My first distinct memory of my Mother’s OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) came when I was around 5. I was wearing a little green plaid dress that complemented my blonde hair, brown shoes and white ankle socks (I know, a dork for sure.) We had been to my Grandmother’s house (my Dad’s Mom who my Mother hated) and when we returned home the ritual began.
What ritual you ask?
The OCD cleanliness ritual.
My Mom viewed anything and everything to do with my Grandmother as dirty. So when we’d hop out of the car to go in the house, my Mother was the only one who could touch the door handles. (Yes, even my Dad adhered to her rules.)
We’d huddle together in the living room (my sister, Dad and I) and wait for Mom to go to the bathroom to wash her hands. Then, she’d accompany each of us to the bathroom to wash our hands. Now, we all had clean hands. Step 1 complete.
Step 2 begins. Mom would undress us, put our clothes in a neat little pile and ready us for the bathtub. We weren’t allowed to touch anything while this was being done. She even turned on the bathwater and lifted us into the tub. (I’m not sure what my Dad did, I’m sure he was in the other room in the shower.)
After we were done, she’d pick us up out of the tub and dry us off. Then we’d head to our bedrooms to get dressed.
The OCD cleanliness ritual was almost complete. Mom wasn’t done yet though.
Step 3. She still had to clean all the door handles that had been touched, wipe out the car (or at least the car door handles), wipe our shoes clean and banish any gifts or trinkets we’d brought home from Grandma’s. Usually, these would never been seen again by us. It made me sad. A present was never really a present because it was taken away within 3 minutes of returning home.
There was never any discussion about this ritual. We knew that there was no choice. Adhere or pay for the hell that would accompany the mutiny. We stood stone silent while the ritual was played out. Mom was in charge. Or rather, the OCD was in charge.
Anything to do with my Grandmother was ‘dirty’ in my Mom’s mind. If I stooped to retie a shoelace while I was at my Grandma’s, my Mom’s evil gaze came upon me. Now, we’d have to get rid of the laces.
Why do I tell you about this sickening, disgusting, sad little ritual that typically happened on Sunday afternoons?
Because there’s a Mom out there somewhere with OCD that’s doing the same thing to her child this very moment. There’s someone who needs help out of the black abyss and no one’s listening. There’s a child being emotionally abused by someone who isn’t mentally healthy. And that child needs us.
I’m no longer the girl in the little green plaid dress. I’m no longer silent or compliant or controlled by the OCD. I’ve spent half a century fighting my own demons from the abuse that was inflicted on me by my own Mother. And even now, even now that I’m safe and loved and a grandmother to my own precious grandson, there’s a part of me that licks the tears from my cheeks as I write this.
Where were all the adults in my life? Why didn’t my Dad have the strength to protect my sister and I? Why did we stay in that all-consuming hell we called home?
The OCD consumed my Mother and took her from me. I hate OCD. I hate green plaid. And I certainly hate secrets.