49 Shades of Mommie Dearest

My mother is not quite as fearsome as Joan Crawford in Mommie Dearest, but she can give her a good run for her money.

She’s a classic Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Me, Me, Me, Me.  In fact, my private name for her is MeMe.  She’s always a step ahead.  If I lose one pound, she loses two.  If my disabled father is not moving fast enough to suit her, she’ll take off at her swinging clip and leave him to fall face down on the sidewalk.  Things like that.

My childhood was one big nightmare on toe shoes, tiptoeing around on eggshells, never knowing what I would inadvertently do to set her off into a screaming rage.  I spent a lot of time outside.

I never knew which of my possessions was up for disappearance next.  Or my pets, for instance: which would be given away, which would “just die,” which would “run away.”  The only ones that stayed were the ones she and my father considered their own.

As most of my bloggie friends know, I ran away at age 16.  My mother went to a psychiatrist (the only time in her life) who told her it wasn’t her fault: I was just a rebellious teenager who should be left to learn my own lessons.  I did: homelessness, hunger, rape, prostitution.  Good lessons.

For some reason I was not killed, and eventually pulled my way up and out, and even more eventually became a doctor.  That made Mom happy, because it reflected well on her.  See, I turned out well after all.  It wasn’t her fault.  But I never returned to the parental “home,” which was not my home.

Then things got pretty bad when I had a breakdown and lost my practice and everything I had, and ended up totally disabled and bankrupt.  No help from Mom there; in fact, she persisted in telling her friends that my practice was going great!

I moved to the other side of the country, and that felt better, to be on a different coast and less in the weltering chill of her force field.  And then I moved to the other side of the world, which was even better.

On a mission trip, I fell in love with Israel: in particular, Jerusalem.  As soon as I set my foot on the broiling hot stone paved streets, I knew I had found home.  A year after the trip, I went back to study in a Jewish women’s seminary for a month, which turned into three months.  I shed buckets of tears praying at the Western Wall for God to please bring me home.  It came to pass, in March of 2007, that I moved to Israel to stay.  I was Home.

It wasn’t easy.  I moved eight times in the first fifteen months, for every reason you can think of, and some you would never imagine (bracket fungus growing out of the kitchen walls after a flood soaked the plaster).  I felt like the Wandering Jew, and in my own country at that!  How ironic.  But never, even through those hardships and others, did the feeling of joy at being home ever leave me.  For one who has never had a home, the delirious joy of having found Home is hard to describe.

My parents are old, and I am the only child.  I had planned on making trips to see them every four months or so, to keep a finger on the pulse.  And I did.  After two years, my father started a downhill slide, and I increased the frequency to every three months.  As you can imagine, at an average of $1200 per trip plus car rental (they live in the boonies, and I would never be without a car: an escape route from my mother), it was a serious drain on my savings.

My father had a small stroke, and some other things started to go wrong with him, so the visits increased to every other month.  Finally, he started falling, and after two emergency trips back precipitated by head injuries, I decided that the time had come to move back across the world and be on site for what I thought were going to be my father’s last days.

His last days turned into weeks, months, and years: two and a half of them.  He’s certainly not the man he used to be, and considerably disabled, but he seems to have stabilized, thank G-d.

I am living in what is basically a barn: his former pottery studio, which I have restored from a rotting shell to a tight shelter.  That is a story in and of itself.  It’s close enough so that if I’m needed I can be there in two minutes, yet far enough away that I have privacy to do whatever I want to do.  It’s tolerable.

But I long for Jerusalem.  When I first came here I would find myself uncontrollably sobbing for hours.  I long for Jerusalem herself.  I miss my many friends, dear friends like I have never had before; and I miss my family of choice, my holy brothers and sisters, with whom I have bonds unlike any I have ever experienced in my previous life.

I miss just wandering the streets, watching the swirling admixture of Jews of all varieties with their distinctive ways of dress, and the plethora of priests, nuns, monks, striding out of their monasteries and convents in the Old City, countless varieties with their own dramatic habits: nuns so covered up in black that they would give any Muslim woman a run for her money, unless she was wearing a niqab; Muslims, the women in every degree of covering–the one I get a kick out of is the college girls with tight colorful hijabs that make their heads look like periscopes,  and skin-tight jeans and high heels; or the head-to-toe chador lady walking arm-in-arm with her mulletted husband in a muscle shirt and cut-off jean shorts.  All swirling around in the streets together, gabbing in the countless cafes, shopping, going to school–doing what everyone does.  And me, me! there among them, one of them.  Home, home at last!

