Home Movies

While I was home for the holiday, my mother decided that we would all watch home movies together. All three of us girls protested, and not in a playful, groaning kind of way—we were sincere in our desire to not see highlights from what was, for all of us, a bad time. But my mother would not be deterred. The pieces she chose for us were from when I was was seven to eight, Tammy was five to six, Kate was three to four, and my brother was one and a half to two and a half. A short way into the viewing, my father realized that seeing my brother as a toddler might be somewhat rough for me, now that my son is growing into toddlerdom, and began awkwardly patting me on the back. That part was pretty grim, I’ll admit it—I started to cry (and stopped myself!) when I was describing it to Mr. Book later. But the more interesting and depressing part was seeing what a bad mother my mom was even when she knew she was being filmed. I know that toddlers can be a handful, but she was so controlling with him that it’s hard to watch. One piddling example is watching toddler Colin on an Easter egg hunt; when he found an egg, he wanted to open it immediately and let the candy fall into the grass. This is obviously not ideal, but it seems harmless enough; worst case, he either doesn’t end up eating the candy or he gets a little grass with his candy. But my mother cannot let him be, and kept grabbing his arm in what looks like a painful way when he tries to open his eggs, until finally he had a meltdown and she stood over him, rolling her eyes at the camera. It’s a piddling little thing, I know, and unimpressive to read, but in the context of their relationship (and all of our relationships with my mom), it’s discouraging to see.


My mother also wanted me to know that while she knows that I have “an issue” with the relative who molested me when I was little, he has his own struggles. And that my depression has been a bad example to my little brother, and that I am therefore partially to blame for his suicide attempt. My therapist told me in our first session that I should have less contact with my mom, and I thought, But I haven’t even told you anything about her! And that’s not right, anyway—my mother and I have a good relationship. I told Mr. Book that she wanted me to talk to my mom less, and he said, “Yes, sweetie, we all want that.” I was genuinely shocked; I have a good relationship with my mom. Mr. Book qualifies that, says that I have a good relationship with my mother for someone who was abused by her mother. He also says that “Your mom’s way of showing love looks mean and crazy.” I do wonder, now, whether my standards for relationships with one’s mother are badly warped: for example, I would describe my Thanksgiving trip as a good visit. Sure, there were parts of it that were horrible, but not too many, and it was nice to see everyone. My mother also told me how much she loves me, and she really does—it’s just complicated.


Maybe I shouldn’t talk about my mom on what is, primarily, an adoption blog. I’m giving into the impulse for two reasons. One is that it’s something that impacts my thinking all the way around, and it’s context for the things I do in adoption. Like when I mention food—my making petit fours for group therapy doesn’t really have anything to do with adoption, but hearing that sort of thing several times might provide some background for how distressed I am when I realize that I can’t feed Cricket. The other reason is that my mother is involved in the adoption; Ruth just sent her a letter, beginning a dialogue on what her role might look like. But when I say something like “Ruth and Nora are trying to decide whether they will give Cricket the book my mother sent him,” that sentence will have more meaning for someone who has also read “When I was a child, my mother made me eat my own vomit.” So that’s my thinking right now; we’ll see how it evolves.