I am excited to share the first-ever, inspirational Red Shoes story from a Red Shoes reader!
Hopping RollerCoasters, by Rachel Pappas, is the story of a mom and daughter, both diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It’s hard enough when you are sick; harder yet when it’s your child; and it’s like trying to swim across an ocean with bricks for arm floats when it’s both of you.
From the very first sentence, I was riveted.
“Marina, I asked you three times nicely to clean your room!” I said. I injected plenty of attitude into “nicely.” We were at it again, this time over the balled up clothes, water bottles, and sticky wrappers everywhere. She wouldn’t budge. I dragged the vacuum into her room. “Come on. Let’s go!”
She didn’t look up from her magazine, so I plunked my upright Hoover closer to her, grabbed her hands, and wrapped them around the handle. She knocked it over and stormed into the hall, with me on her heels.
“Why are you so damn lazy? You live like trailer trash!” I fumed, not hearing what I would have pegged as nasty and bigoted if someone else was screaming it.
Marina spun around. “Stop! Stop, or I’ll take you down the stairs!”
I froze in place, fixed on her hardened face and her once tiny body, now bulky from the meds. I realized she could do it. She could take me down the stairs if she wanted. Not until then had the thought of Marina hurting me crossed my mind. Not for a second could I have pictured it. I’d seen her angry, but never enraged like this, screaming with her fists clenched.
I wondered where my little girl was. The one with the pixie cut who let me hold her hand crossing the street. My good-natured “Pippster” who accepted my excessive hugs and kisses into early puberty. The sweet child who just last year smiled and told me, “When you dropped off my lunch today, my friend asked if you were my mom. She said you’re pretty.”
I was losing her. No, I had lost her.
As a mother of four, I read with intense curiosity how mother and daughter interacted and measured it against my own. Does she get as angry as I do sometimes? Have I said that before? What do my daughters think of me? While no one in my family appears to have bipolar disorder (knock on wood), I could relate to Pappas’ moments of anger and frustration which speak deeply to the whole human experience, not just the pretty parts. What parent hasn’t been the vacuum-dragging, fire-breathing, “Clean your room!” dragon? We may desire to be perfect mothers with a clean house, freshly baked cookies, and a happy smile – but some days that just isn’t the case.
Most of all, I appreciate Pappas’ raw honesty. She holds nothing back; willing to share her darkest moments, her ugliest side, and deepest fears, which ultimately lead mother and daughter on a roller coaster ride of growth, understanding, and forgiveness. Through this tumultuous ride, the safety belt of Pappas’ motherly love holds fast, never letting either one of them go. It was her abundant, unconditional love that had her going head-to-head with teachers who treated her daughter like a discipline problem and didn't get that Marina was having trouble when she couldn't finish her work. She stood up for Marina when she didn't think nurses at the hospital were doing right by her. Clapping ‘til her palms hurt, Pappas sat in the front row like a hen perched on an egg at her daughter’s high school graduation, as Marina took the podium, one of three graduates in her class at the special school she went to for girls with emotional troubles. Despite her mistakes and all the in-between bursts of rage – Pappas shows that she loves Marina more than anyone.
When asked why she wrote this book, Pappas answered, “I decided to write this book when I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer. I wanted to write a book showing [my daughter] I truly was aware of all I did to her and was sorry. I had serious anger management issues and was very emotionally and verbally abusive. Some of it was plain, unleashed anger for no reason. A lot was just a mom wanting for her child - wanting her child to get up and do things she wasn't doing. She is not lazy, but gets extremely overwhelmed and has had a tendency to throw her hands up in the air. The hideous things I often said that shot her down didn’t help. I can’t say I never slip, but not nearly like before. And I try every day to make up for what I had done to my beautiful girl.”
The optimist in me yearns for a happy ending, to which Pappas simply states, “There's a happy - not ending - but middle place. Not perfect - but getting better.”
To order her book and learn more about Rachel’s work, visit her website: www.1uponcancer.com