In My Mother's Shadow
My mother is a damaged soul. I don't know the who, when, where, how,
or why. I suppose the specifics are no longer needed. She is definitely
the product of something gone terribly awry. I spent many years at the
hands of her wrath. As I approached adulthood and marriage and later
contemplated parenting, my fears surfaced rapidly, bubbling to the top
of a life that had been overshadowed by verbal and emotional cruelty.
Did I dare become a mother? Would I become part of the cycle of
I married for the first time adorned with blinders. After more than two
decades of yearning for normalcy, I jumped at my first chance to live
the American dream. I believed with a conviction of utmost strength that
marriage would provide me with all I had been missing. I wanted to live
in a family like I'd seen on television shows. I wanted a family like
the ones who invited me to eat suppers at their homes, and when I was
really lucky, let me stay all night. I marveled at mothers who made
supper and breakfast, then washed the dishes and hung the laundry out to
dry. Sound mundane? To me it seemed heavenly. A mother who welcomed her
children with open arms from a long day at school, with cookies and milk
and smiles and kisses was my ideal. One who welcomed her husband at the
end of the day had to bear celestial qualities. So I gave it a try. The
marriage, of course, did not survive. Based on imagery instead of
reality, it crumbled like wedding cake.
Years as a single mother brought new appreciation for the role of
motherhood. Enduring financial burdens alone, often telling the kids no
to requests for frivolities, and juggling job responsibilities with
parenting duties presented me with two options. The first option was to
simply throw in the towel and call in family and friends, cry on their
shoulders, and accept their handouts-the sort of mothering I had
observed as a child.
Going without was beyond my mother's capabilities. Whining and
complaining were not. Convincing my grandparents of her constant
emotional upheaval proved very useful for my mother. Her parents bought
into the hard-working-yet-deprived-mother act and mailed check after
check to their suffering daughter. This kept her in fine new clothing, a
decent car, and in social circles beyond her natural abilities. I
endured ridicule in school for pants that were too short and skirts and
shoes that had long since disappeared from the fashion scene. My mother
was chic and perfectly coifed.
Option two was to develop a keen method of impeccable organization
scrutinizing schedules as well as the contents of cupboards and closets.
Penny pinching combined with improvisation was became my forte. I was
notorious for moonlighting. Half the income from those second jobs paid
a baby-sitter, yet I slowly inched forward. We became more disciplined.
Our seldom used and outgrown items were sold in yard sales or at
consignment shops. Eating out became a rare treat. Clothing came from
thrift shops; often for me, it did not come at all. Our apartment,
schedule, and financial resources (or lack thereof) became precisely
itemized. The children thrived. I gained wisdom and self-confidence. We
all gained respect for life's little pleasures. In time I grew confident
enough to allow a new relationship to develop with a man who eventually
became my second husband.
Now I am living the grown-up role of my childhood fantasies. Blessed
with the financial security that allows me to be a full-time
stay-at-home mom, I am basking in the purest form of maternal bliss. I
cook meals for my family and delight in those times when we all sit down
and eat together. I greet my kids at the end of the school day with
cookies, brownies, hugs, and help with their homework. I am a constant
chauffeur. We attend church together on Sunday mornings. It is
everything I yearned for as a child.
How do my children feel about this? The older ones have become
accustomed to my constant presence. I've been at home now for ten years.
The two little ones have never known a time when I wasn't at home. It is
taken for granted that I will chaperone the field trip, bake for the
bake sale, and organize the class holiday parties. It is assumed that
our house will be the location for the sleepover, snack, or quick meal
between activities. On weekends and summer evenings we always house
Have I failed by allowing them to take these things for granted? I don't
believe so. Instead I'd like to think I've succeeded in providing the
security of acceptance and comfort, the lessons of giving and sharing,
and the knowledge that a mother's love is stronger than any love they'll
Is it possible to defy the fates and not turn out like one's own mother?
I believe I am living proof positive. Acknowledging my fear and
challenging the past to a multi-faceted duel prevented history from
repeating itself. Recognizing my mother's tumultuous patterns, incessant
lies, and bizarre behavior as signs of illness set me on the road to
discovering the truth and strength in myself. As a survivor, I've
steered clear of my childhood's cyclical path.
It's been a long road, but worth every step of journey.
© Kimberly Ripley
Kimberly Ripley is a full-time freelance writer and published author
living in New Hampshire. Her latest book ''Freelancing Later in Life''
will be a featured workshop in book stores across the country in 2002.
For more info, visit
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