MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin. This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Later, a political wife talks about her second act. But first, we mentioned Mother's Day already in this program. It's this Sunday. We hope for most people it's going to be a happy day, filled with cards, flowers, maybe a nice brunch. But this holiday also brings up difficult feelings for some - maybe women who wanted to have children and couldn't, or maybe who are estranged from their kids or moms.
We decided to spend time with mothers for whom the day is hard because they lost their children. They lost them because they couldn't take care of them, mainly because they were abusing drugs and alcohol.
I visited N Street Village in Washington, D.C. It's a community-based non-profit that serves women in recovery from addiction and homelessness. I met Cheryl, who has two children, aged 29 and 32; Angela, who has six kids, age five to 19; and Latasha, who has two children, age 17 and 24.
I'm joined by Cheryl, who has two children, aged 29 and 32. And Angela, you have six children...
Ms. ANGELA MACRAVION (N Street Village Resident): Yes.
MARTIN: ...ages 5 to 19.
Ms. MACRAVION: Yes.
MARTIN: And Latasha, you have two children.
Ms. LATASHA ADAMS (N Street Village Resident): Yes.
MARTIN: They are 17 and 24. And thank you for letting us come to N Street Village and sharing your stories with us. Who wants to start? Angela, do you want to start? How did you come to be here?
Ms. MACRAVION: I've been dealing with drugs all my life and my family was into it. I seen my mother do a lot of drugs, shoot drugs in all in her life. And I became an addict myself. Actually, my mother started me on drugs.
MARTIN: She started you on drugs? How?
Ms. MACRAVION: Yes. She started me with the alcohol and the smoking the cigarettes, because I want to be - wanted to see how it felt smoking a cigarette when I was younger and I thought it was cute and all. So she bought me a pack of cigarettes and a six-pack of beer, made me sit there and smoke all the cigarettes and drink all the beers.
MARTIN: How old were you?
Ms. MACRAVION: I was about nine. I was about nine (unintelligible)...
MARTIN: Why did she have you drink the beer?
Ms. MACRAVION: Because she said I want to be grown. And that was her way of teaching me not to drink.
Ms. MACRAVION: But every weekend there was a party in our house. And they used to make punchbowls, put the drinks in it and I used to drink. And I stopped it and the next time I pick that up was like the age of 13 or 14. I was living in a group home.
MARTIN: Latasha, how did you come to be here?
Ms. ADAMS: Well, I came here because I was married, well, still is married. And my husband lost his job. Well, no, he got locked up. I lost my job. So that's how I became homeless.
MARTIN: And Cheryl, what about you?
Ms. CHERYL COLEMAN (N Street Village Resident): I came here because at age 49 I was tired. I had been to every state, two countries. And I came here in 2000 looking for my son. You know, I was the oldest of six children and I come from a family that, you know, alcohol and drugs was, you know, part of the norm. Actually, they were professionals by day and by night they lived the lifestyle. And I was the only girl. And like Angela, there were parties at the weekends - our house at the weekends.
And I was nine years old and I was molested by one of my uncles. And I told my mom, and she didn't believe me, and I tried to commit suicide. And I took a lot of pills, but I noticed that with the pills or with the alcohol I can kind of escape all the pain that I was feeling. So eventually I did leave Indiana. I had my first son. But I moved here and I got married in 1979, and we were separated because I was 19 looking for love, looking for a father, looking for a husband. I was 19 and I married a man that was 42 years old, and he was very prominent in the area. And once leaving him and moving them back to Denver, you know, I was manipulated. There was a lot of other things involved. But he eventually got my son in his possession.
MARTIN: That's what I was going to ask.
Ms. COLEMAN: Kidnapped him basically. And I haven't seen them since. He was able to keep him in private schools and at that time I feel like because of my background and the issues of the whole family dynamic of what I come from, the dysfunction from generation to generation, I feel like he manipulated me, my mother, to you know, get control and do exactly what...
MARTIN: You mean, you were living in Denver and he brought...
Ms. COLEMAN: I was living in Denver and I had my children with me and my mother had moved to Denver. And I was convinced to let him come and see the children. But while I wasn't in the home, he was taken out of home and given to him.
MARTIN: When was the last time you saw either of your children?
