So this is what let down feels like.
Last Saturday I stood at a podium and shared my shame with 300 strangers and a handful of friends. I read a piece that’s been not quite 43 years in the making; a piece about my experience as my mother’s daughter and how she shaped me as a mom and as a woman.
It wasn’t an easy piece to write, much less speak aloud. And now that I’ve done that, I’m almost wishing I’d kept that door closed. I’m almost wishing I’d written something funny and irreverent instead of something that was so personal. I’m wishing that I’d made people laugh instead of cry.
Now that I’ve shared it, I worry. I worry that it looks like I’m whining. Worse, I fear that it will seem that I’m ignoring the good to focus on the bad. I know that’s not true, but does it matter that I know if I’m not saying it in the same breath?
I could have submitted other pieces. I could have talked about Adam being a completely unplanned surprise but how I knew I desperately wanted him when my doctor offered the alternative. I could have talked about my great aunt Mina and how she cared for me when I was little. I could have talked about how, after my parents divorced, my dad was a dad, a mom, a cheerleader and a friend. I could have talked about how he’s been my biggest advocate and my best friend all these years.
There’s an entire book there, in my dad. All those breakfasts he cooked every morning and brought, steaming hot, on paper plates when he picked me up for school. All those times he stood in the ‘women’s products’ aisle at Dillons—in his Ellis County Sherriff’s officer uniform no less—buying Kotex for his teenage daughters (something our mother, by the way, never did). All those times he stepped up, filled in and juggled three girls with his job, his extra jobs, his life. How he stood by my side during my divorce, was a strong shoulder when I needed it and still makes my day when he calls for no reason at all.
I have so much good to talk about. But that good never made the voice of mom disappear, and for me the voice of mom was—for lack of a better word– bad. Long after she was out of my life the voice was still there; not just the voice that called me names, but also the voice that lied and made up stories and manipulated so many.
Yes, I’m 42 years old now. Yes, there have been other voices over the years. Countless voices. Sweet voices. Genuinely good voices.
But none of them mom’s voice. None of them the voice of the person who’s supposed to love you no matter what. There’s a reason Mother’s Day is the third biggest card sending holiday and the second biggest gift-giving holiday; it’s because the experience of motherhood matters both when you’re on the giving end and the receiving end.
We laud and celebrate moms who have been good influences in their children’s lives. I can’t do that, at least not in a traditional way. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an experience of having a mother, and talking about that experience doesn’t mean the focus is on the bad. I doesn’t mean that I don’t value the good for everything it is. It just means that I’m acknowledging each for what it is.
Brene′ Brown talks about how shame thrives when it’s hidden, and how shame hates nothing more than attention. It was my shame, and no one else’s, that I shared on that stage, because I didn’t have to believe the voices all these years. I did, though, and I think it was because I always joked about it, brushed it aside, pretended it wasn’t as important as it is.
I’m not doing that anymore. On Saturday I put my shame in the spotlight. I demanded it prove itself or move along.
So my story; yeah, it was hard. It was ugly. It was real. But it is all of my story that has made me who I am today, and I’m ok with saying that, most of the time, I like who I am today. I am a good mom; not a perfect mom, but a good mom. And because I remember how utterly hopeless it felt to be ridiculed and demeaned, I parent my kids differently. I try to remember how I felt when I was their age and I try to be the mom I wanted but didn’t have.
I also try to make my dad proud, because I hear his voice too. It’s his example that reminds me that kids need discipline, that being goofy is necessary and that if people don’t like you when you’re real, they’re not worth worrying about.
For those unfamiliar, the stage I’m talking about was the inaugural Kansas City show of Listen to Your Mother. I read my piece titled ‘The 180 Factor’. I am grateful to Ann Imig for creating a way to celebrate every aspect of motherhood and to Erin Margolin and Laura Seymour for bringing the show to Kansas City this year as co-producers. Thank you for hearing my story, for telling me that my story matters, and for welcoming me to your LTYM family.