Growing up with my mom was a unique experience that presented its own benefits and challenges. In some ways we shared similarities but in other ways we have always been polar opposites.
My siblings and I always had trouble waking up in the morning for school, so she would come in and wake us up by singing. Not like in a soft and angelic way, but like a real-life alarm clock. We all would have bagels for breakfast, so she made up a song about bagels that she would sing to us really loud and obnoxiously. My brother especially hated her loud singing first thing in the morning so it was the perfect way to make him get out of bed and shut the door on her. We all found it very amusing.
I remember summers when my brother, sister, and I had to do more chores since we were off school. My mom had a “job jar” full of different jobs written on pieces of paper and she would shake up the jar and we all had to pull from it and see what our jobs were. For one of the jobs, she put “give Mom a hug” as freebie. My sister and I always hoped to pull this one! But if my brother ever pulled it, he would complain and then put it back and pick another job! And we would all laugh, it was so funny!
My mom and my brother had a really funny relationship. She definitely got annoyed at times, but my mom is someone who hates suck-ups, so she definitely found it amusing when my brother often gave her a hard time. They were aggressive in a very jokey way. My mom and my sister were huge talkers, they were always talking together about everything, and always watching their favorite TV shows and cuddling on the couch together. As for me, I was probably more similar to my brother, in the way that I refused to be affectionate with her, and I liked giving her a hard time. But I was always very sweet and silly with her. My mom was super strict with my brother (yelling at him for getting into bad stuff — “there was no parental supervision?!!!”), super serious with my sister (talking about all the drama — “ugh, can you believe she said that?!“), but with me, she was much more goofy and relaxed. I think she found me the funniest. She seemed to laugh at every single thing I did or said.
My mom used to tell me how painfully shy she was during school years and I never believed her, because to me she seemed like the most outgoing person ever. She said as soon as she moved away to college that she burst out of her shell and reached out to everyone and made friends with anyone she liked. So as I was growing up, she had like at least ten different friend-groups. She was constantly going out for lunches or dinners with her many cliques. She had her playgroup friends (from baby years), her local/townie friends, her church friends, her gym friends, her girl scout friends, her old college friends, and more. At times I could tell it was stressful for her as she was always joking “it’s not easy being popular!!!”
My mom constantly kept herself busy, probably too busy. She always had to be on the go and doing something. It was very difficult for her to just relax. In the same way she tried to keep me busy as well, when I was perfectly happy being alone in my room and doing my own thing. Sometimes she pushed me to join more clubs or activities than I could handle. But when she saw me home, I was never just sitting like a couch potato, I was always rushing around super focused on some type of creative endeavor. “Laura is doing her project!!!” she would announce with intensity, as I ran down the hallway with a pen and notebook in my hand, determination deep in my eyes. And this comforted her to know that I was occupied and productive enough on my own, that I always had goals, that I never came crying to her about boredom.
My mom was never perfect and would never want to be remembered as “perfect” but simply that she tried her best. The topic of mental health was an issue. My mom herself struggled to identify her own mental health issues. She mentioned seeing a therapist in her young adult years, saying it was really beneficial for her. But she failed to acknowledge the anxiety issues she continued to struggle with.
I witnessed my mom experience many dissociative episodes. This was long before dementia affected her. There were many, many, many times she forgot where I was, forgot to pick me up from dance class or a friend’s house, forgot about something I needed for school, and sometimes even felt like she had forgotten my existence. Again, this is completely unrelated to dementia, but what I believe to be a product of dissociative episodes. I know deep down how much she has always cared for me. I faced these feelings of neglect very often but I understood that this was completely reflective of her mental health and had nothing to do with not caring about me. People with severe anxiety often have dissociative episodes that cause memory loss — again, unrelated to dementia. Her dissociative episodes gave me feelings of neglect at times, but I knew for a fact that it was nothing personal, that she has always loved me very much.
I believe that my mom’s dissociative disorder was passed onto me genetically, and I also experienced multiple physical traumas during childhood which have contributed to my own dissociative tendencies. It makes me believe that my mom experienced childhood traumas that she never talked about, or the possibility that her own mother also suffered from dissociative episodes. Here is more information about growing up with a parent who has a dissociative disorder: https://www.sidran.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/The-Effects-of-Dissociative-Disorders-on-children.pdf
Closer to my teen years I went to my mom with concern for my own mental health. I think it hurt her too much to see her own daughter hurting, so she didn’t exactly handle it the “right” way. When I opened up to her about my mental health struggles it seemed to make her too uncomfortable so we just had to pretend it didn’t exist. She recommended seeing the school counselor at one point but that didn’t work out for me, and so we just dropped it after that. I had a lot of mental health issues from childhood through my teen years, through adulthood that I will probably have to deal with forever. It was something that she just brushed under the rug and didn’t want to acknowledge. It made her feel awkward and she didn’t want to deal with it. I think this was more reflective of her refusing to face her own mental health issues. Again this doesn’t mean she didn’t care about me but just that she was fighting an internal battle that she dealt with by ignoring it.
My mom has always really loved me, too much, in fact. As a child she was always saying “I love you Laura” over and over to the point where I was rolling my eyes. And then she’d ask, “do I say ‘I love you’ too much?” and I’d be like “YES!!!” and she would just keep on saying it! She has always been very sensitive and whenever I was feeling even slightly off, she would pick up on it. Her worst fear was thinking I was annoyed or angry with her. Many nights I would be hysterically crying in her arms, and she’d be rubbing my back and soothing me with her soft voice, her soft skin, and her empathetic expression. Growing up, my mom gave the best hugs, truly a real mama bear.