A MOTHER’S IMPERFECT LOVE
Written by Ivy Kaminsky | December 23, 2019
Unveiled Beauty Guest Blogger
My innocent, nine-girl-old heart pounded a million miles an hour and tightness began building up in my chest. The familiar sound of shouting took over our house as I sat on my bed listening. No matter where I was it was impossible to block out. With fear as my courage, I slowly crept down the hallway a short distance from my bedroom to the spare bedroom. It was there when I saw her.
Her slight frame lie curled up on the bed as he towered over her with rage. Like a machine gun firing multiple rounds, he spouted venomous words just inches from her tear-streaked face. Witnessing her in that position, looking so small and meek, so afraid and under attack, made me spring into action. I was determined to make it stop and do whatever was necessary.
Without thinking, I quickly wedged my thin body in between them and declared willfully, “Don’t hit her; hit me!”
Thankfully, he didn’t hit either of us. You see, my mother was my world; I loved her to the depths of my tiny being and I could not watch her being abused one more time.
Four years later, no longer a little girl, I found myself powerless at the hands of the same man. It was a warm, Friday afternoon in early June and the sun played hide and seek behind the clouds. School was still in session, but I was bored. Sitting in the second row near the window, I stared outside. I felt unchallenged and distracted when my thoughts were interrupted by a classroom phone call.
My teacher answered it and said, “Ivy Kaminsky, please gather your things and go to the office.”
A good student, I did as I was told. Uncertain as to why, I wondered. What could be happening? Did I get caught for something? At thirteen, I was starting to do things that one could get caught for doing.
When I arrived, they said my stepdad excused me early from school and was waiting outside – odd. There he was sitting in my mom’s old Ford Elite. I slid into the passenger seat, looked at him staring straight ahead, and closed the door. I immediately knew something was wrong. He mentioned receiving a call from the family I was planning to babysit later that day, but first, he had to stop home to change. His story didn’t quite make sense. Then, with a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, my feet gripping the floorboards, and my mind racing, we drove the short distance to our house.
Our house was quieter than usual. My mom was vacationing in Las Vegas with her girlfriends, so it was just the two of us. When I think back to that day, some details are a blur and others are forever ingrained in my memory. I distinctively remember how my mother’s queen-sized bed almost filled up the space in the room, and my stepdad saying, “Take your pretty little clothes off or I will take them off for you.” The details of what I wore are also vivid. It was my favorite outfit: mint green, petal pusher pants and a matching sherbet–colored, plaid crop top with crisscross cutouts at the shoulder. My mom bought it especially for me from Dayton’s department store and it was a big splurge. It made me feel special. Plus, it matched my pearl pink jelly shoes perfectly. I will never forget the room, the words, the outfit and the horror of what happened next.
My stepdad raped me and violated everything sacred within me. Immediately afterwards, I took the longest shower of my life hoping it would wash away the shock, the nonstop tears, and perhaps even the memory of everything that happened. Not wanting my shower to end, I let the hot water run for what felt like forever. In the shower, I was safe; and all I could think about was how I was going to escape. Some months later, I sat terrified, yet calm in a packed courtroom alongside my mom. After hearing my case, the judge delivered a guilty verdict. This would change the trajectory of my life.
Finally, he was gone. Now, my mom and I could build a life together, safe and free from him, or so I thought. On the one-year anniversary of my stepdad’s prison sentence, the phone rang. My mother answered, and I could instantly tell it was him. She was drunk and he was charming. Powerless over him, this was the beginning of their regular phone calls and her visits to prison where he convinced her daily that I lied about the rape.
My mom would say, “It’s ok Ivy, you can tell me the truth.”
How could she say such things? What did she think of me?
Later, in one of her drunken states, I overheard her say to a friend, “She’ll probably be pregnant by the time she’s sixteen.” To hear these words from my mother, the woman who was supposed to love and protect me, simply crushed my teenage heart.
Feeling betrayed I acted out. I smoked, drank, lied, ditched school, and ran away. I would continue to be in and out of shelter homes experimenting with drugs and alcohol until I finally landed in a good permanent foster home until college graduation. Eventually, my mom was deemed neglectful and I became a ward of the State of Minnesota, a system that cared for me and had my best interests at heart. During this time, I was assigned a public defender, a compassionate caseworker, and an ongoing social worker. The state ensured I attended AA (Al-Anon and Alateen) meetings, saw a therapist regularly to process the trauma, and most importantly, was provided safe housing so I could further my education. I am grateful to the State of Minnesota and the resources I received as a young woman to overcome and one day thrive.
Given these life events, it’s no surprise that my mother and I had a strained relationship. She moved to Florida with my stepdad and we didn’t talk for several years. Eventually, he admitted to the rape and at some point, they finally separated. This started the mending and healing process for us both, which required significant forgiveness.
