A story for my daughter

September 28, 2009 at 11:33 am Leave a comment

My name is Annabel. Once upon a time, in another century, I was a little girl. When I was born, my mother was delighted. The first night of my life in the outside world, she and I stayed awake. I made adorable gurgling sounds and stared at my new surroundings. Full of love, my mother watched me the whole night.

During the first year of my life, my mother was always there for me. She nursed me, carried me around, was at my beck and call, and gave me warmth. When I was 1 ½ years old, my little brother was on his way. We talked a lot about the baby when Mommy’s stomach was big. I used to stroke it and imagine the little baby inside. A couple of times I leaned against Mommy and laid my head on her tummy – and fell asleep! We have a picture of that somewhere.

When my brother Jeremy was born, I was thrilled. He was a dark, hairy little monkey baby, and he brought sunshine into our lives. He grew quickly, was very adept – crawling all over the place and onto things, and sometimes falling down. Mommy loved him, just like she loved me.

When Jeremy was around a year old, it seemed that Mommy fell more and more in love with him, and left me sitting on the side. It seemed like he could do no wrong, and she was always scolding me. Around the time he started using the potty, I rebelled. I wanted to use the potty, too, and get the attention and praise he got. Instead, I was expected to use the toilet. I rebelled and refused, which means I made a puddle on the floor more than once. My mother was furious and yelled at me. That wasn’t nice.

I was clumsy as a child, and I fell a lot – especially when I was running away or doing something I shouldn’t. Jeremy was athletic, well-coordinated, and everything seemed to be easy for him. When we were out walking, strangers used to stop and comment on what a beautiful baby and child he was. They never seemed to notice me. That hurt.

Jeremy was active and did stuff. I was a dreamer and took my time about it. Mommy was always in a hurry, and that bothered me, so I tried to slow her down. That backfired more often than not, and I ended up getting a scolding.

Mommy was a student at the University. We had a really nice baby-sitter who came to take care of us a couple of times a week so Mommy could go to class, or go to a café and study. Those were fun times. There were a few children my age in the building where we lived, and Katarina (the baby-sitter) used to take care of all of us. We were like one big family.

When I was three, Mommy sent me to Kindergarten. I didn’t really want to go. I felt alone and was sad that she wanted me to go away. It wasn’t until much later I found out that she didn’t really want me to go, but she had signed me up for Kindergarten early, because it’s hard to get a place. They called a year early saying there was room for me. When Mommy said she didn’t think I was ready, they said if I didn’t come this year, they couldn’t promise to have room next year. So Mommy sent me.

Two years later we moved to a bigger apartment in a new neighbourhood. That year my brother and I both went to Kindergarten. He was 3 and I was 5. Those were fun times. He wanted to stay all day, but I preferred to go home at lunch time. I didn’t like the food there. Mommy was annoyed. She would have preferred to have the whole day to herself to do schoolwork.

Once I asked her what she did at the University. She explained that she was studying Psychology. It would help her understand people and eventually she wanted to work as a therapist – so she could be there for people when they needed help. I told her I wanted her to be there for me. She gave me a strange look.

When I went to school, she scolded me about my homework. I used to sit at the table for hours, dreaming, and she would yell at me to get my work done. It was not pleasant, but I did get a lot of attention. Then Daddy would come home from work and scold me as well.

Daddy scolded a lot. He scolded all three of us, and used to act like Mommy was one of the kids. She suffered because of that, and wasn’t able to stick up for herself. Instead, she just listened and kept quiet. That drove me crazy. When we did arts and crafts and there were still things on the table when he got home from work, he made us clear it all away. The mess bothered him.

As a little girl, I loved princesses, fairytales, princes, and true love. I was sad to see that my parents drifted apart. They were so different! They had nothing in common and were both very tense. We didn’t do much as a family, and when we did, it was stressful. My parents each had their own idea about how things should be – and they just didn’t agree. So, we stopped doing things together. We almost never went on vacation as a family, because it drove my mother crazy.

Mommy did a lot with us. We travelled to America to visit her family once a year. It was important to her that we know our grandparents and cousins. Those visits were fun, but sometimes we got really tired from all the driving around and visiting old grannies and aunts. Jeremy and I just wanted to play.

