I cannot communicate how upsetting it is for me to read my mother’s words about me and not be able to stand within myself in some imputable place where her words can no longer harm me — within my body, at this moment, as I read them and my body remembers the reality that was my childhood with this woman.
My mother’s beliefs about me consumed me in my childhood from the moment of my birth. There was no place and no time where I could stand against her. I think about the self-doubt that I feel NOW when I read her words as her manipulation of my own reality about myself in the world is obviously still able to contaminate my own perception of myself.
If a person followed a line of doubt far enough, I think one could end up at a place where there was no relativity, no point of comparison, and the doubt would be so consuming that nothing else BUT the doubt existed. It would then no longer be doubt. It would be reality.
I think about my childhood being as if my mother could continually push me into the darkness in such a way that I never experienced a sunrise. I never experienced the light of day. She kept me captive within the darkness she created around me, and I could not escape her.
In reading these letters I also intellectually know that my mother’s dysregulated brain built emotional dysregulation into mine before I was a year old. I know that ‘acting out’ in abused children is an extremely common symptom not only of their emotional dysregulation, but of their lack of an adequately formed early social brain. It is very probable that I suffered these symptoms when out of my mother’s abusive presence.
I also know that my mother never allowed me to BE a child — as my sister’s note from two days ago (below) regarding the children she witnessed playing as they waited for Santa to show up in the small town near where she lives — demonstrates in contrast to our family’s lack of tolerance for normal childhood expressions.
I am caught in a Catch-22 dilemma. Nobody who knows me, including myself, would ever describe me as a loud, bossy woman. Yet part of me asks, is that because my mother did such a fine job of beating these ‘terrible’ traits out of me? My stomach curdles and goes sour at this moment as I try to consider what is REAL and what is NOT REAL regarding myself as my mother’s abused child.
I am even afraid to post these words because I don’t know the answers. I am not clear. I cannot separate my own thinking, my own experience from my mother’s beliefs about me or her treatment of me. I feel contaminated. I feel confused. I feel hopeless and inadequate. I feel ‘disoriented’ and ‘disorganized’ in my thoughts, in my feelings, in my body.
I cannot distinguish truth from lie. I cannot separate past from present. I feel as if I am at the edge of a swirling vortex. There’s bright yellow plastic police ‘crime scene’ tape wrapped around any attempt I make to approach my own reality, wrapped around and around me so I am covered as if I am a petrified mummy. Petrified. My nearly constant state as a child in relationship to my mother.
I am mad at my teacher. She participated with my mother in her regime of terror, condemnation and abuse of me. What possible good did it do skinny little six year old me to have my teacher pass onto my mother that I was not a perfect little make believe stone child? Did that teacher ever imagine that being away from my mother was the only time I EVER had to begin to be myself or to be a child?
Did that teacher ever know my reality, like when I was beaten and forced to spend the night hungry and alone on a tall kitchen stool, not allowed to go to the bathroom, not allowed to go to bed, because my white coat ruffs got dirty? Did she notice my bloodshot eyes, my exhausted face the next morning when I appeared at my little desk in first grade without having anything to eat since lunch time the day before, and not a moment of sleep the night before, either?
(note: With my birthday on the last day of August, the break off date for children starting school, I was always the youngest in my class.)
First, there’s this November 20, 1957 letter mother wrote to her mother – probably in reference to what happened with the white ruffs on my parka:
“Also please let’s straighten out matter of Linda once and for all.
No. I I did not write to you for advise!!!
No. II Linda has always been dressed feminine and given as many (if not more) advantages as any girl!!
No. III I did buy her more clothes this year and a prettier and more expensive jacket on purpose to make her feel feminine – with NO AVAIL!! She still wears dresses to school and always does look nice! – when she leaves home!
No. IV She looked nice up until two because she was in a play pen and stroller!! — So does Sharon NOW!
ENOUGH SAID except please don’t pass on unwanted un needed advise air-mail please, concerning children – I only mentioned it to let you know that she is not taking care of her clothes and I feel should not wear expensive clothes until she takes care of what she now wears!! For no other reason.
Linda always was kept nice and still is. Her hair has always been clean and shining (no child of mine will ever have a permanent in first grade!) and her nails have always been manicured. I have three girls and you had one – I think I am capable of caring for girls – thank you! If you want to give advise and must why don’t you give it to Carolyn, seems Sandra needs it, Linda looks feminine and always will just hasn’t matured fully but in time I’m sure she will – and never could or would be like Mimi, Diana or boyish girl you mentioned (but Sandra may – dancing lessons or not). Probably dieting and less fussy, expensive clothes would do Sandra more good than dancing lessons at 4!! See I have my ideas too only the difference is I keep my suggestions to myself unless asked for and usually then too as most people don’t relish advise asked for or not asked for (your clients excepted!!)
