“My mother was kind of my captor, and I learned how to sympathize with her and go along with it because I knew someday I would see the light at the end of the tunnel and get out the other end.”


It would be very hard to tell my story and not talk about my mother, as I was tied to her for so long. You’ve heard of “Stockholm Syndrome?” Well, she was kind of like my captor, in that she was always very possessive of me, and I learned how to sympathize with her from an early age. Whatever she was doing, I was right there beside her. So she was jealous when I started to make friends. She just wanted me all to herself. Not being able to have my own voice or opinions was a challenge.

Everyone who met my mother considered her charming, creative and extremely intelligent. What people didn’t understand is that a person can be very advanced intellectually, and still be emotionally stunted. With her, everything and everyone was always either wonderful or terrible, and it could switch back and forth without warning. And when things were terrible, whether spilled milk or a car accident, it was the end of the world. This meant growing up in a constant state of stress and confusion.



My mother and father married when she was 19. Poor kids from the Bronx, they’d both attended free city colleges, and worked hard to “move up in the world.” They bought some land to build a house in Westchester, north of New York City. They lived in a tent while building the house, that my mother had designed, using local stone. One might have considered our life there idyllic, with the fruit picking and pie baking, and home-woven clothing and all. However, it was far from it.  

Considering that my mother’s father had committed suicide when she was 16, and my father’s mother had died when he was 12, I figure they must have bonded over parental loss.

They likely also sought parenting from one another, but neither had enough experience receiving it to provide it for each other. So, my mother, sensing my consent, groomed me to be her emotional “significant other.”

In her kids, she instilled feelings of inferiority about our family. She constantly lamented that everyone else in town had more money, and how unfair it was that her brilliant husband didn’t have a higher paying job. If I ever disagreed with her, she would freak out, so I learned how to hang back. As mentioned, she was an intelligent and creative person, which I think is what saved her from self-destruction, and helped her make it through life. Thankfully, she passed down to me the creative tools that I would need to get through my own childhood.



When I started school, my mother reminded me that we were weirdos and poor compared to everyone else in the neighborhood. Because we were different, she warned that I should expect to be left out and even made fun of — so I was better off keeping a low profile.

Meanwhile, my brother told me not to talk in school because I would embarrass myself. However, it was really that he didn’t want me to tell people about the reality of our lives and mess up his game of trying to fit in with the other kids. So I had my mother and brother basically telling me the same thing — to be quiet. It really felt like my family wanted me to be invisible.

I didn’t talk in kindergarten or halfway through first grade. But then I overheard a conversation between two kids, and found myself interjecting a comment I thought was funny! So then I became friends with this one girl, only to be devastated when she moved away at the end of the school year. I guess I was afraid to get attached again, so I went back to being silent in second grade. But, then in third grade, my curiosity got the better of me in class, and I started raising my hand and asking questions. Finally, the teacher said, “Yes, what is it now?” She rolled her eyes as though annoyed that I was asking too many questions. So I stopped talking again, pretty much until the end of elementary school.


Many of the kids at school were curious about why I wouldn’t talk, but some would look at me like they thought I was plotting against them, or I was going to steal their stuff. People seemed to feel threatened in some way, so there was a lot of prejudice against me.

Well, I took my anger and disgust over being judged unfairly, and channeled it into creative pursuits. After school, when other kids went to each other’s houses to play, I went home to read, write, draw, and make collages from discarded scraps of whatever I could find. Basically, I did whatever I could to keep busy until I could grow up and finally escape from that house.

The more I was able to create, the happier I was with myself. I started drawing these cartoons with social statements, and I began to get a bit of acknowledgment, which was great! The local town paper published a few of them, but it still wasn’t anything that the kids at school cared about.

Thankfully, my parents decided to send me to a creative arts summer camp, when I was 14 and 15. That place was a major lifeline for me. I finally got to meet other kids who shared my interests, and began to bond with them. But when I would return to school each fall, it was the same old thing again.


Because my classmates didn’t worry about me repeating anything they said, they talked freely to their friends in my presence. This is how I learned that everybody has problems and insecurities. There were kids whose parents were having affairs, and kids who used drugs to escape their depression and lack of self-esteem. I saw that money was not the answer, and that my mother’s financial insecurity was a sad waste of energy. It also got me interested in the commonalities between people instead of the differences. I realized that the similarities were way more important.

During my last two years of high school, there were a couple of adults who went out of their way to reach me. One was my Honors English teacher, who acknowledged the value of my writing and “forgave me” for not talking in class.

The other was an old friend of my mother’s who visited us only once a year. Well, he finally pulled me aside and said, “Congratulations on not being institutionalized.” When he saw my jaw drop, he continued, “If I had a mother like that, I would have ended up in an insane asylum.” I was in shock!  Someone was validating my experience and telling me that it wasn’t all in my head. He added, “It’s just as much your father’s fault. He should have defended you. So it’s just as much his fault as your mother’s.”

I thought, “Wait a minute, my father could have been protecting me?!” It had simply never occurred to me. This man’s few words were illuminating and exponentially healing.


Yes, I had a trying childhood, and dealing with a mother who required parenting herself wasn’t easy. But, at the same time, she was my companion, and a great creative inspiration. When she wasn’t tripping over her own insecurities, she had a pure vision of environmental responsibility, peace, true equality and human rights for all.

I now do advertising work for nonprofits who share my mother’s vision, as I do. When I’m immersed in creating concepts to help promote these organizations, I am happy. So, if you’re facing something challenging in your life, I would say to find something that you’re interested in, even if you don’t think you are very good at it. If you focus on that interest, instead of what you are missing in life, you will become good at it.

Although it continues to be a long, winding, bumpy road, now I’ve found my own voice, and the freedom to express my own opinions. And although there are still stressful situations when I open my mouth and nothing comes out, I’ve learned to allow myself the time to try again. Yes, I’ve been hurt by folks I’d trusted, but there have also been people along the way who’ve shown up out of the blue and been “angels” in my life. I would like to be that for someone else.