When I played with my Barbie dolls, I often asked Mommy to play with me. She would sit with me for 15 minutes, and then get bored and say she had to do something else, but I should keep playing. It seemed like she had more fun playing cars or rolling a ball back and forth with Jeremy. Everybody liked him better.

I wanted to dress up and be pretty, and wished that Mommy would, too. But she wasn’t at all interested in that. She always wore jeans, flat shoes, and never used make up. It never occurred to her to fix my hair. She just combed it, cut it occasionally, and that was it. I loved to buy barrettes, ponytail holders and head bands. She thought it was all a waste of time and money. I felt like she didn’t care about me.

I did well in elementary school, and then my mother signed me up for a bilingual middle school. I wasn’t happy there. It was a weird mix of kids, and it just wasn’t right for me. Plus, Mommy was busy with her University and hobbies by then, so she didn’t really pay much attention to what I was doing. She just yelled at me and told me to get my homework done. I don’t think she cared. She just didn’t want to be annoyed by bad report cards.

A year later, we moved to the country. My grandparents had died and their house was empty, so we moved in. Mommy didn’t really want to go. It took her two years to decide that she could give it a try. First she finished her studies in psychology.

At first, we all loved the new house. It was great. There were no upstairs or downstairs neighbours, so we could yell, listen to loud music, trample up and down the stairs, and pretty much do as we pleased.

Life went on as usual. By then, Mommy had learned to play the guitar and sang to us at night. That was nice. Jeremy and I sang along. I never wanted those evenings to end, and often begged her to play one more song.

The first couple of years, we enjoyed life in the new house. Daddy had built an office onto the other side of the house, but he spent a lot of time commuting back and forth between the house and the city where we used to live. So Mommy was pretty relaxed when he was away, and we had a good time. In the evenings, we sat and talked during supper, laughing and feeling good. When Daddy was there, it wasn’t that way at all. Then Mommy was quiet. Or she would make attempts at easy conversation, but Daddy was too severe to go along. Mommy got quieter and quieter.

It hurt me to see her withdraw. Daddy began to spend more time at home, and eventually only went to the city a couple of days a month. Mommy spent more and more time in her room. She wrote, played guitar, composed songs, read, listened to music, was on her computer, and I felt like I’d lost her. She slept in her room, too.

After a while, she only came out to cook, clean and go grocery shopping. Any chance she got, she went out, or went away for a few days to visit friends in the city.

I was hurt and angry. I felt like she never wanted me and she probably wished I’d never been born. Whenever she saw me, she scolded. There was always something I did wrong, something about me she had to criticize. So after a while, I stopped talking to her. I withdrew as well, because it hurt too much the other way.

Of course, she always got along well with Jeremy. He was her little sunshine. But he also spent a lot of time with his friends, so he didn’t need as much of her attention as I did. I guess she liked that.

Once I yelled at her. I said she was a failure and weak, that she couldn’t assert herself with Daddy. It was awful. Years later, Mommy told me that had been a real eye-opener and turning point. She was devastated to be such a bad role model for me, and she didn’t want me to grow up and be like her. Neither did I.

Little did I know, but my criticism really hit home. She took it to heart and was determined to change things. That was around the time I started to spend hours in front of the mirror. My make up had to be perfect, my hair smooth. I was very concerned with my appearance. I wanted to be noticed.

Mommy wasn’t quite sure how to go about it, as her parents hadn’t been the best role models either. She slowly began to stand up for herself, and to not let herself be pushed around. She cleaned up when she felt the need, went out, and didn’t worry what Daddy thought about it. It seemed like she was withdrawing from all of us. Jeremy still went and spent time in her room with her. They studied together, played music, talked, or looked at silly video clips on the internet.

About a year later, Mommy suddenly started to act like she was interested in me. But I kept my distance and told her to leave me alone. I’d hoped and tried for long enough, and she didn’t notice me back then. It was too late.

Finally, one day she told me she was thinking about moving out. I thought it was a great idea, and immediately started searching the real estate section of the newspaper for apartments. I was excited about leaving that town, as I’d not really felt at home there either. Mommy seemed to be taking her time, which I found annoying.

Then one day, she saw an ad in the paper and decided to call. She set up an appointment, and I went with her to look at an apartment. We both knew in an instant that it was the right place. So we moved in.

