Monday, May 6, 2013

Bewilderment To Still Evolving Clarity

Sunday, May 5th.  “Listen To Your Mother” show day.  I was so honored to be a part of the cast.  I was also about to do something I have never done.  I was going to talk about my mother in front of hundreds of people I never met.  I was going to talk about her illness.  I can do this, I told myself. I knew I could not do it alone.  But I didn’t have to worry.  There was going to be sixteen other women telling their stories that I have grown to trust and care about very much.  

Photo credit: Sabrina Persico

There would be my family, my loving, caring, unbelievably supportive family.  And yes, I know how lucky I am.  Our family is a true treasure, what a gift I have been given . . . 

And my wonderful, amazing friends would be there.  Friends that are always, always there for me, as I am for them.  And yet, I was still so scared.  I sat backstage and wondered how I would find the courage to really and truly get on that stage and speak my piece.  But then, my daughter, as she so often does, saved the day.  She started texting me pictures of my family and friends that were in the audience. 

She sent this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And this one:

And with each picture I grew calmer and calmer. My family and friends kept on entering the theater. Their love and strength was all that I needed.  I knew it was going to be fine.  And it was much more than just fine. It was healing and affirming and I think, life-changing.  So now I give to all, my story.

Bewilderment to Still Evolving Clarity

Photo credit: Sabrina Persico

My mother was mentally ill. 

I grew up in a world of unpredictability, chaos, and at times, madness. I ate Twinkies for breakfast, boloney sandwiches for lunch and cornflakes for dinner.   Sometimes I made them for my little sister, too. It could have been worse.  We survived.

We wore clothes ordered from the Sears catalog by my loving, overwhelmed father who in those days, did not receive the kind of understanding and support he needed to raise two young girls in such a house  . . . A house of madness. He tried so hard. We loved him very much.

She was an artist.  One morning I woke up and a mural of Paris filled one entire wall of our dining room.  Vibrant colors, wild strokes, breathtaking beauty. So talented.  My father was angry when she painted.  It took her even farther away from us, deep into her own world.

One day, I found tubes of oil in the garbage, wasted colors, running into each other to make a world of grey.  He threw them away, all of the colors, gone. I did not understand the why of any of it, but my child’s heart hurt for her pain.

Strange objects in the oven, blaring sounds from the television and the radio on at the same time, and pacing.  She was always pacing, up and down our small hallway, up and down, up and down.  Sometimes she paced outside. And the neighborhood kids saw her and they knew.

There was cigarette smoke smell in the drapes and butts in the ashtray. Sometimes my mother danced desperately, wildly, pounding her feet into the light green carpet to the sounds of Harry Belafonte singing “Day-O.  Come Mr. Tally man, tally 
me banana . . .”

She was gone again.  We called it how we saw it; quite often our mother “ran away”.  Sometimes leaving a note on the table.  Sometimes not. They would always find her.  There were ambulances, sirens blaring, and countless hospital stays and empty promises that things would be better.  They weren’t.  Medicine bottles lined the bathroom shelves and pills, instead of being taken, were flushed down the toilet.

There were loving grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins.  Thank G-d.  And we grew up.

And then I was a mother.  I was so scared. I waited for the madness to come to me.  I finally realized, it was not going to come. Thank G-d again. My children would grow up in a house of love, with normalcy and routines.  I served meals with vegetables and desserts made with fresh fruit and sometimes even, home baked cookies.

My mother did the best she could, though I did not understand that then.  I hardly understand it now.

And in turn, I am doing the best I can.  My children are grown.  They know where I came from and how hard I tried. To make up what I didn’t know. To be their mother.  To love them always.  When they understood, and even when they didn’t.

My mother was mentally ill.  I listened to her voice.  And then I listened to my own.

Photo credit: Sabrina Persico



  1. Robin, what a beautiful piece! You are such an amazing mother to your children, and a mother figure to so many children in the community. Stunning to know part of where you came from, and the strength you have. Love, Karen

  2. Karen, thank you. Your words mean the world to me, more than I can ever express.

  3. Dear Robin, I am so glad that I was able to read this. I hope to see the video some time too. You are brave and strong! I love you. Judi

    1. Thank you Judi, so much. And you know I love you too!

  4. Robin, this was absolutely amazing. That you had the courage to stand up and deliver it in a packed theater is even more amazing and so wonderful. You are such a strong woman and should be so proud of yourself and who you have become. May you go from strength to strength!

    With much love,

  5. I am so so so happy you were a part of this, and so glad that you were able to tell your story and bring some attention to mental illness! xoxo

  6. Thanks all for your support. Telling my story in front of so many people was difficult, but the need to bring awareness was stronger. I hope that someday the stigma of mental illness will be erased. Every day the dialogue must continue.

    With Love,

  7. Wonderful post, wonderful reading, wonderful YOU! It has been such a pleasure getting to know you, sorry if I keep stalking. You are just a gem!

  8. Marianne, you are so sweet, thank you! The feeling is mutual! And you can stalk me anytime! :)