Mom’s been on Zoloft for a month now.  She found herself crying all the time, so when both of them got bronchitis and I took them to the doctor she took the opportunity to tell the doctor about that, and got some Zoloft.  She really is feeling better, you can tell, although she insists on only taking half the prescribed amount.  That’s her.  She eats half an English muffin, half a sandwich, half a tab of Zoloft.  Oh well; what matters is that she actually copped to feeling bad and did something about it, and realizes she is feeling better.  Let’s pray she doesn’t quit just because she feels better.

So today, seeing that she is in a good mood, I decided to break some news: I am establishing a schedule for visiting my home, because I am miserable without it.  I will return every fall for the High Holidays and the month that precedes them, which is a month for study and preparation;  and I will return in the spring for Purim, which is thought of in the States as the Jewish Halloween because everybody gets dressed up, but in fact it is a holiday steeped in deep mysticism.

She shrugged.  “You do whatever you need to do.  I’ll get along somehow.”  What did I expect?  But the little child in me wanted approval.

“I miss my home,” I said, by way of what I hoped would be explanation.

This is your home!  Your home is right here!”  Her little eyes snapped.

“No, Mom, this is not my home.  This is your home.  You fell in love with this place, and you chose to live here.  I have never lived here.  I moved out of your house when I was sixteen…”

“I know,” she interrupted coldly.

“And just like you fell in love with this place, I fell in love with Jerusalem, and I am very sad when I am away.  And you know that I have a mental illness, and I have to take care of myself.  And all of my support system is in Jerusalem, all of my friends, my religious life, everything.  You don’t want me to end up in the hospital again, do you?  Because of isolation and no support?”

“What, being away from Jerusalem will put you in the hospital?”  Snort.

“What I would like you to do is to start looking into home care options that will give you respite and help while I’m away, so that you don’t get sick yourself.” Long conversation about that, leading to dead ends but it was a start, anyway.

I gave up.  Changed the subject.  Will not speak of it again.  Will just buy the tickets, get on the plane, and be there.  And eventually I will be able to pack up and go back, G-d willing, back to the crazy peaceful whirl of war zone in the Middle East, the only place in the world where I feel safe.

Leave a comment


  1. I love hearing about normal life in Jerusalem. All we ever hear is the danger and the bad. Write more about it when you can, it is very interesting! Do you have pictures you would share?

  2. D'Alta

     /  May 7, 2013

    It is hard to decide to occupy your own life…but when you are given only one, you must make it your best. Homeless in your parents’ home is not the way to your best life and best self. I love your mom and dad AND recognize that both have colluded to make their life together bearable. They have lived their lives according to the pact they made. You do not have to live according to their pact. You must live by your own rules, making peace with yourself in the only life YOU have.

    • Good advice.

      • Hey, I have an idea: why don’t you come down here and be the “golden child” and I’ll be the “scapegoat” and we’ll all have a good time? Just kidding.

      • D'Alta

         /  May 7, 2013

        Oh no!! Got my hands full being the “black sheep/scape goat” in my own family!! When one has siblings who refuse to recognize the needs of an aging parent, There’s just a different kind of collusion at work. Finally “moved” back home, reoccupying my own life last August. Worked with my acupuncturist, massage therapist,
        and physical therapist to get my back working again. And by not occupying my Subaru so much, I managed to lose some weight!!! Hadn’t been able to lose any in years. Stress + hours in car = lethal belly fat… Even better, I’ve been able to avoid the major GI distress caused by scar tissue from the many times my gut has been cut open–acupuncture is a blessing here. I know I’d tarnish pretty quickly living on the mountain.😈👿😈👿😈 I have learned a valuable lesson in the past year about not living my life according to other people’s promises, pacts, collusions. Spent far too many years living by other people’s rules and expectations. Gotta have some life to call my own. Guess that’s my advice for you. Being in Jerusalem is so good for you. It is home. You’ve had enough of being homeless.