Ms. COLEMAN: I saw my oldest son at Christmas-time. I went to Nebraska to get my grandchildren. And I went to Colorado and I spent Christmas with my brothers and my sister and my two grandchildren and my oldest son, who the last few years we finally bonded, I have bonded, and became mother and son.
MARTIN: How many years was it between the time you saw him, between the time...
Ms. COLEMAN: I mean, there were times in my life that, you know, I could start using - I've really always been a very productive member. I was a functional alcoholic and a drunk for many years. I was always able to get a good job. I was always able to live well and have all the material things. But after a while I would always, you know, it would always - it would come up - especially around the holidays, Mother's Day, birthdays, harder times when I fell apart. So Mother's Day for me is like - it's going to be a day where, you know, I don't want to see other - when I'm around other families, to see - it's a very sad time for me. I don't feel anything.
MARTIN: Latasha? How is it that your children aren't with you?
Ms. ADAMS: Because I have no way of (unintelligible) my younger son is - he's in North Carolina. He's been in North Carolina for maybe about nine years. Ever since he was 18, 17 - he's been there for nine years. I too battled addiction of drugs and alcohol.
MARTIN: You couldn't take care of them?
Ms. ADAMS: Yeah. I could take - I thought I could. I like to think I could. But he's in a better place. He's in a better place, so...
MARTIN: What's Mother's Day like for you?
Ms. ADAMS: It's just another day. Because I was raised in a home of Jehovah Witnesses, so we really didn't celebrate holidays. Anything like on birthdays was given a day before or the day after. We knew what we were going to get, so it wouldn't be a surprise like it was, you know, a present. So Mother's Day is a lonely time for me, as all holidays has been alone. Until I got here on N Street, and we spend it together.
MARTIN: Does it make you feel like a failure?
Ms. ADAMS: Yes. All I ever wanted to do was be the perfect mother for my children. That's it. I just - I wanted to be the mom that didn't smoke, that wasn't too fat. And I wanted to be the mom that didn't drink. I wanted them to be proud of me. I put them through a lot. So I'm gaining the relationship back with my children.
MARTIN: Angela, how is it that your children aren't with you?
Ms. MACRAVION: I'm like, sure, like I got married to a man that didn't love, he's a lot older than me. I didn't love him, but I just love what he was doing for me. My children got taken away from me because I abandoned them. I left home. I didn't have food. My drugs was more important than my children at the time, or so I thought. (Unintelligible) I did that to my oldest children and my son that died, you know. I left him, truly abandoned him. You know, when he died, the guilt smacked me in my face real hard, you know?
MARTIN: How did he die?
Ms. MACRAVION: He had a form of leukemia. Prior to his death, I didn't see him for like a year. And that's the child that I didn't want because my mother, that was my mother's favorite grandchild. And I will take my oldest children and leave him home by himself. And to come home, he'd be still in same corner that he was when I left, you know. My oldest children are 17 and 19. When my daughter get ready to turn 18 the 15th of this month, and all they ever wanted was their mother. That's all she ever wanted, was her mommy, you know?
MARTIN: Were you able to raise any of your children? Do you feel you've raised any of them yourself?
Ms. MACRAVION: Just my oldest ones, until they was four and five. I'm dual diagnosis. So being abused as a child played a lot in my life on my addiction, because I used for my feelings. That's why I started drugs, because drugs was the only thing that told me it loved me. My mother didn't.
Drugs was the only thing that showed me attention. My mother didn't. She didn't have time for me. And she did a lot of bad things for me. And I put up a wall on the inside because I was determined wasn't nobody going to hurt me no more. And I carried that wall around for many, many years. Until September the 27th of last year. I choose to break that cycle, and I've been clean ever since, drugs and alcohol.
MARTIN: What is Mother's Day to you?
Ms. MACRAVION: I don't even feel like a mother. I feel no more like a friend to them, because I hadn't really been there for them. I just moved back here from Miami, Florida. And I ran to get away from an abusive husband. I left my daughter - the one that's in North Carolina - I abandoned her.
So this would be the first Mother's Day that I would spend with my children, my two oldest children. And I'm really looking forward to it, but as far as my past, Mother's Day was just like another day. When my mom first died, I used to cry a lot because I remember every year I was giving my mother cards and flowers or something for Mother's Day.
