My mother and I use letters to catch up on lost time and heal from our painful pasts together.
For years my mother and I had lost contact completely. I was taken from her as a young child, and then again when I was 12. (My dad split from the family when I was little.) I’ve been in foster care since then, and during that time she lost her legal rights to me.
But last year I wrote a story for Represent magazine and sent it to her in the mail. My story described the two years I spent in a mental hospital as a child, and my struggles to deal with the effects of my mother’s explosive temper and drug abuse. I also wrote about nights I spent sleeping in the hallway of our building, which led to me getting sexually assaulted.
Even though the story described the pain I went through, I sent it to my mother so she could see how well I was doing, and to show her how proud I was of my writing. I wanted to let her know that I still wanted her to be a part of my life despite the mistakes she made raising me.
Patching Things Up
I was unsure if it was a good idea to be in touch. The court demanded that my mother stay away from me, and I feared that if the judge found out that my mother was back in my life, I’d be in trouble.
But taking the risk was worth it. When my mother wrote back, I felt like a piece of my broken heart was repaired and a part of my pain was wiped away.
In my letters since then, I’ve let my mother know that I am not angry at her for what I went through in foster care, but I am angry at her for not taking care of her responsibilities. It was hard for her to support two kids, but everybody struggles and that isn’t a reason to skip out on your kids.
I also let her know that I appreciate that she is now trying to make up for the bad things she did.
‘It Hurts to Remember’
From my mom’s letters, I’ve found out that she went through similar experiences to me. She wrote:
“I am very proud of Erica. I can’t believe I lived to see our daughter in the youth magazine telling true stories. I’m sorry I had to hear about our young lady being abused and raped as a child. All my life I was being abused and raped also.
PS—Keep up the good work writing stories and letters.”
Another time she wrote:
“You are a good writer. I hope you’re in the next issue. I understand that it hurts to talk about the past, because it hurts to remember the pain. The courts have demanded that I face my fear. I’ve been sent to support groups for sexual abuse, and handling rejection and abandonment. All of us hate to talk about these painful problems.”
The Same Pain
Reading her letters, I was glad that my mother could understand my pain growing up. I felt less alone knowing we’d been through similar things.
Writing to my mother also has given me a better insight into why she used to drink and become angry and violent when I was younger. She had her own problems to deal with on top of mine. Knowing her struggles, I felt I could forgive my mother and feel less hurt and anger, and that we could build a better bond together.
Hot Tempers, Short Fuses
Soon my mother sent another letter, this time about anger. Like my mom, I struggle with blowups:
“…Don’t let nobody or no one push your buttons. Your mom and dad, we both have hot tempers, short fuses. If you find yourself getting anger problems—count to 10, think first. Use writing to get inside your heart and soul. Every day write a line saying something good about yourself.”
My mother’s tips actually work! I’ve been trying to follow those tips rather than react in a violent manner when someone ticks me off. I was also proud to see that my mom is working on her anger, too.
‘Hugs and Kisses’
My mother seems to feel sad about the way she parented me when I was a kid. She wrote:
“Dear Erica, I hope you’re doing fine. I miss you…I tried to be a good mother….I love you for being a nice daughter. I’m happy for your new life. When you grow up to be a mother one day try to be better than I was. Remember to set rules for your children. Hugs and kisses, Your mother.”
She told me to set rules for children (when I have them) because she didn’t do that with my sister and me. We had no curfew, chores, or discipline. That caused me to become out of control. She set no rules partly because she was checked out, but my mother also wanted us to have the freedom she didn’t have growing up. I get the impression that my grandmother didn’t play no games.
Trouble All Around
Despite enduring a lot of violent behavior when I was living with my mom, I also experienced painful things living in foster care. Sometimes I feel I would have been better off with my mother than being placed in foster care. At least my mother has always loved me. She expresses that a lot in her letters.
“Hello, Erica, Just a few words to say I love you, I’m doing fine…”
“I love you and Nicole with all my heart and soul. The real world is different than living in the Bronx. Please remember to write back…”
I loved how she told me, “The real world is different than living in the Bronx.” She meant that when we lived there, everywhere you turned there was trouble. It was like a trap that led to failure.
We’ve Both Changed
Now my mother has reunited with my father in New Jersey and she’s sober and taking care of herself. My father has changed, too, and he saves my mother from failing. She needs my father to look after her and make sure she doesn’t slip.
I am proud of my mother! She has grown a lot. She’s laying low in the home, writing me letters and being the mother that I always wanted: loving, giving, and helpful, just like me.
I have grown a lot as well. My lifestyle was once about being with different boys and running the streets. Now I am stable, living on my own with my boyfriend. I found the courage to change.I did go through a lot in the past with my mother, but I’m hopeful now that we’re both growing together, getting to know one another and dealing with our problems head on.