How far has the apple really fallen?

 

apple tree

I received a call a couple of weeks ago from my brother, telling me that my mother had broken her hip and was in need of help at home where she lives alone. I live 200 miles from her; she and I do not get along.

My experience of my mother is that she has always treated me like I’m 12 years old. We don’t have the type of relationship where we can simply talk about what is happening in our lives. There is no such thing as banter. If I try to “chat” about my comings and goings, I anticipate, and often receive, looks of disdain, judgements, advice, or criticism. Occasionally, I will receive some form of ostracism: told to stay well away her area of the country, for fear that what I may bring with me (should I approach the general extended family nest) will bring “shame” on her. In my humble opinion, my mother lives for the image she can portray to others, and she relies on her now very-grown-up children and our offspring and achievements to bolster that image.

It stands to reason that I am a huge disappointment to her. My life decisions have been a disappointment, if not an outrage to her. According to my mother, I have always been a “strange child.” One of her frequent laments, when she is particularly peeved with me is to question my lack of ability to “just be normal.”

“I don’t understand why you hate your family! I don’t understand why you are so hellbent on rejecting any semblance of a normal, civilised relationship!”

She has a point I suppose. I am not very good at maintaining normal, civilised relationships with anyone really …  and this is one of the central reasons why I have now been handed a diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (along with a smorgasbord of other things). I probably was a strange child. I haven’t really paid a whole lot of attention as to whether I was a strange adult … I left home when I was 16 and spent the majority of the next couple of decades just wandering the world on my own.

She has labelled me a “fantasist,” an “isolationist,” and “antisocial.”

Every blue moon, I attempt to have a grown-up conversation with my mother. On those occasions she will remind me of all the things that I have done to disappoint her or to “purposely” show her up or throw her attempts to raise me the right way back in her face. She will then remind me  that I have always been distant, that I never let anyone touch me – even as a baby! – and she always thought I might have had “some form of Asbergers.”

My question to her has been, “If you have always been aware that I may have had a more deep-seated reason for my behaviour, even as a baby and child, then why do I constantly appear to surprise you with my actions? And why, if indeed I did display these behaviours when I was too young to be aware of what I was doing, do you still berate me, condemn me, vilify me, and accuse me of maliciously acting this way?

Once, I asked her, “Whatever happened to unconditional love between a mother and her child?”

She replied, “I don’t believe in that shit.”

When my son began assaulting me physically, I felt there would be little to gain from sharing the information with my mother. I dealt with the situation on my own, sharing only with agencies that I went to for help. The only person who took me seriously was a worker at Women’s Aid, usually designed for working with women who were victims of adult domestic violence. Social Services, in particular, showed little interest in what was going on, citing what was to become a seemingly flagship statement, “We are child protection not adult protection.” After about five months of escalating violence, I felt that at least someone in my family should know, so I called my older brother and told him.

Two months later , I told my mother.

She said nothing throughout the entire phone conversation. She hung up, and I never heard from her again until the day Boo was arrested and  taken from my care in July last year. She had apparently been called by a social worker seeking a family member to take Boo for an emergency period until they could find a suitable foster family. The social worker had left a message on my mother’s answer machine, and my mother called me wanting to know “what the Hell is going on.” I reminded her that I had told her about what was happening in our household weeks earlier, that it had finally come to a dangerous head, and that Boo had been arrested and taken from me. Apparently the news came as a complete surprise to her, and I recognised then that she had neither retained nor believed a word I had told her during that earlier gutspill. She uttered some vile condemnation of me, and this time I hung up on her. Since then, I have received very few and very brief contacts from my mother, but minimal as those contacts have been, they always left me feeling horrible and alienated – so I sent her text (a cowardly move, I know) and suggested that for the sake of my own recovery, we should have no further contact for the foreseeable future.

My brother called me for a second time just before Easter, and in his special, “subtle” way suggested that I really should stay with my mother over the holiday weekend, because he and my other siblings “all have jobs and children” – the implication being that as I have lost my job and my child, I have nothing to prevent me from skipping across the country to take care of her. He also said this might be a good opportunity for me to mend our relationship, and besides, they didn’t want her left alone.

So I went.

The other thing about my mother is her uncanny ability to assume that time will heal all things (or at least make you forget why you’re cross with someone). So when I arrived, she greeted me with smiles and smalltalk as if there was not a care between us. I had prepared myself for the visit by promising to keep myself busy and out of the way as much as possible. I had brought things to crochet, reasons to spend time upstairs (she can’t climb the stairs at the moment) and plenty of ideas for working in her very long garden. I lasted almost two days without even a mention about my son, my health, my job, or my life, and managed to fend off several requests that I should use her car to drive her places.

But on Good Friday, she commented, “Oh do try to cheer up a little bit, Alice! I don’t know what’s the matter with you!”

