A mother’s lesson in belonging

When I was 12, I was living with my father and my three little sisters, my father had met a woman who looked exactly like my mother albeit much younger.  She and her 4-year-old son had moved in with us and that was when the trouble started.  It was clear from the start that she wanted me, and my sisters gone as fast as possible. It was clear from the start that she wanted me gone first. I was the oldest and also the most outspoken. It was a daily powder keg waiting for the explosion. She would regularly want me to clean up and do the things that she would then later let my dad believe she had done.

 On one particular Friday, I had gotten home from school and it was clear that she was in a bad mood. I walked in the door to be greeted by her yelling at me because my sisters hadn’t taken care of their things, at least that is where I remember it all starting. Now, I can’t remember the laundry list of her complaints, all I know was that I was at the heart of all of them and I was to wait for the reckoning when my father got home. 

My dad walked in a short while later, already tired from a long day and was met by this woman’s laundry list of complaints about me and how I was not holding up my end of things. I could hear it from my room and decided that I needed to defend myself. I met my Dad on the stairway landing, clearly mad at whatever he had already heard, he just wanted to go back to a happy, easy life, the life he thought he had before my mom left. He had been trying to recreate that with someone new. 

As I stood on the stairway landing defending myself, my Dad in exasperation looked at me and said, “I was hoping that one day you would call her Mother.” At this point in my life I still had my mother on a pedestal and this statement was absolutely inconceivable for me and my smart mouth was having none of it, so I spat back “I will call her Mother but it won’t be in the context you are thinking.”  Clearly not my most eloquent moment. The anger on my dad’s face turned to rage, something that I am not sure that I had ever seen from him before that day.  You see, my dad is about the gentlest guy you would ever meet and would give the shirt off his back if there was someone who needed it. However this was not the man standing in front of me, he was so mad he picked his foot up to give me a shove in the behind telling me to get to my room, the problem was that I saw it coming and tried to move but lost my balance standing on the landing and tumbled down the flight of stairs. When I landed at the bottom, I was shocked to see my dad still in full on rage coming down the stairs after me. He picked me up by my shirt, dragged me to my room where he tossed me in and told me to get my things together, he was taking me to my Mom’s. 

I remember that drive across town, me with my things tossed in bags, sitting silently in the passenger seat. My dad just saying things like, “I don’t know why you couldn’t have just been nice to her.” “Why couldn’t you have tried to make it easier for her?” “She didn’t sign up to be a mother to four more kids overnight, you could have tried to make that easier.” I don’t even remember responding, what could I say. I was mad at him for putting this all on me and as much relief I may have felt driving away from that woman, I felt as much uneasiness about what I was walking into. My mother had left her kids. She had gone to start a new life, with a new boyfriend, I wasn’t at all sure that me at her door was going to be a welcome sight or what would happen to me. 

It was close to 4AM when my mom and her boyfriend showed up, I explained to her what had happened, she told me to wait in the living room while she spoke to her boyfriend. For the next hour or so, I could hear every word through the paper-thin wall of that apartment, “I don’t want her here, this is our time. Time for us.” “I don’t want her here either,” my mother would respond.  I sat on that sofa crying, with the knowledge that I wasn’t wanted by either of my parents. 

My mother then made a call to her parents, they would get on the road and come to get me, I would go to live with them. I would never live with either of my parents again. 

That next day, sitting in the back seat of my grandparent’s car with my bags of things, I vowed to get through school, get smart, get self-sufficient and not need anyone else. 

My mother taught me about belonging that day, I had thought that just by being born into a family it was a given that you would belong to it, that there would always be this thing that you belonged. I learned that day that that isn’t really true, you belong to that thing only to the extent that you and the others that belong to that thing all agree to it and that agreement can change. The one thing that you can belong to, is to yourself and your relationship to spirit, that is 100% up to you. 

While my father and I eventually repaired our relationship, my mother and I tried a few times and failed to ever regain a level of trust required to really and truly be “family” again. 

We all need a sense of belonging, belonging to something bigger than ourselves. I am grateful that I found that along the way and have created family in my own way.



  1. Katharine Johnson on June 30, 2020 at 11:50 am

    It’s so heartbreaking to know what you had to go through when still so young. Life started early with you, creating the cracks for the light to get in. The fact that you survived and are who you are today is testimony to your incredible resilience. My dad always said "Living well is the best revenge." May it be so….

    Here’s to belonging, girl.

    • Renee Cantor on June 30, 2020 at 2:40 pm

      Thank you Katharine and yes, I have always been driven to not be this story but to live well beyond it! Thank you for your friendship and support along this journey!