was filled with so much noise it was sometimes hard to hear anything over the din, or why I’d run like a motor one day and then crash the next.  My Lord (yes, I know you don’t believe in God but I’m going to change that come hell or freaking high water 😈), how was I ever going to know what you needed and felt when I was so lost myself?  I was petrified.  *And a little secret?  So was your dad…but he’ll never admit it.

Anyhoot, there were times in my life when I didn’t know if I could take care of myself… times when if grandma and your great grandparents (who would have totally adored you) hadn’t of, I don’t know where I’d be right now.  Then when I was preggy, I started to wonder if I’d be able to cope with everything a ma has to do and I was so scared I might not be able to take care of you.  But I did.  And I loved it (even changing your little diapers…except when your dad would feed you spinach and then I would have paid anyone a thousand bucks to take that over for an hour or so 😲.  And yes, I know it’s not ladylike to say ‘bucks’).

You were so patient with me and even when I did mess up, like when I would try to shove rice cereal down your gullet when you were crying, you didn’t care.  You were such an easy going baby (until you got colic and I thought your dad was going to go as nutsy as I already was, but luckily you out-grew that in 4 of the longest months I’ve ever experienced in my life 🤨) and exactly what I needed.  It’s funny how you spend 9 months wondering ‘who’ you are going to get, and then no matter what, you get exactly who you wanted.  Period.

positive-quotes-in-time-of-sickness-with-on-mental-health-and-illness-healthyplace-5

I don’t think people realize how those of us with mental illness struggle so much with parenting.  Obviously, you know how sensitive I am.  How impulsive.  How much I ruminate.  How much I question myself.  How deeply I feel guilt.  How quickly I assume blame.  How I feel so much empathy for others that it can be overwhelming.  How I feel like I have to ‘do’ and ‘give’ for anyone to love me.  How I’m either busy busy busy or so down I’m pretty much camped out on the couch for a period of time.  Of course you know all of this now, but didn’t for all your growing up years.  Remember when you came home that one day after being bullied in the 2nd grade?  I was distraught.  Your pain was my pain and I wanted to wrap you in a blankie, tuck Barney under your arm, and put you in a plastic bubble with me.  Seeing you hurt was the worst thing imaginable.  Your pain always became my pain and that’s why I often over-reacted to things you experienced, which is pretty ‘normal’ for those of us with bipolar.

When I made wrong decisions, I’d beat myself up for days and days even though you forgot about it within hours.  When you brought home a bad grade (sigh…) or did something you knew you shouldn’t have, I blamed myself.  It was because of me that these things happened.  I was to blame.  Yes, I know you would tell me that it was YOUR fault…your decisions…your choices.  But I still felt the culpability began and ended right here.  That’s why I never had the heart to really punish you (actually, I can think of VERY little you ever did to warrant punishment…you really were, and are, a great kid 😀).

I think one of the hardest things I had to overcome as a mom was dealing with school things.  The education stuff was a cinch, but the ‘mommy one-upping’ stuff stung.  You know I don’t have real friends.  That I have a pissy (sorry, ma) track record for relationships.  That I just don’t feel like I fit in because I truly am different from most everyone else.  It was so tough seeing the other moms cluster together at Scout meetings or during PTA nights while I felt like I was on the fringe.  I wanted to be more comfortable in being a part of all of this.  I wanted you to have just a regular ole mom.  Instead, you got me.  *BTW:  no exchanges.

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My biggest failures with you was this:  I didn’t try hard enough to be ‘normal’ and I didn’t summon up enough courage to eventually say I wasn’t.   I didn’t want to admit that something was very wrong with me.  I couldn’t face it.  I wanted to be like the mama’s I saw on TV growing up like Carol Brady and Shirley Partridge (both can singe really well so we do have that in common 🙄).  I think I pretended adequately for quite a long time though; I certainly had your dad fooled (not too hard to do…) and even though I’d always say I’m FINE (!) when gramma would ask me, she knew I was lying.  But, she wanted me to be fine so badly that she forced herself to believe I was telling the truth.  I can understand that since I was doing the same.

So I wrote off my depression as just ‘too much stress’ and my manic phases were channeled into making sure the house and the yard were perfect.  It was just “Kristi” being “Kristi”…no big deal.  “She’s just that way.”   But, it’s why I push you to talk to me when I see you aren’t feeling OK…I just need to know what’s bothering you in case it’s something serious we need to deal with.  I don’t want you to pretend or put on a mask like I did for so long.  I want you to be real with me, and I’ll support you…no matter what.  One of my biggest fears is that I might have passed something down to you and I pray every night I didn’t.   However, if God Forbid you should ever develop a mental health issue, it’s your dad’s fault.  K?  😏

Leaving your dad and agreeing to a divorce was the stupidest, most impulsive thing I’ve ever ever done in my entire life.  It went against everything I had tried to do for 13 years:  give you a solid family foundation.  Your dad and I were having issues…I know you’re aware of that.  But the manic phase I was in for quite a time took over and my decision making sucked big time.  I know it’s so hard for you to understand what it’s like to ruminate like I do, but I will never…ever…forgive myself for putting you through a divorce.  I always swore I wouldn’t.  I feel like I took away something of your teenage years by making you live between 2 houses.  That isn’t easy…I know that from my own experience.

I think I want to be perfect for you because that’s actually how I see you.  Yes, us mamas have rose-colored glasses and it’s very hard to see you any other way.  So, I want to take on any dragons that threaten you and give you all I possibly can to make your life better.  It’s so hard to do that though.  My own monsters take a lot of work themselves and because of bad financial decisions, I can’t give you what I wish I could.  I just feel so less than as a ma.  Like you were gypped.  Like I was the clearance ma no other angel in heaven wanted until you felt sorry for me and plopped yourself into my lap (it was an excruciating ‘plop’ by the way…16 hours worth…just sayin’ 🙃).

I get so scared when I think about how bipolar worsens as a person ages.  Depression increases…dementia is common…self-harm can be an issue…and suicide is something that is never fully out of the mind of someone with bipolar.  When I think about these things, I can’t help but cry.  I’m YOUR ma.  My job is to take care of you whether you’re 10 or 30.  I never want you to have to take care of me.  It shames me to think that could happen one day.

Actually, just being mentally ill shames me.  I know it sounds crazy (go figure 🙄) but there are so many times in my life I feel like I had to have done something horrible to be given this particular disease.  And, had I not done what ever ‘thing’ that was, you would have gotten the healthy ma you deserve.  It pains me to think of that.

I know your attention span is waning because you’re impatient like me, but I just want you to know this:  I’m so very sorry for how my illness has affected you all of these years.  I know I’ve embarrassed you.  I know I’ve made mistakes with you.  I know I do things that are outside your realm of comprehension.  I know I cry too much and talk too much and worry too much and need too much.  And I’m so sorry for that.  Don’t say that an apology isn’t necessary.  I’m the ma…and I know best (except in the case of gramma where I know best there too…just sayin’ 🤨).

This fucking (OK, I said it…I’ll record what ma says to me so you can hear 🤯) disorder has guided me into some hellish places over the years.  Places I pray you will never ever see.  But for some reason, God gave me you.  You.  The light that’s always there…shining like the star you are.  Thanks for that, Porkchop.

Marmie xoxo

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