Forgiveness. Perspective. How I Came to Love My Mother

“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.

Mom’s Curious Foot Condition

English is not mom’s first language and though she can speak English well, she sometimes gets her words mixed up.

When teaching people how to crochet, she will often point to a book and tell them to look at the diaphragm.

Sometimes she helps with groceries and buys paper toilet for the bathrooms and Fruit of the Loops for breakfast.

One such mix up that I cannot let her forget is when she had to go to the doctor about her foot.

She’d been experiencing pain in her foot for 3 weeks. One morning as she hobbled through the kitchen taking what seemed like tiny one inch steps, I finally convinced her to go to the doctor. 

“What’d the doctor say about your foot?” I asked when she returned home.

“I have a sperm in my foot,” she said.

“Uh. . .a what?”

“A sperm,” she said again.

“Well how did THAT get THERE?” I knew what she meant to say, but now I couldn’t help how funny this conversation was turning out to be.

“I don’t know how a it happens mí híja, he said it’s a bone sperm,” she said.

“Are you sure he said ‘sperm’?” I’m sure I was grinning, smirking, trying not to laugh.

“Yes, he said sperm! A sperm!” she fussed not understanding why I was so amused.

“Well that is next level freaky mom, I’m calling your daughters!” I remember laughing as I called my sister, “Hey guess what’s wrong with mom’s foot? She’s got a SPERM in it!” Me and my sisters then discussed all the possible ways a sperm could have gotten into her foot.

Eventually I stopped teasing and tried to get my mom to say “spur,” not “sperm,” when referencing her foot condition. However, old habits die hard, and even though this incident happened years ago, I know that today if I ask her “Hey mom, what was that problem you had with your foot?” she will probably say she had a sperm in it.

Mom’s Obsession With 3-D Glasses

My mom is easy to make happy. Brunch, dinner, shopping (window shopping), a movie or  a new plant will usually make her day. Every now and then we make time some of this and have a mother/daughter date.

Her favorite thing to do is watch a good movie. You can count on her to go watch a movie with you when no one else wants to go. Especially if it’s 3-D. She loves everything 3-D so much that  she is always planning for the day that we get a 3-D television.

By planning, I mean she hoards the movie theater glasses. I cannot for the life of me get her to put those glasses in the recycle bin. Her first argument is that we paid for them so we need to keep them. Her next argument is, “Mí híja! We need them for when we get a 3-D TV!”

“But mom, if we buy a 3-D TV, it will come with glasses.” I try to reason, “They don’t all work the same, just put them in the recycle bin.”

Mom gets angry every time I try to get her to give up those glasses. She bought them and she’s keeping them.

Now if I were to tell my friend Kaye Kaye about the 3-D glasses issue, she’d say, “Come on Sylvia, if it makes her happy, what’s wrong with letting her keep the glasses.”

Kaye Kaye always makes good sense and it’s the advice she gave when mom wanted to fill the house and yard with fake plants a few years ago. I gave in on that one, and surprisingly she got tired of the fake plants and learned to care of real ones. So maybe 3-D glasses won’t be a problem, right?

One day, we headed out for one of our mother/daughter outings. As soon as we left the driveway, our usual conversation began.

“What are we doing mom?”

She drives and shrugs, “I don’t know, mí híja, what do you want to do?”

I decide, “Let’s eat first. What do you want to eat?”

Another shrug, “What do YOU want to eat?”

If you’ve ever been on a date you know this conversation. It’s not one I expect to have with mom, but maybe this conversation is not limited to just boyfriends and girlfriends.

This time the conversation was different, though, because mom kept getting distracted from the normal script with complaints about her eyes.

“I think I need to see a doctor mí híja. My eyes are hurting me today.”

I ask “How so?” As I stare out the passenger window looking for a restaurant that might appeal to our different tastes.

“Everything looks different. Do you see something you want to eat?”

Not yet.

“What about a buffet?” She asks. Mom loves an all you can eat buffet. She’s 4.9 inches tall. A little tiny woman, but a buffet is like a challenge to her. She’ll put down 3 or 4 plates in less than an hour, and somehow still stay tiny. It may be that she grew up so soon after our country was recovering from the great depression, but mom was raised to get her money’s worth out of everything. At a buffet, that means you get your value by eating way more than what they expect you to.

“No, I don’t want to eat that much right now.” I say and then I listen to another complaint her eyes.

I’m not sure if it was the third or forth complaint about her eyes that finally made me look at her, but when I finally turned to really look at her… I yelled.


