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July 29, 2009 / allyo

My adoption triad: My grandma

I’ve talked a lot here about my relationship between my grandma and me. I’m not even going to link – just check out the whole category if you’re curious. When I was a child she mothered me like one might expect and there was a lot that was normal about our relationship. I even benefited from her grandmother status and she did a lot of screwing up with my mom and my uncle so – believe it or not – she was more laid back wit me. (She still wouldn’t let me climb trees.)  The part that didn’t work so well was how she mediated my relationship with my mom. That is to say, she didn’t. While I was physically safer in her house than I would have been with my mother, emotionally I had a big target on my back. After a dozen missed visits and me sitting by the front window for hours, it never occurred to her to stop telling my mother was coming over. (I never told Jamie his nana was coming over. No disappointment and sometimes, a happy surprise.)

When my mom was around more, during my middle school years, my grandma never monitored our visits. I smoked p0t with my mom and her boyfriend a good part of my 6th grade year. I HAD to have come home reeking of the stuff and yet, no intervention. I needed protecting from my mother’s emotional problems and overall bad judgment, and my grandma didn’t do that.

Now this was all painful for my grandma I’m sure because when I’m talking about my mother, I’m talking about her daughter. The years between visits, with my mom randomly popping up high with a car full of cheap, carnival stuffed animals? That must have been terrible for my grandma, never knowing where my mom was or what she was doing. My uncle died during a period of estrangement with my grandma and I think that hurt more than my grandpa’s death two years before (they died on the same date, how fing weird is that?).

But what makes this all more complex (or weird) is that my grandma treated my mom with more contempt than compassion. She ridiculed her for her weight, she talked to me about how stupid she was, and when my mom did show up, I’m sure she laid on the guilt. That’s what she did to me when I was older and out of the house and I think that’s the only way she knew how to say, “Hey, I miss you.” My mom is the one who left my dad when I was 2, and I’m sure my grandma thought – and probably told her – that was a really stupid decision and likely held it against her for years.

This is the dark side of my grandma’s personality. This is the person who grew up poor in a rich neighborhood, who couldn’t have friends over because her drunk father would embarrass her. The other side of her personality – the strength, the pure will to survive against all odds, the immense love she felt for those few people she dared let into her life – those are the reasons we loved her so much. But this dark side, it brought my mom together in unhealthy ways. When I was 11 or 12 she told me when I was 16 I could run away and go to a teen shelter, and she’d pick me up and we’d have a fabulous life together. My grandma often made a common enemy for us both, with the flip side being she was a prize for us to compete over that added to the bitterness between us.

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One Comment

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  1. dawn / Jul 29 2009 9:03 am

    I’m glad you’re writing about this. I think a lot of us need to read it (me, definitely). You are a good boundary reminder person for me.

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