One night I was curled up on my couch with a book and my little old dog in my lap when my cell phone erupted.The caller I.D. simply gave what looked like 20 odd numbers in neon digits. Feeling brave I clicked through and man with a charming French accent explained that he was calling Rayne, the founder of Tox-eek Mom Tool-keet — from Paris.
“Really?” I gushed. (Really – does any other word inspire such awe as Paris?)
He was quite concerned about a younger sibling living in the United States. It seemed that their toxic mother created such severe drama that there was concern for the well being of his brother.
Of course, I was concerned too. Concerned he had my private cell phone number. I had to ask him where he got it.
“It’s there on your website, really. I didn’t do anything bad to find it, but if you go back into how you set up your page, it’s there,” he explained earnestly. He went on to say that he was so relieved to find something on the Internet that seemed to address the exact problem he was worried about. He calculated the difference between time zones and he crossed his fingers that I’d be home in the evening after dinner time.
“I watched the hours. I really hoped I could speak to you.”
Which got me thinking of how many thousands of newspaper articles I’ve written that included my desk number and, who knows, might have linked to my cell phone. Does it really matter?
We had a long chat. He was so grateful to just have a sounding board. I offered some suggestions and we collaboratively created a short list of helpful things that could be done immediately. Before I hung up I complimented him on the obvious love and concern he had for his brother. It was really sweet. I made him blush.
Regular followers of Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook know that I tend to post first thing in the morning before I head out for my day’s activities. Quite often, “friends” who can “see” I’m online send instant messages in the lower right hand corner of my computer screen. Usually, they are messages of thanks or updates on particular toxic mom situations. Sometimes they make me laugh. Sometimes they require that we chit-chat electronically back and forth for a few minutes. I’m always happy to make myself available that way.
People have asked me to Skype and that’s where I draw the line. Only because women of a certain age who look like me should never Skype unless they own a Judy Jetson mask.
As Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook recently topped 100,000 people reached per month I noticed a few more urgent requests for phone conversations. My attitude is if I have time and someone feels they are in crisis, I’m available as long as its on the caller’s bill. (The entire Toxic Mom Toolkit operating budget is skimmed off of my grocery budget and my husband expects beer.)
It seems more and more often the stars align for these long distance conversations and my phone rings in Northern California and I put down laundry I’m folding.
It doesn’t hurt that my journalism career taught me to shut up and listen. Or that I’ve collected hundreds of life stories and conducted years of interviews on the topic of surviving toxic moms. Five years as a law enforcement chaplain trained me to accept everyone without that impulse to fix anything. Like you even can. Listening. Hearing. Repeating. Agreeing. Suggesting. Offering similar tales from others. Encouraging. That, I can do.
One sunny morning there was a call from a young woman, very upset at the sudden realization that for her entire life her mother had made it her business to be cold and unkind – but only to her and only in private. She offered many examples and stressed that the worst venom was always delivered in private. How could a mother single out a child to abuse, she asked over and over. Could it possibly be true that her mother would never accept her in a loving manner no matter how many kind gestures the adult daughter offered? The telephone line hissed and crackled as we spoke and I stretched out on our guest bed, looking at the ceiling imagining the cell phone waves rising up out of my 1970’s ranch home to a space satellite and blinking back down into an ancient city built on the pearl trade and sustained in modern times by oil. Was I really helping someone in the Middle East? Yes, I was.
How can one person at their kitchen table be able to calm and encourage someone half-way across the globe? I guess it helps if you are earnest and honest and can identify with all the confusion and hurt and sadness. That I am upbeat and encouraging makes others brave.
I know after we hang up, the callers go back to the Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page and they read, read, read. I see them lurking in the stats. A few from the island of Mauritius. That nice lady in northern England. My friends in southern Italy. The writer in Iceland. Every story of crisis and the lines of support from other people create a platform for examining their own mother/son/daughter relationships. Is the passive aggressive mother in the deep south so different from the angry alcoholic mother in Central America? Are personal boundaries as necessary in Peru as in Poland? Visitors from different continents and countries, speaking different languages, all wade in like gold miners swishing the stories around in a shallow pan looking for that nugget that will help them find peace, or at least a visit home without a screaming match.
Callers may not always find exactly what they want in that moment but they do discover that they are not alone. They see that it took many, many people to create such a wealth of helpful information and resources and that they, too, can contribute. They gain perspective and start viewing their family story as a story. And then, if they are lucky, they decide to be the hero of that story.