96: Becoming a Daughter

96: Becoming a Daughter

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom

Becoming a Daughter

Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.

~Jane Howard

My home life was rough. My mother was mentally ill and unable to care for me on a consistent basis. My father was distant at best and abusive at worst. We were extremely poor, lived in substandard housing and rarely had enough food in the house. I suffered from low self-esteem and did not deal well with people. I was a feral child, surviving by instinct.

Then God sent me “My Mae.” I was her daughter’s friend and I spent a lot of time at her house. They had food, a TV, and the house was appropriately cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I felt safe there, but like many of my friend’s houses, I had to view it as just a place. I couldn’t allow myself to relax or let my guard down, or expect my welcome there to continue. If I didn’t allow myself to feel or to trust, I couldn’t be hurt.

That started to change one early winter’s day. I had showed up once again just to be somewhere other than my house. I wandered into the family room, and the first thing out of Mae’s mouth was, “What is on your feet?” My stoic preteen response was, “Shoes.” I had on a pair of canvas tennis shoes that had seen better days. They were soaked through from the cold, slushy snow, and my thin socks were poking through the worn canvas.

Mae was having none of that. “It is freezing outside and there is snow on the ground.” She told me in no uncertain terms I needed something better and warmer if I was going to be out in the snow. That’s how Mae did things. No sugarcoating, always direct. I didn’t have anything else. I had never owned much that was either new or nice; I had always just gotten by.

Within the hour, we were at the store and I had a pair of new fleece-lined, lace-up brown boots. The shoes did so much more than warm my feet; they began to warm my heart. I started to let myself feel—to feel loved, to feel like I deserved better.

As the weeks turned to months, I continued to spend a lot of time at Mae’s house. It started to feel like home, or at least what I thought home should feel like. I felt a flood of unfamiliar emotions and I didn’t always deal with them well. It didn’t matter to Mae; she was consistent and loving. But I continued to test her love and commitment to me, challenging her to see if it was real, preparing myself to be hurt once more.

Then one Saturday it finally clicked. My friend and I were lying around doing nothing, as usual. Mae sat us down, her daughter and me, and explained that if we were there and part of the family, we needed to help out. She stated “our” bathroom was horrible and needed a good cleaning, top to bottom, and we were to do it. After the initial excitement at being “part of the family” wore off, I realized I actually had to get up and do something. We went in, wiped everything down, and deemed the bathroom clean.

A couple of hours later Mae asked if we had finished. “Sure, take a look,” we said, feeling quite smug. I laugh now, but not so much that day. Through a combination of her daughter’s apathy and letting me do most of the work, along with my general ignorance on cleaning, we had not done a very good job.

“You call this clean?” she hollered from the bathroom.

“Sure,” we said. “What’s wrong with it?” She went over every inch of that room and explained why it was not clean and how to clean it. Who knew you were supposed to use a cleaning product or clean under the toilet seat? We begrudgingly redid the entire bathroom, scrubbing every nook and cranny per her directions. It really did look clean after our redo. I didn’t know the difference beforehand, but I could tell the difference after. No one had ever taken the time before to explain to me how to clean a bathroom or how to do many things that I needed to learn. My Mae did that. She taught me how to clean, how to respect myself, and so much more through the years.

I held onto those boots long after I had outgrown them, and I still clean the bathroom from top to bottom the way she showed me. I owe who I am today to Mae, and I shudder to think who I would have been without her.

Like the bathroom, I didn’t see the problem in the beginning. But after spending time with her, I could tell the difference in myself. I spent all the time I could in that home. When I could or needed to, I lived there. I may have been a damaged child, but I was not broken. Mae helped me find a way to fix what was damaged. I learned how to believe in myself.

Mae and I talk often, and I go “home” as often as I can. She is as much of a mother to me as anyone can be—she was then and she is now, over thirty years later. The day she bought me those boots, I knew she loved me. And the day she made me clean the bathroom for the second time, she became my mom and I became her daughter.

~Jenni K. Worley

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