June 5th, 2009
A few days ago, Punksin mentioned something along the lines of never meeting her grandmother (my mother). I told her that she had indeed met her, right after she was born, but that she hasn’t seen her since.
Of course she wanted to know why she hasn’t seen her since. I don’t even remember the exact chronology of all of her questions. All I knew was that I was getting hit with a barrage of questions that I was ill-equipped to answer and that I tried desperately to seem too engaged in the task at hand – folding laundry, for God’s sake – to have the mental capacity to answer these questions.
This fooled no one.
Why doesn’t she come see us?
Because she lives far away.
So she can take a plane to see us!
I don’t think she has the money to get a plane ticket.
We can give her some money, right?
Well, it’s actually not that far away that you would take a plane, it’s Pennsylvania.
We’ve been to Pennsylvania, that’s not that far! She can take the bus!
That still costs money.
a little pause, then softly…
She doesn’t have a job?
Uh…I think so. But it doesn’t pay her a lot.
So we can go see her!
Uh, I don’t think she wants to see people right now. She’s not really feeling well.
What’s wrong with her? Is she sick?
A little bit, sweetie. And sometimes when people are sick they don’t want to see people.
Even the people they love?
Yes, honey. Even the people they love.
How do I explain to my child that her grandmother has shown no interest in her because she is angry at me and the entire family due to some mental illness that has her wrapped up in a web of delusions? How do I explain that we can’t go to see her grandmother because she has ordered me not to, and that as much as it hurts me, I obey the order because it brings a peace to my life that was missing when my mother was a volatile, hostile, dictatorial presence?
How do I explain that this incredibly intelligent woman is now living in self-induced poverty?
I have tried to make my peace with it. Last fall when I meditated on it for a time I came to a point of forgiveness where she and my father are concerned, releasing them from the anger I long held, and sending them both love and peace. But I know that, as much as that feeling of letting go was real and has stayed with me, that at times unease will return. I know that although the anger is gone, I will miss them, especially my mother, since it was she who raised me. I know that I will feel sorrow, no longer for myself, but now for my children, especially Punksin, who is old enough now to know that she has a grandmother somewhere, old enough to wonder where she is. Old enough to want to see her.
As I do.
When I was a bit younger than Punksin is now, my mother told me that my father was dead. I imagined him in heaven, looking happily down on me, sad that he could not be with me. When I was 7, my mother came home from work one day and announced, with no preparation whatsoever, that she’d run into him on the street. Of course, I was shocked as she blithely explained that she’d told me he was dead only because she didn’t know where he was.
It took a long time to get over that lie, and as I learned about the complicated nature of my parents’ relationship, I grew ever angrier at both of them for not being adult enough to leave the messiness of their relationship with each other out of their relationships with me. Who were these two narcissistic fools that were my parents, and why had they ever had me in the first place? And why would you LIE to a 3-year old about her father being dead only to announce 4 years later that oh, by the way, he’s really alive and I ran into him on the way home from work?
As with so many other things parenting-related, I now have some understanding of why she chose to tell me that lie. As long as he was dead, his absence had nothing to do with me personally. Once he was alive, however, it hit me that his absence was not an unfortunate circumstance but a choice. After all, here the man was gallivanting about in the same city. Doesn’t he love me? Why don’t I see him? Doesn’t he care about his only daughter? Is he going to start being with me now that he knows where I am?
Those are the questions I had in my mind as a girl. These are the kinds of questions that I face from my daughter. Thankfully it is not her father whose absence I have to explain. But still, a grandmother is a treasured figure, another symbol of love and familial ties. My respect for Punksin’s spirit and my need to be honest prevent me from even considering saying that her grandmother is dead. Until I know that that is so – and believe me, I’m not even sure how I will know that that is so – I will speak what I believe to be true. My only “lie” will be one of omission; for now, I will turn away from her to some task, any task, so that she doesn’t see my face wet with tears.