WHEW – well that’s off my chest. You’ve always interfered with Linda and probably more reason I’ve had difficulties with her in past than her wearing levis in Glendora.
Sorry if this hurts but next summer I don’t want fusses such as in past over your well meant but unwanted suggestions.
Remember I’ll be 32 in December – not 2! [all written very large on paper]
P.S. I When my temperature simmers down in a few days I’ll write a letter.”
January 15, (?) 1958
Letter from mother to grandmother
[starts here – is talking about Linda (me) in 1st grade — all underlining is as my mother put it in her letters]
“Her teacher says she does excellent school work and is especially good in reading! BUT is still wild and rough and talks too loud!! Remember how she would run around so silly in the back yard while the others would settle down? And she has a very boldstreak. [Linda note: She sure managed to beat this out of me! How dare I have fun, be excited, feel any joy in life, or actually play.] Well – we’re trying desperately! She has snow pants and has worn them over cute clothes – no pants – and so do the other girls – for ages now. It’s ‘her personality’ when with other children. She’s good, quiet and reserved when alone or with me or adults [Linda note: Yes, because I was terrified and could not have been more oppressed or stifled.] but unless closely supervised and reminded continually is loud with other children. I know it isn’t intentional but just her! I hope she’ll grow out of it. She’s emotionally immature but smart. Golly, Sharon [age 2] plays and acts bigger than Linda did at 5! I know our children so well. Heavens knows I’ve been with them every minute since birth! I’m just telling you this but not asking for letters of advise! Just thought you’d be interested.”
Next letter Mother wrote to her mother:
November 26, 1957 Tuesday
Bill brought home ‘the letter’ last night that you addressed wrong – isn’t it funny how you can do something like that. I did it many times last summer.
I am glad I wrote my recent letter and hope you fully understand so I won’t have to repeat myself in the future. You’ve always been far overly concerned with LINDA’S action anyways. I am not nearly as concerned with ‘tom boyishness’ which is not as prevalent now anyways as with poor behavior in school and traits and personality. It takes far more anyways than ‘a pretty dress and a pretty face’ to be nice. She does wear pretty dresses to school and looks like a Princess in her beautiful jacket (when it’s clean!!) I no longer wish to discuss it with you and I will appreciate no further comments and psychological theories from you! Save them for the Cahill’s [her brother’s family] – I’m sure they’ll welcome them – I never have and I especially don’t now.
We feed, clothe and love our children and we will discipline them and reward them as WE see fit now and in the future!!!!! They are our responsibility – we brought them into the world – they’re NOT your children ‘only your grandchildren’. PERIOD.
* * * * *
The weather has turned cold here but we like it……
Linda 2009 note: This is typical of how she manipulated what grandmother knew or thought about me, the same way she manipulated my father – I feel sick and ANGRY reading this now (121209) I was a condemned, ridiculed, shamed and hated child — not to mention punished.
“Linda is so easy going! I think next year she too will be like John! If she has $ O.K. if she doesn’t O.K! The other day she bought a 1.00 box of very nice crayolas and was so pleased – Xmas money but doesn’t try hard enough at school to earn extra $. I’ve promised her if she will! But I feel she wouldn’t do such + work at school if she fooled too much. Knowing her it’s probably in cafeteria and playground. (She says boys chase her and tease her!) I tell her if they do she asks for it!”
Sister, Cindy’s 121209 response (below) to the above part of this letter (and to the rest of it at this link concerning her and my brother) — *January 1958 – Mother’s Letters
“Totally bizarre! We were all young children?! We were supposed to act like little adults? I was watching all the kids waiting for Santa- it was a large vacant area- kind of a park- and Santa was delayed for half an hour. The kids (30 of them or so) younger than 10 but older than two, spent the whole time running around like a pack of wild dogs while the adults stood around and visited. The kids were fine- having fun, playing tag and something that looked like hide and seek, but VERY loud and rowdy, burning off energy. Nobody even thought of asking them to stand there like adults! The adults were keeping an eye on things but nobody said a word to the kids. I’d say this was normal, THAT WAS NOT!!!”
