My Mother Tortured Grasshoppers

My mother had thick, wavy red hair like Rita Hayworth and deeply tanned legs that went up to her neck.

She was kicked off the courts of the Golden Gate Tennis Club in 1966 for wearing men’s shorts to play. (Too distracting to other players.) She bathed in Joy perfume and wore red lipstick to go to the super market explaining that we could too run into Frank Sinatra.

“You never know!” she’d smile, wiping a just licked pinky finger along her penciled eyebrow.


I don’t miss my mother.

Our record for not speaking at one point was 13 years. That long silence followed her crashing my first wedding at the chapel in Yosemite National Park. (She flew in. The pilot: a new boyfriend.)

At the reception she drank enough champagne to necessitate her being carried out of the Ahwahnee Hotel www.yosemitepark.com by two tuxedoed waiters.

I still remember her little feet slicing the air just above the floor like Peter Pan heading for Never-Neverland.

Her mistake was not staying seated. When she stood up, the floor tipped her over.  My dad said sympathetically, “Jeez, whadya ‘spect? She was drinking like she had a hollow leg.”

The waiters deposited her on the curb outside.

Weddings; it’s where drunk happens.

All through my twenties she’d call me at work, crying, begging to know what she did to make me hate her so much.

I didn’t hate her.

The truth was I was afraid of contamination.

In my thirties I had a blessed revelation. If my mother were someone I worked with, or a next-door neighbor and I moved to another town, I’d never write or call.

I’d be relieved to get away from her.

As a child I existed in a household run by a mysterious woman holding her breath until I turned 18 and left. (My high school graduation present: red American Tourister luggage.)

Erasing my mother from my life was made a tad easier by the biological fact that my mother was not really my mother.  In a weird way, being adopted gave me courage.

So much of my relationship with my mother is about what didn’t happen, what wasn’t said. To this day, I consume teen magazines like Seventeen, confident that I will learn something new in every issue, something my mother never bothered to mention, like how to use a tampon.

When my period started, I snuck into her bathroom, stole pads, safety-pinning them to my underpants. Surely she must have noticed her diminishing sanitary napkin supply and yet my own box never kindly materialized in my bathroom.

No, I just stole pads until I left home, got a job and had my own money.

My mother literally never told me anything.

Oh wait, she did cover sex:

“Never let a boy touch you THERE or THERE!” tapping my breasts and my cooch. “NEVER!”

That’s why I have spent most of my life self-educating myself (notice how closely that rhymes with self-medicating) about normal everyday things.

How to drive a car. How to clean a bathroom. How to pack for a trip. How to save money. I’ve signed up for class after class trying to figure things out.

My mother seemed to have been born adult, alone and icily determined to get hers. Her stories are so rare they seem like slide strips on a rainy day.

She told me once that her family was so poor that none of the kids had any toys. She and her cousin used to play nurse out back in a cherry orchard. The girls would put hankies on their heads for nurse’s caps and use empty matchboxes as hospital beds lined up in wards.

Their patients were grasshoppers, their legs torn off to keep them in bed. They pushed the sliding boxes up tight under the chins of each suddenly quadriplegic bug to keep them from escaping.

During her marriage to my dad her hair got redder and redder, the better to flirt with men who made more money than my dad, who offered better houses and futures than my dad who solved calculus equations to relax, made me cardboard Barbie furniture  and led my brother’s Indian Guides group.

She met Husband Number Two — an engineer! – while playing tennis — in (what else?) shorts.

Rayne Wolfe’s dream is to write her first book Confessions of an Undutiful Daughter by the end of 2011. She completed her dream journey May of 2011 on 8WD after a year living her dream. You can find her at Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook.

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  • EdnaZ

    Rayne, it helps me to read your posts. They help me realize it’s o.k. to stay away from people who are harmful. Or to navigate around them to assure a minimum of pain and aggravation.

    Does your writing help you get it out of your system?

    My husband and I talk about the people and things that have happened in our lives that makes us who we are. He is a big help to me. He has helped me come to terms with a lot of things that happened to me.

    “So much of my relationship with my mother is about what didn’t happen, what wasn’t said.”

    I was 11 years old when I realized my mother was not going to be a lot of help to me. That’s a helluva thing to realize. I have to say – she’s helped me more in the last 4 years than she did in the previous 38.

    I appreciate your offer of letting me share my stories with you. I guess I think they wouldn’t be good enough.

    Thank you for sharing your stories. I am sure you help a lot of people.

