Ignorance of a Child & The Wisdom of a Woman
It never fails to notice what my mom didn’t do, which was things she should have done, when I glance back into my childhood. As a child and adolescent it angered me and confused me. I imagine it did the same to my dad and my four brothers. As time passed though I learned a great deal. I understand a whole lot more now that I’m grown compared to what I knew as a child.
Every day my dad would get us out of bed for school. He would drive my older brothers to their school while I was left to get ready on my own. At age five this wasn’t so easy. I had no sense of what color schemes went together. I had no sense to know whether to put on winter clothes, spring clothes or summer clothes.
There was a tan recliner that was located in the corner of our living room. This is where my mom slept most of my childhood. Not once would she stir to help me prepare myself for school. She would never awaken to say have a good day or see you when you get home. This would be the never-ending cycle.
I remember earlier in the years she would make breakfast for my older brothers. As time passed those mornings were less and less. Eventually when it was my time to attend school the mornings had ended completely.
While she slept my dad and an aunt made certain that I was taken care of and ready each morning. As a child I never understood what brought about this change in my mom. I simply thought that she didn’t want to take care of me. I thought she didn’t love me like she loved my older brothers. It gave me a sense of emptiness that I searched for years to fill.
It was wintertime and I had received a red velvet coat as a gift from my aunt who lived in Kentucky. It had shiny silver buckles that fastened down the front. It was a long coat that reached down to my knees. The hat had a fur lining that was black as coal. I loved that coat. I loved the fact it was new and not used. Most of my clothes were second hand, and came from a thrift store.
We didn’t have a drier when I was a child so when mom wash the laundry it had to hang over the wood burning stove to dry. My mom had decided to wash a load of laundry and the next morning my red velvet coat was still damp. I was running short on time and I had to be ready by the time my aunt came to pick me up for school. I placed the coat on the stovetop while I went to get myself dressed. I never thought that the coat was going to get scorched within the time it took me to get dressed.
I noticed a stench that crept into my bedroom and it dawned on me. It was my coat! I raced to pull it off the stovetop. By this time my dad had walked through the door returning from dropping my brothers off. I was crushed! I was angry! My coat was ruined! The anger filled me for so many reasons. It wasn’t just about the coat, it was more, and it was much more. I just stood there crying and my dad comforted me.
I was infuriated that my mom didn’t have my coat ready for me that morning. I felt abandoned even though she was right there in that recliner the whole time. She slept while I hunted clothes to wear. She slept while I carried the burden of getting myself ready on time in the mornings. She slept through me ruining the gift I cherished. That was the day I realized that we’d never have a normal mother-daughter relationship. She slept through my childhood and my adolescent years and I was angry for all of it. I was angry for a very long time.
I use to beg my dad to let me stay overnight with my favorite aunt. I loved to spend time there with my two cousins. It was an escape from the life I lived at home. Her candy jars were often overflowing with treats and I was never told I couldn’t have any. It was at her house where I could actually be a kid. It was a time for me to forget that my mom wasn’t like other moms. It was so easy to push out thoughts of my mom while I stayed at my aunt’s house.
I often flash back to the memory of when my aunt taught me how to bathe myself the correct way. I was so ashamed and embarrassed at the time. She ran the water in the tub then she laid out a towel and washcloth on the side for me. I remember figuring out how to lather the soap onto the cloth so that I could wash myself. I remember this being new to me but I loved it. I loved to be able to splash in the water. Learning to be a kid while you are a kid is a strange thing to go through.
My aunt had brought in some nightclothes for me. They were not my own. They belonged to her daughters. I wasn’t very good at drying myself off so as my aunt was trying to help me get dressed the clothing was sticking.
Frustration grew in my aunt, “No one has shown you how to dry yourself off?”
I had seen it in her face, the disappointment. Not disappointment in me but in her sister, my mom. Here my aunt was taking care of her niece like I was one of her own daughters. Teaching me things that my mom should have been but wouldn’t. Besides the relationship with my dad, from that day forward the relationship with my aunt would grow to be the strongest relationship I would ever have in my life.
One of the scariest memories I flash back to still haunts me to this day. I heard my mom crying while I lay awake in my bed. My dad was yelling at her and I didn’t understand why. They argued for a few minutes.
My dad saying to her in a harsh tone “Cut it out! Hush up!”
