I promised I would take care of her forever, watch over, protect, and never leave her. I made that promise to my mom when I was 5. I broke it 40 years later.
She was a teenager when she married my dad; hastened by an unexpected pregnancy. I was born soon after. I remember her as beautiful, funny, kind and affectionate.
My father left us when I was 5. I vividly remember the day, the weather and the smell of the room. Mostly I remember the panic in my mom’s tears as she clutched at me tightly and sobbed into my shoulder asking “who would take care of her now?”.
I volunteered with a promise only a 5-year-old could give. It was a pledge I felt deep in my core.
In my youngest years there were custody battles, court appearances, a stint in juvenile hall because the judge didn’t want to place me with either parent until matters were settled. It wasn’t the easiest of times, but by the time I was in 4th grade, I lived with mom in a little apartment deep in Los Angeles.
It was a tiny place; 420 square feet and rent rate of $75 a month. We shared a bedroom (and a bed) until I moved out at 18. As poor as we were, we were happy.
She worked as a telex operator and was home each night by 6. I got myself up for school every day, made myself breakfast, walked to the bus and got to school and back. The key around my neck was a constant reminder that I was a latchkey kid. The routine continued until I graduated high school.
I stayed close to home in my teenage years, dating rarely. On those occasions I would often bring my date back to the apartment to play board games so mom wouldn’t be alone.
When I was 18, my boyfriend of two years asked me to marry him. I thought I loved him but the idea of marriage scared me.
When your mom sits you down, holds your hands in hers and gazes steadfastly into your eyes as she tells you that you are not smart enough for college and not pretty enough to do better, you believe her. My boyfriend had promised mom he would take care of her if I married him. And so I did. The marriage lasted less than a year.
A few years later I embarked on what would be a 30 year marriage. Soon we went on to start the first of many businesses. As money was made, we bought mom a new car, 2 homes, new furniture, clothes, vacations, facelifts, boob lifts, all kinds of stuff. I remember going grocery shopping and filling her refrigerator and freezer with food. Always trying to live up to my promise.
Mom went on to marry 5 times in her lifetime. All short lived. She never collected spousal support from any of them. I’m not sure what she was looking for, but it still saddens me to know that whatever it was, she never found it.
She was quite the zealot when it came to her faith. Continually preaching, citing the bible by verse, always wanting to save someone. I never embraced her staunch biblical ways, but she never stopped trying to show me the way.
Ten years into my marriage, we had a baby girl. That is when my relationship with mom was forever changed.
She became territorial of my time, my money and my attention. She felt like she had to compete, and in the years to come, she would refuse to attend our daughter’s birthday parties and her high school graduation.
I came to realize that my mother’s love came with conditions. Big ones.
There are no words when your mom asks you to choose between her and your little girl. In the end she chose for me.
She distanced herself from me until such time “I came to my senses”. She stopped taking my calls completely. We haven’t spoken since. That was almost 15 years ago. I’m not at all convinced she ever looked back.
For years I waited for the call to come; for mom to agree to put the madness behind us. Instead, I received a call advising me that she had passed away. It came the morning of my wedding, this past February.
You may have noticed that I’ve pulled back a bit since that day. Confused how the loss could still be so deeply felt.
I will never understand what really happened. For a time, there was a lot of anger and a lot of pain. I couldn’t find my way to forgive it.
But I have always been grateful for the time I had with my mom, the fond memories of growing up loved. I choose to believe that she did the best she could with what she had. But in my heart I wish she had done more, loved better, been stronger. I wish that her love for me had been boundless and unconditional. Mine was … for her.
It no longer matters. In the end I’m just a kid who loved her mom and forgives what went wrong between us. Because without that, I’d be utterly lost.
When love fails you it’s best not to expect an explanation. It’s unlikely you’ll find one. Acceptance is the only way forward. That, and being careful not to blame yourself for something you could not control.
