The Mother Load

The Mother Load

Full (moon) disclosure: There’s a good chance I may go all over the place with my thoughts in this post (more so than usual).

Last night, I went outside to gaze at the supermoon, came in and watched “Avengers: Endgame” for the umpteenth time, and realized I hadn’t done a post to mark the occasion of starting this quiet little blog a whole decade ago!

Spoiler alert: I’m still not (technically) gonna do one.

However long you’ve been rockin’ with this sporadic, occasionally depressing, hopefully insightful and always a tad batshit crazy home of my musings — please know that I am truly grateful to you for generously indulging me. It is my hope that you’ve left this page at times feeling enlightened, optimistic, more vulnerable and/or mildly amused. It is also my hope that you’ve spread the word so others might feel the same.

Maybe you’ve gained perspective in areas you never considered. Maybe some of my stories resonated and made you feel seen or heard. Maybe you, too, have embraced therapy. Or meditation. Or skydiving. Or tragicomical sexcapades with lanky/sketchy Cuban poets or semi-famous narcissistic actors. Or obsessively playing the “Hamilton” soundtrack ad nauseam. Or indulgent self-care rituals. (I’d like to delude myself in thinking there’s something here for everyone.)

When I began this blog, I was reeling from a season of change I wasn’t mentally prepared for and desperately needed an outlet to escape. I was struggling to find full-time work after being laid off from a lucrative job a year earlier, was fresh out of a nearly six-yearlong relationship that had grown abusive (subsequently becoming homeless as a result), and my father had been diagnosed with dementia and early-onset alzheimer’s — setting off a domino effect of health, legal, financial and family drama aplenty for years to come. To say that writing about things as innocuous as baseball game proposals and bridge comparisons provided an unlikely balm at the time was an understatement.

Ten years later, this little blog is where the façade gets stripped. And I love it.

Which brings me to a subject I haven’t really been keen to delve into because up until now I didn’t realize it was such a pain point but whew lawd is it ever!

As April comes to a close, it brings with it more than a slew of Taurus folks reminding me that I need to get my life in order and that my birthstone is trash. It also brings the ominous (for me, at least) reckoning that is Mother’s Day; the one day out of the year where I pretend to be engaged by doling out airy tributes to the moms in my life, acutely aware of my personal views on motherhood, and having come to grips with the fact that my relationship with my own biological mother is nonexistent at my behest.

For years, I’ve grappled with a host of feelings when it came to my biological mother: The classic default of hurt/angry with her for behavior that could clinically be construed as negligent/abandonment. Guilty for the last words I ever said to her nearly five years ago at my father’s funeral, after she repeatedly hit me with a program bearing my father’s face for “not getting her joke.” Sad for her because her inability to see beyond her own experiences and narrative has impaired and/or destroyed any real chance of healing or connection with me and anyone else that just got tired of trying and repeatedly failing to be heard.

And yes, I’m cognizant of the disconnect that comes with using the term “biological,” although it’s not as loaded as it’s just simply my truth. Another woman raised me. To me, she’s my mother. Simple math.

But even armed with those basic facts, I never dug into the emotional ramifications of that equation. Never paid attention to how I internalized that anger. Never noticed how during the rare visits in my youth, she’d find opportunities to insult my father, who never spoke ill of her, made countless efforts to ensure she and her family were kept abreast of my whereabouts and supported various members when they were in need decades after they had divorced. (Admittedly a bad husband, but an undeniably good — albeit flawed — man.) Also never picked up on her habit of assuming the victim role and shirking accountability when she made terrible — and often detrimental — life choices.

If I had…I would have noticed sooner that I’d become the very person I’d vowed to never become…at one point basing my decision to not have children on the fear that I’d one day replicate her actions.

Strangely, realizing I was an asshole was quite a refreshing revelation.

After unpacking how my approach to life and relationships was shaped (distorted?) by the fears, resentments, traumas and biases of both my biological and adopted mothers, I began looking at my past romantic relationships and realized there was a common thread: All of my long-term relationships had been with men who held deep resentments toward their mothers as well. One was angry that his mother brought him to America, forcing him to leave his life and friends across the pond behind…glossing over the fact that she was fleeing an a violent marriage. One was none-too-pleased that his younger, fairer-skinned brother got more attention than he did growing up. One literally blacked out talking about how his mother would take his deceased father’s social security money and give it to his younger brother for clothes and sneaker shopping, while he was supporting himself through college (even though they did not share the same father). All of them at one point had assumed the role of “man of the house” and financially supported them in their adult life to the point of straining themselves fiscally to maintain the appearance of being the “good son” and keep the desired approval/love of their mothers.