He was trying his best to stop her from crying but he didn’t succeed.
“They’re out to get me Donald! They are watching.” She pleaded with my dad.
I knew she was terrified from the sound her voice held. He just kept trying to snap her out of it. I remember as I drifted off to sleep that night when the yelling had ceased my mom had still been weeping.
In my brothers room across the hall one of my older brothers laid asleep.
“Jeff, Jeff!” mom whispered as my brother opened his eyes to a shotgun pointed at his chest.
“Mom, what are you doing?” his voice shook.
“How do you load this?” she asked him while still pointing the shotgun at his chest.
“This is how.” Taking the gun from moms’ hands and discharging the bullet from the chamber.
This would mark the beginning of a terrifying battle my family would be forced to face. Within only a few hours after this incident we were forced to do just that.
“Time for school.” Dad bellowed from the living room. Everything seemed as normal as any other morning in our house. My mom was sleeping in her recliner as she always did. I didn’t know that something was about to change our lives drastically forever.
My dad had picked me up from school that day which was out of the ordinary. I knew something was wrong. While driving me home he explained to me that mom had went out to visit her brother and while she was there she locked herself in their bathroom. He told me she was ill and that she would not be home for a while. This was her first break down. It was also a nightmare that my family had been forced to deal with.
Family had come from all around to help my dad during the time she was gone. They came to help clean the house, to help take care of my brothers and I still living at home and they brought food. Our house was always cluttered with piles of papers, clothing and other junk. My family helped me clean out the clutter. We organized what we could. None of us know how long mom would be gone and to this day I am not sure how long it actually was. It felt like a lifetime though for me.
I hated to clean the house with a passion. It was such a hard task to do with all the clutter. It was useless most of the time because my mom would only clutter it up again after you cleaned it. This time it was different. I remember working so hard and wanting her to come back home and to be a mom she never had been able to be before. I wanted the mom that existed before this problem took over her.
While I cleaned I would imagine how it would be when she came back home. I would picture her in the kitchen making me breakfast for school like she had done for my brothers all those years. I would picture her cleaning the house and keep things tidy again. I would daydream that she would come home and we would finally have a normal mother-daughter relationship.
A time came where I was made to go visit her where she was. The hospital was cold and it felt like the elevator was never going to stop. To get to her room we had to go through special doors that were locked.
I entered passed the doors and I seen her standing there in a purple blouse. She looked so thin and it made me feel out of place. She looked around in paranoia. She held her hands together and rubbed them in anxiety. I felt so awkward seeing her this way and I wasn’t sure what to think. It was all so scary and confusing.
Finally she was diagnosed as a schizophrenic. I believe my dad knew for a long time before this major break down that she was ill. I believe he tried to pretend it would go away on its own. I guess in fear that would be the thing you would do.
When she returned home she wasn’t the mom I daydreamed about returning. Things went back to what I considered normal. Mom would spend most of her time in the recliner sleeping and life would go on around her.
After we found out what was wrong with her my dad became very secretive with her. He kept bad news from her as often as he could. He felt she couldn’t handle it. He done all the responsible things a parent would have done. He had been doing them for years before her diagnosis anyway. My dad always pulled the weight of two people in our home.
My mom’s mental illness was taking a toll on me as a young girl entering my teenage years. I could not go to my mom for anything. I couldn’t be the normal daughter going to her mom for advice. I couldn’t discuss things with her like sex, feminine issues, or even my smallest of problems. This fueled the anger and the feeling of abandonment I felt my entire childhood. When it came time to ask for advice I went to my dad.
This illness was destroying any normal thing I could have had if it didn’t exist. I even felt at times that mom played out the episodes so she’d have an excuse not to take care of me, or my brothers. When she would have her anxiety attacks I would get angry. I would think that the illness never really existed.
I wouldn’t tell kids at school for fear they would make fun of my mom being crazy. I never shared how it made me feel with my dad in fear it would only upset him. My entire childhood it wasn’t talked about in the family. We never discussed how it made us feel. We were on our own in dealing with this problem.
I’m grown now and a few states away from that childhood. As an adult I suffer from mild anxiety and although it is nothing like my mom’s illness, it made me see clearly how important it is to know the facts. The ignorance of a child had turned into wisdom of a woman.