You move on, do better, love fully, and be everything to your child that you needed your mother to be for you. I have little doubt that that too, comes with its own mistakes.
Not one of us is perfect, but I’ve always believed that love should be pure and forever more.
With all my heart I hope mom found peace on the other side.
I’m still searching for a bit of it myself.
Lynne - Wow, what a moving essay. Will be thinking of you during this difficult time. hugs xo
Tam Warner Minton - Tammy, that is an unbelievable story. Sometimes our parents are incapable…and you are right, one has to practice acceptance. It is amazing to me that you have been able to accept…most people wouldn’t, I think.
Maryjo Morgan - This is so well written, Tammy, this expression of love and hope, pain and acceptance. Narcissism is especially difficult to deal with in one’s one parent! Kudos to you for setting balanced priorities – blessings on you and your daughter’s relationship.
Tammy - Thanks so much for that, Lynn. Appreciate your kindness and the read!
Tammy - Tam, I’ve had years of practicing acceptance. Believe me, I didn’t go quiet into that night. But eventually we learn to accept what we cannot change OR we allow it to consume us. Of course I wish things had been different. Every day. It was her decision. I’d like to think she would do things differently given the chance. I will never know.
Tammy - Thanks, Maryjo, so wonderful to hear from you! You are right, I had no choice but to set my priorities. No regrets there. Thank you for your blessings, I’ll take them! And thank you for the read and the comment!
Lynn Tarson - You have a wonderful talent for expressing your emotions in a clear, empathetic way. This was a very touching article. I hope that it will bring you peace.
Connie Mcleod - Oh Tammy, I just want to reach through the computer and give you a hug. Thanks for sharing. I hope writing of your pain helped ease it.
Tammy - Lynn, thank you so much for the compliment. The writing of it all did bring me much needed solace. Writing has a way of doing that. It’s time to stop wondering, looking back, wishing it had been different. It is what it is, and I love her still.
Tammy - Connie, that is one of the sweetest things, thank you. I’ll take that hug! Yes, the writing of it all did absolutely ease the loss of so many years. I do love how writing can cleanse the soul. Life is for the living, yet so many of us get wrapped around the need to “understand why”. I no longer consider myself to be part of that tribe.
evette - no words…
Tammy - Evette, me either. Some things defy explanation and only require acceptance and quiet understanding. It has taken me years to learn that. Good to hear from you! I hope you are thriving!
Vicki - Dearest Tammy
As always your writing includes truth and love. Exposing yourself like this makes me love and respect you even more. You are lucky you are so forgiving of your mom but also see the love she had for you, unfortunately for her quite limited. I just want to say that you are so smart and so beautiful ❤️❤️
Kim Tackett - Oh, Tammy, I never would have guessed. And my heart breaks for you…in fact I read your piece earlier this morning and had no words. In fact, I still don’t have any…except that by showing this side of yourself and your story, by being so vulnerable, you’ve also shown your strength. May you find light in the cracks my friend.
Tammy - Vicki, it took me a while to own this. And a while longer to come forward. Only when we face our demons do we escape them. THANK YOU, honey, for your kind remarks. I am smart and sometimes I am beautiful. I’m feeling particularly so right now…thanks to you. <3
Tammy - Kim, I’m so grateful you came back and shared with me. It is absolutely true that vulnerability has its own strengths. Although it’s never a comfortable place to be, no lie. Thank God for the cracks, my friend, for there is light to be found everywhere! Appreciating you and thanking you for the read/comment!
