Knowing what I know about my mother, Lillian, and grandmother, Susan, makes me appreciate my life as a mom.
Lillian and Susan both lost children under different circumstances.
Lillian was forced to give me up for adoption. Her husband insisted on it, knowing in his gut that I was not his child (He was right. My sister Michelle’s DNA test confirmed we have different fathers.) It must have been painful for her to endure a pregnancy, deliver a healthy baby and hand her newborn over to a couple of strangers. How did Lillian feel going home to her husband and four little kids with no baby in her arms? Maybe it was relief mixed with sadness.
Thirteen years later, my brother, Joey, ended his life after things went south with a girlfriend. Lillian, who was battling alcoholism and bipolar disorder, went downhill after her boy’s untimely death. Joey was 18.
Losing loved ones was nothing new for Lillian. My mother lived with foster families when she was a girl. In 1940, four-year-old Lillian and her three-year-old brother, Eric, were “welfare children,” the Census Bureau’s label. They were the only children living in a middle-aged couple’s home in Daviess County, Indiana. Their 52-year-old foster dad worked in road construction.
My mother’s family was broken up out of necessity. Lillian, Eric and some (maybe all?) of their siblings were separated from their parents and sent to live with strangers and relatives in Indiana and other parts of the Midwest. Susan and my grandfather, George, were dirt poor and overwhelmed with their brood of 13 children. Michelle recalls the story about George getting arrested for stealing a loaf of bread. Barely scraping by, the family at one time even lived in a chicken coop.
Poor Susan. Married to George at the age of 19, Susan brought 13 children into the world only to see her family torn apart. She must have felt helpless.
I suppose feeding and caring for 13 kids would have been impossible for many men in the Depression era, especially so for my grandfather, George. He was no provider.
My grievances look so petty compared to what my mother and grandmother went through. I just want to hug Jake, my 15-year-old son, and ignore his curfew violations, messy bedroom and the other stuff he does that makes me crazy. I’m raising my flesh-and-blood child. Lillian and Susan were not so lucky.