The kind of mother I was at 32 was a strong, single, independent, provider type. I was a tradeswoman. I had begun a career in structural steel at age 21, and it took me all up and down the West Coast.
My daughter got everything she wanted, except my time and patience.
We were emotionally estranged. I thought such was inevitable with the approach of adolescence, and I was more consumed with my own adventures, part-time partners, and destructive habits than I was with parenting and bonding.
The wake-up call came one warm night in May 2015.
I’d been working up in Bend, Oregon when the death of a friend sent me home for a funeral. After the service, in the passenger seat of a friend’s SUV, my neck was broken when she lost control of the vehicle.
Curled in that crushed car, my body below the shoulders immediately void of all motor and sensory functions, all I could think of was her.
Because what really matters to a mama? As much as we accidentally let life become all about ourselves at times, the threat of losing that life reveals to us how skewed our priorities may have become.
Clinging to my life while awaiting rescue and fighting for it while a ventilator breathed for me in those acute days, I felt a gratitude for life I’d never had before, and my desire for the shallow satisfactions I’d pursued on legs all but dissipated. I got it now. My relationships, my connections with others, were suddenly so essential for my sanity. And that connection with her was everything.
Was it fair to lean on her now, though? She was 13.
I needed to be strong for her—like I’d always been. But I needed to open my heart, too, and show her love like maybe I hadn’t before. I certainly felt it stronger than ever before. I regretted every second I had wasted on myself instead of wrapping her in my arms every chance I could get when I had arms.
The temper and shortness I had often treated my daughter with was easy to let go of. In speaking more kindly to her and giving her a lot more of my time and attention, our relationship began to heal. Our journey had just begun though.
My injury left me severely and permanently disabled. I hadn’t saved money or invested in a home during my decade as a welder, and my parent’s modest income couldn’t support me either. Like many Americans who become disabled, I became dependent on Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Not only were our days of traveling over, but I couldn’t afford to give my daughter nice things anymore. I couldn’t afford to live independently either, so my brother lived with us.
The hardest part was finding reliable caregivers. At first, my brother helped a lot, but his alcoholism got in the way. He had become verbally abusive to my daughter too, and I didn’t defend her enough.
In the early years, I was on a lot of meds. I often didn’t wake up until she got home from school at 3 p.m. Then, I just stayed up long enough for a chat, physical therapy stretches, dinner, and a movie before going back to sleep.
Getting off the meds, getting a service dog, and an accessible van helped. Caregiver issues persisted though. Some stayed a few months, others mere days.
I need a morning caregiver to dress and get me out of bed and a night caregiver to get me back to bed. It’s a monotonous couple of hours a day and when my pain and anxiety is high, it’s double the time. There were no caregiver agencies in my little, rural hometown, so I had to find them on my own. Often they left me hanging, waiting on them, until I eventually had no choice but to ask my daughter for help.
My constant need for her help affected her success in school greatly. It also affected our relationship, which had been on the mend.
By 16, my daughter was overwhelmed with my care and felt like it was all I wanted her for. She was depressed about her future, felt unloved, and sought affection and attention down the wrong avenues. I felt completely helpless. I gave her a ton of freedom, judged her for nothing, and tried to bond with her in any way I could: stories about my party days, sharing joints, letting her drink with her friends at our house.
I worried she was ending up like me. I’d made a lot of destructive decisions when I was 18-21, and I wasn’t ready for that wild ride. I would rather she focus on college and a career early, or even a family. Anything but leaving her mom in the dust to go run amuck.
When she and her boyfriend found out she was pregnant at 18, I felt nothing but relief and love.
I had already planned to move somewhere with more caregiver agencies so I wouldn’t need her as much in the future. I dreamed of living independently and began trying to make a name for myself in freelance. I applied to grad school to become a teacher. The best thing I could do for my daughter was show her I still wanted her to follow her own dreams in life, and that I’d never stopped dreaming either.
Moving into assisted living was difficult. I miss my house, pets, and stuff. I miss making my own schedule and entertaining my own guests. Mostly, of course, I miss my daughter. She visits frequently with my little grandson. We are both in college online to be teachers. She is well-rounded, sensible, kind, and mature.
She’s begun to understand how the trauma of being my daughter has affected her and used that information to heal and to be better for her own child.
And me? My mentality hasn’t changed much from the moments in that mangled ride in which I saw her face. It’s all about her.
How deeply I regret allowing my own needs to overwhelm me and lead me to neglect my child’s. I’d managed to keep a roof over her head until she and her boyfriend could support themselves, but I hadn’t been there emotionally as much as I should have. I didn’t show my gratitude and love enough.
It’s also hard when you can’t hug.
We’re really healing now, though, and it’s the best feeling. We can really be here for each other and grow as people now. Our mother-daughter story has never been typical, but it’s ours, and we own it. We tell our story whenever we can to help others.
It’s a story of how a lack of resources can result in family pressure but also a story of a girl who just fiercely loves her mama.
I love you, too, baby girl.