LISA CARPENTER - Hugs to you! The need for a mother’s acceptance and unconditional love never, ever fades, regardless of age. Your mother missed out on some much, it seems. It also seems like your mother was a bit like mine — unable to love unconditionally. I chose to do the VERY opposite of everything she did in order to be the best mom I could be. Sounds like you did, too. And it sounds like YOU love not only your daughter unconditionally, but your mama, too. You’re an inspiration. Again, hugs — huge ones — to you! xoxo
Linda Lichtman - Darling Friend & Coach – I see it a little differently…I believe the love your mom gave you was a down payment for who you have become. Whatever she couldn’t give you created a void which you, my sweet, have worked out to your advantage. When I see you (and I’m hoping it’s soon) I see a beautiful, sensitive, articulate woman who has worked very hard to become the loving, caring human being you are. You are authentic because that’s what you know…all that and a willingness to unbutton your blouse and show your bra at Cafe Bijou.
My life has improved from knowing you…I love you…Linda Lichtman
Tammy - Thanks, Lisa, for your kindness in this. Truth is, when I was furious with her, I still loved her. Funny how that works. I’m finding out that perhaps my story is not so unusual after all. Being a mother seems to be harder on some than others. It is a selfless occupation, no lie about that. Not everyone is suited. Hugs right back to you. Thanks for being here!
Joan stommen - Oh Tammy…what beautiful honest words of love! I agree with Rael…it was meant to be that she knew you’d found happiness and security and she could leave. Silence be damned and how petty to ignore her granddaughter….but you must believe she never stopped loving you both. I think your postt was well worth waiting for…and what a weight off your shoulders to get it out. You have shown great courage in forgiving and moving forward and believing in your amazing self! Bravo and big hugs, my friend
Carole Schultz - Oh Tammy, Tammy, Tammy, it seems all the heartfelt words have been said, so there isn’t much that I can add, except to say you have shown great strength and acceptance to come out of all that as a beautiful ‘Witty Woman’. Many hugs xo
Tammy - Thank you, Joan. I’d like to hold to those words. Wouldn’t it be beautiful if it were all true? I can only hope. It is a weight off my shoulders, but for some reason, today has been tremendously sad for me. Rehashing something is never a good thing. As far as having courage, I’m not at all sure I do. Truth is, I couldn’t NOT love her if I tried. She is my mom. And will always be. I choose to be grateful for what I had. It’s all I know how to do. And so it goes. Thank you for sharing with me. Hugs back to you!
Tammy - Carol, what a super sweet thing to say. THANK YOU for that. I’m finding that acceptance seems to be the universal key to peace and happiness. Wish I had known that 20 years ago. Life lessons can be quite the bitch. I’ve had my fill for the moment, but that’s just it, isn’t it? We never know what lies for us around the corner. It’s wonderful to hear from you. Thank you for that! And thank you for sharing with me!!
Tammy - Lindala, you made me laugh out loud! I’m so grateful for that! It’s been a day. Thank you, dearest, for your kind words and warm sharing. I love your take on it and will give that some serious contemplation. It’s been a hard road, much of it. But it works out in the end, doesn’t it? I am nothing if not true to myself….a blessing and a curse. I’ll unbutton my blouse for you any day, my friend. THANK YOU for being here. Really. xo
Elaine Ambrose - Tammy, this is so powerful. I read it twice to make sure I understood the facts. Both my parents are gone, and we weren’t close. I took care of Mom during her last years, but the relationship was never as it should have been. I had so many regrets after she died. Now, every so often, she’ll appear in a dream or in a vision. She’s young and happy. I think she’s trying to tell me it’s okay wherever she is. I wish the best for you. Please keep writing about this.
Sue - Dearest lovely friend. Amazing journey with your mother…she is finally at peace and in time, you will be too. It takes time when we feel like orphans. So sorry it happened on your special day…that sucks.
Our parents really did do their best, which taught us that we can do better..look at your own daughter…
Tammy, you are an amazing lady and writer. Thanks for sharing your life in words. Sending largest HUG!! Xoxo
Tammy - Elaine, I’ve heard about the dreams and visions from others. I have not experienced it where mom is concerned. I’ve had them with my father. Maybe she is still angry with me. I hate to think so. I’m so sorry for you, Elaine. Regrets are a heavy burden to carry for the rest of your life. I hope you can shake them off, as they serve no purpose but to instill guilt. And guilt is the most wasted of emotions. Communication is an epic healer of things gone awry. Yet it seems to be so hard for so many. I BELIEVE you are right; that your mother is telling you that she is okay. I believe it to the core. That says something. Best to you. And hugs too.
Tammy - Sweet Sue, thank you for you kind words. It seems like a lifetime since I’ve seen you. 10-12 years? So nice to know you are still on the other side of my little blog. It comforts me to know it. Thank you for sharing with me here tonight. I miss and adore you.
Tana Bevan - Tammy, Glad you’re able to remember the good and not let it get lost or lose its value because of what came after. Hopefully your mother has found a peace in the afterlife which eluded her here. While the timing of hearing about her death sacked (your wedding day and all) I’m glad you were and are with the Love of Your Life as you sort this out. Makes a huge difference. Hugs & good thoughts.
Tammy - Thank you, Tana. Thank God for silver linings! Life is for the living, and I make my business to give it my best shot. Sadness cripples us, and it did me for a while. I think it’s only natural. Thanks for the good thoughts and I’ll take those hugs! Sending some right back at you!
Tracy Milam - Hi there Tammy! I too have taken a summer break, I only wish I had as much clarity and peace as you have. My dad passed a year ago. I have spent the last year dealing with the crazy left behind in the form of my step mother and mother, the latter of which lives with me. These two women made such bad choices when we were young, actually all three did, he was just the most likeable! But it’s hard to understand the long lasting affects they had on my sister and I. You give me hope we will work through it all eventually.
Tammy - Hi Tracy, I’m so very sorry to hear about your dad’s passing. Whether it’s parents or our kids, to not be accepted, loved and valued is a crime against each other. You are right, of course, the effects our parents have on us is indeed long lasting. My mom and I never were able to work it out between us. She was big on avoidance and small on conversation. A perfect storm. We can’t make people something they’re not. Acceptance, tolerance and inevitable forgiveness leaves a chance for better times. I’m hoping you will find a better life for you and all concerned sooner rather than later. So happy to have you here, and so appreciate the read and the comment! Thanks for that.
Carol Horowitz - As we get older, In our our minds we can reflect and intellectualize, and come to some kind of understanding and even closure as to why our parents were who they were and why they did what they did, but inside of us, in our hearts, there will always be the little girl looking for unconditional love and acceptance. Not sure we ever figure out how to reconcile those two, the mind and the heart. I think we just say a prayer of gratitude for the lessons learned and hope it’s made us better people.
Tammy - My thoughts exactly, Carol. We have two choices, make peace with it and be grateful for what we have/had or resent it and become bitter people. The first being harder that the second, but still, a no brainer. There is no getting away from the brutal fact that we are the people our parents helped to make. In the end, it’s our choices that make us who we become. So great to see you here….yaaaaaaa! xo
Sandra Sallin - Such a moving story and so well told. Thank you for sharing this part of your life with us. How you’ve integrated this into your life is very impressive.
Tammy - Hi Sandra, so good to hear from you. It’s been ages. Thanks for the kind words. Integrating all of this into my life was simple; it WAS my life. Adapting to it was a whole other thing! Learning as I go!
Linda Lichtman - Although we haven’t logged in so many actual hours – my sweet, wonderful, full of love friend – I’ve already soaked in the essence of who you are to your core. I actually felt the sense of the “more” and the “less” of you and this beautiful post has filled in the spaces that are slowly filling up. I love you Tammy Bleck – for all you’ve managed to become and for all that’s still coming…xoxoxo
Tammy - Aww, Linda, thank you for your loving response. Truly. I’m not sure I deserve such praise, but I’ll gladly accept it with love and humble gratitude for your friendship. Life isn’t always kind. Those of us who have lived a few years know that to be true. Which is why we need to be kind to ourselves and those we care for. Without that, it’s a bleak world indeed. Grateful for you. xo