When I think about mom, it’s as if I split into two people. (It may have to do with being on the cusp of scorpio and sagittarius though. It can be a very conflicting state of mind!)
laila A’s bleeding heart is always loudest at first: Your heart aches to think about her because you know she is sick and nobody would live their life doing the things she does consciously. She doesn’t know any better. And she’s been through a lifetime of strife. Love her. Accept her. Help her.
But laila 1’s stubbornness strikes immediately: How can I love her when she took my one chance at a childhood and turned it into loneliness and confusion? She did not teach me basic life skills, and she made walls from words to keep me away from my cousins, aunts and uncles, simply because they were on my dad’s side of the family. I missed out on so much because of her. I struggle to live a normal life because of her. I sacrificed everything I could in my teens and early 20’s because of her. I put aside my dreams for her.
But laila A does not back down: How can you love her you ask?! Because she can’t help herself. We just talked about this! (She rolls her eyes.) And she did the best she could with what she had. She loves you with all her heart, and you break hers when you don’t call or show that you care.
laila A. That bitch usually wins.
My mother didn’t take care of my sister’s very well in Iran. My oldest sister did most of the cooking and cleaning and my middle sister, while she hasn’t denied that, has never refuted it either. (And she would, because a: she’s honest to a fault and b:the two don’t have the best relationship.) How can you blame them? From what I understand, mom hit them often and yelled at them even more.
When we moved to London, my mother had a mitral valve repair to her heart. Funny – the most I’ve ever really known about this is from a story that my family pull’s out of the Family Arsenal of laila’s Embarrassing Childhood Stories, which they like to share with friends and (when we were dating), my husband. Apparently, when my sisters took me to go see her in the hospital, they gave me a carnation to give to her. The second we walked in though, my two year old self must have been so overwhelmed by the sight of my “mommy” hooked up to machines, that tears started rolling down my cheeks and I started eating the flower petals frantically, as my eyes remained locked on my mother. (Umm…the beginnings of stress eating anyone?) Hahahaha. I think that’s hilarious. Little did I know that I’d see her in that state often.
When we moved to the US, my life as my mother’s child was extremely different from my sisters’ lives. She did not hit me (as much). I think she was afraid of the consequences in a country like the US. Plus, at five years old, yelling “I’ll call the police” after a few smacks across the face didn’t help. I had fear on my side. Yay!
I only rejoice in that because I was the most timid and well-behaved child you could think of (my sister have recently reconfirmed that for me). I didn’t do much to deserve being hit or yelled at. Even at a young age, I could feel the constant tension in the house and did not want to be the cause of more anger. But my mom had a bad temper. I mean seriously, every kid’s room gets messy every once in a while. That does not warrant fierce slaps across the face and a days worth of yelling.
Once in second grade, I was called to the office and sent home from school. I didn’t know what I had done wrong. Mom picked me up and took me home, then abruptly left, leaving me with my sisters. I will never forget that day. They bathed me, then we made sloppy joes together (my first time eating the wonderfully messy American dish!) and tactfully explained that I was sent home from school because I smelled bad and needed to learn to bathe more regularly. Looking back, I realize that my dad and sisters were the ones that bathed me when I was little, not my mom.
I’ll never know if this is how my mom played it or if it was true, but before my dad left, despite our apparent wealth, my mom never seemed to have enough cash for anything beyond groceries. She did not shop for herself or for the kids. My parents fought about money often. And despite having a catering “hobby” (mainly serving the Persian community, gaining customers by word of mouth, getting paid under the table, and working out of our family home), she didn’t work that often and didn’t really make much money off of it. She did tell me once that my dad made her give him all the money she made. I don’t know if that’s true.
I still loved her dearly. At that time in my life, I was unaware of the damage she would inflict. And I admit, I still love her dearly because “laila A” has a good point. And also because my mother does have a good heart. She is generous with her time and with what little material things she has. With her sub-par health, she did (and still does) a lot for friends and family, and I simply would be remiss if I didn’t give her credit for that.
When my dad left, my mom was obviously scared. I would be too if I had been raised to be a good Persian housewife, and suddenly, after being surrounded by family, friends and everything money could buy, I was made to flee my homeland with three small children and then forced to live a new life in an unpredictable new country that was a completely different culture and world from what I knew, with nobody from my own family to lean on or talk to regularly, and a husband that I didn’t have the best relationship with. It couldn’t have been easy. (My heart is literally throbbing right now.)
So we moved to the two bedroom apartment with my mom, two sisters and two of my sister’s friends; my mom and I rolling and unrolling our sheets and pillows each morning and night in the living room. My mother was too afraid of losing her kids to fight for much in court. Plus her English was horrendous and she lacked the confidence and (dare I say it) brainpower to know she should fight harder. Despite knowing that she would be unable to work and not having any other income, my dad’s attorney managed to get him a measly $300 a month in child support and $200 in alimony (which my mom told me he never paid). The attorney was just doing his job of course. But really, dad? At least understand why I’m wearing old jeans and torn up sneakers then! (see part II of these posts)
While at this apartment, I fortuitously met a Persian girl my age. Her family had just moved into the complex from Germany (probably a revolution baby herself). She had an older sister in between the age of my sisters. And finally, I was allowed a playmate. I mean, my mom did let me play with other kids in the large apt complex (mainly to get me out of the house so she could sleep during the day), but never allowed me in their homes and NEVER allowed sleepovers, especially if they had older brothers or a dad. (More later on my frustrations with Islamic culture and their ridiculous efforts to keep their minds out of the gutter which inadvertently keeps their minds in the gutter instead.)
