It’s 4 in the afternoon and I’m trying to take a nap. Maybe that’s a mistake because the moment I close my eyes my phone is going off. Listen, if you know me you know I’m annoyed by this point because no one wakes me up and gets away with it. The screen flashes my mom’s name. Of course, she would be the one calling. I’m not going to answer right away. I never do. I’ll wait for it to go to voicemail and I’ll call her back. Knowing her, she won’t pick up. She rarely does.
This cat and mouse game we play on the phone is just a bigger picture of our relationship. I get annoyed when she calls, but I am equally annoyed when I call, and she doesn’t answer. It’s a strange balance of I-do-not-want-her-around-but-I-hate-admitting-that-at-26-I-still-need-her.
Every time I get her voicemail, I always selfishly say to myself, “Jesus, what the hell is she doing!? Doesn’t she know I’m the most important thing in her life!? I have some chisme that I need to tell her RIGHT NOW!” I’m dramatic and so is my mom. Clearly, I’ve learned from the best, but it wasn’t always like this. I used to hate and loathe whenever I saw her name pop up on my screen. Anger fueled that hate. Fear fueled that anger.
I remember being terrified of this woman. I know it’s a running theme in the Latino and Caribbean community that as a kid your mom used to just beat your ass. Your behind and her chancla became well known enemies. I never found any of that shit funny. As a child, it brought me torment and tremendous amounts of anxiety. All I could ever remember was looking into her eyes when she beat me and seeing unrestrained rage. I couldn’t understand why everything set her off and why when my father disrespected her or called her names, she found solace in taking out her frustrations on my brother and me.
It wasn’t just the beatings or getting slapped in the face or other forms of physical aggression. It was also the mental games she’d play with me where I would try all week to make her smile and laugh. Somewhere along the line I’d mess up, but I could never figure out what I did wrong. I’d know that something went south because I’d get the cold shoulder for a couple of weeks. Later, I’d hear from my father that I’d said something that she thought was too sarcastic or I didn’t do something in the fashion in which she would do it.
I endured this type of behavior from her until I moved out of my parent’s house at 24 years old because shit was just too overwhelming. We got into one of our biggest and most hurtful arguments. That night I found a place to live and less than a month later, I left.
I might have left that house in anger, but it was necessary to our journey and healing as mother and daughter. I think, for a long time, I’ve just been a child and that’s how I’ve always felt. Removing myself from that environment allowed me to face her as a woman. I really started seeing shit I never saw before.
I started realizing how my mother manages to wake up every morning at 6 AM, makes my father breakfast (while he criticizes her), goes to work, comes home in the afternoon to make him lunch (while he talks down to her), goes back to work, pulls a 10+ hour shift as a social worker, comes back home for the day and makes my dad dinner (you guessed it, that dude is still talking shit) and cleans the house until midnight. The only time she gets to herself is somewhere between 1 and 3 in the morning, where she plays spider solitaire and watches YouTube videos.
How could she not be pissed all day? How could she have ever come home and been a healthy mother? This is literally my mom’s fucking existence. It is this and her woes as a wife that have shaped me and my morals as a woman.
Some of her mistakes I took into womanhood: getting into unhealthy relationships that were toxic to my well-being was one I made often in my late teenage years and early 20s. I kept thinking that if I loved these individuals harder, I could do what my mother didn’t: change someone into loving me. I had to take another look at what my mom has with my pops and realize that these dudes I was involved with were never going to change. It’s my mom’s relationship that has made me realize, if I’m going to make it, it’s because I did it my own way, not dragging along someone that adds nothing of value to my life. I cannot and will not depend on a man, especially an abusive one, to make me feel secure.
Some of her mistakes have also given me pause: my mother, like many of your mothers and grandmothers, come from an era where you were expected to take care of your “ain’t shit” husband and have kids you weren’t prepared for in any capacity. Without her realizing it, she’s paved a new way for me. I can look at her and say to myself, “I can afford to wait.” I can get my education and my career first. If the husband and children come later, then they come, but they come because I was ready.
I love my mother, undeniably, and maybe I don’t always show it the way I should. I do know she has a lifetime of healing to do and there are still a lot of things I’ll come to understand, that I need to forgive her for. Sometimes I forget about letting it go and need to remind myself to forgive her more than once, in the same day, over the same transgressions. Loving her is hard but it is necessary because how can I continue growing as a woman, without her? Her successes and failures are what guide me as a single woman and will one day guide me as a wife and mom. Our relationship is a lesson in forgiveness. We are mother and daughter. We are both adult women. We are a work in progress.
I’m a 26 year old Afro-Latina with a lot to say. Floridian but currently living in Southern California. MLIS graduate student and been writing for the last 8 years.
To read more of Ambar's writing, visit her blog here.
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