Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spin Cycle: Bondage....I mean Bonds

The Spin Cycle this week is bonds. As in family bonds, the bonds that link members of family together.

Holy canolli.

So much of my life has been unbloggable these last 9 months, but I suppose one aspect is semi-bloggable. My mom. Mostly because she has never even learned to turn on a computer.

Circa 1960’s

My mom is the funniest mom on the block. Friends love to come to our house because my mom is a hoot. She can burp the ABC’s and talk like Donald Duck. She spends three hours every afternoon in the kitchen and makes scrumptious dinners. She is bigger than life and sings and dances around the house in her apron.

She has a dark side that appears now and then. We can see it coming. Her eyes flash, her upper lip hardens. We learn that no amount of ass kissing will prevent the storms, so my sisters and I learn to weather them as best we can. Usually that means watching television and pretending we don’t hear the escalation of emotions.

Circa early 1970’s

Three daughters hitting adolescence triggers my mom’s mood swings more often, or perhaps it is just her own hormonal changes. My father comes home later and later. My mom’s drinking increases. So does her depression. Her doctor gives her Valium and she combines these with vodka and beer.

Her journeys into nightly hell storms often evolve into suicide threats. At first it gets the reaction she is looking for, but eventually she and all of us realize nothing we say or do will really make her happy. She threatens suicide so often that when she finally downs an entire bottle of Valium one night, no one believes her until it is almost too late. My older sister and my dad rush her up the coast to the nearest hospital and leave my little sister and me alone. We were 9 and 12.

My older sister leaves home at 17, which seems to makes things even worse. At 12, I am suddenly thrust into the role of talking my mom down. I take this role seriously and believe for years that if I find the right sentence, the right combination of words, an epiphany will occur and my mom will see the light. I am the one takes the gun from her when she comes into the living room twirling it around her index finger and explaining her plan to “blow her brains out all over the pier.” When she sits naked on the stairs with a pack of my dad’s double edged razor blades, scratching one half-heartedly along the smooth, pale and innocent inner surface of her arm, I am the one to get off the couch and take the razor blades away from her, despite her throwing them at me while I ascend the stairs. When she stands at the open front window naked for all the neighbors to see, smoking a cigarette, I am the one that wraps a robe around her and leads her away, while she curses her worst at me.


My dad finally leaves my mom and is awarded custody of my sister and me.

My mom drinks and dials when her moods hit her, but she gets lost in a world of divorcee partying.


My mom is diagnosed with breast cancer. In the fight of her life she gives up drinking. It becomes apparent that it wasn’t just the booze and pills; she still has mood swings, but her recovery time is much better and the arc of the swings much less.


My grandmother dies. My mom inherits her parents’ home and savings, and also has the home my grandmother bought her after the divorce.

She quits her job and lives off the money. She sells her home and lives off that. She refinances her parents’ home and lives off that. This process takes four years and all the while I try and talk some financial sense into her. It is the proverbial train wreck. I am still too young and idealistic to accept that I cannot help her. But there it is.


I move to Hawaii.

My mom loses her home and is penniless.

She goes back to school and gets her CNA.

She works for 25 years.

During the best of these years she visits us in Hawaii. She is a fun and funny grandma. She burps the ABC’s and talks like Donald Duck. My children bring all the neighborhood kids in to be entertained by Grandma. They love her and she loves them.


My mom is 79 and living in a two bedroom townhouse that she really cannot afford. Although she gets social security and a partial pension from her divorce, she works to stay where she is.

Despite failing health.

Despite having long term health care insurance and a doctor who wants to sign her into long term health care.

She says she needs help “going through her things.”

So I go for a week and I learn my mom has become a hoarder. She was never neat, but this is beyond that.

I clear out over 80 phone books, dating back to the 1980’s.

I go through hundreds of small plastic bags with receipts and remnants of packaging. Like the cardboard package from a light bulb. I cannot throw out anything without looking because she also has plastic bags with important papers and mementos.

I spend a week and a bit of money. I make 8 trips to the dump. 10 trips to the Salvation Army.

While I am going through her things in the garage, my daughter comes out and tells me to please rescue them from Grandma.

Apparently the purging has brought out her fidgety worse. I come in to hear her wreaking psychological havoc on my son, her grandson.

I ask my mom for a copy of her long term health care insurance so we can get on the same page and figure out how to get her moved.

But she refuses and I go home.


The bond continues. I’ll give her this. She has a lot of guzpah.

For more spins on family bonds, head on over to Sprite's Keeper.


tulpen said...

Oh Pseudo. I didn't know. She is fascinating to me.

Amazing that you are the slighest bit ok.


Brian Miller said...

i know it is years, but cant imagine going through my parents basement...

Anonymous said...

Pseudo - on a human note, hugs. On a professional note - I have ideas. I'll email you.
Wonderful touching post - those are some strong bonds aren't they?

Shadow said...

this is not easy... yet, our mothers will always be our mothers and we'll do what we can... right? right!

Liz Mays said...

Wow, you've had an awful lot to bear over the years. I can't even imagine. I hope this last stage works out for the best. I'm sorry she is refusing to move.

cheatymoon said...

I can feel how much this weighs on you...
Good for you for writing it.

CiCi said...

Putting it into words isn't enough to erase or soften the stress. You have learned to be strong through all this.

Amy said...

wow what an up hill battle you have had.. Your Mom is so lucky to have you.

kyooty said...

hugs!!! this is what the Sandwich generation is about.

Twenty Four At Heart said...

Great post. The thing that hit me most, however, is how sad it is that there was so little understanding of mental health in your mom's earlier years. If she was in her 20's now she would probably receive the right care for her mood swings possibly avoiding the spiral into drinking and other self-sabotaging behavior. I'm sorry for what you had to deal with growing up ... how hard it must have been. Big hugs and lots of love!

Kristan said...

Oy. (24 makes a good point.) (But good points don't change the reality you lived through.) (I have a hint of how hard it was, but I have to say, my mom never put quite this much of a burden on me.) (I'm sorry you had to go through this.) (I'm glad it made you so strong.) (All these comments are in parentheses b/c I feel like I'm whispering...)

shaunna said...

then you had dad who was just as mentally ill in an entirely different way. ying and yang.

they were two mentally handicapped people - illness of the brain causes as many deficiencies as lack of intellect - who found and fed off each other. and happened to raise sane children in spite of themselves.

or, perhaps, because of it. it raises the awareness level.

Maureen@IslandRoar said...

I know we've talked about mothers before. My mom was very difficult to grow up with. But hearing what you've been thru really got to me. I can only begin to know how hard this all was. Is. I know you're an amazing daughter, but I also know that can't fix anything.
Thank you so much for sharing this, because that can help people. So much.
And I see my picture on your sidebar! Aw shucks, you're the best!! Here are some hugs, from one island girl to another!! xoxo

Joanna Jenkins said...

Oh Pseudo-- I really don't have any words....

mo.stoneskin said...

Good grief, what a story, what pain, sorry to read of it, makes me feel sad to realise what you've been going through.

Anonymous said...

What a sad and heartbreaking story. Still, your mom is lucky to have you to care for her as she heads down the lonely and difficult path of her later years. Bless you for not giving up on her. Most would have.

gretchen said...

Wow. I'm so sorry you've had to go through this. I have a friend who's going through a REALLY similar experience with her mom now. And I appreciate that you told us this in a post about bonds. That's a strong one, huh?

Anonymous said...

Bi-polar? I have a sister who is bi-polar and this sounds very similar to the emotional roller coaster we have ridden with her from the suicide attempts to the hoarding. And it is very draining on the family members who do try to help because some just refuse to be around it. I know in my heart she really can't help how she is but on the other hand it is SO hard to be around it. Hugs to you.

Gal Friday said...

I had a little trouble breathing, reading through all that. You are all survivors.
Last weekend, at a cook-out, two of my friends told me somewhat similar stories about their mothers and hoarding and having to empoty out the entire contents of their homes.
More hugs to you...

Jan said...

Holy fucking shit, Pseudo. Makes my mother look almost normal.

Mrsbear said...

Dealing with that growing up and emerging as tough and wise and compassionate (as you come across in your blog anyway, I couldn't claim to KNOW you know you) but it's nothing short of amazing.

My MIL is a hoarder who also "collects" pets, I have no idea what it will be like once she passes on. Chaos, I'm sure.

Just B said...

I'll give you this, you are a good person. A better person for having suvived all that. The best person for leaving, but not severing the bond (maybe they can't be severed).

The thing is, she doesn't want to be saved, I think. The mental illness is the reality they know and the one they cling to, despite how little logic it has in REALITY. I kept waiting for my mother to snap out of it and save me. Then I tried to save her. Now ...

Sprite's Keeper said...

She may be the one with the hutzpah, but you're the mensch. You're the constant hero in her life and continue to be. You're the best bond she could hope for. You're linked!

Jen said...

I'm sorry you were the one that had to deal with the suicide threats. That's a lot for a child to handle.

Patty O. said...

Wow, that cannot be easy. I really admire you for not turning your back on her. Many people would have.

I can't even imagine how hard this has to be. You've got real courage.

Lori said...

((((Pseudo)))) It's been way too long since I've been here to visit and the first post I read is this one. I think you already know my past journey has taken me through some tough times and one that is not too far from yours. I understand way more of this than I would like to. I am sorry that you experienced all of this but I am thankful for how it has made you the person you are today.

I have so missed visiting you here and please know I have thought about you over these months. God willing it won't be long before I have the opportunity to stop by once again. God willing I will find my voice once again and write something myself. Bless you for sharing your story. I know it isn't easy. Sending you love,hugs and smiles from Minnesota. XX Lori

Cajoh said...

It takes a lot of bravery to speak of your struggles. I commend you for doing so. Even though it is a struggle, there is still that bond between you.

Excellent spin,