She shared that after ten years of a pseudo reunion with her son, she went to visit him without informing him in advance. Ten years of knowing where he was, writing him, stalking him on the internet yet not being able to meet him (his request, not hers), she finally got the nerve to just show up at his door, more specifically, his place of employment.
I winced when she stated this. Part of me feared hearing the rest of the story as I suspected I knew what was coming. I did. He got angry. Very angry. Told her off. Made a public scene. Called her awful names. She left. I wondered why she would set herself up for such disappointment yet even in my wondering I knew why she would. I can relate to the need, that never ending hunger to be in your child’s presence, to feel their breath, to see the way sunlight glistens in their hair, to listen to the unique cadence in the way they speak, to determine if you birthed a demon child as your parish priest suggested you would or if you added a decent individual to the human race. For even if you did not raise that human, the reason he or she exists is due to you choosing to give birth. I understood those primal motherly needs.
Mother friend seemed okay with the result. I would even go so far as to say she seemed to glow. She was not upset he yelled at her, called her names, ordered her away again. She got to see her son and be in his presence. She felt his breath on her. She saw the color of his hair up close and personal and smiled when she realized it was the same color as hers. She said she felt like her emotional load had been lightened. There was a pink to her cheeks that had not been there weeks before. She said she felt better. She felt somehow healed – even though her son raged at her in anger, pointed his finger towards the path she should take and told her to never, ever, contact him again. She finally got to meet her son even if he was a hostile witness in the action.
I have been musing about this woman for a few weeks and her actions made me wonder about the behavior of mothers in reunion and why we do the things we do, why we agree even passive aggressively to the things we agree to and the effect it has on us.
Let me use my own story as an example.
I won’t recycle old stories but I will offer that after a spotty, sporadic multi year correspondence with me, my daughter told me to go away. Told me she did not want any kind of relationship and would appreciate if I never write her again, never comment on her online sites and essentially disappear from the face of the earth. (Recall Death of the Author).
What did I do?
I politely said (not in this many words, but you will get the point) “Okay, dear, whatever you want. You are an adult. I need to respect your feelings and be proper and do what you told me to. You are the conductor of this reunion train. I will hop off as expected and role to the side of the tracks. I will be okay. It is really okay. I will be a good little birthmother and go away. Again.” I bowed my head, curtsied and rolled away, as instructed. All the while I smiled and pretended it was all perfectly okay with me and I was at peace with going away, again.
If I take me out of that equation, at least the dutiful proper me, I am left with a person that says “Seriously, Suz, WHAT.THE.FUCK? When will you stop being so proper and well behaved? This is your child. Not your mother. Not your father. Not that black clad priest babbling every Sunday at St. James Church. When are you going to stop leaving her?”
I did not want to be proper when she told me to go away. I did not want to smile in amusement at her literary reference to Death of the Author, something she knew I would understand. Rather, I wanted to refuse. I wanted to yell, holler, debate, argue, and engage in a heated exchange with my own child. I wanted to hop the next train to Brooklyn and be like my Mother friend. I wanted to show up at her doorstep and demand she meet me. I wanted to tell her I felt strongly that we needed – both of us – to be in each others presence and get this shit out and over with. I wanted her to rage at me in person, to show me face to face that she is really as cold and unfeeling as she came across in that message to me. I wanted to hug her and hold her and tell her it was okay to be angry, okay to cry, okay to do anything she wanted for I would never leave her. I would always be there for her even if history had dictated otherwise.
I didn’t of course. Good mothers don’t do that, right? Good mothers, do what they are told. Properly functioning people in modern society respect boundaries when they are set. Be the adult, be the parent that society says you aren’t but holds you to the standards of. Do not show any emotion to your child for that parentifies her and makes her feel responsible for fixing you like she was responsible for fixing the infertile woman who adopted her. Proper. Proper. Proper. Be proper. Your emotions are not for her. Not even your loving emotions.
And that brought me back to the mother I referenced above. She clearly was a bad mother by violating the emotional restraining order her son had placed against her. He told her to disappear (much like society, the adopters, and others had told her to do) and she did, at least for ten years. Nice girls do what they are told (like give away our babies). Our children know there is an established pattern of beating us into submission. Doesn’t matter what book or stick or belief system we were beat with, they know we can be beat into submission and so they jump on the train – consciously or not.
Let me be clear here. I am not advocating a rush of mothers go show up where they are not wanted. Rather, I am wondering, questioning. Have we been overly conditioned to be good, be proper, do as others tell us that we forsake ourselves? Have we been socialized in such a manner that we have become overly accommodating to all – including our children? And if so, what is the effect on our children? All of our children – surrendered and parented.
Pretend, for just a moment that at least one of those adult adoptees was “testing” their mothers. If the adult adoptee was consciously or subconsciously testing the mother, to see if she would go away again, what further damage do we cause when we do as we are asked, and walk away from them again? Do we at least tell them the truth, that it is very hard for us, we don’t want to leave them again, we welcome them at any time, we hope they change their mind? Or do we keep that to ourselves because our feelings are too much for them, too much for everyone in fact.
Further complicating this torrent of emotion is the very real fact that that proper social behavior mandates that if someone says “go away” you do exactly that, vamoose, vamanos, hasta la bye bye baby. We are doing not only what our child has asked, no, demanded, but we are also following societies rules of proper social behavior. Those of us who have horribly violated those rules (by opening our legs when we shouldn’t have) learn all too well the punishment associated with such transgressions. We lost our children. Dare we violate another social rule? What might happen then?
After some thought, I found myself proud of that Mom that showed up on her sons doorstep unwanted and unannounced. Good for her I wanted to scream. Good for her for standing up for her, for herself, and for her motherhood. What did she have to lose? She already lost her son. He already told her to stay away. What was he going to do? Tell her again? She got to meet her son, finally, and in doing so, I suspect she met a part of herself she also lost many years ago, the part that feels that her feelings matter too, the part that contained her voice.