Ogallala Afternoon

You might be wondering where, or what, Ogallala is. 

Ogallala is a smallish city in Nebraska, USA.  It’s named for the Ogallala band of Lakota (Sioux) Indians, who once roamed freely in the Plains, but like all Native Americans were rounded up and planted on reservations during the Westward expansion of white Americans.  Ogallala, Nebraska, is now a corn town.

I’ve been on the road or off the grid now for weeks.  Lots of thoughts, some jotted down, some evaporated, and some that maddeningly recirculate, playing themselves over and over until they are drowned out by the urge to drag my malfunctioning brain out of its bone box and fry it on the sizzling pavement of I-80.

In particular: the thoughts that forced me to bivouac early in bucolic Ogallala, as I was pelting down the blazing Interstate, trying to get to Michigan to meet a deadline.

I am haunted by the spectre of losing my son.  I believe I have lost him.  I believe I never had him.

This adult child of mine has never been happy with much, for long, particularly if it had anything to do with me.

He was miserable as a baby, except when eating or preparing food.  He learned to cook by watching over my shoulder from his vantage point in the backpack.  Since he screamed for whatever chunk of time he was put down, hours at a time, and I mean hours and hours, of necessity for my health and his life, I put him in the backpack and wore him.  If he screamed in the backpack, I put him to bed (clean, dry, and fed, of course) and turned on the vacuum cleaner and put in ear plugs and turned up the stereo and went outside and walked around in the yard and wished I still smoked, until his father came home. 

“Clap hands, clap hands
Till Daddy comes home
Daddy has money and Mommy has none…”

But his father objected to being handed a screaming baby even before he was properly through the door.  In retrospect I don’t blame him. 

As a pediatrician, having a “difficult child” proved helpful.  It increased my Compassion Quotient.

I’m sure you’ve heard of awful cases where someone shook the baby, or threw it, or did some other act of violence because the baby wouldn’t stop crying.  Most of us recoil in horror from these news items, and frequently judge the mother harshly.  How could she?  How could she?

Thankfully, I never did violence to my perpetually screaming baby.  I took him to the doctor every week, sometimes more.  My pediatrician patiently explained that he had “colic” (rubbish! colic is what they say when they don’t know why the baby cries) and that it would go away when he grew up (it hasn’t).

I remember even at the time, walking around the back yard in the middle of the night, thinking how grateful I was that I had the emotional resources not to simply throw him into somebody else’s trash bin.  Later on, when I turned into the Director of several Pediatric Emergency Departments, I would draw upon that experience when the babies of other, less resourceful parents came in with grievous injuries or worse.  As much as I hurt for those babies, I hurt for the parent who loved their child, yet in an instant of just-too-much-over-the-top screaming, snapped, and hurt their own flesh and blood.

Apart from myself, I think no one pities a parent who has hurt, or even killed, their child, in a moment of unpremeditated rage.  In fact, I don’t even think it’s rage.  I think it’s more simply end of the rope, no more self control, just shut up!  Type of thing.

Maybe they didn’t have a back yard, vacuum cleaner, stereo, teeth to grind, nerves of steel.  Maybe they didn’t have those resources.

I was grateful for mine.

Looking back, I’m also grateful that it wasn’t just me.  Who couldn’t pacify this child, I mean.  I feel vindicated.

When I went back to work and school after five months at home, I left the backpack with the babysitter, who muttered something about knowing how to take care of spoiled babies.

When I picked him up at the end of the day, she had that backpack on!  She muttered something about weaning him off it by the end of the week.

She wore it, and him, for about two more years.  Then we moved.

As far as I can tell, that’s when our troubles first began.

This person to whom I gave birth and did not kill, resents me with a passion.  I resent my own mother, for far different reasons, yet I have compassion for her because I am a hated mother.  I will not tell her I love her, because I don’t.  I don’t confide in her, because whatever I say can and will be used against me.

I have tried to be a good listener to my son.  I know I have been, because he has always come to me with his troubles, and I have felt a bit of guilty pleasure in listening: guilty for being pleased that he came to me in his time of trouble, wishing he didn’t have the troubles that brought him to me, yet pleased that he felt comfortable in coming to me for help.

I did my best to help him to become self-sufficient, since that, in my experience, is the best gift one can give a child, second only to unconditional love.

When he got into trouble, I let him flounder a good long while before I bailed him out.  And I didn’t just let him off the hook.  I got him out of mortal danger, and after that, he had a lot of meaningful work to do. 

I feel now as though I’m explaining, justifying, trying to talk myself into believing that I wasn’t a horrible harpy mother like mine was.  I’m picking through my brain, finding reasons to believe I did OK.

But more often, I’m picking through my brain, finding every little particle of doubt, possibility of abusive behavior, coldness, emotional distance, unavailability, what?