Unsurprisingly, all of them thought money, status and material belongings were the remedy for the huge emotional voids they couldn’t fill. And all had massive control issues.

And as simultaneously heartbreaking and terrifying as that revelation is, it’s not an anomaly. There are SO MANY mothers who are unwittingly hobbling their child’s ability to have healthy relationships and even function as emotionally stable adults. Hell, without even realizing it, I had preternaturally doomed my children to the point where I didn’t even bother having any, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like being a woman who puts the weight of her world onto the shoulders of her child because her heart is broken to the point where she makes her happiness and dream fulfillment the priority and responsibility of that child.

Actually, I can and just did. It’s shitty.

I think about that when I hear stories of single mothers pushing their sons to be pro athletes in dangerous but lucrative sports without encouraging them to also have an education and a post-retirement business plan. I think of that when I see stage moms who aggressively force their children into entertainment without their consent. I think of that when I hear stories of women who knew their partners were abusing their kids but didn’t want to lose whatever stability that partner provided, and instead took their frustrations out on the child and abused them more.

I think of women who resent when the child gets more attention than them and ignore or put down their dreams and achievements. I think of women who can’t recover when the child is a physical reminder of the man who brought them pain and, by default, punishes them for it. I think of women who mistakenly believe that withholding words of encouragement and praise will make their kids “stronger.” I think of women who use threats and violence to intimidate their child into meeting their expectations instead of talking to them. I think of women who don’t communicate their needs, fears and desires, who risk sending their kids a message that their needs, fears and desires aren’t valid or worthy of attention, fulfillment and care. I think of all these very-real scenarios…and of the future adults walking around feeling unworthy, unloved, unable to express or process emotions and conflict…afraid to communicate what they require and be vulnerable, authentic, joyful and free as a result.

And it’s soul crushing…in addition to generating way too many red flags to keep track of before swearing off dating/mating for life.

I’d be remiss if I left out the women who inadvertently raise dangerously entitled humans because they fear being labeled a bad mother. They may not be scarring the kids for life, but they sure as hell are making them difficult to deal with in society, which may scar the rest of us.

That said, I know some amazing women who have raised some incredible human beings. I understand it’s no small feat, and it often takes a village. And without the support of a partner and/or friends and family who are equally invested in making sure everyone is functioning on their highest level, things absolutely, inevitably, fall through the cracks.

To them, I say with all sincerity: You deserve your flowers. And the spa days. And the occasional vice-infused getaway. You deserve all the things.

I’ll just close this epic tome by saying that in the thirteen hours since writing the bulk of these words (I was too sleepy to edit and post earlier), I’ve since discovered that Oprah released a new book today pretty much touching on this fun subject, so I’m just gonna take that as a sign I’m on the right path and learned something good over this past decade, and perhaps this is where my generational curse ends.

Also, I’m literally on the same page as Oprah, and I haven’t decided yet if that’s a flex or if I’m about to get cussed out again by the people who keep telling me to write a book already.

Motherfucker.

Lost and Found in Newark

Last Friday and Saturday, a mass of thousands gathered in Newark, New Jersey, for Oprah’s “Life You Want” weekend.

I was one of them.

Along with Madame O, Mark Nepo, Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell and Iyanla Vanzant united to share insights and stories that were sometimes humorous and oftentimes heart-wrenching — all for the purpose of guiding us to discover our true callings.

Having only watched a handful of her talk show, barely reading my “O” magazine subscription, and catching just a few programs on her OWN network, it would seem utterly confusing as to why I would sign up for this, but that’s precisely why I did.

I had spent a good portion of my life avoiding Oprah’s influence, yet admiring the results of it. That she had reached this status of mogul/actor/entrepreneur/philanthropist from humble and terrifying beginnings made her more of a mythical figure to me as opposed to someone I could relate to, so I never fully invested in seeing her work full on.

Being so averse to seeking or acknowledging a need for help at the time, it never occurred to me to indulge in something that could bring me comfort, joy or at least help me understand that what I’d gone through was not something that was exclusive to my story. Millions of women (and a smattering of men) understood more than I did that Oprah Winfrey hadn’t just built a media empire, but a fellowship of people who all wanted to improve their circumstances, and at least be uplifted and entertained while discovering they weren’t as alone as they thought they were.

And so I joined them… and it turned out to be a pretty damn good decision.

As she took the stage of the Prudential Center on Friday night — resplendent in a royal purple gown that flowed with her every step and voice booming with confidence — this woman, affectionately (and appropriately) called “the queen of all media”, shared with her adoring subjects stories that excited and disturbed us. She peppered her accounts of personal, academic and professional achievements with painful truths of being raped, pregnant, discriminated against, insecure about her body and her desperation to get what turned out to be an Oscar-nominated part in “The Color Purple”. The more she spoke, the more this “mythical” creature became a human being to me — even becoming more so when she admitted to wanting people to think she’s nice while her man, Stedman, reminds her that she is not. (I think I loved that part more than most of her reveals.)

I left that night feeling both energized from her truths… and a little freaked out by seeing my baby picture among the hundreds floating across the screen behind her. In a sea of thousands, that small acknowledgement endeared her — and her team — to me more.

When Saturday morning arrived, Mark was ready to help us clear our racing minds, and guide us through a meditation that left a hush in a room with thousands of women. (Let that sink in… this crowd came to work!!) And while he had our attention that morning, he had our full respect and admiration later, when he was asked to reveal something in his life he will never regret and — without missing a beat — answered “Susan” as he gestured to her in the audience. Yes, there was a collective and audible sigh.

When Elizabeth came to the stage, it was clear she was a rock star to the throngs of screaming women who had read her book “Eat, Pray, Love”, and instantly contemplated leaving everything behind to discover themselves by spending a year globetrotting. It also didn’t hurt that she was played by Julia Roberts in the movie adaptation. Basically, she was the woman everyone wanted to be if they felt Oprah was too high a standard. At least, until they spent the weekend realizing they could be whichever one they wanted to.

Liz shared her journey from being in a “picture-perfect” but unfulfilled marriage, losing everything she had in the divorce, feeling desperate, hopeless, and taking a leap of faith by spending a year finding her passion and purpose and never looking back. Being one of the few who hadn’t read the book or watched her on OWN’s “Super Soul Sunday”, I found her story and candor refreshing and oddly familiar, having walked away from something similar to marriage, losing everything and making discoveries of my own… albeit with less stamps in my passport. Or, for that matter, a book deal.

Rob Bell came to the stage using his humble and unorthodox spiritual charm to explain how expansive the universe was and how we each contributed to it, and I found myself wondering if he and Neil DeGrasse Tyson collaborated. When our minds weren’t being blown by the math and science used in comprising the distance and speed of planets, we were putting our lives into perspective after stories about his late grandmother and his family life gave us pause to appreciate the value of each moment and breath… and Montblanc pens.

What Gilbert is to the dreamers, Iyanla is to those (like me) who live in a “dream-like” state.  Those who fall under that category ignore or fail to grasp reality and/or anything that requires work to create or maintain something of true value. Given that she spoke from experience — having gone deep into debt after refusing to pay her bills and being left by her husband — it only seemed natural and logical to explore some crucial life choices after that talk!

It all brought me back to my last post, where I shared a list born from personal mistakes, and the takeaways that I’ve just recently begun putting into perspective and practice in the last year and a half. The events of this past weekend not only validated the importance of those lessons, it mandated my need to fully embrace them with an open, authentic and uncluttered heart and mind every day.

It helps to know there are people in my corner committed to making sure I do. A lot.

Coming off of seeing Audra McDonald’s heartbreaking portrayal of Billie Holiday during her final days in “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill”, and looking into a crowd including many older than myself, it was strangely comforting knowing that there’s no statute of limitations on dealing with demons, and conversely, it is never too late to change or improve your life. It’s also okay if you don’t have your shit together by a certain age, as long as you consistently make the effort to actually have it together.

All clever marketing, cool light shows, dance parties, abbreviated exercise classes, crying jags and feel-good missives aside, this experience genuinely renewed my appreciation for life and all its quirks, blessings and benefits. It also reinforced the importance of putting my own happiness and peace of mind first in order to be the kind of person who can ultimately contribute something more helpful than harmful to others.

Kinda like that analogy about putting on your oxygen mask first before helping others during a plane emergency.

Or… you know… becoming a beloved television and movie star who encourages people to read by starting a book club and founding a magazine, build schools and funds scholarships for underprivileged kids, and runs a network and a tour that encourages people to be their best selves.

Kind of a no-brainer which life I choose…

This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…