Chapter One, draft

— I am 3/4 of the way, in writing my memoir. Summer hasn’t allowed for much writing time. But I’m carving out time for my writing again, with plans to spend a weekend with my writing teacher and fellow memoir writers the first of October.
Here goes, a sample. Keep in mind it’s a draft and unedited by an editor.

Chapter One

I kept a steady face while squeezing my clenched hands together under the café table as I struggled to hear the blow of my daughter’s words. “I don’t see any hope for you and me in this lifetime.”  I searched her eyes for some recognition of a mother daughter connection, of love, but I could only see a cold blue hardness. My blond haired, blue eyed baby now 31 years old stood taller than me and beautiful. I wanted to reach for her hand and ask for forgiveness, but I kept hitting the invisible wall she had built between the two of us. 

Just 30 minutes earlier I was driving to the coffee shop trying to keep my anxiety at bay. We had decided to meet to discuss me keeping my two-year old twin grandchildren. She needed care for a certain day, but she had some rules she needed to stress. Looking out at the mountains that surround Missoula was usually settling to me. I wanted to be hopeful. All I could think of were the mistakes I had made as a mother. Times that trust had been broken, the times my past traumas caused me to give into my anger and act in ways I would later be ashamed of.  

At the same time, I knew I was a wonderful grandmother and wanted desperately to stay in my grandkid’s life. I’m a kid person, ran my own childcare for seven years. Plus, my grandkids were particularly cute, smart and fun. The days I knew I would spend time with them, felt like Christmas morning. I could hold them, feed them, watch their innocence while witnessing their personalities form from infant hood. My grandson, born first, had a wisdom about him while my granddaughter who arrived just minutes later exuded sweetness. About twice a week, I had been asked to help out. Come spend time helping at nap time, tidying up, taking them for a stroll or just holding them or changing a diaper. It was what I lived for, but I was careful never to just stop by. Now and then, I did ask if I could come by, bring a meal, a snack and help, but I made sure to keep those requests at a minimum. My daughter had boundaries, I so wanted to respect them, rebuild trust between us. She asked me to come along to help shuffle the babies and all their gear for their first doctor’s appointment and a few others that followed. In the months after they were born, I might be asked to come along for the same purpose to grocery shop. One such occasion, at the store, I was holding my granddaughter. I walked over to the essential oils to sample some smells. 

“Mom, what are you doing?” my daughter yelled at me. “Don’t you know that some essential oils can cause seizures in babies?” Her rebut crushed me. I didn’t know. I was glad to know now. My intent had not been to harm my granddaughter. 

Wide eyed, I slunk away from the display, following behind my daughter the rest of the shopping trip, careful not to stray. 

When my grandchildren were a couple of months old, my daughter asked if I could stay the night. Her partner had to go out of town for work. I was so excited, a sleep over with my daughter and grandchildren. I’d cook dinner, do laundry, whatever was needed. My daughter and I had even planned to watch a movie together once the twins were down for the night. I spent the afternoon cooking as I counted the minutes until I could head to her house. At 6 PM I arrived at her door with her favorite meal, cheese grits, a salad and pork tenderloin along with groceries for a breakfast spread. Our evening was magical as we ate and played with the babies. Once they were asleep, we settled together on the couch to watch Boyhood, a movie we both had been wanting to see. Snuggling up to watch a movie or show together was always something we both enjoyed, and I took it as a sign that our relationship was healing. Finally, at 10PM it was time for bed. “Hey mom” she said, “I want the babies to sooth themselves back to sleep. Please don’t go in and pick them up unless they cry for at least 10 minutes. And don’t give them any medicine or natural remedies without asking me first.” She had a baby monitor in her room so she could keep an eye on them. I settled onto my makeshift bed on the couch, determined to follow her directives. But in the middle of the night, I was awakened to my granddaughter’s cries.  My granddaughter was not soothing herself back to sleep. Oh, I wanted my daughter to finally get a good night’s rest. She was doubly exhausted from the surgery of a C section, no sleep and constant care of the babies. I sat up on the couch feeling the pull of my crying granddaughter. How long had it been since she had been crying, was my daughter awake? Every maternal string in my body was being pulled. When I couldn’t take it any longer, I went to my granddaughter’s crib and picked her up. She was hurting from new teeth pushing their way in. Without thinking, I reached for the homeopathic teething gel and rubbed some on her gums. The door almost immediately swung open. “Didn’t I tell you do not give them anything without asking” my daughter scolded. Suddenly all the magic of the night was gone. She had and I had failed. I was sick to my stomach that I had not been more mindful of her wish. 

