CONTENT WARNING: PHYSICAL CHILD ABUSE.
I’m still struggling mightily with this old memory of my mother acting like an ass during and after a ballet class.
(I’m done wondering why it’s so upsetting to me: the more I look at it, the more I realize that angry, terrified, miserable Moxie in her teen years had ONE place in the entire world she was not solely focused on survival: dance class. And her mother had stomped into it. Of course this memory is just as hard to root out as vicious physical abuse.)
My therapist wanted me to take out Russian nesting dolls and set up the larger one to talk to the younger one who had been nestled inside of herself.
OH I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, I said.
I couldn’t talk to her. I felt like an idiot. So I agreed to write her a letter.
Dear 13-year-old Moxie,
I am writing to tell you that you are
that you are
that we are
I am writing to tell you that I see you.
I see that you are in hell. I see that you wake up in hell, and you wait for the bus in purgatory, and you ride the bus in relative peace except the times that kids try to fuck with you and then school is hell, too. And then you walk as slowly as possible from the schoolbus toward home, stretching out the time it takes to get home, because when you get there, your mom will be there.
Or she won’t be there, and you’ll feel you can relax for a few hours, but when she gets home and sees you haven’t magically cleaned the entire pigsty of your home by yourself she will scream and hit you, or just make you fear she will.
I see you feeling like a failure at age 13, like you can’t do anything right. I see that you are beautiful and you think you are repulsive (yes, you ARE beautiful. It’s not just your parents who think this). I see you are confused and angry and hateful.
Mainly, I see that you are exhausted.
You are exhausted from lack of sleep. You are exhausted from being terrible in school (did you know that other parents help their kids have time and space to do homework instead of immediately setting them to work the instant they walk into the house? It’s true.) and from discovering that everything you do at home isn’t thorough enough, fast enough, clean enough, thoughtful enough.
And you are exhausted by your mother.
I know you hate it when people tell you how you are feeling or how you think, and they are usually wrong. But I’ve had a lot more time to think about you than you have: I’ve had more than 30 years to reflect.
And you think that you are responsible for your mother’s feelings, and her actions.
You do. I know you’ll say: “I do not; that’s crazy!” but that horrible, agonizing embarrassment you feel when your mom acts like a total fool in public (and she IS acting like a fool in public; nobody gets drunk and loud and throws themselves around like that past the age of 23)? It’s more than regular teenage embarrassment of your parents.
Do you remember when she jumped to conclusions and beat your little sister for something you had done (hmm; maybe this hasn’t happened, yet)? It’s the only time you fought your mom, physically (except when you end it all at age 19 — that’s going to be a good day)– not because you thought she didn’t have the right to hit her children like this: with fists and weapons and kicks from her long, powerful farm woman legs, but because you thought you deserved the beating instead of your sister.
After she fought you off and locked the door behind her, after you gave up trying to kick the door in (and you blamed yourself for not being able to; you blamed it on your fear of what your mother would do if you damaged the door), you slid down the door and listened to her beating your sister, and every shriek, every sound of fist on flesh and outraged screaming — it felt like you were the one doing it to her.
You know what other parents do when their teenage daughters hit each other?
They tell them to separate. They ground them. They talk to them to find out what happened. They do not beat them viciously and mercilessly, never asking a single question. They do not tell them ‘there is something WRONG with you!’
There is nothing wrong with you.
But there is something SERIOUSLY wrong with your mother.
She, after all these years of thinking — she, I haven’t been able to figure out.
I will say this: it is not okay to hit your children. It is evil to hit your children. I am not sure if you can even understand this, or if you will feel so defensive of our mom that you will shut down and shut me out. I know this is utterly impossible for you to imagine, but plenty of parents raise their children without ever hitting them, not once.
This is possible. I know many people who were raised this way.
She just doesn’t want to figure out how to do it.
Remember when your mom came to dance class and then made you feel really bad about ‘lording it over her’ afterward? Remember how embarrassing it was that she immediately began fussing and whining and throwing a little girl tantrum during warm-ups because they were too complicated for her?
She is the one who was acting inappropriately. Not you.
She invaded the one space that you feel remotely capable, at peace, and joyful, and she whined and stomped and shrieked because she’d thought she’d be better than you and you were so so so much better than her, like you’re better than her at everything.
Yes, you are.
You are smarter than her. You are tougher than her. (You really really are). You are a better writer than her. Even though you are in a rather cruel phase in your life at the moment (and who wouldn’t be?), you are much kinder than her.
And instead of being proud of you for these things, like a less broken mom would be, she is jealous and competitive with you.
That is all kinds of fucked up, Moxie.
She has convinced you that you are responsible for her feelings. You are responsible for her actions.
I am not trying to say you are stupid. I know that you think you should be impervious to lies like this, but your mom has been controlling your world for so long, and the way in which you can see the world, that you are looking out at it through a warped lens of her creation.
And it’s your mom who is warped, not you.
You are going to be damaged by all of this, and I’m so so sorry. It’s going to take years and years of work to heal and to see the world through a simple, clear lens and I can’t even promise you that all of the damage will heal or that all of it will fall away from you.
But for whatever reason, be it your wonderful if also rather flawed dad, or your sisters whom you care about so fiercely, or just some dumb luck of genetics and fortitude, you are not going to be warped into being a terrible person like your mother is. You aren’t now, and you won’t be.
You are a good person. You are doing the best you can. Everything she says (and I mean everything) is a lie.
And none of this is your fault whatsoever.
PS you’re bisexual; look it up. And there’s nothing wrong with you for being bi, either — no matter what your mom says about ‘queers’ and ‘lesbians.’