The first few months we had a lot of adjusting to do. I was 16 and I thought that now I would have total freedom, since Daddy wasn’t there to make his stupid rules about going out and having friends over. Mommy wanted me to enjoy my freedom, but she soon realized that I needed some boundaries. There were several arguments, but we eventually found a way to live together fairly peacefully.

Gradually, Mommy took more interest in me. She came back to life. At first, it annoyed me. I yelled at her because she was nosy and told her to mind her own business. Then I yelled at her because she didn’t care about me. It was hard for me to adjust, to trust her again. Luckily, she didn’t give up on me.

Once we had a really bad argument and she told me that if things didn’t get better, I might want to consider moving back to Daddy. Ouch! Five minutes later, she apologized. She said that we both had said mean things, and she was so angry and hurt that she wanted to lash out, but that she wants me to stay with her and she wants to find a better way of communicating. That was her Psychology stuff coming through! But she was right.

It took a long time, but she didn’t give up on me. She proved her love, though I didn’t make it easy for her. We began to talk more. I asked her about her life, Daddy, how things were. She told me, and I began to understand her as a person. She was sad and sorry. She had imagined her life as a mother and wife to be completely different from how it had turned out.

Since I felt so abandoned by her and wanted more, I used to go through her things. I suppose it wasn’t right, but I was trying to find out about her. Maybe I was looking for closeness or some kind of connection to her. Once I found a letter she had written. It was in the drawer of her bedside table, in an envelope. On the envelope was written: “For Annabel, in case I die”. That was eerie. I opened it up. Here’s what I read:

“My dearest Annabel,

I have often felt heartbroken about how things turned out. Many years it pained me to live in an unhappy relationship with your father. What hurts most of all is that I wasn’t able to stand up to him in the early years of your life. Instead of dealing with him, I got depressed and resigned from life. In the process, I abandoned you. I can never forgive myself for that.

So many times, I made promises that I didn’t carry through. Either I was too depressed, or your father came along and said the opposite, and I didn’t dare oppose him. I know that disappointed and hurt you.

You were such a sweet baby, such a loving, gentle little girl. You wanted to be loved, and you wanted your parents to be in love. Instead, I pushed you away and scolded. I wanted what was best for you, but the conflict with your father left me powerless, zapped of energy and determination. I was disappointed, hurt and angry.

I always admired your stubborn determination, though it drove me crazy at times as well. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you in those early years.

Later I tried to make it up, but I know that isn’t possible. I also know that I can’t explain everything or make you understand. My mother did that with me – I was more a friend and confidant than a daughter, and that was a burden to me. She told me more than I wanted to know. I wanted to spare you that.

Over the years, I have been open and given you the information you seemed to want, but also was careful not to overwhelm you. I can’t expect you to understand everything and forgive, nor is that your responsibility. A child comes into the world and deserves unconditional love from its parents. We both loved you and did the best we could at the time, though it wasn’t quite what you would have needed.

I wish I could have given you much more space to pursue your creativity, rather than worry about the mess. But I didn’t. It might have made things much better for you.

On the other hand, you are on your own path, and I trust that you will find your way. You experience and learn, and you do things the way you think is best. I admire you for that.

If I could do it all again, I would have left your father when I was pregnant with Jeremy. At the time, I thought it was more important for my children to have both parents. I suffered bitterly when my parents got divorced. Meanwhile, now I see that it wasn’t so much their divorce, but how they went about it. My father didn’t give us enough money. I was terrified of losing the house. My mother was severely depressed and spent months in bed. It was awful.

It took me years to realize that, and to understand that a separation and divorce don’t have to be like that. Thus, when I could no longer go on, I focussed on separating in the most loving way possible – so that all of us would be okay, your father included. He is a good person and I do love him, but we just couldn’t get it together.

I’m sorry that I was so afraid to just be a mother. I wish I had either finished my studies before having children, or just let go of them for a couple of years and enjoyed you. Instead, I studied when you napped, studied in the evenings, and I was tired. That tiredness gave me the permanent feeling of wanting to be left alone. So I did push you away. I wanted you to do activities, visit friends, be busy, and I wasn’t up to doing so much with you. We did a lot, that is true, but I wish the quality of it had been different – more patient, loving and full of joy.

Life can be painful, and some experiences quite bitter. But it can also be joyful. I am grateful that I finally had the courage to leave, and that you came with me. I hope I was able to show you that even when it seems to be too late, you can still change your mind.