I pulled up to the coffee shop breathing through my anxiety.

Just a few days before I was at my daughter’s house helping with mealtime and bedtime. I asked what day they needed me. “Tuesdays” she replied. “But we have some rules we need to make sure you can follow.” That familiar pit in my stomach, almost close to nausea feeling caused me to look away. My face dropped when she said, “I had told you before not to take the kids for a walk further than a couple of blocks without checking with me first and you did anyway, back in February when you took them to the Shack to eat.” For a minute my mind was blank. Then I remembered, yes six months earlier, it was an unusually nice day for that time of year. I was taking care of my grandchildren, we ventured out for a walk to a restaurant as there wasn’t much food in the house. They enjoyed their double stroller ride and the attention of wait staff and others at the restaurant. Being a professional childcare provider, I was used to parents leaving their children in my care, taking them on walks, going to the park and more. They trusted me. I was always vigilant in assuring the children on my watch were safe. That vigilance was even stronger with my own grandchildren.  

Once again, I felt shame for my actions. Any good I was doing was being cancelled out.

I had taken grandma liberties knowing I would jump in front of a train for my grandkids. With that knowledge we had ventured out without even considering that my daughter was sensitive to my actions. While I trusted my protective knowledge, she did not. And she had reason not to. 

During my daughter’s teen years, I had been reeling from pain of the discovered infidelities and other secrets of my husband, her stepdad. I turned to alcohol to numb the pain.  I profoundly lost myself during her crucial teen years. A few marked times, my daughter witnessed me as an angry alcoholic.

 By the time I got home that night after helping get the twins to bed, I was so upset and distraught I was beside myself. I had walked on eggshells for the past two years, tried everything I could to prove to her that I was trustworthy, that I loved her and would do anything for her and my grandbabies. It was beyond painful that we continued to have such conflict in our relationship.  More often than not, when I left my daughter’s house I felt like a monster unless she needed me then I was her doormat. I wished she could see that I was not the person I was when I was married to her stepdad. I could feel she wished me out of her life. 

I knew I was done with this abusive pattern and needed a change. Heartbroken and defeated, I pulled out my laptop and pounded out an email which I re read several times before sending. It was half question, half plea. 

“I wasn’t sure where you are on whether or not to go to counseling together. My concern is that you really aren’t comfortable with me keeping the twins. I know our relationship has not been an easy one. Also, know that your life is quite full. Taking the time to go to counseling with your mother may not be a priority. It’s important to fill your life with loving relationships. If our relationship is not serving you, I am willing to step away if that is what you would like. 

Let me know your thoughts.

I’d love to get to a place where at least you feel safe and some ease with our relationship. Mama”

Her reply was just another reprimand and it stung. “Mom, I’ve had some time to think about counseling, and it’s not something I want to do. You and I have talked about the important rules that we have for anyone watching our kids, I’m not sure that going to counseling will do much. I felt good about the conversation you and I had and could tell that you took the rules seriously. Are you feeling like they are ones you can go by?”

It was after that we had arranged to meet. It was my idea. I hoped that we could talk things out and clear the air. 

As I parked my car at the coffee shop, I spotted my daughter waiting at the door. She smiled and waved. I felt a twinge of hope, maybe we could work things out. My thoughts jumped back to just before I knew she was pregnant, when she was working as a preschool teacher. She asked if I’d like to come volunteer and help in the classroom. I jumped at the chance and went off to get my background check. I spent every day of the next week immersing myself in the world of three-year children, singing songs, reading, serving meals, cleaning and getting all the little ones settled for naptime. During naptime my daughter and I would talk, whispering and laughing about all the cute things the children did. It had been 15 years since I had run my own childcare. I was in heaven. While we worked alongside each other she remarked, “I forgot how good you are at this.” It meant the world that she recognized this. During her elementary and middle school years, I ran an at home childcare, Frankie’s House. One of my many goals in having a childcare was to have my own child at home, while providing an as close to home feeling childcare for other children. My daughter had grown up witnessing me provide care, create fun and educational activities in a safe environment for the children who came to our house. Taking care of these children while being at home with my own child was one of the happiest times in my life. 

