Where Was My Mom?
Teenage girls do not like their moms. That’s just a fact of life, because moms are overprotective and strict and don’t let teenage girls be the teenage girls that they want to be. At some point, however, teenage girls become women and the dynamics of their relationships with their mothers change.
I’ve been waiting for that change, almost as if there was a switch and it just need to be flipped by me I presume. And then, just like that — like a flip of a switch — I would be friends with my mom the way I saw other women be friends with theirs. Like in movies or on television. Take Gilmore Girls, for example. Rory and Lorelai had an incredibly special mother-daughter relationship. Obviously it isn’t one-hundred percent realistic — it was perfectly forged for the silver screen and written with the intended purpose to capture the hearts of mothers and daughters everywhere. It was forged so well that even I, someone who has probably only watched the show for a total of twelve minutes, desperately wanted what I saw.
My mom wants it, too. She wants so badly for me to be the loving, doting daughter that other women, in real life or on TV, have. When I moved across the country, I started to feel like maybe I was getting closer to becoming that daughter. Finally. But for some reason, I never outgrew that feeling of annoyance that struck me whenever she called me just to say hi and check up on me, as any loving mother would. It was the same feeling I had when she was the overprotective and strict mom and I was the teenage girl who just wanted to be a teenage girl. Just leave me alone. I don’t want to be bothered right now.
I was afraid that even though I love her, I sometimes don’t really like her. Even admitting that feels innately wrong. Don’t get me wrong: sometimes, we do get along decently. We have our moments. But I still felt the way I did. And I feel bad about it. At least I am fortunate to have a mother at all. I’ve always known that, but it didn’t change the way I felt. And I think she knew it, and the relationship I have with my dad, who I consider to be my best friend, stings her, I’m sure.
Maybe it was just because we’re different and she just doesn’t understand me. That would be my awfully misguided reason for why we aren’t that close. Our upbringings couldn’t be anymore contrastive. She was born in the Philippines into a poor family that lived in a house that was less like a house and more like a hut of sorts. Because her life and her upbringing were so, so different from mine, she just didn’t get what it was like to be me, a teenage girl who was born into middle-class America with a foreigner for a mom and a dad who had retired from the military…Yeah, I know.
The real reason? Why didn’t I like her? Because she is a good mom.
“Tell me about your childhood.” My first session with my new therapist began how first sessions usually do. I give her the basic details: I was born in Arizona and I lived with my mom and my dad and my half-brother until at some point I was only living with my dad and my brother moved out and then I lived with my mom for some time before living with my dad for some time before living with my mom again. As far as the particulars went, like the nature of my parents’ marriage when they were together, the ages at which I went to live with one parent or the other, I had no idea about — and I never thought about them nor had any memory of them when I did try to think about them. Red flag.
“Where was your mother?” Such a huge part of my memory when it comes to my childhood was so empty, like a coloring book of empty outlines that went untouched, and this naturally made my therapist dig deeper to get me to try to fill everything in.
Where was my mom? I hadn’t even realized that my mom was gone. I mean, I knew that my parents had split — I don’t have a single memory of them being together as a couple — and that at some point she no longer lived with us. I know where she was as far as where she lived, but I couldn’t recall ever seeing her for some time. So, where was she? When did she leave? Why?
I called my dad and asked him. “Where was my mom?” Well, she moved out shortly after I was sick, which means I was about three years old, and less so because I was sick and more so because she was unhappy with her marriage. Understandable. I lived with my dad for sixish years until I was about nine or so. Everything after that, I can remember.
During those sixish years, though, where was my mom? I tried to close my eyes and see if my mind would grasp at something, anything, that could serve as an answer that question. But I still couldn’t recall ever seeing her face.
I report all this back to my therapist. She asks me more questions, one being if I ever expressed to my parents that I wanted them to be together. The answer was no, but there was a time when I was in high school and my 14-year-old self delivered a speech and mentioned not having a “fairytale family.” Growing up, I used to long for one of those. I came to terms at a very young age with the fact that my parents just weren’t compatible so I knew it wouldn’t happen. I accepted it. Besides, having divorced parents had its perks, like getting double the gifts on birthdays and Christmases, but it didn’t make me any less envious of anyone who came from a two-parent home.
I told my therapist how pissed my dad was for airing out our dirty laundry in front of an auditorium of strangers. “How did your mom react?” she asked me. I have no idea. I couldn’t remember.
I got an A in my Psychology 101 class during college. I thought learning about why we are the way we are was so interesting, but the only things that have stuck with me are a few vocab words that I must have studied so hard to memorize that they’re forever engrained in my head, like cognitive dissonance and operant conditioning. I know who Sigmund Freud is, but if you asked me what his five stages of psychosexual development were, I couldn’t tell you.
My therapist gave me a refresher. During the phallic stage is when children between the ages of three and six start to develop an Oedipus complex and make a distinction between the sexes of their two parents before eventually identifying with the same-sex parent. For little girls specifically, it’s called the Electra complex. In this stage, a little girl essentially competes against her mother for the affection of her father and becomes attached to him. The little girl realizes she doesn’t have a penis like him, gets penis envy and grows to resent her mom as a result. But then over time, she learns to identify with her mother because she, too, does not have a penis and therefore she adapts to her societal gender role and can begin to develop a healthy relationship with her mom.
So where was my mom when I was between the ages of three and six? My memory (or lack thereof) says she wasn’t there. I didn’t have any memories of her being around, therefore she wasn’t there. And because of that, my therapist tells me, it could be that even if she was there — and I knew that she was because I know for a fact that my mom didn’t just abandon me — I blocked her out mentally and kept blocking her out as a means of protecting myself from ever feeling hurt by her absence. So even when she was there in my life, like sitting in the audience right next to my dad during my high school speech, which I remember, she wasn’t. I saw her, but I didn’t see her. Wait. What?
“Where were you?” I called my mom to get answers, once and for all. This was a conversation I was avoiding because I knew it would upset her — we share the same sensitivity. I thought that me admitting that we didn’t have a great relationship and that I honestly could not remember her existing for a chunk of my life would make her sad.
She was confused. She was always there. How could I not remember? She told me her side of the story. She and my dad separated and she moved out when I was about three. She wasn’t allowed to see me for a few months. And when she finally could, she was working multiple jobs so I was living with my dad, and would spend some time with her maybe every few days or so, which usually meant I spent a lot of time with one of my many babysitters. There were a lot of babysitters, she said. And then I started to remember only one of them and how my mom would drop me off early in the morning, just before or after the sun would rise.
She was working multiple jobs, and by multiple I mean three, to support herself and me, and she would make time for me whenever she could but she worked so much that I just couldn’t remember any of those times. Therefore, in my mind, she wasn’t there.
She said I lived with her full-time when I was about nine, and that I do remember. I remember being with her and around her and living with her. But that was well past my phallic stage. The stage in which I needed my mom to be there. Because she wasn’t there, because she was busy being a good mom working three jobs, I mentally blocked her out. I’ve been mentally blocking her out.
It hit me while I was still on the phone with her, and we cried. My tears were tainted with shame for repressing and not remembering that my mom was there the entire time. Hers were tainted with shame for not being around enough for me to remember, for feeling like a failure of a mother.
This sob-ladden phone call took place while she was at work. I told her we could have it another time, but she insisted. It was fine, and she was there to talk to me.
Because she’s a good mom.