In 2003, on a business trip to Orlando, I chose to extend my stay to spend time with my mom. It had been a long time since I’d seen her. I was excited to catch up, maybe go thrift-shopping, work on some creative projects together (she was a talented seamstress and enjoyed DIY home projects), and simply hang out. Plus, I couldn’t wait for her home cooked Mexican lasagna and hamburger gravy over mashed potatoes. Yum! When she greeted me at the airport, I barely recognized her. An otherwise skinny woman, her mid-section appeared severely bloated and she looked unwell. In recent phone conversations, she failed to mention any health concerns and downplayed recent stomach pain. Needless to say, I was surprised by her overall appearance and demanded I accompany her to the doctor. Quickly thereafter, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, which started in her liver, spread throughout her stomach, and finally to her chest.
I was completely in shock and unprepared. Chemotherapy started immediately and I was with her during everything. Halfway through treatment, we brought her home and I stayed by her bedside. She was not herself. She was sleeping, but not restfully. She was hot, but her body felt cold. She would ramble nonsense and I couldn’t make her feel comfortable. As I watched back-to-back HGTV episodes, I had a lot of time to think. How long would she be sick? Could I handle caring for her? Feeling incredibly ashamed, I was not sure I could. In the end, I was not given the chance.
The following day, October 11, 2003 at exactly 10:00 am, my mother passed away at 54 years old. From diagnosis to death in two short weeks, my whole world was rocked upside down and sideways. I was not given the luxury of time to accept her diagnosis, not to mention her death. Going through the motions, I kept busy making arrangements, going through her belongings and honoring the only mother I would ever have, in the best way I could. I arranged two memorial services, one for her friends in Florida and another here in Minnesota for our family. Pushing my fear of public speaking aside, I honored my mother in front of both strangers and loved ones at both services. I talked about the complexity that was my mother, and my deep love for her. This was my responsibility, my obligation, and my gift to her. In the end, I was her only child and no one knew her they way I did. I had to show my strength and her living legacy.
My mother’s passing kept me in a state of grief for several years. Despite her poor choices and our complicated relationship, she loved me and I loved her, deeply. After years of personal growth and healing, today, I choose to remember what made her special and the happier moments we shared together.
I’ll always remember this one Christmas morning. As a young girl, I was eager to see what kind of magical gifts Santa left under the tree, only to find nothing, not one thing. Can you imagine my disappointment? Did I do something really bad?
Waking my sleeping mother, I said, “Mom, I think Santa forgot me.”
She replied, “Oh, I’m sure that’s not true. He’s probably just running behind schedule or something.”
In the meantime, she kept me busy with several chores, which included taking the garbage down three flights of stairs and out the back door. By the time I made it back to the living room, the empty Christmas tree was magically full of presents. Santa didn’t forget about me after all. He left an Easy Bake Oven, some Shrinky Dinks, which I loved coloring and watching transform in the oven, and a Lord of the Rings Trilogy book set. The little bookworm in me couldn’t wait to start reading! Plus, my stocking was full of Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, an M&M candy cane, a Life Saver book, and lots more goodies. In a matter of moments, my mom pulled it off. I still don’t know how she did it. Although one thing is for certain, she made me believe in miracles and Santa Claus for another year.
My mother was a beautiful, smart and witty woman. She possessed the most gorgeous, thick, naturally curly, chestnut brown hair. Oh how I miss it. If only I could touch and smell it again. She instilled kindness and generosity in me, and she valued education. It was never questioned that I would go to (and be the first one in my immediate family to finish) college.
In many ways, she lives within me. We share the same sense of humor, love for travel, bold and beautiful eyes to see the world, an appreciation of the English language, a joie de vivre, and also our free spiritedness and chill demeanor. She is the reason I am who I am today, and she is also the reason I feel compelled to do the work I do to empower women, especially those in abusive situations. Watching my mother’s life play out has given me purpose. I intend on sharing what I’ve learned along the way about life and my own journey to self-worth.
This is my story. Despite its trauma and pain, I would not change a thing. It certainly has been one hell of a ride. I’m here today standing stronger than ever. Growing up with a functioning alcoholic mother who chose men poorly, I knew from an early age that I would never allow a man to lay a hand on me or fall in love with someone addicted to drugs and alcohol. As I reflect on everything that I’ve endured, I can see both the positive and negative impact my mother played on my life. I also see love.
I learned so many lessons that have served me well in my life. The fact is people don’t always do the right thing, believe you, or believe in you. So you have to believe in yourself, know what you stand for and what you stand against. And be willing to say, “No, that’s really not ok.” Simply put, Believe in yourself – no one else can do that for you. Value yourself first, so that you won’t allow others to treat you poorly.
Or as I tell all of my girlfriends, “Never settle! You get what you settle for.”
Oh, and one last thing – make sure to keep treasured family recipes and Christmas decorations! They ARE difficult to recreate and impossible to replace.
Ivy is the Founder and CEO of Find Your Power, a nonprofit that connects women with resources, opportunity and each other. Find Your Power’s main work supports underrepresented women by expanding their access to the Internet. Ivy and her team support their efforts through mentoring, consulting, workshops and elevating the work of purpose driven professionals. Ivy is a connector, a resource curator, and a community builder who values integrity, personal growth, and connection; and is passionate about helping women find their power. Some of her greatest strengths are as a deliverer, relator, motivator, and innovator.
Learn More About Find Your Power: www.findyourpower.org
Candid Photos courtesy of Ivy Kaminsky
Photography credit Watt Second Studios