I grew up in a small town. My dad was the star football player who married the girl next door. They purchased a home and my mom was a stay-at-home mom while my dad worked at a factory. Welcome to middle class America in the 1980s.
Fast forward to the 90s: the grunge era. I had a deep passion for alternative, punk and grunge music – and the clothes that came with it. My mom didn’t accept this. We’ve always had a rocky relationship because we are so different; so my new interests didn’t help. There I was one day in my Green Day tee over a plaid shirt, rocking my Doc Martens, when she said, “You’re not wearing that, you look like a retard.”
“When I went to school kids like you had to wear stars on their sleeves,” she continued with disgust in her voice.
My mom had just implied that I was mentally challenged because I wasn’t conforming to social norms. These were our everyday conversations.
“Whatever, I can wear what I want and I don’t care what anyone thinks,” I replied.
I was a unicorn among a sea of horses. I always knew I was different and so I needed my mom to support me. Instead, she took out the brunt of her anger on me when her relationship with my father began to crumble due to his alcoholism. While my dad told me that I’d be a failure in life, my mom would sit back and watch, or disappear into the shadows with my brother. There I was – the scapegoat.
I tried escaping my personal Hell through music, which was often taken from me as punishment. Music was the one thing I had that gave the world meaning. Also, to brighten my world, I strung Christmas lights around my room, and decorated with lava lamps and posters of strong women, such as Kathleen Hannah from Bikini Kill. The Riot Grrrl movement was running strong. Knowing these women were making a difference kept me alive. I aspired to be one of them.
Then came 16. I fell in love with a black man whom I could not bring home due to my parents ignorance. I kept his existence a secret. Eventually, my mom found out about us and I was grounded with no release date. The police were called and my description was put on file should I decide to run away. My music, phone and any connection I had to the outside world were confiscated. I couldn’t take it anymore and decided to move in with my grandparents. I began to write while listening to the one CD I could smuggle out of my parents home – Outkast’s “Atliens.” They could take my music but they couldn’t take away my pen and paper.
After some time with my grandparents I returned to live with my parents who had enrolled me in anger management. It turned out to be an amazing experience as I shared my story and feelings with my counselor, Christine. I learned that dating a black guy isn’t a crime nor a sin that I should be punished for. I learned that although I was now a “teenage statistic” (I became pregnant 1t 17) and was told by my parents that I would be on food stamps and living in Section 8 housing, if I worked hard, I could climb out of the Hell that I was in and up the corporate ladder. And I did. I’ve climbed higher than anyone in my family.
Still, as an adult I wish I had a better relationship with my mother. She’s my mom. So, a few months ago I decided to connect with her on a deeper level and show her who I really am. We talked for hours and I discovered she too kept journals. I had no idea she liked to write. And that her journals from 1994 were filled with sorrow and fear. She was scared to leave her marriage. Where would she go with her two children? She was appalled at the way she treated me, but I was so different; she couldn’t relate to me. It dawned on me that my mom wasn’t perfect – and she knew it. She had regrets. She felt pain too.
To continue the bonding process, I took her to a conference in Las Vegas. I was there for work but planned activities around my meetings. We went on a private plane ride over the Grand Canyon and the Hoover Dam, and watched Brittany Spears and Rascal Flatts in concert from front row seats. We ate at five-star restaurants and ventured into Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum, among other activities. We even prayed on the streets with homeless people.
It was all to show her who I really am. And it worked. She told me that she admired my lifestyle and never realized how independent I was. But, when we hit the highway to head back home, she threw a tantrum and said it was best we went our separate ways.
I don’t understand what happened. Her flip switched just like that. I took her on the Vegas trip hoping to prove to her that I am worth loving; however, I cannot force another human being to love me, even if it is my own mother.
I gave it my best shot and that’s what counts. And, although it hurts to be rejected by my mom, I realize I never had her approval to begin with. I would never live up to her standards. I cannot be the person she wants me to be. All I can do is be true to myself and keep climbing.