What happened?  Or, more probably, what didn’t happen?

Through the decade of his twenties, it seemed we got along fine.  Then came last Thanksgiving.  I got gobsmacked, blindsided. 

He invited me for dinner.  No one else, just me.  I thought that was strange, suggested we invite somebody else, or go to someone else’s dinner.  No, he didn’t want to.

And he didn’t want help cooking, because he gets impatient with someone else in the kitchen.  So I sat on the couch and smoked his weed. 

He presented the meal.  It looked lovely.  He asked me to take a picture of him with his beautiful dishes all arranged on the table.  I did.

After dinner I went out and slept in my camper in his parking lot.  The next morning I came in and showered while he went to work for a while.  When he returned, he made it clear he expected me to leave: immediately.

There was the old threatening feeling I knew so well, the feeling of dark clouds, anger, intimidation, that he had used to get his way as a young adolescent.  I hadn’t seen that in twenty years. 

I didn’t want to leave just then.  I was nursing a migraine, was exhausted from the many hour drive to his place, and I didn’t want to be bullied.  I wanted to curl up on the couch and drink coffee and smoke weed and watch cartoons in my pajamas.  But it was, after all, his place.  Not mine.

He showed me the door. 

“I really need my space back, Mom,” was how he put it, and opened the door for me, so I could go through it.

We’ve spoken four times since then.  They haven’t been pleasant times.  When I ask what happened, what changed, I get a tirade about how I dragged him around when he was a kid, how I wasn’t available emotionally or physically, and I apologize.  And he is angry, and doesn’t want to hear how I feel. 

And I get all confused.  Here is my son, angry at me.  I didn’t kill him when he was an angry, inconsolable baby.  Why isn’t he grateful?  Isn’t he happy that he’s now a successful adult, with a promising career, lots of nice friends, no lack of women friends, enough money for his needs?

My own mother used to tell me I was “shit,” burn me with match heads, just to see me cry.  Then she’d laugh and tell me I should grow a thicker skin.  And she wonders why I avoid her.

I tried my best to be another kind of mother, the mother I would have chosen if I could have had my choice.

I guess it doesn’t work that way.

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37 Comments

  1. i only say i liked this because its exactly how my story is with my daughter. only she is 17 almost 18, and last november decided to cut me from her life after we had a particularly nasty fight (where i said some nasty things that i don’t remember saying, ah the joys of bipolar psychosis). she was an over energetic, live wire of a child who at the same time was so sensitive. She seemed rough and tumble and was hard to keep up with, once i cleared one area she had destroyed another and on all day every day. she ran at any chance and i was constantly chasing her 3 yr old self thru the neighborhood. But as tough as she seemed the smallest thing destroyed her.

    and now here, i have raised her alone, and because of one argument she has walked out of my life. isn’t that something, to take care of her all that time, with all those challenges she had, and to have her say I’m the one who doesn’t care? who doesn’t love her?

    Reply
    • Ah, Kat, I am so sorry. We can only do the best we can, with the resources we have. I know you love your daughter so very deeply, and I’m sorry she has pushed you away. I hope she’ll wake up in time to build a new, adult relationship with you. She’s still young…mine is in his 30’s…I know your pain is huge, to have her gone from your life. Sending gentle hugs and hopes that she’ll come back to you…

      Reply
  2. Oh me, oh my. Everything that’s wrong in my life is a result of the abuse I went through as a kid.

    But wait, I’m not a kid anymore. I’m responsible for my own misery now, or putting in the work necessary to not be so miserable.

    Some people are comfortable in the victim trap since it takes very little effort. I hope he gets his head out of his ass because our time on earth is limited. He might just be surprised by how awesome his Mom is if he gives her a chance. I know you’re awesome, and I know many others know too, so maybe we should sign a petition and send it to the ungrateful twit. 😉

    Anyhow, boys are dumb, and I love you. Many hugs.

    Reply
    • Right on, sista. I have told him as much (the “adult, responsible” part), but as my dear departed daddy would say, he couldn’t find his ass with both hands, a map, and a flashlight.

      Thanks so much for your love and support, Kara. It means a lot ❤🍹👍

      Reply
  3. Oh Laura, Laura..
    I love what Kara said..send a petition..haha! If only they would understand it…we who love you do…and I am sure, somewhere, your son loves you. The part I am coming to learn is understanding how not to destroy our peace and ourselves in trying to figure out why they act the way they do and when or if they will ever change.

