When I was small, I saw my mother as bigger than life, I put her up on a pedestal. I lifted her up there because she showed up for activities at school, diving right in and raising money for the annual school fundraiser. I lifted her up there because she pushed my sisters and I, to build a big Gingerbread House for the annual school Christmas Festival. I lifted her up there because she would put her makeup on and put make up on me sometimes too. I lifted her up there because she would encourage me and my three sisters to be our own singing group entertaining her as she made dinner. Encouraging us to choreograph our own dance moves for her entertainment. I lifted her up there because she would always tell me that I could do or be anything I wanted to be, I just needed to apply myself and well thankfully I believed her.
My mother loved us girls in the way that she knew how, and we all loved her, we had tons of fun together, the five of us usually all together when not in school, playing games often led by my mother. One could have easily gotten my mother and I confused since I more often than not was the adult voice in the room and my mother’s seemingly one of the kids.
I remember my mother telling me one day, “Renee, you are the biggest adult in this house”, she was right. I have always been driven, serious perhaps, striving, some of this came from a natural propensity toward it and some of it came from what my mother handed me.
You see, when I was in the 6th grade, my school started earlier than the school my sisters went to so my mother would get me up and make me oatmeal for breakfast. Sometimes while I sat and ate, she would sit with me and we would share a few precious moments together. In a house of four girls, these moments were few and I longed for them. On this day in particular my mother seemed anxious to sit and talk to me. She proceeded to tell me that she was leaving my father, she said she needed out of her marriage, she said that she felt that it had been chosen for her not something she chose for herself. But then she proceeded to tell me that she was leaving us too, she needed to leave motherhood, that she had been faking it all along, she said that she never really wanted to be a mother, she felt incapable of it somehow, ill equipped.
If that news wasn’t earth shattering enough, she then said to me that she needed me to step up, she knew that I could handle it, she needed me to help take care of my sisters, to make sure that they got breakfast and got to school. She told me that she knew I could do it, she told me that she felt that I was more capable than she was. In that moment, I remember feeling amazed, like my mother thought I was just this amazingly capable person, I felt her vote of confidence and I wanted to step up for it, I wanted to meet it, I wanted to help my mother find her own happiness.
At the time, I was too young to really realize what this would truly mean for me, how it would take a child who was already prone to a little too much “adulting” for her age and it would force her into that experience full time, all day, every day taking care of someone or something, taking care of something that should have not been my responsibility but the responsibility of someone else.
Since I was already leaning to responsibility, I dove in to the deep end, I did it all, from laundry and laying out clothes for my sisters, getting breakfast, even making sure that my Dad didn’t feel additional pressure of having to work full time and care for us girls.
On that day, my mother taught me resilience, survival and I was more than capable. I thank my lucky stars for this lesson because I never worry about my ability to take care of things, to step up and do whatever it is that needs doing. I am responsible. I am capable.
I think that there is another side to resilience however, perhaps it is hyper-resilience, for me this shows up in being so capable that I end up taking on things that are really the responsibility of others. I took on all of the responsibility that my mother handed me but I shouldn’t have, it wasn’t mine to take but at that age, I didn’t know to say no, to say, “Sorry Mom, you are going to have to find another way to escape, you are not making your problem mine.” But of course, I didn’t do that and consequently, I have been challenged by this my entire life, this being hyper-resilient, hyper-capable.
When I started my Writing, Wisdom practice a few years ago now, I started to write into these childhood experiences, looking to understand. I wanted to heal the wounds by looking for the wisdom in them. I knew that I had experienced it because the experience had a gift in it, something to show me, this is my belief anyway, so I looked for the wisdom in the experience. I don’t go back and stew in the past, I really don’t see the point of that, I can’t change it but what I can do is listen to it, I can let it inform me, I can let it teach me.
Today, I am working on saying No to things that aren’t mine, looking to be responsible for what I own and allowing others to be responsible for their own choices. I am working on doing something in every day that brings me joy, rather than just cranking through my To Do list because I am an over-achiever.
I am grateful to my mother for her lesson in resilience, but I am also grateful to see her lesson in hyper-resilience, in hyper-capability. I am grateful for finding the wisdom.