But with this girl (whose father did live in the house) I was allowed more freedom. A year or so later, we moved to a better neighborhood (thanks to the hard work of my sisters) and my friend’s family moved to the same apt complex as well. By now however, my (best) friend had made new friends and wasn’t always available for me. Which would be perfectly alright if she wasn’t the ONLY one I was allowed to hang out with.
laila 1: See what I mean? Who would discourage their kids from making friends like that? We live in a perfectly good neighborhood now. You don’t teach me how to take care of myself so I’m hideous – overweight, gap-toothed, hairy to high hell and not fashionable in the least. Stop worrying about me turning into a sleeze and let me get some sunshine and giggles!
laila A: Shut up laila. She didn’t want you to get pregnant and ruin your life.
laila 1: pregnant at 10?! If she could just open her eyes and see what a good kid I was instead of being so selfish and blind!
laila A: (rolls her eyes)
When she felt I was old enough to stay home alone, she would go grocery shopping without me.
Finally some freedom! For goodness sakes, we had moved into another two-bedroom apt but I still shared a room with my mom, so my sisters could share the other. My mother insisted we push the twin beds together. And then she insisted on putting her hand on my head every night when we went to sleep, as if I would run away (and get pregnant?) if she didn’t. I couldn’t even move without her waking up and getting mad that I moved and woke her up! (To this day, if I’m forced to sit or lay still, I get a creeping uncomfortable aching in my bones and eventually have to twist and turn in weird positions for a while to make it go away.)
So of course, the tiny bit of freedom was great. Until one day, about 20 minutes after she left, I went out onto our balcony which faced the road, and caught a glimpse of her spying on me. She didn’t notice me. But I noticed it more and more after that day. I think she was afraid I would sneak out while she was away. Heaven forbid I had any interaction with my peers. (Or wore nailpolish, or lipgloss or anything else an 11 year old girl would naturally be interested in.)
Once, I think I was about 11 or 12, I was pleased to find that she had gotten me a therapist – a very nice Persian lady that made a house call. I was really excited to finally have someone to talk to. My mom even left the house so we could talk.
And then 10 minutes into the conversation, she asked me if I was sexually active. I said no. Then she asked me if I ever think about sex. I said no. I don’t think she even stayed for a full hour. I never saw her again.
Was my mother suspicious of something? I honestly do not know why. I never talked to boys! I could barely get girls to be friends with me! And I wore baggy clothes because I was ashamed of my body. (No thanks to her. Who told me I started my period in 6th grade because I was fat. Did I already mention that she was obese? This was obviously yet another way for her to lower my self-esteem so I would stay away from boys. Again with the pregnant thing! Geeze!)
So I started hanging out with my Persian friend a lot at her house. I’m sure her family was tired of me, but I couldn’t help it. My sisters used work as an excuse to be out, and I simply could not deal with being in the house with her all day, constantly worrying about being hit for no reason, and being yelled at for even less. And then to constantly hear her curse my father and his family for everything – I just couldn’t handle it.
I KNOW she loved me. I almost feel guilty writing this post at all. But it was so unbearably depressing to just be in the house, without a room of my own or anywhere I could go, (besides the bathroom) to just …. be.
And her love for me could simply not be used as an excuse for the loneliness and doubt she instilled in me.
She used to tell me that she was my mother AND father now, and if anything happened to me, they would come after her.
But then she would also tell me that she had dreams about the things I did, so whatever I was thinking about doing, don’t. At night I could swear she would suck my thoughts right out of my brain with her hand on my head. And I would struggle for hours to ever so slowly inch my head away from under her hand and move myself to the farthest side of the bed. I was afraid to dream, because I knew I couldn’t control my thoughts and who knows what she would see! Me talking to a classmate about school. Me going to the mall with friends. Me looking in the direction of a boy (gasp!). Me actually enjoying time with my dad.
After all, I didn’t want to hurt her.
I was so disgusted by her – obese, a myriad of health problems, not very ladylike and purposely embarrassing. I know what you’re thinking. At that age, every child thinks their parents are trying to embarrass them on purpose. But she did it on purpose to keep me alone (and not pregnant!).
Case in point: I will never forget the day I realized I finally had a friend that was a boy. He was cute yes, but I was just happy that he was willing to talk to me. He was so sweet and knowing now how awful kids can be, I regularly send good vibes his way, wherever he is. He helped me learn to like myself, if only the tiniest bit.
By then I had learned that I had somewhat of a sense of humor. And I reveled in the times he and other kids in my class laughed at my jokes, finally laughing with me instead of behind my back.
And one day, he asked me for my phone number in case he needed help with assignments in our class. But he never called.
Or so I thought. Until we were talking one day and he looked really uncomfortable, and then finally blurted out, “laila, you…um, seem to be in the bathroom a lot.”
What?! How did he know (I did in fact have deal with an upset stomach regularly)? What the…..?
Upon further digging, I found that he had called several times over the course of two weeks, but instead of giving me the phone, my mom would not only tell him I was in the bathroom, but in her broken english, would also somehow communicate to him that I was pooping! Someone with common sense would NEVER do that to their child, I don’t care what culture you’re from.
(laila 1 is staring at laila A right now boastfully. laila A refuses to look at laila 1, so as to not confirm her suspicions about the madness that is their mother.)
So I lived my life like this, spending more and more time at my friend’s house, envious of how fiercely her mom monitored her grades, and taught her the many wonders of being a young lady, and how loving a relationship my friend had with her father.
I sat idly by and watched. Meanwhile, my grades were sub-par and my confidence was even lower. I was teased mercilessly in school. And I would regularly fall into fits of unstoppable giggles followed by heaving sobs, especially when I was alone. I’m not even sure why. All I could do was hope for the day I could move out and end the nightmare.
And this was all before my 13th birthday.