“She’s not my mom. She just gave birth to me.” That’s what I told the judge. I was 13 yrs old and had recently run away from the children’s home. He gave me the option to go back, live with my mom or put myself in foster care.
Going back was not an option because I was afraid of the consequences of running away and then landing the children’s home in court.
My mother was there. I stared at her across the table in the small court room and wondered why she came. It made me angry to see her.
Where was she when I’d sent letters begging her to come get me? Why didn’t she believe me when I had complained about the children’s home? After 5 years of leaving me behind, why was she acting like she cared now?
I put myself in foster care and for the next 2-3 years ignored my mother. I hung up on calls, returned letters, and behaved horribly toward her anytime she decided to drive four hours from Atlanta to visit me.
I guess you could say I wasn’t a forgiving child. I didn’t understand why she sent me away but kept my sisters. I’d Imagined they had a nice little family unit in Atlanta. Mom, Stepdad, and two older sisters that for some reason didn’t want me around.
If you’d told 13 yr old me that I’d grow up and have mom, retired, living with me, I’d have laughed at you. If you’d told me that I’d love her, worry about her, miss her when she took vacations to visit my other sisters, I’d have thought you were crazy.
When I was around 15 or 16 years old, mom had a stroke, and one of my sisters called my foster home to let me know about it. I declined her offer to take me to see mom in the hospital, repeating, “She’s not my mom. She just gave birth to me.” My sister showed up anyway.
On the drive to Atlanta, I complained about going to see her, about mom in general, and about my life until my sister slammed the breaks and pulled the car over.
“Will you shut up!” She said. “You’re not the only person that’s been through things. You’ve people who love you, you’re getting an education, you’re going to go to college. Me and your sister didn’t get to do that. We got put out and had to live with whoever would take us in.”
Without their permission, I can’t provide details of what my sisters went through. Just know that I’ll never forget that ride to Atlanta. I felt more grateful for my life and my mom’s choice to send me away after hearing some of the things my sisters went through as they tried to make it on their own at the ages of 14 and 15.
Some of what I learned though is that when mom made the decision to put me in a home, she was working 3 jobs and relied on my sisters to take care of me. At the time, I was 7 yrs old, they were 13 and 14. They were skipping school, doing drugs, having physical fights with my mom, and doing things that I imagine many unsupervised teens do.
When my mom caught me stoned at 7yrs old she made the decision to get me away from the environment. In her eyes, it was too late to help the teenagers, but maybe sending me away would help me.
By the time we got to Atlanta, I looked at my mom a little differently. I remember telling her, “I don’t know if I’ll ever see you as my mom. Mrs. Myra, my foster mom, is who I see as mom, but we can try to get to know more about each other, and try to be friends.”
Mom agreed, and from that moment, she never pushed it. She never tried to tell me what to do, tell me what’s best for me, or go overboard in being a mother to me. She gave me time, space, and advice as needed and over time we grew closer and closer until finally one day, I’m not sure which day, I accepted her as mom again.
Now mom is 72 yrs old, and I’m 41. When she retired it was important to her to come live with me because she wanted to spend the time with me that she didn’t get to spend with me as a child. Though I’d lived alone for quite a few years and was very unsure of how this would work out, how could I say no to that?
Now looking back, I realize the pain I must have caused when I said, “She’s not my mom,” and ignored her attempts to reach me. I wish I’d never done that. I wonder if she ever thinks about that hateful and hurtful time of my life and I hope she doesn’t remember it as clearly as I do.
Today, on my mom’s birthday, she is off visiting my sisters for a few weeks, and I miss her so much.
I find myself reflecting on all of this, and I’m grateful.
Grateful for the time I get with my mom that I didn’t have before.
Grateful for how things worked out despite the hard choices she had to make.
Grateful for that drive to Atlanta, when my sister taught me the lesson that no matter how hard you think you have it, there are always other people going through worse.
Grateful for the lesson that there are several sides to every story. As a child, I thought my mom’s decisions were horrible. From my mom’s point of view, she was doing the only thing she knew at the time to help me and my future.
Grateful for forgiveness, perspective and love.