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Trying to Make Up Lost Time
My mom was in prison for nine years
Anonymous
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When I was 12, my mother was released from prison after nine years. My younger sister and I had been living with my aunts in Rochester, New York. After my mom’s release, we moved with her to Brooklyn.

Since I was 4, my aunts had prevented my sister and me from having contact with my mother. I wasn’t allowed to speak to her on the phone. She sent me a birthday present every year, but my relatives always threw them away. They thought they were protecting me, but cutting off all contact hurt both my mother and me, and we’re still hurting from it.

I wanted to forgive her for leaving me at a young age and missing out on so much of my life. I didn’t want to resent her. But regardless of whether or not it was her fault, I still had these feelings, and sometimes still do.

Although I had been waiting years for us to be reunited, having her suddenly back in my life felt strange. She wasn’t how I remembered her. Even though she had the same sweet, dark brown eyes, her hair was shorter and she was wider in the hips. I had mixed feelings about leaving my home with my great-aunt and moving in with my mother. She set stricter rules and I had problems with that.

At first, I thought life would be as sweet as a piece of cherry pie. But I wasn’t a little girl anymore. I was a teenager, and I didn’t like being told what to do. One night my sister and I decided we wanted to go to a party. My mother gave us a curfew of 11 p.m. I told her the party started at 11, so that wouldn’t work. We argued and she didn’t agree to a later curfew. I came home around 4 a.m., and when I walked in my mother told me to leave and stay at a friend’s house since I didn’t follow her rule.

Heart to Heart

One night I came into the living room because my mom was playing her music loud. She likes romance songs, preferably sad ones. Tears were running down her face.

“Why are you crying?”

She didn’t say anything. I had to ask a few more times.

“You’re older now and I’m upset that I was incarcerated and missed out on a big part of your life as a young girl. And now you’re all grown up.” Then she got even more upset and started in on how her family kept me from her.

“All I wanted to do was speak to you on the telephone and see you and hear your precious voice.”

I continued to listen.

image by YC-Art Dept

“If I hadn’t been incarcerated, y’all wouldn’t act the way you do toward me.”

“Act how?” I asked.

“Rude, defiant to me, and you have no respect for any authority.”

“We don’t mean to act this way, it’s just us,” I told her. “We don’t mean to be disrespectful.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I wish I could turn back time, but I can’t.”

“I know.”

Then she kept crying and politely asked me to leave her alone.

We have this same conversation every now and then, and it upsets me. While I understand that my mother feels that my sister and I lack discipline, she needs to understand I’ve never had a consistent parent figure in my life, so I’m used to doing whatever I want. Plus, I don’t have much faith in her ability to parent me. I figure my mother was nowhere around when I was younger, so how would she know how to take care of me now? She doesn’t have any experience raising teenagers.

Mother-Daughter Talks

I often imagine what life with my mother would have been like if she hadn’t gone to prison. Maybe I’d even be spoiled! I would have slept with her at night until I was a teenager. She would have given me baths when I was little. She would have told me stories each night and tucked me into bed. It feels like, if only my mom had been around, I would have had everything.

It’s been about four years since she got out, and things are not as tense as they were when I first moved in with her. She trusts me more and isn’t so strict. We’ve gotten to know each other and we’re closer now. My mom’s become my best friend and my shoulder to cry on. When I need to vent, she’s there.

About five months ago, I broke up with my girlfriend and my mom saw me in my room crying. “OK, now it’s time for a mother-daughter talk,” she said. That made me smile. I was pleased that she cared about me.

My mother tells me that she loves me. But because I didn’t have her around for most of my life, it sounds weird to me when she says it. I don’t know how to deal with it. I think it makes me anxious because I’m afraid to open my heart to her. How do I know that I won’t ever be separated from her again? I don’t want my heart to be more broken than it already is.

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(NYC-2017-03-11)

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