How I Got To Choose My Mom

Image: Me & Mama at a my cousin's baseball game. Keizer, OR. April 2017

Image: Me & Mama at a my cousin's baseball game. Keizer, OR. April 2017

The concept of chosen family has been gaining awareness, most specifically in the LGBTQ+ community, over the last decade. The idea that we owe nothing to those who abuse us simply because they gave us life is a lesson I learned in my early twenties, but one that has continued to resonate with me over the last decade. When I opened up about my identity a few years ago there was very little risk. I had already lost my family. They chose my abuser, but I chose to survive.

In the summer of 2007 I moved away from home for the first time. I packed a bag and jumped on a plane bound for Texas. New England, my childhood, and my family were left behind. I had been spiraling into a dark abyss for several years and the only person that felt safe in my darkest moment was my mom. But I didn’t always call her that.

My mom has known me since I was about three or four years old. She married my dad, who I was estranged from for most of my life, and then proceeded to poke fun at her new status as a step-parent. She encouraged us to call her our “step-munster.” She made me laugh. She had everything under control. She made the best boiled green beans in the world.

So, I moved in with her. We barely knew each other, but we had a lifetime of love between us. She opened her home to her ex-husband’s estranged child and never hesitated to try and be everything I ever needed.

Less than two years later, in the late winter of 2009, my whole world fell apart. I called my birth mother to tell her about all of these great things going on in my life. This is a call most mothers hold their breath waiting for, but not mine. When I started trying to tell her about all the things going right in my life, she turned it around and lectured me on how selfish I was. My life was going well, so I was selfish. I didn’t call to listen to all of her problems, so I was selfish. I was happy, so I was selfish. That call lasted for a long time. For the first time in my life I poured out all of my resentment for the woman who gave me life. I screamed about all the ways she hurt me, and all the things she never did. I spat at her how angry it made me that I had to raise her children. I lectured her about the time I told her I was cutting and she dismissed me. I accused her. I attacked her. I gave up on her. She never wanted to be my mother, not really. She resented that I existed and she made sure I knew it my entire life. I emptied everything out until there was nothing left to bind me to her anymore.

Following this call, I sat for a good long while, alone and sobbing in my room. There was this moment, in this darkness, when I realized I didn’t have to do this alone. I didn’t have to grieve for my childhood by myself. I wasn’t worthless. I wasn’t unlovable. I wasn’t invisible.

I mustered what little strength I had left in that moment and walked to the other side of the house. Her door was open. She sat on the edge of the bed, waiting. She heard. She knew. She summoned me over and I collapsed in her lap. I don’t know how long I stayed there, a huddled mass of tears and snot clinging to her warmth, but for a long time we said nothing. Then we said everything. We talked through it all. I had a clear and distinct thought, “This is what a mom is.”

I asked if I could stop calling her Roxi-Mama, and just call her Mama instead. She agreed, with a kind and loving smile as she ran her hand over my head to comfort me.

We don’t get to choose the family we are born into. We don’t get to choose how healthy they are, how emotionally stable they are, or how much they want us. So many of us just barely survive our childhoods, and so many of us never did.

Be kind this Mother’s Day. Some of us have more reason than others to be celebrating.