I have never thought of myself as a strong person. However, looking back at the lemons that were thrown my way, at such a young age, I can see now the strength I have within. It was not easy for me to find that strength. For a long time they were an extra weight on my back, burdening my heart. But I made a conscious choice to grow, instead of break down. I like to think that I have turned those lemons into the best lemonade I could.
I am an only child that was raised by a single mother. She and I were very close. I remember loving to snuggle with her and telling her how much I loved her when I was little. She separated from my father when I was about three, and I never saw him or his side of the family much after that. She chose to keep me from them, and made no effort to let me know them, create memories and bonds with them.
She remarried when I was nine to a man who I now consider my dad. She got sick shortly after. It took some time, but she was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia and a sleeping disorder. She would be up all night and sleep all day. She decided that going to Mexico during the winters was the answer for her health, and so she began leaving to Puerto Vallarta.
I went the first time with her, in 5th grade. I went to school over there for a few months and came back in time to graduate with my friends from elementary. Before the next school year started, my mother had resolved to take me back to Mexico with her; I begged her to let me stay in Los Angeles with my dad. I was about to start junior high, and I really wanted to go to middle school here in the U.S. She consented, but only for a year.
My dad was what I needed going into my teen years. He was there for me the way a dad is supposed to be. He took care of me when I got chicken pox. He was also there when I got my period, which is a lot to be said for a man. He understood me and treated me as a growing woman. There was a friendship between us that I was then losing with my mother. She was not affectionate with me any more, and always seemed bothered with me. She became fully preoccupied and obsessed with going back to Mexico, and taking me with her. I was unaware that my life was changing around me, and I could do nothing about it.
After a year, my mom returned from Mexico to take me back with her. I remember being so naive about what was going on. My dad was moving out of our townhome into a one-bedroom apartment, without us. My mom was buying condoms at Costco “to resell them.”
Just days after I turned 12, we arrived in Puerto Vallarta. A family was living at her house; they were there to help her take care of the place, she said. That first night, I noticed one of the grown sons coming out of my mom’s room. When I asked her why he was in her room, she said he was looking for something. I thought nothing of it.
My mother took me out that night to downtown Puerto Vallarta. On the bus ride back, she told me that she was leaving the next day back to Los Angeles, that she had business to finish. The family there would take care of me, and the man I saw leaving her room was going to drive up with her.
My time with this family was awkward. They tried to make me feel at home, but home is more than just a place to stay. I had no family in Puerto Vallarta, no friends. One day they took me to the river with their extended family. I remember wading in the water when a cousin of theirs came and started talking to me. My naivete amused her. She asked me if I really didn’t know that the man who went with my mom (her cousin) was actually my mom’s boyfriend. She asked me if I really didn’t know that the “business” my mom went to attend was actually to ask my dad for a divorce. I remember her smiling; it was so funny that I didn’t know. Everyone else there knew. I was so angry. So confused. Even thinking of it now brings up deep feelings of betrayal.
When my mom returned, I remember looking through her suitcases for evidence. I found the condoms. I found naked pictures of the man. I just wanted to go back home, to be with my dad, to feel normal again.
I confronted her and told her I knew. She had no compassion for my feelings; she just seemed relieved, that now I knew her secret and that it was done for her by someone else. Since I knew, she no longer had to conceal the lust she had for a man 17 years her minor. She didn’t even try. She was all over him, all the time.
I remember calling home to my aunts and uncles, pleading for them to make my mom take me back to the States. They could do nothing, they said. She was my mother and I had to deal with it.
With my heart broken and my life uprooted, I became rebellious. My mom was too busy with her new boyfriend to worry much at all about me. She only cared when it was convenient for her. In turn, I no longer cared how she felt and began to look for “love” and affection in other places.
I had a lot of freedom, and took advantage of it. I did things I am now ashamed of. I thank God that I did not get myself into something I could not get out of. Drugs and smoking were the only things I did not do. At home, my mother and I fought. A lot. She wanted control over me, and I would not submit. She did things that hurt my heart so much. Even to this day, I can’t understand her anger towards me.
One night, her boyfriend came home very drunk, which was nothing new, and started becoming abusive with my mother. I got upset at him, and the next thing I knew, my mom and I were both trying to lock him out of the house with a chain and lock on the metal door. In an effort to move us back, he used a broom and ended up hitting my eyebrow, busting it open. I remember my mom yelling at him to see what he had done as she rinsed the blood pouring from my face. He got scared. She took me to the hospital because it was so bad. I still have a scar on my brow from that.
I thought that my mother would see she needed to leave him after that, and that it would be over with him. I thought things would go back to how they used to be between us.
I thought wrong.
The next morning on my way out to school, there she was in the kitchen, sitting on his lap, spoon feeding him. She was openly pouring salt on my wound. She chose her boyfriend over her daughter. Things between us were never the same after that.
More than once she was physically abusive with me over things that made no sense. In one of those instances she whipped me with an ironing cord on my arms and legs because I did not want to go to the river with them. I went to school with a burn scar on my arm that even my school mates noticed and questioned me about.
From the time I was 12 until I was 17, my mother moved me back and forth from Puerto Vallarta to Los Angeles. I would sometimes stay with an aunt or my grandma after begging them to stay in the States, but it never lasted long. I behaved when I was here and didn’t get into trouble. I was a good student and tried my best at school, even though she never noticed. I liked school and had straight A’s. She, in turn, loved to torture me with threats to take me back with her to Mexico. She paid no mind to the fact that these moves back and forth always seemed to happen months into, or months before the end of, the school year. I had no stability in school. I didn’t complete a full school year in one place until my junior year of high school.