I hope that you will be more fortunate in your choice of companion. I think you’ve seen enough to warn you, but children have a funny way of repeating their parents’ mistakes. That’s what I did. I married the wrong man, just like my mother did, and tried to prove that it could work. Perhaps because I was so sad as a child, I was trying to make it all better this time around. I don’t know, nor is the reason so important.

What I hope that you will see is that you need to trust your intuition. Listen to your heart. If it feels right, okay. If not, change it. That is true for just about everything in life. Of course, some things are beyond our control. And some things turn out to be helpful in the long run, even though they seem awful at the time. There is no perfect recipe for life. You just have to go along and do the best you can. I have confidence that you will.

Over the past few years, I have done all that I could to repair the damage of the early years, to heal those hurts and disappointments. I love you and Jeremy more than anything in the world, and I hope that you have a good life and do what makes you happy and fulfils you.

Please know that you are a good person. You are beautiful, intelligent, gifted, creative, kind, fun and warm. Any rejection or lack of attention you got from me had absolutely nothing to do with you. It was the situation, and it was my incapacity to cope appropriately which brought it all about.

I know you don’t like the long talks and explanations, and are generally allergic to anything psychological, but I wanted to tell you this, in case I should suddenly be gone and never have the opportunity. There are questions and doubts that can torture you for a lifetime. I hope these words offer relief and answer some questions.

Many people grow up and are convinced that their parents don’t love them, or that they can never be good enough or do well enough for their parents to be satisfied. That is the root of many problems – big and small. I want you to know that I am more than satisfied. I am proud of you and I respect your destiny and calling in life. It is your life. Live it and enjoy it. You have a right.

The biggest hindrance to my happiness was that I didn’t believe in myself. It took me 46 years to come into my own and live my life in harmony with my inner self. More than anything, I wish for you that you find that confidence sooner. I wish that you pursue your destiny with determination, optimism and faith – in life, in yourself, and in your ability.

Since I will be dead when you read this, I want you to know that I’m watching over you. Not to judge or criticize you, but to be with you and take joy in who you are.

Love,
Mommy”

That was the last time I went through her things. It was more connection and answer than I’d been looking for. I carefully put it back into the envelope and closed the drawer. After that, I looked at her through different eyes.

I won’t say we lived happily ever after. No, we still had our share of differences of opinion and arguments, but the quality changed. I’m still not interested in Psychology and figuring everything out. That’s Mommy’s specialty. But I have learned to trust in her love, to trust in life, and to know that I am okay just the way I am.

Meanwhile, I also know more about my mother. Here’s her story:

Once upon a time, in another century, there was a little girl. She grew up in a large house in the country and was very happy. In that house she lived with her parents and her two brothers. This little girl dreamed of being a writer. Her world was filled with books, dolls, records, stuffed animals, nail polish, and a few friends. Sometimes she was lonely and wished she was popular like the girls who lived in town, but usually she was content.

When she was 12 years old, her life changed. Suddenly her parents decided to get divorced and everything was turned upside down. Her childish concerns were replaced over night by fears. She was afraid of her father, afraid that they would lose the home she so loved due to their changed financial situation, and she worried about her younger brother.

Around that time, she also started to worry that she was fat. She was a slim and rather pretty little girl, but she didn’t see that. In her opinion, she was dull, boring and fat. From counting calories she progressed and soon was caught in the vicious cycle of bulimia and anorexia. This lasted for several years.

In the meantime, this little girl grew up and became a young woman. She left home and moved to the big city. It wasn’t any city. It was New York City. She got a job as a secretary, found an apartment, and lived there for several years.

During a vacation in Europe, she met a man and they fell in love. He asked her to come live with him. She wasn’t sure what to do. Her eating disorder had just begun to get better and she had been healthy for about six months. It was too soon, but she loved him and didn’t want to lose him. So a year later, she moved to his country and started at the University. It had always been her dream to study, but she hadn’t been able to afford it. In this country, she didn’t have to pay tuition.

As a student, she enjoyed life. Things with her boyfriend were up and down, but they managed. After another three-year bout with the eating disorder, she managed to finally get over it – with the help of a good therapist. Then began a time of happiness. She was relieved to be healthy, and discovered the joy of living.