January 15, 1958
“We had a nice dinner and I helped John with arithmetic while Bill heard Linda [read]. He [my 2nd grade brother] has trouble now with spelling – arith. and reading fine. Linda never makes a mistake and I have to watch that she doesn’t get too proud. He [my brother] has done so well though, I think, considering the terrible handicap he was under. Why, Linda has had twice as much in numbers, arith. etc. than he ever had in first grade [in Calif.].”
Linda 2009 note: How, under all the powers of the cosmos, is it possible for a 1st grader, for a little 6 year old child to be “too proud?” Too proud because I was trying in school? Too proud because I was smart? Too proud because I was doing well? Too proud because I loved to learn? DAMN her, I say sometimes! DAMN HER!
She might as well have had a cattle prod (or a taser if one had been invented in 1958) to zap me with for breathing. I was in trouble and doomed no matter what I did.
February 10, 1958
“Got a note from Linda’s teacher saying “her attitude has improved (it’s “her” that always got my goat too — ) and she’s quieter but still talks loud in lunch room. But anyways I was so happy to note improvement. Her voice always has been aggravating and bossy and loud. But she’s trying and I hope by next year will be all over her loudness and wildness. She’s 90% better at home and tries hard to help. She’s ‘on allowance’ now on watching T.V. – I forbid both [my 2nd grade brother and me] after last report card and she’s interested in saving for a bride doll at store. I told them both they’d get 1.00 for good behavior report on card. I don’t want to bribe them but just give them an incentive. I tell them I want them to be good regardless of reward or not and think they understand.”
March 5, 1958
“Report cards last Fri. John got all S’s. So proud and has been put in advanced reading! Linda STILL poor behaved, loud, insolent etc. but good at home! She’s as usual – plays around if not watched closely! same at home – I speak to her 10 times to 3 others – hope she’ll grow out of it – it’s still her lack of imagination and old silliness I think. She’s not tom boyish though. All S’s in school work too and an excellent reader.”
March 13, 1958
“Linda’s teacher, by the way, says she’s better behaved but so slow and pokey (remember?) and refuses (remember again?) to hurry getting her snow suit on. It’s just Linda – and I hope she’ll grow up! She certainly is good at home IF I watch her and keep speaking to her. Still plays loud outside if not watched. She’s worn the skirt you made for her continually it seems – they’re so cute on her and the pleats stay in even after being trucked under pants! I love my pleated skirt too and it fits perfectly – the waist is a little too big but we’ll alter it this summer.”
Linda 2009 note: My bubble is burst! For the past 52 years I have always remembered my first grade classroom, though I cannot remember the teacher. I can enter the room in memory and walk around, and always the memories in that room have felt safe, warm and welcoming. All these years I thought my teacher liked me!! Reading about her reports to my mother, I certainly wonder now!
Linda 2009 note: I needed to be taken away from my mother!! Permanently and forever, with NO visitation rights. I could not have a self. No self at all. No sign of a self. No indication of a self. No expression of a self. No feelings, no emotions, no joy.
It is impossible for me to describe what this kind of condemnation feels like to a child — or to me as an adult as I read my mother’s condemnations of me over 50 years later. I cannot even let myself truly know, either. I cannot afford to feel the truth or to truly know it.
Right now I believe it is only those who have experienced it that can ever, ever know — and they are also the only ones that can ever know what the ‘not knowing’ feels like, as well.
I was condemned, hated and punished my entire infant-childhood (for 18 long years), no matter what I did or did not do, simply because I was born my mother’s daughter, because I was alive, and because I stayed alive.
My mother’s abuse of me happened as a result of her terribly dysregulated brain that had been built by deprivation and trauma in the beginnings of her life. It happened to me because it could — because my father supported her, did not protect me — and because nobody ever — certainly not a teacher — intervened to help me.
I want to know, as the survivor of those 18 years of abuse, and as the writer of my own story, how do I convey the truth about what my childhood was like without either sterilizing the experience because it is too horrible and overwhelming to begin to convey what it was REALLY like being my mother’s daughter, or so establishing the reality that any reader would be emotionally harmed with the telling of the truth?
Personally I believe that if I don’t take very good care of myself, if I ever pretend it is safe for me to allow myself to feel my own reality of my childhood, I would be obliterated. Dissociation operates for a reason. Dissociation regarding trauma is wisdom in action.
*Age 6 – 1st grade report card 1957-58
+1958 MOTHER’S LETTERS – FINDING LAND
contained within PRESENTING THE HOMESTEADING