OK. My first child was born the day before my twenty-eighth birthday. She rocked my world. She shook my foundation like nothing before--not bone disease, not the rigid family silence of denial, not arrogant statements of idealism by our church. All my baby did was arrive when I gave birth to her. But she was perfect. She changed everything I believed about perfection being only spiritual.
As I held her in my arms,she asked what my standards were. Her presence asked what I would be willing to do for her. Her existence wondered what I would settle
for. She shifted the foundation of my life the way a blade of grass cracks
concrete to reach sunlight. I knew I would do anything for this brand-new creature. She was more important than all else. I made a conscious decision: if I ever had doubts about her health, I would take her straight to a doctor. I was the adult; if my child needed medical care she'd have it, Christian Science or no. I was her mother and there was nothing I would not sacrifice for her, no element in my life so sacred I wouldn't question it for her sake.
A few years later I abandoned Christian Science altogether. I got divorced and started seeing a therapist. I lived in the same area, not far from my parents who often babysat for me. One night my little girl was crying when I picked her up after work. “Mommy, my ear
My mother's face was drawn and bleak. As far back as I could remember, she would have responded by saying something like, She's a spiritual idea--she can't really be sick-- We'd been hard-core Christian Scientists. Which was why I limped on a fused leg. And why I'd started going to therapy for depression and panic. And why we never, ever talked about the horror of those years I was a young teenager when we only prayed about the bone disease that almost killed me.
My mother said, “Can you do something for her?” But this time she meant, Can you stop her pain—now?
“Yeah,” I said.
“It’s probably an ear infection.” It felt bold, rude, to state the discord we’d always denied. “I’ll pick up some children’s Tylenol on the way home. Tomorrow
I’ll take her to the doctor.” I held my little girl on my hip. She clung to me, her
tear-streaked face pressed against my neck. The idea of telling her that what
she felt wasn’t real made me nauseous.
“I‘m glad you know
what to do.” My mother’s face crumpled. My father was a shadow behind her. They'd been raised by powerhouse single mothers fervent in the Christian Science mindset. This lifestyle was all my parents had ever known. But I could see them struggle too, now that I'd begun to question our lives. And their decisions.
The next day as I stood in line to pick up the prescription, I thought, This is what parents do. They find a way to stop their
children's pain. They keep trying until something works. Or at least they're supposed to.
My therapist asked me, "Where's your anger at your parents?" She asked this year after year. I'd say, "Oh. I don't know." But it was there, percolating under my thick skin. I'd cultured toughness to counter the failure I'd always felt at having failed to be "healed" in Christian Science. And as I began to see who I was, I knew I was hard hard hard, a former child soldier with that thousand-yard stare. Depression could knock me into a fetal position for days at a time. My employment history was sketchy and unreliable. I jerked in my sleep from PTSD. I'd assumed the responsibility of my own survival--the perfect "healing" I was supposed to achieve when I was thirteen and fourteen and fifteen, the spiritual healing my parents had expected. Ironically, this strength and responsibility had made me passive and codependent in relationships, marriages...and of course with my parents.
By the time I had a second daughter (ten years after the first) I'd come to believe certain things about parenting. I made sure my girls knew I'd go to bat for them anytime, anywhere. I'm the pit-bull hell-parent they can depend on. I run interference and advocate when it's needed. I'm my kids' firewall: to get to them, you have to get through me. I've realized how hard I can be, and tried to not to be hard on them. (It's hard!) In turn, they've made me grow in a way that nothing else could. My insistence on a higher quality of life for them has taught me that I deserve good too.
"So how's your relationship with your parents??"
During this time, my connection to my parents remained close. But it gnawed at me. I was in therapy for over a dozen years and my therapist was right: I couldn't put my past ordeal into perspective until I confronted it like a frightened horse shying at a rock. Being a parent made me see that my own parents had abdicated human responsibility to a "higher power." They'd been raised to believe Christian Science prayer was my only hope during my childhood osteomyelitis. But I finally looked straight at what their decisions--conscious or passive--had done to me. I lived with the consequences which were physical (my scarred, bent, fused leg that I eventually had amputated) and emotional: my codependency, depression, mood swings, broken relationships and inability to hold a job.
I hit bottom. The bedrock of my feelings was apathy. I wasn't sure I could ever love my parents. I didn't hate them; I understood who they were and why they'd done these things. I was fluent in Christian Science; it had been my first language and the way I interpreted the world around me. But my second language became Reality. Its hard pan floor was my bottom line: children should never be expected to forgive their parents. They should never be put in that position. The act of being a parent assumes total responsibility even for bad luck and unexpected disaster. I believed parents had to cowboy up and accept this.
I'd begun to let go of the inappropriate burden I'd taken up in childhood and give it back to my mother and father.
But I wasn't ready to just call it even.
At least, not until horses gave me a reason. Not until horses showed me the grace in forgiving. Not until horses let me see it--and need it--from the other side.
Stay tuned for Part 3. This photo of my daughters and me was taken a few years ago. (Now, of course, they're both taller than me...)