    This was such a touching post you wrote. So honest and raw. Blowing you kisses in the wind. They will find their way. xxx -CC

    Reply
    • Thank you, CC..I wish there was a switch in my head I could turn off, to make these intrusive thoughts go away. Maybe we should send a petition to my brain!!! What do you think?! Change.brain, I only need 1,000,000,000….000 signatures to convince Laura’s brain to give itself a rest and think about the pair of adorable fuzzy bunnies she saw playing leapfrog in the green grass of Nebraska today. Ah, nuts. I want a hot fudge sundae the size of Idaho.

      Reply
      • Thanks so much for your love, CC. Hugs and smooches!

        Reply
      • Hahahaha! Wellll, if that would help you… 😉
        Laughter is good, very good.
        Intrusive thoughts are a bitch! They happen for me often. I try to let myself cry now more when they come. In the moment. And when I feel like writing about it, I do. But what works for me, does not work for everyone.
        It seems to keep them at bay more than they were and I don’t dwell as much as I used to. Doesn’t stop the painfulness when they arrive.
        The bunnies sound sweet. The ice cream sounds wonderful.
        Do what you need to rest that beautiful, weary soul of yours for a while. ❤

        Reply
  4. I could write a book about my kids and how we don’t always jibe/jive. My son is self absorbed and I have come to accept that my daughter is an independent/dependent shit. Needs me when she wants money. My son never checks on me before his accident and after. I am only as good as the money I dole out and my savings is fast going by the wayside. Both my kids were crying babies especially my son and maybe I did not bond with him. But I can’t cry over spilled milk and he does at times say he could not have made it through the first few months, after his accident without his mama.

    If feel deeply for you as I can partially relate to your story. I wish you well and I hope that you know that you are loved by those of us that read and follow your blog. I hope the best for you. I know that you hurt. I have learned to go about my life without the support of my kids.

    Reply
    • This is such a meaningful comment. I’ve read it over several times. I’m terribly sorry that your kids don’t do anything for you except take your money. You might think about closing the bank, because you know who isn’t going to step up to the plate when the money’s gone. I’ve been trying to put together the logistics for a major spinal surgery, and the thought always flits by: “my son could…” He could, but he won’t. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve dropped what I was doing and went to help my parents, even before they got old.

      I love and appreciate you too. I read your blogs during the times when your son’s condition was really rough, and I rejoice that he has made such a good recovery. You were there for him lock, stock, and barrel, and I hope he means what he says, and that it actually results in an increased level of concern for his mother who loves him so much.

      Thank you for your support and kindness…sending big warm hugs–Laura

      Reply
      • Thank you for your kind words. I have cut back on helping out since I’m pretty sure my daughter is now in a good place for being healthier since she has had better Mds to treat her ailments. But I had to get past the hurt of her never calling except when she wanted something.

        I do hope things get better for you in some kind of way. Spinal surgery is no walk in the park and you really need someone to lean on. I don’t know how in the world you will swing that but I bet a social worker could pair you up with an honest person who could foster your dog while you heal.

        Hugs a bunch,
        Yvonne

        Reply
  5. Desr Laura, I hate you are going through this, I have had a situation with one of my sons mad about the way he was raised as well. My other son has no problem with his childhood. But I believe he is bipolar like me and he needs to have something to get upset at me about some times not speaking for a year. But life changes and through my divorce, I had no home. This son who hadn’t seen me for a year finally would talk to be at this point. And he asked me to come live with he and his family. It is the best thing that could have happened for us. Now he realizes all I did for him a child, because I do those things for my grandkids too. He has gotten so much closer, when able to talk to me about things going on at work, child problems etc. And the fact that I clean there home and do laundry plus keep the grandchildren an lot it has helped him as much as it has given me a free place to stay until I can afford my own place. I would have never thought this could have happened. So give it some time if your son is bipolar they can strike out at us one minute and be there for us the next. I am sure he loves you. But don’t blame yourself it could have nothing to do with you really. Keep your mind off him for a bit and just call once in awhile to talk if he isn’t being ugly on the phone to you. I know how you feel and I hate that you are hurt sweetie. You are not alone we are all here for you.

    Reply
    • Oh, I’m so glad your son stepped up when you really needed him. Interesting that you mentioned he is also bipolar. I’m sure that mine is too. He was on lithium for a few years, with a huge change for the better. Then he went into denial, stopped taking his lithium, and has been mostly unhappy with life ever since. That was ten years ago! Of course he gets angry when I make any reference at all, let alone God forbid suggest that he see a psychiatrist! Time will tell. And in the meantime I am so grateful for your support! Sending you hugs and wishes for your success!

      Reply
  6. ❤ Kids … I think they're ungrateful shits … until they have their own 😉

    Reply
    • Yeah…I don’t know if his having kids is such a good idea. He’s volatile and has poor self control. He is good with animals, though, and has a good heart underneath it all.

      Thanks, me!

      Reply
  7. Laura, I can never imagine how you must be feeling. One has to develop nerves of steel to take so much of condemnation from someone, more when it comes from our own blood.