“WHAT?!? What? What’s wrong?” She yells.

“Mom, these aren’t sunglasses! They are 3-D glasses!”

So fixing mom’s vision was pretty easy. We just had to take the 3-D glasses off. We still go on mother/daughter outings, and I still can’t get her to recycle 3-D glasses. I don’t even argue anymore, I just make sure I’m driving, and if she’s about to drive somewhere alone we just double check those glasses.  Hopefully, she doesn’t confuse them for shades again, but if you ever find yourself driving around in the Georgia/Florida area—Be careful. She’s out there.

Be nice. Your Life Depends on it.

It seems that I am not the nicest person when I wake in the morning or when roused from sleep at anytime.

While most people need a few minutes, hours even, to get their thoughts together when the first rolling out of bed. I’ve learned I have to work on being nice–I’ve learned, from my mom, that my life depends on it.

One morning, after a long and restful sleep, I walked outside to find trees fallen across the road, limbs and branches littered through my yard. It seems that a heck of a storm passed through while I slept. I was amazed at the damage. When did this happen?

I walked back into the house and asked mom if she knew that there’d been a storm last night, and she flooded me with details of the night:

“Oh, Mí híja! I was so scared. The thunder was shaking the house, and there were warnings for the tornadoes.  I prayed and prayed and when it got really bad, I took the myself and the dog to the hallway. You know, where you said to go if there is ever a tornado. I was on the floor, hugging the dog and praying.”

I didn’t remember any of it. “Mom,  I guess I slept right through it. Did I say anything when you tried to wake me up?”

“No, mí híja,” she shook her head. ” You are angry when you wake up. I let you sleep.”

I looked at my mom for a few seconds, “So you’re saying the storm was so bad you were frightened for your life, you got yourself and the dog to safety, but you let me sleep because I’m grouchy when I wake up?”

“Yes, mí híja, I am not waking you up. If it’s your time to go, then it’s your time time to go. I will just pray for you.”

Flowers for Mom

About 5 years before my mother retired she asked if she could live with me. It was important to her to spend time with me because she missed time with me growing up. The first year that she lived with me I kept constant watch on her, worried there might be a sudden decline in health or that she might go through depression.

That first year my mom spent a lot of time in the house, and I worried. I’d heard that when people retire they get bored and start thinking of themselves as old. Then their health begins to decline or they get depressed because they are not as active as they used to be. I encouraged my mom to go for walks, go to the senior citizen center, meet other people her age  and just do stuff.

One day I passed her bedroom on the way to my own room and noticed her standing at her window. She stared out into what could only be described as a cloudy and dreary day. She looked lost in thought and somewhat sad. I went on to my room, did what I needed to do ( I think I was doing laundry). About 20 or 30 minutes later, I walked back by to check on mom only to find her still standing at the window and looking out into the distance of a very gray day.

“Mom, are you okay?” I asked as I walked up beside her and looked out through the window with her.

“Yes, mí híja, I’m just thinking.” she sighed (Híja is what Latino mom’s call their daughters).

My heart sank a little. What was she thinking about? Was this the depression I’d read about?

“Sometimes I just have bad thoughts,” she said, never breaking her gaze from the window. “Sometimes I be driving around town, and I just want to do something bad, and I have to pray, mí híja, I have to pray.”

My mind started racing. What could she be thinking about? Is she depressed? Is she lonely? Does she need to move back to Atlanta where she has more family around her all of the time? Is she thinking of hurting herself?

“What do you want to do that you have to pray about, mom?” I braced myself for the worst possible answer and then she responded.

“Sometimes, mí híja, I be driving around and I see pretty flowers in the people’s yards. I just want to go into the yards and TAKE some flowers. Just some clippings.”

Stunned silence was my first response it took a few seconds staring and blinking to process that my mom wants to be a flower bandit. Of course after a few seconds laughter and relief followed.

Here I was worrying about the worst, and my mom had just been spending about an hour looking out into our bleak yard visualizing beautiful flowers . Flowers I guess she felt like she needed to steal even though flowers are pretty cheap at most big box stores in area. Maybe stolen clippings are more special.

I told her we could buy some flowers, but later I called a friend who had a beautiful yard. “Hey, if you ever see me run into your yard, clip a couple of flowers and run away, please don’t call the cops. I just want my mom to believe I’m willing to steal flowers for her, but we are off to buy some. I just don’t know if that will kill the urge she has to steal a clipping. If she gets the urge, I may be coming by your house.”