Valentina Visscher, educator, wife and mother of two young adult daughters, reflects on her bumpy relationship over the years with her mom and describes her transformation as she grew to understand the challenges of motherhood and parenting.
Over the years, I had a bumpy relationship with my mother, Alicia Fay. Honestly, I believe she had too many children. The Catholic church teaches to accept children lovingly from God. No birth control or family planning measures are approved. Mom wasn’t taught how to be a mother to her five children, yet they all lived. She had a very adverse childhood in a rural area of New Mexico.
There were a pair of twins before my mother was born, they did not survive. Mother was at the tail end of seven children, and her mother died shortly after her birth. It could have been something that went wrong in the postpartum delivery.
My mother was in the care and guardianship of her grandmother. She remembered being very happy until the powers that be took her away from this rural hamlet to Santa Fe. She was taken away to school at the age of 5. In reality, it was an orphanage/boarding school, and she was raised by nuns who were, in my opinion, direct descendants of the Apostles. My mother told me the nuns were very loving and compassionate.
Raised By Nuns
You had two educational routes at that time if you were a woman and raised by nuns. You could be a teacher, or option two, nursing as the nuns directed. My mother went to nursing school. I don’t believe she had a very happy upbringing because she was separated from her siblings and grandmother. Her sisters were much older than Mom, and I felt they blamed her for their mother’s death. They were old enough to remember their mother, and when she died, the family splintered. The sons were sent to the boy’s orphanage in Albuquerque and the girls to Santa Fe.
Her two older brothers looked after her because her father didn’t rise to the responsibility of parenting. He worked on the railroad and wasn’t in town often. I understand he wasn’t a good father. Mom told me she would get dressed up on visitor’s day and wait for him, and he wouldn’t show up. Once, when she was older and taking care of her business in town, she saw her dad. In her memory, she said, “My dad was walking down an alley with another man.” She thought I didn’t know dad was in town, and he never let me know. Her brothers filled his role.
Her older brother, Uncle Eddie, was killed tragically in the war. I believe he died around the age of 21. Mom remembered being young as she was still in school. He had made her the benefactor of his benefits.
She got a check from his death benefit for many years. Her other brother, who was younger than Uncle Eddie, took over as her caretaker. Years later, she graduated from nursing school and moved to Albuquerque. That’s where she met my father when she was working at Saint Joseph’s Hospital. She met dad on New Year’s Eve. It was love at first sight, but they didn’t get together right away. She slipped him her phone number, and he didn’t call her for many months. Dad claimed he wasn’t in town because he was in the military. Somehow, began dating, and it was just sort of a foregone conclusion that they would wed.
Once they married, and like a good Catholic girl, she became pregnant right away. Nine months and 15 minutes after the wedding, they had my brother. They moved to Tucson, Arizona, for my father to finished his degree. Mom claimed she learned how to be a wife and mother with Family Circle and Woman’s Day Magazines.
Because of her adverse childhood experiences, I believe she suffered from depression, abandonment issues, and possibly bipolar disorder. As a result, I had a bumpy, complicated relationship with her. But it smoothed out somewhat in later years, certainly after I married. Jim and I moved to Seattle, so I wasn’t around as much. I think absence makes the heart grow fonder.
After my father passed, in her later years, her memory declined. She remembered the good times and didn’t remember the bad. Even though my siblings blame our parents. I realize, yes, parents do make mistakes. Fortunately, despite the best efforts, children mostly end up okay because of their resilience. Some things happen in their youth that change them to a degree. I believe there is only so much you can blame your parents for. At one point, you move on to the adult world and take responsibility for your own choices.
I remember Mom always did volunteer work. She looked for a way to give back. She really loved nursing, and early in her career, she became a thoracic surgical nurse. This is very intense and nerve-wracking because in those days’ some of the doctors were not very nice. She told how they would throw surgical instruments across the room. They were belligerent, and I doubt they were taught that in medical school. I’m sure they don’t do that now. But she always did the best she could and developed some excellent relationships with the people she worked with.
Mom was also creative. She was always doing something with her hands, and she tried many different things. She could knit, crochet, needlepoint, and paint. I particularly remember her beadwork when she made beautiful French beaded flowers. They were labor-intensive and very heavy. Those arrangements were at our house for many years. I admired her creativity.
Mom wanted to go back to work after my youngest sister was in school. Father felt whatever she wanted to do with her money, she was free to pursue. He was the family provider, and her money was not to be used to that end. So, Mom bought a stereo and a new rug for the family room. I think she wanted to be a new woman, be more involved in the finances, and know where the necessary papers were. My father was very Victorian; he felt that he was the provider and head of the household.
I think she did her best, but she was often judgmental about people. I remember we would bring home dates, and she wouldn’t be very accepting. She was often downright rude and was embarrassing especially in restaurants. Occasionally, she would be abusive to the wait staff for a reason I didn’t understand. I think part of it was her mood swings if she was going through depression. That’s why I believe she was a bipolar victim, but it was never diagnosed. I suppose that if she had the proper intervention, she would have been much happier.
Mother of Five
I always felt loved, provided, and cared about. But like I said, parents make mistakes. Now having children of my own, I don’t hold anything against my parents. I think they did the best they could.
They had five children. It was hard to keep track of that many. There were different schools, different ages, different activities. Back in those days, you let your kid ride their bike across town, and you didn’t worry. We knew to be home by dark. Parents didn’t keep track of the kids the way they do now. I wish they had watched closer because I know there is resentment among my siblings. They had track meets, gymnastics, and swimming events, plus other activities that weren’t attended by our parents. It makes me sad that they missed so much. Then again, eventually, we have to understand and move on, it is time to forgive and forget. Or perhaps realize parenting has changed.