Julius Caesar has long been my favorite work of William Shakespeare. I am drawn to the political intrigue, the betrayal, the powerful words of Marc Antony.
One line from the play has always remained lodged in my mind:
“The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.”
The line often pops into my head when I feel unjustly persecuted or blamed. Shakespeare understood hundreds of years ago that human nature causes us to feel self-centered and unjustly targeted.
While I recognize I am not now nor was I ever a perfect mother, I do know I was not a terrible mother. I never missed a school event. I made the dioramas. I read with my kids every night. I helped them prepare for no fewer than three competitive spelling bees.
I ran school carnival booths. I made the calls to the principals and superintendents when unjust policies were implemented.
My house was the spot where my son’s friends always came to hang out.
I gave an epic Jackass themed birthday party when my son turned thirteen that remains legendary among his friends.
While my ex-husbandwouldn’t often get up early on Saturdays, I never missed one of my daughter’s soccer games. I made sure I stayed involved in tennis, soccer, and swimming.
I sharpened two pencils for my son every morning and set them out before he left for school. I put a sticky note of encouragement in my daughter’s lunch each day.
I fought for them against abstinence-only education, ministers eating lunch in school without parental permission, and any other unjust issue my kids needed me to fight against.
I worked on every college scholarship application with my daughter. I attended every college visit with her.
She and I have been to dozens of Broadway shows together.
I do not recount those events to receive accolades or praise. Millions of mothers do the same activities daily.
Those memories are just some of my strongest as a mother. That is the reason for my recounting those memories. I remember the good about motherhood. The carnivals, the laughter, the vacations.
No doubt my kids remember the bad more strongly. Because of my problems with alcohol, I remember a humiliating event where I chased my son trying to get him to try a drink in front of his cousin and friends. I know I got drunk the first day of my daughter’s freshman year and passed out that afternoon.
I am sure they have multiple other negative stories about me. I began drinking in a dysfunctional manner off and on at age twenty-eight. I take responsibility for it. I’ve stupidly driven drunk. I’ve experienced the ire of both of my children in response to my drinking. I’ve spent years sober and spent months in relapses.
Addiction appears in the DSM-V as a disease. I will fight it for the rest of my life, but I live in fear that the evil overtakes the good in the memories of those I love.
The evil I’ve done lives on; the good remains buried. I recognize that is probably my own shame and self-pity surfacing, but I continue to feel the good remains buried.
I experienced a similar childhood and understand now that I react to my mother in an equally unfair manner.
My mom was the “cool mom.” She was the first one who would stand up for me or any other underdog. She was funny, edgy… My friends all loved her.
Monetarily, I never wanted for anything. I grew up in suburban America. We went on vacations—nothing fancy: Tennessee, Arkansas, New Mexico. I had new school clothes and shoes every year. My mother never missed any event in which I participated.
I remember the silly songs my mother would sing to me. I sentimentally keep a list of them on my phone. I remember my mother’s laugh. I am remembering the good. I want the good to live on.
Like my own children, I will admit that it’s the “evil” I tend to remember more easily. I continue to fight that urge.
My mother too battled with alcohol. She would get off work at 5:00 p.m. and disappear. I memorized the phone number of every regular bar she visited, every jail, and every hospital in the area. I called so frequently looking for my mother that I knew every phone number by heart.
She drove drunk, picking up a friend and me from the movie theater, drunkenly yelling out the window. Meanwhile the grease she’d put on the stove to cook chicken at home had caught on fire.
She passed out half-naked in my room when I was thirteen and a friend was spending the night. We had to try to drag her to bed. This event occurred after a special night of her hurling pornographic obscenities at a Craig T. Nelson character and a Jim McMahon commercial while watching television with us.
She ran into a dumpster while driving home one night. She called us, but was so drunk she could not explain where she was.
I am now conscious of the fact that I am guilty of that same Julius Caesar line regarding my mother. The good that she has done remains interred. The evil tends to run unfairly on repeat in my mind.
My mother was a good mother. She was flawed, as I am, as we all are, but she was my biggest ally when I was a child.
I am going to make a commitment to remember the good. I do not want it interred with her bones. I owe her the same that I hope for myself. Let my kids remember the good. Let that be my legacy. I owe it to my mother for the good that she has done to be her legacy.
I cannot ever take back the hurt I’ve caused for my children, but I also know that I can strive to be better. That’s all any of us can do. We’re all only human. We all make mistakes. And we all have the choice to honor each other by remembering the best moments instead of focusing on the worst.