When I was married, we took a vacation with our two children, which began at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side and continued onto Mount Desert Island with many hikes in Acadia National Park. Everyone seemed to have a great time with all the pizza eating, fresh outdoor experiences, and time together. The day we left late afternoon to return home, we voted unanimously to drive straight through the 18-hour trip. Our kids, a pre-teen for a few more hours and a teen, knew they could sleep most of the drive. They felt eager to get home. My son’s thirteenth birthday would arrive en route.
My then-husband drove the first short leg till dinner time. I took over the wheel after dinner. I drank the only venti Starbucks coffee that I will ever drink.
Turning into the driveway of our home at 4 am, I spoke, “Happy Birthday. I love you.” To my son. We unloaded luggage as he sleepily replied, “Thanks, mom. Thanks for getting us home safely. I love you, mom.” Still jittery from the coffee and long drive, I struggled to fall asleep. The rest of my family slept soundly.
Midday, when I got in the van to get groceries, I noticed the bright yellow helium balloon bouquet attached to a colorful new birthday bag with fresh, green tissue paper poking out the top on the porch by the front door. I immediately suspected the package was a drive-by dropping from my mother.
For over seven years and counting, I held firm to a “no contact with family of origin” status as a long-time deliberated choice of self-protection and protection for my children after persistent abuse as the scapegoated child. That commitment didn’t translate into a cessation of outbound calls, strange packages, unannounced appearances, or cards arriving in the mail. After writing letters, clearly stating my boundaries, which then got violated at every turn, I chose the path of what many now call “ghosting.” Keeping doors closed, deleting messages continued to be my response to the persistent stalking and outbound behaviors. My parents lived thirty miles away- a much too easy drive. They knew where we lived.
At this moment, part of me wanted to be back in Maine.
However, the wishful, ever-optimistic little girl inside of me got excited for my son. I even believed this time she’d end her disconcerting ways when it came to her grandchildren.
Cautiously, we chose to bring the bag and balloons inside. My son removed the tissue paper to discover: a broken sun catcher of red, white, blue glass with a cracked liberty bell image in the middle; a photo of himself as a baby which came with a note declaring she no longer wanted this picture; three worn, crayon scribbled on, missing pieces, broken pieces board games she retrieved from the basement of their house, barely recognizable items from my childhood.
My son and daughter laughed awkwardly at the ridiculous idiocy of these so-called “gifts.” I laughed in disbelief, then burst into tears as a shame storm swirled. I apologized profusely to my son for the unfortunate, unexplainable behavior of my mother. This apologizing, a yet unbroken habit, persisted after the many years of blame for her words, emotions, and behaviors. I still felt the impossible burden. Both my son and daughter assured me they knew grandma’s “gifts” were her choices, not mine.
Still sobbing, I called a friend. Even though she knew the ways of my mother, admitted that this latest action stooped to a weird, twisted low. She offered that had my mother been a bit off-kilter, an unhoused person searching through a dumpster for shiny objects or childhood items, these “gifts” could have seemed sweet and quirky. Yet, the truth remained that my mother had full faculties. She knew what she did. Feeling more centered, supported, I completed the call with my friend.
I gave my son full permission to pop the balloons and throw the board games and suncatcher in the outside green trash container, which he gladly did. I kept his baby photo.
During this period, I felt ashamed that I failed to deliver healthy relatives to my children. I also knew enough to do my best to protect them and me from the twisted, bizarre, and often cruel, dysfunctional dynamics.
I won’t ever regret ghosting my family of origin for the decade that I did so.
Maybe, now in heaven or wherever my mother happens to be, she’s inspiring laughter with other non-earthly beings and has become the strange stand-up comic she secretly wanted to be on earth.
Over time in a purposeful, rigorous untangling of my own words and deeds from those of my mother, I practiced being silent. I’d catch myself apologizing in mid-air and stop as I realized I was apologizing for someone else’s bad behavior or mean words that had not come from me. When I spoke, I began to hear my voice and emotions, especially when I sat with gifted individuals who listened quietly with rapt attention. I began listening closely to that still small voice inside, the many younger versions of myself that I had silenced for too long. I journaled many words onto paper that I could read out loud back to myself as a method of recognizing my own voice.
I began to fully witness what I called my Inner Fly on the Wall, that witness consciousness that I now call Inner Quiet Charlotte. I now see the words, deeds, and emotions of my mother as hers.
Some of us remember the exact words that were said to us, the emotion wrapped around the words, the deeds that were done, what the person was wearing, the music that played in the background, the way the person smelled, and how the entire interaction made us feel.
My favorite version of the Serenity Prayer remains a mantra in my life:
Universe/ Divine Beloved/God grant me the serenity to accept that I cannot change another human being, the courage to change the one person I can, and the wisdom to know that one person is me.
You are not the cause or the source of other people’s spoken words, emotional realities, or behaviors. You are the source of your emotional realities, words, deeds, perceptions, opinions, and interpretations.
Detaching from the drama/trauma of other individuals can allow you space and time to discover some peace inside your being, to make new choices, to remain silent in the pause, to speak words that come from your heart, your lived experiences.
Laura Staley is the founder of Cherish Your World and the author of her inspirational book Live Inspired.