My mother wanted full control over me. She wanted to see me in pain. She wanted to use me to her advantage when she needed — like for housing, child support, and to make returns for her to stores after she switched tags to get more money back. There is nothing my mother will not take advantage of. No one could get in the way of what she wants.
She became an addictive shopper. A hoarder. A grand manipulator. A great narcissist. Though looking back, maybe she was always those things.
When I turned 18, I left. I could not stand to be her rag doll anymore. If only that would’ve stopped her from trying to use me and manipulate me to her advantage.
God put in my path the best man I could have ever asked for, who loves me and wanted to build a future with me. When I became pregnant, I prayed to God that I would not have a daughter. I could not have a daughter. I was scared to have a daughter. I did not want to become like my mother. I did not want to have a broken relationship with my daughter like my mother had with me.
I had my son Joaquin. I personally believe God knew I wouldn’t have been able to handle a girl at that time.
I got close to my father’s side of the family again, reconnected with my father, grandma, my aunts and uncles. It’s broken my heart to hear how hurt my grandmother is that she did not get to see me grow up, that we lost all those years together. It was too late to get to know my grandpa. He passed away when I was 11 from cancer. All I have left of him are pictures of him and I, when I was a baby. He looked so enamored with me, his granddaughter. My grandma says he loved to spoil me and let me get away with a lot. I was told that on his deathbed, he had asked my mom to let him see me again, and she refused. That broke his heart, my grandmother says.
Shortly after the birth of my second child, Benjamin, my mom had a mental breakdown while she was in Mexico. She was having visions, hallucinations, talking to God. My family had to scurry to get her back to the States so we could help her. When she was here she was so paranoid about everything and everyone. God told her the plane was over capacity and she didn’t want to get on. The Coke on the plane was poisoned, she said. On the car ride she needed Pedialyte so bad that she attempted opening the door while the vehicle was in motion because she was so desperate.
The next day, she checked herself into the hospital to get tested for poisoning. Of course, I was the only one she let into the hospital room, and later she let in my husband. She faked a heart attack in the room. The doctors came back with all tests clear: no poisoning. That’s when God told her that the doctors were “in on it.” That she had to escape.
I had to let the doctors know what was going on with her mental state and that she had attempted to jump out of a moving vehicle. They put her on a 51/50 hold with security outside her door to keep her from leaving. I tried my best to help her, though it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Watching her be put in restraints and admitted to a mental hospital took its toll on me mentally and physically. On top of it all, my family said my mother wasn’t crazy, and I was a horrible daughter for doing that to her. They enabled her to be released before she was able to get a diagnosis. Once she got worse, and they saw her mental state for themselves, my family attempted to help her by trying to get her to seek professional help. But in her eyes, she does not need help; it is we who are working with the devil.
I had to stop letting her into my house after a couple of incidents where she put my sons in harm’s way. Not to mention her continued verbal and physical abuse of me. Knowing that she was not welcome, my mother would still show up at 2 am, angry that I had my dogs and their “fleas” sleep inside, but wouldn’t let her in. To her, the devil uses dogs too. We would find her sleeping under my husband’s work van, leaving bags of trash in my driveway and weird gifts at my door for the kids. All in an effort to guilt me into letting her into my house and causing me great anxiety.
I did not feel safe. I felt as if she might just pop out of the bushes and take one of the boys and I would never see them again. But I would not give in.
There is only so much you can do when an adult with mental illness refuses help and support. Legally, there is no help. After two 51/50s she became incapable of living in society and found herself homeless; she has been homeless for about six years now. I found that I had exhausted all I was willing and able to give, and after lots of prayer, I was at peace with my decision. We moved houses and now she does not know where I live. I am able to be at peace in my home again.
When Benjamin was five, I found myself having baby fever. This time I was ready for a daughter. I wasn’t scared anymore. It’s been done before, right? “Gilmore Girls,” anyone?
Of course my husband reminded me that we wouldn’t necessarily have a girl. But I knew. I prayed again, but this time I prayed that God might allow me to have a daughter. I promised to love her always, protect her, and not repeat the mistakes that my mother made with me. After six months of trying, we got pregnant with our daughter Mia.
My daughter is perfect. She was meant for me. To heal me. To let me know that I am not my mother. I will never put my own happiness ahead of hers. She is my best little friend. People like to think she’s a Daddy’s girl, but no. She is Mommy’s girl all the way!
There are times when I am sad that my kids don’t have their grandma to brag and squeal over them like other grandmas do, or buy them gifts that only grandmas do. My husband’s mother passed away when he was a baby, so they do not have either grandma. But my children have never gone without. They have two parents that love them, and a home filled with love and respect.
I have come to appreciate that I do not need to become my mother just because she raised me. If anything, she has shown me the path I will not take. I learned that having people around me that love me and respect me as a person is the best thing I can do for myself and my children. There is no need to surround myself with toxic people, even if one of them is my own mother.
Yes, it’s hard. To some people, I am cold. But when life hands you lemons you have a decision to make. You can keep drinking the sour bitterness of the lemons, or add a little sugar and make some lemonade.
I choose to make lemonade.
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