    • Rayne

      Hi Edna,

      Thank you for your posts. I’m so happy to hear that my storytelling is helpful. Discussing our stories with our husbands or trusted friends is a safe place to face facts.
      I’m glad to hear that your spouse is supportive. I don’t know what I’d do without my Mister’s understanding.
      I’m hoping that my story will create an entrypoint for readers struggling with this topic. It is so hard to talk about in a world where we believe every body else adores every member of their family – and are adored in return.
      When you are ready, you will tell me your story and I have no doubt it will be therapeutic for readers and healing for you. Remember, we can change names to protect the innocent!
      See you next Sunday!
      Rayne

  • EdnaZ

    You remind me of something I really appreciate from my growing up years.
    There were a dozen kids who lived up and down the road (we lived in the country) and they usually ALL ended up in our yard. It was never dull. We had a lot of fun. We got in trouble sometimes. We were left to our own devices for the better part of the day. We rode our bikes to the other kids’ houses, to the park and sometimes even to the nearby town. We learned to fend for ourselves and it was great.
    I feel sorry for the kids whose moms can call them every fifteen minutes. How can they have any fun??
    Every kid should grow up with a brother or sister or two, a dozen neighbor kids to play with, a big yard and a bike to ride. (Without a helmet.) : )

  • You write some really powerful posts that make one stop and think. This is timely given the woman who just sent her adopted son back to Russia on a Plane by himself. Maybe this is something we don’t discuss in this country and we should: toxic parents, toxic siblings and toxic people within our family tree. I wonder how many women might comment about having a toxic brother or sister who made their lives living hell, who they disconnected from as adults, and the parents who still try and force a relationship. Fascinating subject.

    • Rayne

      Chris,
      Thank you for your thoughts. I appreciate the post. I’m hoping that many readers will realize through this project that toxic family members don’t have license to ruin days, years, and decades. We are not bad daughters for admitting to ourselves that a parent is toxic. I think it’s a crucial step to living an authentic life.

      See you next Sunday!

  • randy

    Mothers have amazing power. It’s too bad yours was damaged. You say you are adopted. Have you ever tried to find your birth mom?

    • Rayne

      Randy,

      I identified my birth mother, who had me as a teen, decades ago. Not the nicest lady on the phone, so I’ve delayed any face to face contact. As I’ve said here, I’ve got three mothers (including a VERY nice stepmother), so I’ve got material.
      You’ve reminded me I need to post a story about my birth mother here. A really funny story. Thanks for reading and posting. See you next Sunday!

  • Laurie Allen

    Rayne,
    This post made me feel like a good Mama. The older I get, the more I realize that Mothering is the number 1 job on this planet and deserves great attention. I know after being around you, that your sense of humor helps you through tough shit in life. Good read….Thanks!
    Love, Laurie

  • Toni Schram

    I feel blessed to have had a Mother who treasured her kids through and through. Her goal in life was to teach her three daughters sewing, cooking, life skills, morals and values.

    I am sorry you never had a mother who was always in your corner, wiping that boo boo on your knee or making your favorite cake for your birthday.

    Rayne-I hope you’re able to unleash all the demons your
    mother brought upon you. In telling your story, I ‘m sure some of your readers will see themselves in your book and find comfort in knowing, that they’re not the only one who lived this hell. And that none this was ever their fault!

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  • Rayne

    Sometimes I think that the gang of kids we grew up among did more to counterbalance any negatives going on at home. My brother led a gang of 20 or more kids in games of heats (hide-and-go-seek in teams in the dark), or digging holes, building forts or exploring Golden Gate Park, half a block away. We rode our bikes over to the playground to see who was there and if anyone wanted to see who could swing the highest or which one of us was willing to jump off the monkey bars.

    The B&B Pharmacy was two blocks away, where my brother folded newspapers for his morning route. They’d let you read comics in the store if you were quiet and didn’t’ block the aisle.

    If anyone had more than a nickel, there was Charlie’s candy store run by the husband and wife who both looked like old war veterans. Then we’d sit on the curb unwrapping, licking, and trading candy; making ourselves sick until something else to do struck our fancy.

    Construction sites were popular because men swore and you might learn some new dirty words. Fire stations. Bus stops. Anywhere with people. We’d play with other kids until the sun was setting and one by one we got called into dinner.

    We were very independent little kids. We had bus passes and went to public pools and fed the retired police horses carrots at their stables in G.G. Park.

    It’s funny. It made us pretty savvy little kids, all that running around alone. It’s weird to think how kids now are driven everywhere and supervised every minute.

    Sounds like we would have played together as kids. Thanks for your thoughtful note. Until next Sunday,

    Rayne

  • Catherine

    Rayne, your stories always cause me to pause and think about childhood and how fortunate I was to grow up in the house I did.

    My son is reading To Kill A Mockingbird, one of my all time favorite books. My young life was spent more like Scouts – running around outside with the neighborhood children, fighting with my brother and talking my parents into letting my best friend stay over as much as humanly possible. If I could have moved her in, I would have.

    Our group of neighborhood kids, along with my bossy older brother would spend hours fishing for crawdads in the drainage system; having mud patty fights at the creek; surrounding slugs with salt; and playing endlessly with our cat Mittens kittens.

    We’d get in trouble for pelting the neighbors house with crab apples in a territory war, or ruining my mother’s favorite bushes playing hide and seek, or forever trying unsuccessfully to kill my mother’s row of artichoke plants in the garden so we wouldn’t be forced to eat those vegetables anymore.

    I loved living in Rohnert Park until high school where I spent years begging my parents to send me to Ursuline (hello Remy) Catholic school in Santa Rosa.

    But those young years fueled my imagination and made me the creative person I am today.

    Your stories touch my heart.

    Catherine