I may never get used to having a cynical adolescent in exchange for the vivacious girl who clung to my ankle whenever I went out for ten years. Still, it’s nice to be able to tell the adolescent “Have fun with your father!” and go swimming by myself. She would rather sleep in than go on a trip.
We didn’t have a penny of cash to get into a local pool, but we had a full tank of gas, and there’s a state park with a lake and muddy beach just forty miles away. I enjoy going for long drives on the freeway as much as I enjoy swimming laps. Both of them involve gliding forward with a comforting monotony that leaves my mind open to think. Being deprived of that for more than five months was torture. Now I have it back. Serendipity glided like an ice skater down Route Twenty-Two while I worried and pondered and thought and prayed.
The beach itself was crowded, but everyone was splashing in the shallows instead of swimming in the roped-off lap lane.
It was as solitary and quiet as driving on the freeway. Back and forth I paddled through the water, thinking. Praying.
I thought about Adrienne and how happy she’s been, in her cynical adolescent way, now that she has a diagnosis and a new school to look forward to. She mentioned she’s wanted to try a real school for some time but didn’t like to bring it up, but she thought I’d say no. I was embarrassed at this, but all I could do was remind her that she was so socially phobic she would panic and forget to speak in public right up until shortly before the pandemic began, and then we were trapped at home for our own safety. The pediatrician wouldn’t believe she was neuroatypical and thought she just needed to be “in lessons” to build her confidence, so I found her free self-defense classes at the Protestant church with the Bible Club instead of any other interventions. She started to come out of her shell bit by bit, right up until the whole world shut down. I didn’t even know that public schools were obligated to screen any child in the district for autism and learning disabilities until she was eleven. And I was downright terrified to send her to school anyway– because when I was her age, Catholic schools had traumatized me and homeschooling was my salvation. Everyone is different. I did my best.
Adrienne also informed me recently that I made her look very ugly she was a little girl, and she’s ashamed to look at her old photos. I used to give her bowl cuts way back when, but now she’s growing out her own hair and going to learn to shape it herself. I reminded her that, as a socially phobic toddler and preschooler, she would go limp and melt down if I let another adult come near her, so there was nobody but me to give haircuts and I am not a stylist. She would only hold still long enough to have the split ends chopped off the back of her head and two quick cuts on her bangs. I was relieved when she learned to give herself pixie cuts with play scissors in the bathroom mirror at the age of seven, though I wish she’d asked my permission first.
“Adrienne,” I finally said, “I’m going to tell you a terrible truth.”
“This is the most serious thing I’ve ever had to say to you: all parents ruin their kids. We’ve all got so much baggage from the way we were raised, and we do the best we can to ruin our kids differently than we were ruined. That’s all we can do. Even the Virgin Mary… you know, she never sinned at all, but a sin is a choice to do what you KNOW is wrong. She didn’t have perfect knowledge the way God does, so I’ll be she made honest mistakes when she was being a mom. A good parent is a parent who apologizes as soon as she realizes her mistake, and tries to do better. That’s all I can do. And when you get older, you’ll realize that some of the things about me you thought were my being a cool mom were actually awful, and you’ll have to heal from them and be different. You’ll also realize some of the things I did that you thought were the worst things in the world, were actually reasonable. I can’t tell you exactly which will be which. That’s the scariest part of being a mother. I hope you’ll keep telling me how you feel about the things I did, and I hope I’ll have the humility to say I’m sorry, and I hope you’ll forgive me. I am doing the best I can.”
As I slid back and forth through the warm green waters of Raccoon Creek Lake, I wondered what my life would have been like if my family had ever said that to me. Instead they doubled down and explained it was the best they could do with such a terrible child. And I will never see them again.
I wondered again about the problem of Mother Church, and the religious trauma I’ve been suffering, and the way I don’t ever want to walk into a church again.
Lord knows sometimes you just can’t make any headway with your mother.
No God worth my worship could blame me if I never had anything to do with the Church, after what I’ve been though at her hands, after what she’s done all around me to people more vulnerable than I am.
No God worth even a single kind thought could fault me for my panic attacks and my aversions.
The dogmas of the Catholic Church are wonderful, sublime, beautiful, mysterious; I can’t think of a single one I don’t like. I am more grateful than I can say to be taught what I know about God, by the Church.
The sacraments of the Catholic Church are real and efficacious, and I miss when I could receive them without getting sick. I want to be able to receive them again.
I love to watch the doctrines of the Catholic Church evolve as she strives toward truth, and I want them to keep evolving toward the truth.
The hierarchy of the Catholic Church is an arrogant, decadent, dangerous hierarchy, hirelings who abuse the sheep, stewards who mistreat the servants while the master is away: much more God’s abusive boyfriend than God’s vicars. That’s not going to change.
The Catholic Church, at this moment in history, is wrong about queer people like me. She just is. I have very little hope she will admit that in time for me to hear it, but she’s wrong.
The Catholic Church has tolerated false teachers, personality cults and institutions that have ruined my life, and I will never be happy or healthy or safe because of the Catholic Church, and she will not be sorry for that within my lifetime. That’s something that will not change.
All of these things are true.
The only perfect Mother is Christ, and I still love Christ.
I’m still unsure what I’m supposed to do about this in the long term. I am sure that I have to give myself permission to be exactly where I am, in the short term.
These are heavy things to ponder while swimming laps. I swam until I was exhausted.
I drove home, gliding like a skater on the freeway, thinking and pondering and worrying.
I picked up Michael and Adrienne together, and we went to Sunday Mass.
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy