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“With the care that it receives from its mother each infant is able to have a personal existence, and so begins to build up what might be called a continuity of being. On the basis of this continuity of being the inherited potential gradually develops into an individual infant. If maternal care is not good enough then the infant does not really come into existence, since there is no continuity of being; instead the personality becomes built on the basis of reactions to environmental impingement.” (from “The Theory of the Parent-Infant Relationship,” 1960)

“Maternal failures produce phases of reaction to impingement and these reactions interrupt the ‘going on being’ of the infant. An excess of this reacting produces not frustration but a threat of annihilation. This in my view is a very real primitive anxiety, long antedating any anxiety taht includes the word death in its description.” (from “Primary Maternal Preoccupation,” 1956)

D. W. WINNICOTT

Thanks to Winnicott and the whole transition object idea, I think that I have some semblance of an understanding as to what went on in my own infancy.  My mom, dad, and grandmother complete this tale as they have filled in the blanks over the years.  Let me begin.

My parents attended the same high school but one year apart.  They grew up in southern Illinois and went to a large high school, so they didn’t know each other.  My dad was, and God bless him for it still, a nerd.  My mom was a socialite.  My dad’s parents were blue-collar working class types.  My mom’s parents were more middle-class merchants.  The possibility of these two ever getting married was probably some bookie’s worst odds nightmare.  And yet…. My dad got into The University of Illinois’ College of Engineering…M.E. (those of you who know engi-nerding know what that means, eh?).  My mom attended junior college at first, and then later transferred to UIUC for her Education degree (yeah, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree on that one either, although I tried, tried, tried to do other careers less kid-related).  My mom did all that sorority stuff and my dad wore glasses and carried a slide calculator.  This sounds so cliche doesn’t it?

My parents met from sharing a ride from U of I to their hometown together.  My mom must have seen something about my dad and that was it.  She dumped her boyfriend, made sure my dad knew she was interested, and the rest is ball and chain – forty years ago this summer.  This was just as the 60’s were wrapping up and the 70’s were setting in.  My dad took a job requiring them to eventually settle in the Chicago burbs, which gave my mom the opportunity to teach school in a nearby town to where I eventually grew up.  She did this very, very briefly (three years maybe) and then once I was on the schedule, she became the stay-at-home-housewife-super-mom (that my “super mom” middle sister is now).  My parents designed and built the same home that they still have today.  They had a dog and a baby on the way.  Both of their parents lived five and a half hours away and the one and only aunt I would have was a busy singleton living in the city.  Their world was small, neat, and tidy – just like how the house used to be.

I am told that I was “right on time” with my due date.  The labor was four hours long in the fourth month of the year at four in the morning.  Other than these details, the number four has never been a special number to me.  My mom claims that the doctor who delivered me was drunk after partying late into the night following a day of golfing.  Whatever the case, drunk doctor, promptness, whatever…I was born a healthy baby.  My parents were overjoyed and their lives changed – as change is the ever-present factor of life.  They brought me home to the house on the lightly wooded lot near a park.  My mother tells me that she knew right away that something was wrong with her.  She claimed to be overwhelmed by sadness while the rest of the family was basking in joy.  She couldn’t ever hold me and soothe me.  I screamed and pushed and fought against her touch.  Although I nursed, she claims it was always a “power struggle” and that I was never gentle.  I spent my days screaming fitfully, driving her crazy, and then when my dad would return home, I would coo and giggle and fall asleep on his stomach while he crashed on the couch.  This pattern continued, according to my mom, and she felt terrified by the madness of her situation, her mind, the torture of being left along with me all day long.  She asked my dad if she could “see someone.”  He said no.  Who knows the real way that conversation went down, but my guess is she didn’t divulge the severity of the situation and my dad, not having had any relatives ever seek mental health treatment, didn’t understand or ever rationalize that a woman who should be so grateful for a healthy newborn, a lovely new home, and the freedom to stay in it and raise said baby could not be happy.  Nonetheless, my mom’s postpartum depression deepened.  Her resentment at me for being a sweet baby each day my dad came home only fueled this negative experience all the more.  There is actually a picture of me pulling myself up, even before I could walk, to look out the window at the driveway waiting for my dad to come home.  I think I’ve even remembered this at some point because I did this for a couple of years and later saw my youngest sister do the exact same thing, although it was a different dog posing alongside in her picture seven years later.

Psychology claims that children can not make memories prior to around the age of three.  Yet, despite my being able to give an accurate narrative of those three precious years, there is something profound that must have taken place because I am 100% certain that the mother-child bond was not established and never really has been in all the years since.  I know that I had my transitional object (still do, and yes I am in my mid-thirties)…Baby Bear.  “Baby” went everywhere with me.  I had a cute little nursery that both of my parents worked so lovingly on prior to my arrival.  There was a favorite blanket and another stuffed animal (long gone now) and these things, plus my books, were my world.  My mom read books too – on how to raise the perfect kid.  The early 70’s were full of some hippie-type child rearing theories, and I was guinea pig for them all.  There was this idea that if I was constantly crying that I should be left along to “cry it out.”   My sister, the “super mom,” would never, never do that for, if her baby cries, then there is something wrong.  Yet, I was left to cry and scream, and grip the railings of my crib.  Maybe there was some level of fear that I experienced when the one parent that I did bond with, my dad, left the house to go to work.  I was left with a mom who must have been such a bundle of mental woes that even a newborn could sense it.  This may be where some of the anger started.  I’m sure that it is.

When I was three, my sister was born.  Her delivery was early, funny because she spent the rest of her life arriving to things late.  If we were two of the Seven Dwarfs I’d be Doc and she would be Sleepy.  Being premature, she was tiny, frail, sickly, and in need of constant attention.  She bonded with my mom and I must have grown more resentful at yet another thing that upset my mojo.  I guess feeling as if I’ve had to always fight for the limelight became a neurosis of mine even way back then.  With two kids, things actually went along pretty well.  My sister and I got along for the most part and were highly complementary.  Where I was tough and messy and wild, she was cute and girlie and quiet.  And for almost four years we enjoyed this family of four.  My mom room-mothered at my Elementary school and still managed to play her regular tennis games and go for her morning jogs before whipping up breakfast.  The house continued to come along as newer furniture and appliances were added to the home.  My dad continued to enjoy the success of the growing economy.  We had Star Wars.

This brings me back to the beginning of my previous entry to when my mom first got “sick” – the pregnancy of my youngest sister.  Her delayed delivery in 1983, which was when my Grandma took me to see Return of the Jedi.  I can correlate the end of my happy childhood existence with the completion of the original trilogy.  My mom got sick, the diagnosis came – along with a chain-smoking Swedish au pair – and the family’s life was changed forever.

Again, there is something to be said for the level of stress my mom must have been under in the years leading up to RA.  I have a friend, my age, who also experienced a tragic stressful event in her young life and then developed her first flare up.  If stress is in fact some major contributor, then I feel sorry for my mom’s situation.  Yet, the anger is there too since a nine year old kid could not possibly understand these concepts then.  All that kid, and the toddler, and the infant versions of me knew was that I would be left alone to cry my saline tears into “Baby” and all along I could never find words, any kind of language, for that type of despair.  Now, even as I understand the forces in play, I feel absolutely clinical about it.  Now, as I make an adult life for myself as a patient with the same damn disease, I feel safe in knowing how different everything is.  I am not the past.  I am not my mom, even though physical appearance is uncanny.  I would love for D.W. or any of his disciples to take a crack at this dynamic and let me know if I’ve done a “good enough” job of developing.  If I tie my development into an adult to Winnicott’s theories, than one must wonder how successful development could be possible.

If I believe in the magic of George Lucas’s long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away, then maybe I was just tapping into the force and claiming my arrival into adulthood as a Jedi who has embraced the good in everything; while my Mom – – I mean, my “RA Mom” – – represents Darth Vadar’s slide into the Dark Side (of RA in this case).  There is still some good in her, but, she is ruled by the suffering of her condition, meaning that I have to take that burried goodness on faith and believe that it is there.  As glib as that analysis might seem, I promise that I can show how this turning to the Dark Side has been so very complete.  Again, I do not mean to sound mean.  Certainly I am bitter; RA took my mom from me when I was a little kid.  However, just like Vadar was Skywalker’s father, those two chose different paths through life.  While RA is my mom’s entire world, it doen’t own me.  Sometimes I feel that writing this blog tends to refute that claim, but I write because it helps to free me of the thoughts that might otherwise burden me for far to long.  Thus, I will elaborate on this story, the more current part, as I continue this blog.  But that will be a leap into the more recent past and part of a different post.

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The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki