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Why I don’t celebrate Mother’s Day. May 11, 2008

Posted by phledge in black bile, family, fat, medical school, yellow bile.

If there is one way I believe myself to be a lesser, evil being, it is the way I feel about my mother, who died in 2001.  It’s complicated, and contradictory, and changes depending on what I’m doing, but by and large I did not have much patience or respect for her.  I live much of my life focused on not becoming her (who doesn’t?) but since this blog has pretty much become my therapy I’ll explain why:

My mom started attempting suicide when she was a teenager, and her father tried to have her committed for it.  She begged to avoid treatment, and he relented.  She started college on a pre-med track but despaired there and dropped out of school to get married and have children.  She starved herself with a month of lettuce dieting to get into my great-grandmother’s wedding gown.  Shortly after my birth (I’m the eldest of her several children) she attempted suicide again; I did not find out about this until well into my twenties, upon asking why she was so frequently hospitalized.  It became apparent to her that the only time she was not suicidal was when she was pregnant; suffice it to say, her post-me-partum attempt would not be her last.  Whether this was due to hormonal changes or the fact that she felt that being needed was the only thing that made life worth living, we’ll never know.  She clearly resented my growing up and becoming independent.  She also agonized over the fact that I was becoming fat like her—comments like, “You’ll be 200 pounds before you turn sixteen!” and “The way you’re looking at your food, like you are in love with it or something, that disgusts me,” were fairly common even when I was quite young and, in pictorial retrospect, not really fat.  We were almost constantly on some sort of diet, punctuated by insane binges of Mexican food and Cinnabon runs.  One of her favorite words to describe herself was “fatenugly.”  It was never two words.  She often mused that what she wanted more than anything as a young girl was to have babies so that someone would love her unconditionally; I think she told me this to convince me that being a mother was the most important thing in life (for everyone, not just her), but it came out as a cautionary tale of how disabling codependence is.  We had a young childless couple move in next door to us when I was, oh, probably five or six years old, and when I asked her why they didn’t have kids she flat out told me, “They don’t love each other.”  As her life progressed and she stopped making babies, she stopped raising her children; it became my job.  (I should point out here that my father was a truck driver and was gone for days at a time.  He sent her money for bills; she spent it on clothes we couldn’t afford and dining out.  On his returns there would inevitably be arguments about her irresponsibility and the eventual separation between them came as no surprise to any of their children.)  I was essentially a mother to my baby sister, thirteen years my junior, and ran the rest of the household as best a teenager could.  It was unsatisfactory to my mom, but she had no desire or will to fix it; rather, she moaned, “I’m such a horrible mother,” and went back to bed.  She was medicated for most of her life.  She dieted for most of her life, though never “successfully,” which is to say that she weighed much less (and was much healthier) when I was born, and much more when she died despite these diets.  She dragged me to Weight Watchers when I was fifteen years old and I endured the humiliation of getting on a scale in front of complete strangers at least ten years older than I was.  She liked going to my sisters’ softball games, but would not attend my ski races or my violin recitals.  She gradually became more depressed, developed type 2 diabetes, learned that she could get an incredible amount of attention by giving herself insulin but not eating, and burned brain cells by dropping her blood sugar below 40 on a regular basis.  She developed a tremor that left her incapable of eating from utensils.  Her siblings, all but one successful and wealthy lawyers, paid her bills but chided her for not taking care of herself, her house, or her children.  She was a closet smoker, locking herself in the most-trafficked bathroom and rendering it unusable for a good thirty minutes, then emerging as if nothing was billowing out behind her, nothing lingering in the toilet water (I should clarify:  a cigarette butt), nothing scattered on the linoleum.  She was a prescription drug addict and visited several physicians of different stripes—an orthopedic surgeon here, a pain management specialist there, our family doc—to get prescriptions.  When I announced that I was going to become a doctor, she was the only one who expressed reservations about it; that is, she told me I wouldn’t be a good physician.  I imagine this is because she rightly assumed that I would not be so patient with a patient like herself.  At any given time she had at least three dozen pill bottles on our filthy kitchen counter.  Her oldest brother, an elementary school teacher, visited us once when I was in my early twenties and going to college, and flat out told me later that our living conditions would have prompted him to call social services if he had seen it in one of his students’ homes.  They were afraid to call because they thought she’d lose it if she lost her kids.  (Party of oblivious?  Your table is ready.)  She never cleaned, rarely cooked, even only occasionally showered or dressed in anything but a housegown.  My baby sister moved into my dad’s house at the age of fourteen, after having called emergency medical services on a minimum of four occasions of finding my mom face down in the family room, drooling and incoherent from hypoglycemia.  Fourteen!  She was fourteen fucking years old and my mother had given up on herself to the point that she had to scare the living shit out of my baby sister by courting death!  Fuck.  We got my sister out of the house, and within three weeks of being utterly alone in her own house, my mother died of a drug overdose.  The night before her death, she called over to my dad’s, where I happened to be eating dinner with the rest of the family.  She told me she loved me and she was glad I was doing well, then asked to speak to my dad.  From the one-sided conversation, I could tell she was asking about how the rest of the kids were doing; my father, oblivious (although I probably would have been, too), crowed that the baby sister was doing great and everyone seemed really happy.  I have absolutely no doubt that she killed herself, after hearing that nobody needed her anymore.  My brother, second-youngest child, found her that morning and unfortunately he doesn’t believe in therapy.  I guess he believes in suffering.  I guarantee my mom did.

I don’t think I realized how angry I still am with her, until I wrote this (and, oh Maude, I am so sorry that this is one.  freaking.  paragraph).  So if you’re reading, forgive me, and thank you for letting me vent, yet again, almost seven years after her demise.

“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a terrible warning.”  –Catherine Aird


1. AnnieMcPhee - May 11, 2008

Phledge, I’m really really sorry to hear all that. And I’m sorry you’re still feeling angry (but that’s completely human.) For what it’s worth, I do not speak to my mother because having her in my life makes me want to die (and she really doesn’t care anyway.) There was no love lost, except on my part. It’s hard, and it hurts sometimes, and it damages you, changes you. That which doesn’t kill us makes us want to die, and all that.

If you end up having children, you will be the wiser (that much I promise) and you’ll celebrate mother’s day with them – or they with you. At least, most likely. I wish you all the best on this day and for your future. 🙂

2. Patsy Nevins - May 11, 2008

I had the abusive parents from hell, so I do understand how you are feeling. I am a mother & celebrate with my children & their babies, but some parents do not deserve to be honored. We do not owe it to anyone to love him or her just because of blood ties. I send the best wishes for inner peace & healing to you & your family.

3. mrs.millur - May 11, 2008

This goes right to the reason I wish Mother’s Day wasn’t such a big deal. In the midst of the brunches and flowers, there are a lot of mothers, and children, in pain.

I’m so sorry that you’re one of them.

4. Twistie - May 11, 2008

(hugs Phledge tight)

I’m so, so sorry you – and she – suffered that life. Getting the anger out and dealing with it is good. It’s healthy. And it will probably take more than one such purge. If you need to write about this again, we’ll still be here for you.

Take care of yourself.

5. sweetmachine - May 11, 2008


I’m so sorry. I hope that writing about this so honestly feels powerful to you; it’s certainly powerful to read.

6. Harriet - May 11, 2008

Phledge, I can relate. My mother was and still is manipulative, abusive, and incapable of being a grownup. Sometimes I feel compassion for her. Sometimes I feel rage. Either way I stay the hell away from her, and feel guilty and miserable and lonely for doing it. But it’s self preservation.

I hope you find some peace with this eventually.

7. phledge - May 11, 2008

Thanks to all of you for your comments. To tell the truth I’m a little surprised at the ferocity of my emotions at writing this. I am, however, pleasantly more surprised at the ferocity of the compassion and heartfelt care that comes from the people who frequent my blog. Thank you again.

8. Robotitron - May 11, 2008

Phledge, thank you for sharing this. I am sorry that you suffered so much, and that your mom suffered so much too. The best thing we can do is to break cycles, and I think you’re well on the way to doing so.

9. Buttercup - May 11, 2008

This does not make you an evil, lesser being. It makes you a survivor, and for that I congratulate you.

10. wellroundedtype2 - May 11, 2008

Thank you for letting this out into the world.
Sometimes, people turn out wonderfully in spite of neglect and abuse, and you are one of those people.
I am sorry for what you and your siblings endured.
While you may feel you were patient with your mom (and who could have been?), you contain a tremendous amount of compassion for people who grew up in abusive and neglectful situations that will make you a fantastic doctor.

11. Regina Tyyska - May 11, 2008

Thank u for your raw words about your mother. It seems the world is full of moms like this, myself included. Today, I know she was bipolar w/ a dash of schizophrenia thrown in for good measure. Rage was her middle name. It took me years of journaling and a little bit of therapy to put my relationship with my mother in its proper place. Now that she’s gone (8 years now) I still feel a sadness for what should have been. I love your spirit, candor, and willingness to share. I’ll be following your blog religiously.

12. BigLiberty - May 12, 2008


I’m so glad you shared this. My DF’s kids are going through something similar with their mom, and we’re desperately trying to get custody. I might have them read this, so they know they aren’t alone. They also had a really, really difficult time with Mother’s Day this year.

Frankly, I think Mother’s Day should be more of a “strong woman of authority you can look up to” Day. A woman who has been a part of your life to whom you can look up with gratitude for her advice, encouragement, and love. And that doesn’t have to be (and sometimes is flat-out not) one’s mother.

13. Giselle - June 20, 2008

Phledge, I think it justifies your not celebrating Mothers Day.. But being the more sensible one, I think even if it is very VERY hard to forgive her, you could try to just accept that as what she was and try to forgive it and let your anger towards her relent.. Because.. When you stay angry with someone, it occupies your heart and mind atleast a tiny space of it.. and it is never going to vanish just all of a sudden.. So, a part of us remains bitter.. I dont think you would want that.. You are much more sensible! and it is possible for you to have a happy life..
and “Frankly, I think Mother’s Day should be more of a “strong woman of authority you can look up to” Day. A woman who has been a part of your life to whom you can look up with gratitude for her advice, encouragement, and love. And that doesn’t have to be (and sometimes is flat-out not) one’s mother” is true. I agree with you.. Someone who has been a ” mother” to you..


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