Jen Ryan / Anne Ryan
I don’t recall how long ago it was, but it was sometime in the last few months when my mother asked if I remembered her working nights. She went on to say that she’d felt this twinge of missing out on things or memories we may have made together had she not been working. Deep within me, I wanted to tell her that I remembered it and that it wasn’t a big deal, but I really don’t have any memory of my mom working in the evenings at all. The lack of this memory speaks volumes on the impression she must have made, and I’m struck with how much she must have poured into the moments when she was there.
The reason I had asked Jennifer if she had memories of me being involved was because as a child, I don’t remember my mother being present. As a nurse, she worked nights and therefore, she slept during the day. We were told not to wake her, so we were pretty much left on our own. I do remember her presence when I had the measles, and again when I had the mumps. Later in childhood, I remember my dad being there when I had a cold or the flu. Anyway, it’s nice to see that Jennifer doesn’t have bad memories or no memories of me in her childhood.
From an early age, my mother’s soft singing voice echoes in the walls of my memories. She’s an alto with a lower register range and can harmonize without script or direction. It was a quality that I’d found myself jealous of, as I was a struggling soprano that preferred the lower register. Due to choral demands in adolescence and my desire to land more of a lead role in theatrical performance (I never did get cast as the lead), I only ever sang the lower register in the privacy of my childhood bedroom. My parent’s room rested just below mine and I wonder if there was a small part of me that hoped my Mom would overhear me singing through the vents in the house. Perhaps the vibrato of her alto would meet my soprano somewhere in the middle and we’d find a common ground.
It is funny because in my recollection, I remember me yelling a lot. How wonderful that Jennifer has morphed that into sweet dulcet tones!
She and I had our fair share of struggles in communication, and I found myself seeing a shrink around age ten after the cat she’d gotten me was evicted. Apparently, my mother and brother had both discovered an intense cat allergy at the onset of Cruiser, the aforementioned cat, so it could no longer live with us in the home. I actually didn’t know the feline’s fate until just yesterday upon speaking of this article with my mother, who informed me that it went to a no-kill organization.
Dr. S. was a child and adolescent psychiatrist that I probably saw regularly but, again, the memory there is pretty weak, and I couldn’t even tell you what was discussed. I do remember one session where I focused my entire energy on a stress ball, squeezing it methodically, each section slowly pouring through the spaces in between my knuckles. It was cold to the touch at first and would warm within the palm of my hand as I found a rhythm to attribute to its malleable shape.
My mother was given a script or suggestion to start me on Prozac, but that’s as far as it went. I think she decided that the uphill battle would be, decidedly, uphill. With my bedroom being just above my parent’s, every now and then I would catch a conversation held between them. While the voices are somewhat faded as I attempt recollection, this point in my development was a big talking point for them and one they greatly debated.
I never thought that medication was the first response to every symptom. It just seemed to be the lazy way to fix the problem. No problem can be fixed without first determining the root cause. The side effects of those medications can further compound the problem and prevent actual progress towards rectifying or mitigating the problem. You know, as a mother, you have to fight for understanding what the real issues are. Those are not always clear to everyone else involved.
As a parent myself now, I’m coming to realize that most debates in my own partnership surround our children, and I’m wondering which parts of their lives they’ll hold to memory.
Will they remember me leaving my job to stay with them? Will they remember the songs I sing every night? Will they remember that time I yelled or the time that I cried? Will they remember the wins or losses or both? The losses feel so heavy but, in counting the minutes in a day where memories are being made, I would be doing myself a disservice to neglect the wins.
My mother isn’t perfect, of course, but I have a lot of wins in mind when I think of our life together—the losses are out of focus. I don’t remember her working nights but I do remember her song and that she fought for me.
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