One afternoon, once off work from her pre-school job, my daughter texted asking me to come over. She said she wasn’t feeling well. As I headed over, I got a text saying, “where are you, hurry.” Now I was worried and sped up just a bit.  She was standing in the doorway when I got there looking quite well and smiling from ear to ear. She reached out and hugged me “You are going to be a grandma” she said. We held each other while I cried for the possibility of being a grandmother and the possibility that my daughter and I might heal our bruised relationship. 

We ordered coffee drinks, making small talk while we waited. She suggested we sit outside for privacy. As soon we were settled, she launched into it, “do you think you can follow our rules?” As always, I felt I had been punched in the gut. I had to bite the inside of my lip to keep from showing my hurt. I locked my eyes on her and steadied myself. “Yes”, I replied. I took a deep breath summoning all the courage I could muster and asked, “In return will you let me know when you are not feeling comfortable or you feel I am not following rules, as it comes up and not wait to talk to me about it?” She nodded, yes. Now that we were talking openly, I was determined to push forward. I could feel the sweat beads forming, I wasn’t sure if it was the 90-degree August heat or my nerves. I took another deep breath and went for it, asking one more time, “Are you interested in going to counseling together so that we can heal our trust issues?” I was feeling exhausted from the pain of our disconnect.  I was tired of feeling unappreciated and wanted a real change and that meant addressing another painful accusation. Ever since her teen years, my daughter had tried to diagnosis me. Certainly, when you see your mother as an angry alcoholic, you want to label it in order to understand it. At one point she entertained that I might be bipolar. Her latest diagnosis earlier in the year felt cruel and demeaning and I wanted her to know it wasn’t OK. She had asked me if I ever considered that I might have borderline personality disorder. I asked my therapist and close friends if they felt this was true. I got a clear no from all parties. My daughter and I had never discussed this again. I was never given the opportunity to let her know that was I not borderline.  I pushed further and said, “I’d also like to follow up with the question you presented to me earlier this year, whether or not I feel I might have borderline personality disorder. That was upsetting and needs to be talked about.”  I could see her demeanor change and her body stiffen.  “No, and I will not apologize for that” she said. Her words felt like a slap across the face. That’s when she delivered her knock out blow, “I do not see any hope for you and me in this lifetime.”  I sat for a bit, shocked, saddened and broken hearted. For twenty years, I had tried and failed to mend our broken relationship. 

Yet, I wanted to make sure my grandchildren would be taken care of, I wanted to stay in their life, but I didn’t want this painful pattern of allowing my daughter to keep punishing me for past mistakes to continue. After a couple of minutes of silence, I found my words, “do you have someone else who can keep the twins on the days you need?” I hoped that would snap her back to the present. I hoped that would soften her and get us back on track with our conversation. It was the whole reason we had come to talk. I’d do anything for my grandchildren and my daughter. I wanted this to work. Maybe if I gave her an out, if she didn’t really feel comfortable with me watching the twins, we might avoid more conflict and I could remain in their lives. Without hesitation, she answered, “I do.” With that she gathered her things and rode away on her bicycle. 

There are no excuses


I am writing my story as I remember it and what is true for me.
While I share my struggles and grief, I acknowledge and do not want to discount that my daughter had an experience of me that has caused her to cut me out of her life. I was a practicing alcoholic during my daughter’s crucial adolescent and teenage years. My marriage at the time was full of lies and betrayals. I was angry. She was witness to my drunkenness, my anger, be it shouting, leaving the house abruptly or feeling the tension of my silence. This was traumatic for her. If I could heal her trauma I would.

I can not undo what I did. There are no excuses. There are explanations.

Worthless or just misunderstood

One of the gifts of isolation time during Covid has been time, time to write, time for online writing classes and time to read. Reading other memoir is a great teacher while writing my own memoir. The latest memoir I picked up, What We Carry by Maya Shanbhag Lang is about mothers and daughters, family secrets and how we cannot grow up until we fully understand the people who raised us. I can’t put it down only stopping to re read and underline phrases.
Maya’s mother was a psychiatrist, her father had a temper and did not hold women in high regard.


“Against this backdrop, my mom’s stories provided a glimpse of an alternative universe where people aren’t worthless; they were simply misunderstood.”

This week, I was fortunate enough to have a small piece of writing published by Visible Magazine. A boost in the arm, knowing my writing is worthy of publishing. Maya’s quote worthless vs. being misunderstood struck a cord. I’d like to believe that if some understanding came to be, my family could heal. If grace ever presents itself for the opportunity to understand, I will surely welcome it. Meantime, I’ll accept what is and keep writing.

