Following My Own Dreams Meant Letting My Mother Down

By focusing solely on conquering the dreams my mother had hand-picked for me, I hadn’t considered establishing any of my own.

This past Mother’s Day, I rode my bicycle two cities over, slicing through humidity and foreboding; both of which felt so thick and heavy that I may as well have been treading water. Despite this, I was resolved to reach my destination and pay my dues. I was headed to my mother’s house to visit with her and three of my four brothers. This was because, essentially, the calendar told me that I should.

Bear was in from Gainesville, where he’s recently begun medical school at the University of Florida. Bear will be the second of my mother’s children to become a doctor. He is her third-born child.

My brother Paul, is already a practicing pediatrician living in Kansas City, Missouri, with his wife and children. Paul is her second-born child and the first of my mother’s children to become a doctor. As far as birth order is concerned, I am the first of my mother’s children, but I am not a doctor, third, fourth, or fifth. Do you see the problem here? Not only am I her first-born, but I am her only girl. Do you feel the tension building?

From an anthropological standpoint, one might argue that there’s this society-implied responsibility of dream fulfillment; one that exists in order to make a certain type of mother proud, satisfied. And by that theory, it’s a daughter’s birthright, whether she chooses to accept it or not.

Looking through my baby books, my mother’s devotion to me is clearly evident. Milestones and other details are painstakingly recorded and my pictures are neatly arranged. When I reached school age, she was extremely proactive regarding my education. There was an endless supply of workbooks, reading material, and study guides to supplement the standard curriculum. She even advocated I.Q. testing for my admission to the Gifted and Talented program.

However, the focus on academia was less gentle encouragement and more a mild form of fascism, which fostered perpetual anxiety, hyper vigilance, and neuroses that remain with me today.

Additionally, she was a champion of guiding me through extracurricular activities, namely in the form of beauty pageants, local playhouse theater, movie or television casting auditions, and other pursuits that have typical, predictable endings.

So, in a way, my mother was equal parts Tiger Mom and Stage Mom, with a straight-forward manner and eye so discerning that there was no doubt in my mind I possessed the capability to disappoint her.

My mother and I projected a hyperbolic representation of this ridiculous cliche up until I became very ill with my first major bout of anorexia, and by then, the only approval I was interested in was that of the voice in my head, telling me to reach a new goal weight.

Because I was so blinded by naivety and desperation for her praise and acceptance during my formative childhood years, I’d failed to understand what was at stake. By focusing solely on conquering the dreams my mother had hand-picked for me, I hadn’t considered establishing any of my own.

I was thinking all of these things, realizing these things at that the age of 33.

Bear, who’d been in the living room with my mother and two youngest brothers, walked in just then. “I think I might be having an existential crisis,” I said to him.

“I’m making pancakes,” he announced as if he hadn’t heard me. He deftly moved through the kitchen, sorting and mixing the ingredients,  then finally setting the pan on the range.

I hadn’t moved.

“C’mon, Kristen, don’t you want a pancake?”

“Fine, OK, whatever, I’ll take one if you’ll stop harassing me.”

Bear poured a small amount of batter in the pan and waited a few minutes. He carefully flipped the pancake over, and then, a minute later slid it onto a paper plate and handed it to me. “Here,” he said, “bring that outside and give it to Trixie,” referring to his Irish setter, who’d been pacing the screened-in pool area, but anticipating a treat, was now standing at attention by the french doors.

“What’s wrong with this one?” I asked.  “Don’t you want it?”

“No, goof, that one’s all messed up, see? It’s, like, both burned and raw. It’s the test pancake; you make a test pancake to see if you’ve got the pan at the perfect temperature yet. Everybody knows you throw out the first pancake.”

He shoved the plate at me. “Go on, you’re torturing Trixie.”

I carried the plate out to the patio, walking slowly. Trixie smiled her doggie smile at me.

I sat down on a deck chair with the plate in my lap and looked down at the pancake. It wasn’t that burned. With my bare hands, I ripped the pancake in half. A little raw batter oozed out as I handed it over to Trixie’s gaping maw. She gobbled the first half in seconds. Then, without even thinking about it, I folded up the second half as small as I could make it and crammed the entire thing into my mouth.

I allowed myself to acknowledge that I was burned and raw too, but no throw-away pancake. I suddenly felt ready to tell my mom I’ll never be a doctor, but I’ve got my own dream now and it’s to be a writer.

I moved the huge mass of burned yet raw bread into the pouch of my right cheek, like a chipmunk.

Chewing vigorously, I headed back into the house, my beauty pageant walk on point.

Kristen M. Polito aims for brutal candor in regard to her own struggle with anorexia, bulimia, and bipolar disorder. Besides writing, she loves running, reading, organic gardening, and dogs. You can read her public blog,, follow her on twitter @saltandpepperth, Facebook, or visit her author page here.

This originally appeared on BlogHer. Republished here with permission.

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