I looked at her, and said, “You know what? I actually believe that you really don’t know what the matter is.” I then proceeded to spill my guts for a second time and filled her in on the details of how my life has fallen apart, I lost my son, my job, my health, how I feel the whole thing has snowballed out of control, how her occasional poisonous comments have not been helpful, how I have been hurting myself, how things have been a massive emotional struggle, how I want my baby back so much, and how there is now a high chance that I will never get him back. I finished with tear-covered face by telling her that it seems mental health services may be concerned about me, because they have recommended that I be placed on close suicide watch should the final court hearing determine that Boo will not be coming home.

There was a strange, uncomfortable silence. Then my mother, who had not moved nor changed her expression at all, said flatly and way too controlled for my liking, “And who are you looking to blame for that?”

That sinister, unnerving response left me stunned. I don’t know what I’d expected her to do or say. She had never given hugs so I hadn’t anticipated any tactile response – but not even a “sorry this has happened to you” or “where do you go from here?” Not a lick of emotion or compassion or ….

And then it hit me.

Empathy. There was no hint of empathy. And when I started to think historically, I couldn’t remember any incident or time when she had ever shown emotion or empathy. It explained the meanness, the disregard for others’ feelings, and the ability to forget or reject any hurt she may have caused.

That same empty, emotionless disconnection that has everyone concerned about my son’s future was staring me right in the face of my mother.

I don’t know enough about how personality disorders develop, but certainly, if there’s a case to be made for nature over nurture, this could certainly add weight to argument for genetics.

The apple has indeed not fallen far.

© Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]

 

 

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Threshold … Cloud with a Rainbow Lining

(If you’re here just for the photos, they’re further down the page. Make sure you click on them so you can see the full effects of the “rainbow”).

I went to Whitby last year. It was just a day-trip on a coach, but it was significant insofar as it was – and still is – the only time I took a trip for myself since Boo left our home. I went on my own, despite a bus full of people with the same destination … all with the intention of a day out by the seaside and perhaps a look around the ruins of the Abbey.

I remember it well, because I spent a large portion of the day in silence, wandering through a small church half way up the hill towards the Abbey and taking photographs of the salt air-worn gravestones. It was peaceful, and quiet, and calming.  It was intended to be a day of solace: a chance for peaceful introspection, a chance to regroup, to regain some balance after six weeks of incessant worries about the place they had initially housed my son.

Two months had passed since the incident occurred that resulted in Boo being arrested and removed from my care. He had initially gone to stay with my brother and his family, but after two weeks, Social Services decided to place him under the care of the local authority. They had promised me that Boo would go to a caring foster family out of our immediate geographic area to give us both some space and reduce the risk of further assaults. Instead, they placed him in a children’s care home in the same town. It was a dreadful decision, for various reasons that I will discuss in future posts, yet they refused to relocate him despite all my protestations. Eventually, I had to go to the Head of Children’s Services and beg her to help my son and relocate him to a place of safety and full support.

I particularly remember my trip to Whitby, because my attempt to relax was interrupted periodically by phone calls from Boo’s Social Worker, evidently raw from having her tail chewed out by the big boss, and “promising” me (once again) that they were now searching the country for specially trained foster carers who would be able to take Boo into their home. (As it happened, that didn’t pan out the way they had promised me either … but that’s not the point of this post).

Following the phone calls from Boo’s Social Worker, I felt positive and spent the rest of the afternoon pottering around Whitby’s tiny “lanes” with all its quirky little shops (I entered another photo into the weekly challenge that I took in the lanes on my other blog site here) and finished with a fish and chip supper by the marina chatting to two elderly gentlemen about the “olden days”. As I waited for the coach, my attention was drawn to a single cloud in an otherwise blue sky. Rainbow cloud I took a few photos of it with a fixed lens, but then, as the coach pulled up, I remembered I had a telephoto lens in my bag and tried to take a closer view. Some people wondered why I was taking so many pictures of what seemed at first glance to just be a normal grey cloud wandering across the sun. But if we looked closely, there was a spectrum of colour around the edges of the cloud. It was difficult to capture through the camera, and I admit I’ve bumped up the saturation to get it looking more like it did to the naked eye. SONY DSC   As the cloud slowly moved across the sun, the colours changed and moved around the edge, as if there was a threshold through which the colours formed. This was the last picture I took before boarding the bus to go home, and by the time I found my seat, the colours were gone.

SONY DSC

I’ve never seen this phenomenon before around a cloud, and I’ve not seen it since – so I couldn’t help but feel it was meant for me to see for some reason. It seemed to offer me hope, just as rainbows always give me peace in my heart – however briefly they occur. © Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]

Only in the eyes of the media …

midwich cuckoos

The Midwich Cuckoos -MGM (1960)

 

THE MEDIA LOVES A GOOD TANTRUM.

Shows like “Supernanny” and “The House of Tiny Tearaways” thrive on screaming toddlers, the louder the better, and preferably involving kicking, swearing, throwing hard objects, and smashing the family china.

Recently, “Dr Phil” aired a show in America about an eight-year-old out-of-control child, complete with glaring promotion video announcing, “My Head-Butting, Punching, Kicking, Bruising, Biting, Knife-Wielding 8-Year-Old!!” If you didn’t see it, there’s a link to it here. Granted the child has issues, and major ones at that, but the video goes to great lengths to portray the child as the devil incarnate.