  3. Thanks, D. I’m so glad to know you’re back in YOUR own home again. I know it’s been hellish for you. And with non-compliant siblings…..oy, I don’t know what I would do! I would have violent thoughts!!!! Glad you’re taking care of yourself. You’ve been through a lot. You deserve to put your energies into rebuilding and restoring and (could it be??) enjoying life. You’re right, I have to break out of the codependent not-so-merry-go-round and live my own life in my own home. They’re smart people, they’ll figure it out. I won’t completely abandon them, but I can’t let them hold me down with a foot in the middle of my back.

  4. i think all of us ‘here’ in this space, this blogosphere….this group of us who have our own demons to battle…i think we are all looking for that ‘home’ that we have never had, for that place that is safe, and comforting, and where we belong. in another way, i recently blogged about the same thing–trying to find my own ‘home’, finally.

    I am glad you have found yours, and that you can be there at least sometimes. My mother was very much like yours, and your story really reverberated with me; it felt like you were telling a page out of my life, even tho it was yours.

    • Wow, Kat, you know, that is one of the wonderful things about our blogosphere, that we somehow find each other, the ones who share history and yes, I read something of yours that might have been mine, and I feel wow, I’m not alone. It’s astonishing, there are so many of us who have grown up wounded, not just a little, and dealing with so many kinds of harm. I really hope you find your forever home….I bless us all that we should really have a home!

    • I’d like to chime in here and say that I think you’re so right, Kat. I remember first hearing the phrase, “You need a safe place to fall,” and I didn’t get it. “To fall?” I was already down. Why would I want to fall? Then one day I was talking to my best sister and was surprised that these words came out of my mouth: “I need a safe place to land.” That’s when I got it!! I didn’t understand “falling,” but I did understanding “landing.” Where I live is not safe and for now I can go nowhere else. I want to be around those who love me, who will treat me kindly and who understand, as best they can, all my mental/emotional health issues. So I have to agree with you, Kat, we’re all looking for a home — the one we never had because in those old homes, those old places is where we were abused, beaten down, broken, harmed, etc. We need a safe place to land.

      Thank you, Kat, for your words!! 🙂
      — Kathy

      • Thanks, Kathy, for joining what seems to be shaping up to be an impromptu support group for people who need a safe place to call home! I’m seeing here that that can take many forms, from a safe group home to a studio apartment in a war zone. The key word is safety: I’m seeing now that that’s the key. A friend of mine recently fled from a dangerous marriage and is now very happily living in a cave! I wouldn’t mind having my own cave, now that I think about it, as long as it is in the Holy Land…have to look into this…

  5. You should be in Jerusalem right now! You are so in love with the place and it makes you so happy. Can you not put your mother into a care home full time? Forgive for me stating the obvious, but if someone makes you that miserable I don’t think you should be around them.

    I had to walk away from my own family almost ten years ago, and I still regularly question whether I did the right thing. I sometimes think it was really selfish of me, but for the purposes of self preservation I had to.

    Really wish you the best of luck. It sounds like you’re caught between a rock and hard place.

    • Thank you so much. Going NC (no-contact) is rough. I did it for about 15 years with my mother, which was easy because she refused to speak to me anyway. She was still trying to punish me for running away from home (because of her abuse) when I was 16!

      The only reason I’m here is that my father is dying and I want to be with him. Regardless of the fact that he was an enabler of my mother’s abuse, I still love him very much and want to be with him in his last days.

      Believe me, as soon as he’s gone my mother will have some hard choices to make, and I will be the one in charge. I’m already paving the way for that. I have an excellent therapist who is helping me to make good decisions and distinguish the trees from the forest, as the tangled relationships can be very confusing. And the minute I am free, you know where I’ll be headed….;-) You may already be aware of the website The Invisible Scar, which is dedicated to Adult Children of Child Abuse. There’s a badge on my blog home page, and if you click it, it will take you there. Lots of support for people who have to go NC, and for us Adult Children in general.

      • Oh that’s great to hear Laura. I’m so pleased that you have good support now and also a plan in place. It’s of course so easy for a complete outsider who doesn’t have the full story to say ‘why don’t you do xyz…’ I’ll be following your updates, waiting for the day you announce that you’re heading back home 🙂


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