When she passed away, I didn't have nobody to get that for. And now I look at one of my foster sisters that's raising my children, I look to her as my mother, because she's always been there. She's always had my best interest at heart; always wanted to see me to get my life together. She never tried to put in my children's head that I'm a bad mom. She never kept me from seeing my children. I call there any time I wanted to, spend the night over there. She'd - I accept them more than I accept my real brothers and sisters, because they showed me more love than my family did.
MARTIN: You know, there are some people who will hear your stories, who will think that you are bad mothers, and I know, because you've told me, that you all carry a lot of guilt and some shame about the things that have happened to you that you have also done. And I know you don't have to justify any of your decisions to anybody, but can you say something to those people who question you?
Ms. COLEMAN: Okay. I want to say that for those people, a lot of those people are - because I come from a family where you didn't talk, you didn't tell that there were secrets. And I think that - and just about all families, there are secrets. There are things - we were raised that you were almost like systematically trained not to speak out, not to tell your emotions, to ignore certain things that were coming out, you know?
And see, my aunt - I have an aunt who died last month, and we went to her funeral in May - in March. And there's an uncle, the uncle who molested me. He's 75 years old. He has molested every generation, the three generations of the women in my family. And while we were there, and they - and it's been known, my aunt's been with him for 50 years, married to him, and while we were there for my aunt's funeral, he molested my 15-year-old niece. And I'm present; it's been taken care of.
So I say to those people, they should check their families. They should check their stories. They should sit down and think, you know, about, you know, well, how was my child (unintelligible) what kind of things did I see growing up? So you shouldn't judge.
MARTIN: Angela, is there something you wanted to say?
Ms. MACRAVION: I just wanted to say, I don't - a lot of my childhood, I remember a lot of that; I don't recall ever being sexually molested as a child, but in my addiction I have been. And my advice to, you know, advice to other females is to no matter what obstacles come in your life, you know, you don't have to turn to drugs and alcohol. It's not the answer. It's not going to solve it, you know? And I found that out the hard way.
You know, now I got a lot of peace within me because I let God fight my battles. You know, I just refuse to see - I refused to do my children. I gave them up because I couldn't take care because I was on drugs. I didn't want my children to suffer like I suffered. And God looks out for them now. My children have forgiven me, but there's still a part of me to have not forgiven me, but I'm working on that too.
MARTIN: Are there any other thoughts you'd like to leave us with? Latasha?
Ms. ADAMS: No matter what the public might think, I too was molested as a child growing up. It seemed that everywhere I went, someone was in me, on me, or doing something to me. I'm the youngest out of four and the only girl. And my mother wanted me so bad that she - if I was first, she wouldn't have had no boys, so she say. But I feel that if you wanted me so bad after you - after she saw things that happened, why did you get rid of me? But I know that it was just for the best, you know? She did what was best for me.
So I'd like to think that I raised my children to the best of my ability. I had my first child when I was 13, so I was still a baby, but I believe I raised him to the best of my ability. And as far as my youngest son, at that time I think I was really heavy on drugs, but he wasn't supposed to go off with his grandmother and stay eight years. He wasn't supposed to do that. But when I did go down on Mother's Day and I looked him, I told him that I wouldn't have been able to do no better than what he is, so I'm proud of him.
MARTIN: Angela, can you find something to celebrate this Mother's Day?
Ms. MACRAVION: Actually, they're - my daughter and my boyfriend is surprising me, taking me somewhere for Mother's Day. So I'm looking forward to it. She was - my daughter and my sisters are probably going out of town, but she made it clear that she wanted to stay here and be with her mother on Mother's Day. And that means so, so much to me, because I never really spent Mother's Day clean and sober with my children. So this will be the first time, and I'm looking very much forward to it.
MARTIN: Cheryl, Angela, Latasha, thank you.
Ms. ADAMS: Thank you.
MARTIN: And Happy Mother's Day to you.
Ms. ADAMS: Thank you.
Ms. MACRAVION: Thank you very much.
Ms. COLEMAN: Thank you.
MARTIN: That was Sheryl Coleman, Natasha Adams and Angela Macravion at N Street Village in Washington, D.C.
Every mother has a story on Mother's Day. We'd like to hear yours, joyful or painful, so tell us more. Visit us at our blog. You can listen to past shows, post your own comments, and read what other people are saying. You can get there by going to our Web site, npr.org/TELL ME MORE.