    I hope that compassion dawns over him and he understands that EVERYBODY has LIMITATIONS.

    Love and light

    Reply
    • Thanks, Ashu. I too hope and pray that he wakes up and discovers that he is one of a vast throng of broken people, and only he can fix himself. No one else can fix him.

      Reply
  8. This sucks all around, I’m sorry you’re stuck dealing with it. I come to it from the perspective of the 20 something child who has narrowed my contact with my parents from friendly weekly dinners and helping rebuild their house to just dropping my son off for visits with grandparents. After being called selfish and lazy and shortsighted for so many years I just couldn’t take it anymore, despite all the support they have given me. I just needed brain space to make my own mistakes and find my own way without their uber critical voices telling me shoulda, coulda, woulda.

    Reply
    • I hear that. I rarely speak to my own mother because anything I say will for sure be turned against me. You’re wise to be taking care of yourself, setting boundaries, and knowing what’s healthy for you. I’ve noticed with other people that sometimes after a period of distancing, parents and children can develop a new relationship as adults on an equal footing. I haven’t managed that with my mother, who has a personality disorder and is constantly on the lookout for a shot at my soft underbelly. But I did have that with my father, and it was truly a joy.

      Reply
  9. I wish you strength.
    I have no way to comment here, aside from that. I was lucky to have great parents and have very little to complain about. My brother is a great friend too. I also choose not to have children. Even from an early age I knew this. I was ridiculed for these thoughts and even denied a much needed hysterectomy early in my life.
    What your son is doing to you would crush me. This is in the top ten reasons for me not having chitlins.
    Take care of yourself. I believe these words and probably another reason for me not procreating.
    🙅Hugs.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Ilex. You’ve voiced a thought that I’ve felt guilty for feeling: if I knew then what I’ve known for a long time now, I never would have reproduced. It’s killing me. You’re incredibly wise, to know yourself in this way.

      Reply
  10. Laura, I read what you said about this some time back and I wanted to comment but I wasn’t sure. Now I am sure. I’ve been a teacher for over forty years – I’m not a doctor nor a shrink, just an old bloke who has seen a lot. So two things ( and you might deny it ) First stop feeling guilty. Second, he is old enough. Let him go. Three. Don’t feel guilty. Four. There’s room in your life for being a bit selfish.

    Reply
    • I don’t deny good advice from an old campaigner/warhorse like yourself! You teacher people hold down the front lines day in, year out, and I take your counsel very seriously. You are right.

      Ironic smile that I, the daughter of parents who believed that children are property, to be done to whatever they liked, turned out to be the parent who obsesses over “what did I do wrong?” I suppose an overdose of accountability sandwiched between two “blame game” generations, in short. Blech.

      Thank you for your support! Much appreciated. Don’t hesitate to jump into the comments….the mind you save may be mine! ❤

      Reply
      • Too often we grow up and become either carbon copies of our parents or total opposites. And often it’s just a coin toss.
        PS. I went private awhile ago for reasons that aren’t relevant but if you feel so inclined you can ask Mr WordPress and he’ll tell me and I’ll unlock the door.

        Reply
  11. Oh Laura your friend WFDEC
    Said it so perfectly
    I know how hard it is to let
    I’ve been tryin for too many years
    The pain the rejection
    I am the puppet
    And the puppet master
    As always Sheldon

    Reply
  12. I completely identify with raising a “difficult” baby, a baby others believed I spoiled. My heart goes out to you that he is not showing you love, just anger and resentment. At the same time, I remember being an angry young adult raging at my mother. You and your son are in my prayers. I can only imagine how much pain and sorrow you feel.

    Reply
    • Thank you, Kitt…kids!!!! 👹. Fruit of the womb. “If I had known then…” I wouldn’t have believed it. You’d think by age 31 he’d have his “parent shit” together. I think he might have a lousy therapist, one of those who encourages resentment without resolution. After years and years of what I thought was productive family therapy, I am floored by this new round of anger and blame. I’m just going about my business, trying to pretend it’s OK. What bull. Thanks for your support!

      Reply
      • Honestly, it doesn’t help that he’s in denial about his bipolar disorder and not taking meds. That can make all the difference. Plus, you can gain compassion for your parents when you see that you both struggle with the same beast – fucking bipolar disorder. It cuts both ways.

        Reply
  13. Oh Laura
    I know you have been in a dark place
    I know how it feels to be lost and alone
    You’ve trying to find what’s left
    And the light isn’t their just yet
    I feel your tears
    And your heart
    I don’t have the magic necessary
    I just have my support and words
    I love you Laura
    Take care
    As always Sheldon

    Reply
  14. Love and prayers going on over here for you. xxx

    Reply

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