Her words got under my skin leaching deep into the pit of my stomach…where they churned up what I thought I had resolved decades earlier. Like reoccurring acid reflux, I regurgitated the conversation back with others. “Did I mention that while she vented teeth-clenching bitterness about her first marriage—that ended more than 40 years ago—she failed to mention her own destructive part?”
Yet, retelling the words to friends and husband did not bring relief, only more resentment piled atop hurt. My wise husband—probably wanting his own relief—gently interjected his carefully crafted coaching question, “Follow that contempt you have about your conversation with your mom. What’s really underneath her leaving out some details?”
Planting my feet firmly in place with hands on hips, and chin defiantly tilted up into the air, I protested, “She’s not telling the whole tru….” But the twitch of a noise magnified by the length of hallway interrupted my whinging.
“Back a-gain? What a nuisance,” I muttered.
Scritch-scratchings from unidentifiable places coincided with her appearance. So I wasn’t really surprised by her reflection in the hall mirror. The petulant little girl and I had encountered one another many times before. She was swallowed up in my brother’s hand-me-down shirt, unbrushed hair pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, arms locked across a flat chest, complete with pouty scowl. “Don’t even think I’m stupid or vulnerable or weak,” she mouthed the words through her pursed lips. Though a mere reflection from childhood, her resolve was palpable.
The tomboyish girl in the mirror tracked with me like precisely painted eyes in a master’s portrait. Wherever I moved, whatever I did, her cynical viewpoint and voice followed. “I’m sorry, mom,” the small, insincere voice told my mom, “that your choice to have five children with my dad was so unbearable.” The little girl’s phoniness nauseated me, even more than a bouncy boat on a wavy ocean. Her fearful and whiny manipulations would sneak in through a crack in the back door into conversation with my husband, “I already had my schedule planned; now I have to rearrange everything…okay, I guess I’ll go sailing with you.”
While her appearance signaled the presence of intruders, I prepared to detect and control the sneaky, squeaky, multiply-in-the dark mousies who nibble away at our safe places. They seem to gather in our garage seeking any opportunity to slip inside. So we set traps in the garage and hurl bait into the attic to fend off their droppings and disease. Vigilance is key when it comes to mice.
Alert to any attack of my personal space, I continued my juvenile posturing to my mother’s offense, “And furthermore,” I told my husband, “I don’t want my mom to think that she is fooling me again.”
Managing mice and my mom can be…disturbing. Just the other day I found a four-legged trespasser ensnared and motionless in the middle of the garage floor. I dared to reach down to pinch the protruding tripped wire with a fingertip grasp…when a furry leg wiggled. I lunged for a shop towel and threw it over him and his trap. There he remained—out of sight—for days, maybe weeks. To avoid him, I changed my course from house to my car. Finally, the stench of his decay convinced me that it was safe enough to pinch the trap tripwire and toss him into the garbage bin.
“I would have scooped him up with a shovel,” my wise friend advised. Honestly, the idea of using a long-handled tool had never even entered my mind when I encountered stinking mousies.
Curious about the girl in the mirror, I returned and peered deeper. I observed a puckered brow pressing into her youthful skin. I noticed the depth of brown in her eyes and a whisp of playfulness in her childlike movements. Separated by almost a half-century of mirror, I dared to speak aloud to her, “I, uh…I was wondering if it would be okay for you and I to get together?”
“Me? You want to spend time with me?” she asked, perplexed and wanting to understand.
Already, this young girl had seized my heart with her response…which was a question.
“I’d like to get to know who you really are. Would you mind if I asked you a couple of questions?” I responded, wanting to acknowledge her sweet value...and yet, respect her boundaries.
She lifted her pointer finger to her girlish grin and nodded a slow up and down.
Granting me permission, I delicately approached her tender spirit, “What happens when your mom or big people talk like that to you?”
“My heart gets frozen up, like it can’t do what it’s supposed to. Clouds come in and fill up my head. My words run away and I want to disappear with them. But my feet won’t move. No one notices. I am alone.”
“That must be scary to feel like that; I am sorry that no one noticed.” I imagined placing her hand in between my own two as streams of tears tumble down my big person cheeks.
Her young hand warmed into mine as she continued, “A long time ago, my mom loved me and then disappeared. I didn’t cry though. My dad said bad stuff about my mom. I didn’t want to hear him. I didn’t have words then either. But I had lots of thoughts.”
‘I’m interested in your thoughts; would you want to share your thoughts?” gently inviting her to trust me.
“I don’t like feeling scared and helpless,” her voice a little shaky. “So I thought of some promises that would keep away people who would hurt me, kinda like the way you try to keep mice away.” Emboldened by promises made long ago, this underdeveloped vigilante recited those well-worn promises: “No one will ever surprise and fool me again.” and “They can’t make me do something I don’t want to.”
Overwhelmed by maternal compassion for this isolated side of me, I open my heart wide to her, “Next time you are afraid, I will be right there with you, so you won’t feel abandoned or vulnerable having to fend for yourself.”
While young Julie softened into my closeness, I embraced all of her abandonment, fear and vulnerability, assuring her with words that the adult needed to tell the child, “I’m not going to leave because you matter to me. You are valuable.”
Childhood promises linger like decaying mice that have been trapped or poisoned. They cause myopia that limit our choices to a finger pinch instead of a shovel. Omissions or distortion of the truth exasperate “You’ll never fool me again.” And “You’re not going to make me do anything I don’t want” resists risky invitations for adventure and fun. Bound by promises and ill-equipped with a direct voice, immaturity will disingenuously agree and then resent the situation or people. Even an inanimate and adventuresome sailboat can become a ‘scapeboat’ for resentment indecision, and defensiveness.
Let’s face it, mice happen. I mistakenly thought that strength and freedom came with protecting the promises…which were supposed to protect me. But recognizing and challenging those childhood promises is more fruitful and freeing. Not an overnight process but one that requires vulnerability—really?—and a long-reaching tool.
Biblical wisdom is a tool that offers grace and hope with the little girl in the mirror, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, [The Lord] will not forget you!” This tool has even helped with my mice problem. They are still there but I see mice differently, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you..”
Posted with permission from the girl in the mirror.