There’s a woman in America who writes a blog that I’ve mentioned before called myfamilymyvillage. She is a prolific writer and sometimes adds more than one post a day documenting her day-to-day struggles with her own eight-year-old son who has been diagnosed amongst other things with conduct disorder. I follow her blog, sometimes with almost obsessional interest, because, I suppose I’m trying to find clues about where things might be falling apart for her. I do the same with my own life and my own struggles with my own son – as if by picking our lives apart to some microscopic extent, I might find the answer and everything will be okay.

However, just the other day, the above-mentioned woman allowed the media into her life by conducting an interview for a radio programme in America called “This American Life.” The episode itself is titled “Bad Baby” and includes three or four segments devoted to stories about troubled children. You can listen to the podcast here. I finally had a chance to listen to the broadcast this evening and paid particular attention to the prologue which focused on this woman’s story. Considering the proliferation of her blog writing, and having studied mass communication at college and how it can manipulate an audience through editing, I was particularly interested in how a 10-minute segment would portray her son’s condition.

I was incredibly disappointed and shocked to listen to the segment. In my opinion, this woman’s child was portrayed as little short of a sadistic, manipulative, cold and evil predator. Obviously ten minutes wasn’t long enough to include context or any mitigating factors, nor was there any discussion of any times when this eight-year-old boy may have made her smile or laugh or loving towards him. Yet they are mentioned in her blog. I was moved by the programme, less by the shock value message it sent out about this child than by the intense sadness I felt for this child. It was as if his mother had thrown in the towel, and with it any future chance for redemption.

This was the very reason that I have never allowed my own situation with my son to go public in the media despite being approached in previous years to do a show. In her defence, I am aware, painfully aware, how frustrating it is to be a mother to child with conduct disorder. It is frightening at times. More so once you start to recognise the sinister nature of the behaviours, the lack of empathy, the constant manipulation, the lack of remorse for injuries caused, and the lack of emotional connection between action and harm. But I still feel wholeheartedly that it is my job to protect my child; so to allow the media to portray him in a negative light, in my opinion, would ultimately do more harm than good.

In addition, the short segment of the programme in which this woman spoke gave the impression that her child’s negative behaviour was completely unconnected to anything she or other family members did themselves. The narrator offers a brief overview of how she and her husband attempt to placate their eldest child when he “acts up”. There is talk of “using an even tone of voice” and withdrawing rewards as if these are their “go-to” methods used most frequently, if not exclusively. But she openly admits in many of her blog posts that she has lost control of herself: shouts, physically restrains him, manhandles him, and she even mentions a time when she joined in a “slap fest” between him and his younger brother.  I won’t judge her for her actions. God knows I’ve been at the end of my rope on more than one occasion myself. But at least I own my mistakes. Perhaps too much. Few people who know me or listen to me could say that I don’t take full responsibility for the way my son behaves. If anything, I have to be convinced to the nth degree to see that some things he does are outside my control.

So in my world, despite everything, I won’t be appearing on Jeremy Kyle or Oprah or Radio 4 any time soon.

And Supernanny will have to wait.

Oh, and for the record, I posted a very lengthy comment to one of her recent posts here. I will be astonished if she responds kindly to it, or even publishes it for that matter. If not, I’ll put it in my next post.

© Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]

 

 

Losing touch with reality …

I know people have, quite rightly, observed that there’s nothing I can do to change the past, but I can’t help it.

I feel I am losing sense of reality whenever I mull over the way things have gone so far. I sit here, even now, at this very moment, with an inkling that this has all been one bad dream. Perhaps if I go back to sleep, I’ll wake up at an earlier time when things were still salvageable and persuade “professionals” to help us – a bit like a “restore point” on the computer. Or that, if I will it hard enough, then I will wake up and find that there really is no Conduct Disorder, or that there never was any violence in the household, or that I am not suffering a mental breakdown, or that I still have my job, my finances are fine, and life is just ordinarily comfortable.

It is incredibly difficult for me to accept the reality of not having my son around.

It’s impossible for me to move on without him.

Today is Mother’s Day.

I decided to give myself a treat anyway, and ventured out to the local cinema on my own to see a screening of the National Theatre’s production of War Horse. I  know I’m running the risk of sounding more than a little insane, but at times I found myself believing he was sitting there next to me. I had one of those big drinks that came with two straws and I only drank out of one because I convinced myself the other straw was “his.” We “shared” popcorn. And I bought mint-flavoured Matchmakers because he prefers them to the orange ones. I watched the show as if he was with me, imagining the questions he’d be asking or the comments he’d make at varying points in the show. I even went to McDonalds after I left the cinema, even though I dislike the place myself, because that’s what we would have done if he’d been with me.

SONY DSCAm I insane?  Possibly.

Do I miss my son?  Terribly.

© Alice through the Macro Lens [2014]