One summer, her boyfriend asked her to marry him. They had been thinking about it on and off, but were uncertain. Deep down, they both wondered if they were really meant for each other. She threw care to the wind and said “yes”.

Soon after that, she felt a burning desire to have a baby. Her thoughts circled around that for months, and finally they decided it was time. She was in the middle of her studies, but was certain she would be able to finish them eventually. At the moment, her strongest wish was to have a baby.

One year later, her daughter was born. In a dream, the name Annabel came to her and so that was her daughter’s name. It was a wonderful time of her life. She was very happy and loved her daughter more than anything in the whole world.

Unfortunately, things with her husband were still up and down. She had a lot of unresolved problems and had never learned how to talk openly, let alone have a real argument. The tension grew. In addition, her husband was very busy with his new business, and she felt abandoned with her baby. The sleepless nights and the adjustment to motherhood exhausted her, and she needed her husband’s help. She had trouble asking for help, and he was reluctant to offer it. He thought she should be happy as a mother. She was, but she still wanted to study at the University.

Just before Annabel’s second birthday, her brother Jeremy was born. Her mother was happy with the new baby, as was Annabel. Jeremy was very cuddly, and his very presence seemed to bring sunshine into their lives.

This mother spent a lot of time at home, but she sometimes felt overwhelmed by the responsibilities of motherhood. She did a lot with the children, kept house, and studied in her spare time. One thing she forgot to do was to rest and enjoy her life. The relationship with her husband turned out to be quite different from what she had expected, and this disappointment caused her to focus more on her studies.

Annabel was a strong little girl who knew what she wanted. She was determined and didn’t worry about pleasing people. Her mother admired this quality and hoped that she would maintain it. It was a quality her mother didn’t have.

When Annabel was around 5 years old, she asked her mother about her studies at the University. Her mother explained that she was studying Psychology. It would one day enable her to work with people who needed help, to be there for them. Annabel said: “But I want you to be there for me,” in her sweet, innocent voice. That struck a chord.

As the years passed, the children grew older, the mother continued with her studies, and life went on. This young woman lacked the ability to assert herself with her husband, and she became more and more depressed. Eventually she finished her studies, and in the meantime had begun to sing, write songs, and play guitar. During the first couple of years, she sang to the children at night when they went to bed. The children sang along. Those were special times.

Annabel’s father liked order and structure. Her mother was rather chaotic and had a more relaxed attitude about cleaning up. This was a source of tension between the two of them.

Just before Annabel turned 12, the family moved to the country. The father had inherited his parents’ house, and he and the children were excited about moving. Her mother had some misgivings, but decided to give it a try.

At first, things went well. Her husband commuted back and forth to the city, and was only home every other week. During this time, the woman relaxed and enjoyed life with her children.

As time went on, her husband was able to transfer more and more of his work to the at-home office, so he was eventually only away a few days a month. That was when she moved downstairs to sleep in her own room. She felt suffocated and missed the alone-time of former days.

The differences in attitude between the parents grew stronger, and they drifted apart. The mother was horribly disappointed and fell into a depression. She spent most of the days and evenings in her room, only coming out to cook, clean, shop, and occasionally spend time with the children. Her pain from the relationship numbed her and made her incapable of being there for her children.

It grieved the woman to know that her daughter felt unloved and that she was in the way. She knew her daughter thought that she would have been happier without her. The mother remembered back to when Annabel used to beg her to play dolls with her. She was often distracted and would play for a little while, but then tell Annabel to play alone, because she had other things to do. She played more willingly with her son. Perhaps it was easier, because he just liked to play with cars and things in motion. It was almost a mindless activity. That was somehow easier than thinking out stories to enact – and she didn’t like the dolls. Many times Annabel had sought closeness, but the mother pushed her away. She felt overwhelmed by her daughter’s needs.

As Annabel became a teenager, she turned away from her mother. Since she couldn’t get the love she wanted, she felt hurt and angry. She stopped telling her mother things and just went her way. When she did talk to her mother, then her mother generally criticized, scolded or lectured about the right way to do things. There was always some fault she found in Annabel.

The turnaround came when her mother started to believe in herself. She realized that there was nothing wrong with her, she was just different. That was the time she got a job, moved out, enrolled in a training program, and began her career as a psychologist. At the age of 46, she had found her way back and continued on her path with the confidence and determination she had lost as a child. She fulfilled her destiny.

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