Oh, What a Day: A Day at the Races

Photo by: Space, Place & Southern Grace

My younger self was a lot of things: chubby, overly enthused, perfectionistic, eager to please, wise beyond her years yet still naive AF about some things.  I really must say that as an adult, I love younger me. I cringe daily at the facebook statuses she made, yes, but I love her.

She could have grown up to have daddy issues, but she didn’t.  I don’t think. I do tell my husband we should invite his dad on pretty much every date with us though, so???

But glaring malfunction?  No.

She could have had mommy issues, but she didn’t.  I don’t think. I mean, I have issues with my mom that I am continuing to discover.  But, again, no glaring malfunction.

But, what I mean, I guess, is I never went out searching for someone to fill those roles for me, which is sometimes a thing people do.  While I never sought it, people have tried to do that– fill that void for me– at least on the Mom front.

While I have shared some about my admittedly confusing family dynamics, there is still a lot I haven’t shared.  

My stepdad is my “dad,” as you may know.  

My eccentric ex step- step mom is a new character, I think.

By “eccentric” I mean she had some very serious, very obvious mental health issues she needed to work through.  

There isn’t a word for the spot on the family tree taken by the person your stepdad– who has temporary custodial rights of you– marries.  So I always just called her by her name, which in the style of JVN per his recent memoir, I will keep undisclosed.  

Her relationship with my Dad went from zero to sixty, and from the first I did not like her.  I thought she was a show off, I thought she wasn’t trustworthy, and I questioned her jumping into a relationship with someone with five kids so quickly and completely.  

She moved in with us only months later, abandoning her home, job, and life she had built hours away from where we lived.

And then she and I fought a lot.  

The first fight I remember occurred when I was struggling to nail doing a backbend in my living room, and she came in and showed off how she could do one.  I told her that coming in and showing me how she could do it breezily when I was struggling to learn myself was hurtful, and felt like she was rubbing it in my face.  I SPOKE MY TRUTH.  

I don’t remember what she said, but I know her reaction was disproportionate to my articulate and not unpolite statement.  Aka, it was cray. “Backbend gate” gave me the first warning signs that she was a less than stable person.  

My Dad had told my sisters and I that we should give her grace, because she had a challenging life prior to them coupling.  And she had.  

Among other things, she had been divorced fairly recently, had experienced many miscarriages and had even had the unfortunate experience of giving birth to multiple stillborn children.  My Dad was widowed and had five kids and I’m sure she saw us as a great chance to have a family in one fell swoop.

Except I was wildly resistant to that.  Per the Jessica then Tincher now Rukavina mantra, people aren’t supposed to be used to replace other people.  Even in the eighth grade I knew that.

It wasn’t just the angsty “YOU’RE NOT MY MOM” thing my sisters often yelled (yell) at me when they were (are) mad… it was also me understanding that you should have healthy and realistic expectations of people.   

Again, I love younger me.

Per my resistance, she would do things like plan special one-on-one outings with each of my four sisters to build goodwill but never with me.  Yes. It was blatant.

My husband often marvels at my knack for setting boundaries.  If someone mistreats me, I am politely done with them. My relationship with her is where I first learned that.

Once, she slapped me in the face– I can’t remember why.  I turned to my Dad, told him that I was a kid and she was an adult, and that I was going to leave and he needed to deal with it.  Boundaries.

When she later came to my room to apologize I told her I didn’t want an apology, I wanted her to start changing her behavior so she didn’t need to apologize all the time for flying off the hinges.  Boundaries. Her response was to call me something akin to a “holier-than-thou princess” and literally bent to the ground and kissed my feet repeatedly.

When she lost it, which happened often, sometimes she would start a rampage where she would disclose graphic bits and pieces of her early trauma in great detail to make me feel sympathetic for her.  I would say: “I’m sorry that happened to you, but I am a kid and I don’t need to be hearing this right now.” Boundaries.

Sometimes she would even slap or punch herself in the face in front of me and my sisters, to the point of giving herself blackened eyes.  Yes. And then sit in the front row of church that week and cry, as though she had been battered, instigating gossip within our small congregation.  

That was my childhood.  

It toughened me, and taught me about boundary setting. 

Brené Brown, the She-hero that she is, says something likeeee, “It’s a lot easier to be empathetic if you are boundaried”.

This was the most true thing in the world for my relationship with my ex-step-stepmom.  Once I moved away for college and wasn’t quite as enmeshed in the dysfunction anymore, it was a lot easier for me to empathize with her past and (then) current struggles.  

In my second semester of college, I made the interesting choice to invite her and my Dad to my sorority’s annual “Mom’s Day” at Keeneland.  To my shock, they actually came. It was the first time in my entire life that I can remember having someone there for me at any kind of “parent’s day” event… ever.  Ever. 

Uncharacteristically, they didn’t argue with one another.  Uncharacteristically, we didn’t fight with each other. They bought me a couple of cocktails, which made me feel very cool because I was only 19, and we had a weirdly good day.  Honestly, it made me hopeful that she was getting better, they were getting better, things were getting better.

My expectation wasn’t that she could become a mother figure for me, but instead that she would become someone I could find common ground with.

The very next week my best friend, Katie, drove me home to our shared hometown for Easter break.  On our way home, I called my Dad to make sure they would be home because I have never had a key to his house and didn’t want to wait outside.

When he answered, he informed me that she had just left that morning.  After saying she needed to take her mom to a doctor’s appointment, she had returned to the house with her mom, her best friend, her best friend’s parents, and the police and said she was leaving for good.

There were no goodbyes; in fact, there was a “no contact order” so my sisters and I have never heard from her since.   She tried being their mom for about five years and then she left, never to be heard from again. 

You know what’s weird?  I can forgive her.  

For often being a nightmare to live with.  

For being overly competitive.  

For being furious with me for setting healthy boundaries.  

For potentially giving my sisters and I secondary trauma, unapologetically.  

For leaving.

For everything.

Because boundaries.  And therapy.

However, I don’t think I will ever enjoy a day at Keeneland again.

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