What I know and what I’m guessing

Here’s what I know, the rest I’m guessing at.

It’s been four and a half years since I have seen or heard from my daughter, fact.
She and I have struggled in our relationship since her teenage years. The struggle intensified when I divorced her step dad after an 11 year relationship. He was a good step dad. I stayed in the marriage longer than I should have because of that. He was a good man, but our marriage wasn’t. We both had a part in that. He and his infidelities, me choosing to stay with him in spite of that. Me drinking to deal, becoming angry, sometimes showing rage that my daughter unfortunately witnessed. It sucked for her. I have days of wishing hard for a redo or an opportunity for understanding and forgiveness.

I’ve read of relationships either strengthening or ending during this Covid time. In the beginning, I thought surely my daughter will want to connect, with all the fear this disease has evoked. Time passed, I got wind she was going through a divorce. As more time passed, the message was clear. She will not be reaching out. She has me blocked on all forms of communication. Covid will not be bringing us together. Nor will it be bringing me together with most of my family of origin. My sisters had a summer visit in the same town I lived in this summer. I didn’t hear from them. I learned on social media one sister has a new grandchild. The message is clear, for whatever reasons, some I am responsible for, divorcing, drinking and suicide attempt our family won’t be coming together. I suppose some things are unforgivable. Sometimes we are seen and defined by our worst actions.

I’m guessing, my family has deemed me crazy, unforgivable, toxic while the diagnosis of varying mental illnesses have certainly been tossed about amoung them. Since we don’t talk, I’m just guessing.
Some days, most days, I realize I have a pretty great life. I’m content really, living in a town I have loved since I discovered it. I’m healthy, have such dear friends, I’m pursuing creative outlets. I’m sober, I’m seeking, will never stop seeking and growing hopefully. I’m not pining to be in a relationship, nor do I feel I need another person to complete me or take care of me.
Some days I miss my daughter so badly, it kinda messes up the entire day. But those days are fewer and they will always happen. I am a mother. I miss my child.
As Dr. Joshua Coleman mentions in his talk here, I chose to feel the pain instead of avoiding it or pushing it away.

Thanks for reading a blog that started as a travel blog turned into a variety of blog posts, favorite shows, podcasts, writings, great places to donate, businesses to support, sometimes it’s sharing the journey of family estrangement. I feel it is an important topic to bring to light and discuss openly.

From Scientific America: “Family estrangement is one of my most requested topics from listeners and readers coping with the loss and isolation they feel when someone cuts family ties. In a way, the grief of family estrangement can be more painful—or at least more complicated—than the grief over a loved one who has died. When a family member voluntarily walks away, you may miss them and feel confused, ashamed, frustrated, and disappointed, especially if the hope of reunification is dashed.”

Rituals

We all have individual rituals. If I miss my morning coffee ritual, which doesn’t happen often, my whole day is thrown off. I have a couple friend, who take a nap every afternoon for 15 minutes with the timer set. Another friend, does yoga daily. We now have the ritual of picking out the perfect face mask for the store outing. All of these help us feel grounded and add to our individuality.

Then there are the collective rituals; weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs, baby showers, graduations, baptisms, cheering on a sports team, dancing at a concert, Friday prayers and funerals to name a few. In participating in these, we bond, we are allowed to express emotions in socially acceptable ways. We can feel relief, inspired, connected and full of love sometimes during rituals. All these rituals will come back and certainly some new ones are being created at this moment. I’ve had a couple of 6  feet apart lunches outdoors with a friend. That’s a new one. Zoom conversations and workshops.

A few years ago, I became estranged from my daughter and grandchildren. It’s been a lonely grief process at times. Aside from my friends, who have held me, listened, and loved me. I certainly felt at a loss for an appropriate way to express my emotions at times. It’s not the kind of grief that is talked about often. Shame can be a hinderance. I was going to join a grief group once, however was told that since no one had died I couldn’t join in. Understandable, but where do I put this grief? It’s not the kind of loss that is talked about often. I feel for those who have lost a loved one to Covid19. I hear stories of virtual funerals. Meantime, they need a hug.

This poem from my collection: Snippets on Estrangement

I Need a Funeral

I need a funeral
Bring food and flowers
Hold me
Cry with me
Tell stories of those we love

No one has died
But they are missing
May never be seen again

 

Photo credit, Fscott images, ritual gathering for sea turtle release.