Tennessee's Cierra Burdick and her mother, Lisa, talk about Mother's Day
Lisa Burdick left the usual ambitions to the other dreamers. Let them grow up to be doctors or lawyers. She didn’t yearn for future employment but rather a lifetime commitment.
“All I ever wanted to do was be a mom,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy.”
Cierra Burdick came into the world on Sept. 30, 1993, fulfilling Lisa’s wish and then some. Theirs is not a typical mother-daughter relationship.
Since Cierra is the child of a biracial couple, one presumptious soul didn’t think they were family at all. When seeing them together in public, she approached Lisa and said, “It’s so good of you to take underprivileged kids out.”
No, they are mother and daughter. However, sometimes it’s worth asking who is playing what role.
“It’s mother-daughter,” Lisa said, “sometimes with me the mom and she’s the daughter. And some days, she’s the mom and I’m the daughter.”
On any day, Cierra — a forward on the Tennessee women’s basketball team — is apt to think of her mother more like a best friend. Being raised by a single parent has enhanced the feeling. Cierra also is the oldest of two children in the Burdick household. She essentially can play parent to her brother, C.J., who is 8 years old.
“If you’ve got $5 and your best friend has none,” Cierra said, “we’ve got $2.50.”
So with Cierra, Lisa has a second mom, a friend and, if needed, a banker. There’s also the matter of Cierra playing a key role in Lisa’s salvation.
Lisa said that she was on full disability from 1999 to 2006 after being diagnosed as bipolar. When she literally was floored by the mood disorder, one yearning — above all others — would lift her up.
“There would be times when I was in a fetal position in my closet,” she said, “Ninety-nine percent of the time, that’s when I’d stop and remember: You’re a mother.”
‘wanted to help’
Lisa Burdick winces when
considering some of the glib references to bipolar disorder, as if it applies to any rant or mood swing. She hopes the attention — however misinformed — serves a useful purpose.
“Maybe it’s broken it down, making it seem not so fearful,” she said.
In her eyes, nothing could make the disorder any less serious. Lisa said that she’s met “a lot of people” who haven’t achieved any sort of recovery. Hers is not taken for granted.
“I always have this battle going on in my head,” she said. “Showing up for life can be tricky.”
Lisa, 49, works at a call-in center for a managed care company. She previously was employed as a therapist, working with teens with substance abuse and mental health issues. Lisa has battled her own substance-abuse problems and said that she’s been clean for 29 years.
Lisa isn’t sure whether Cierra grasped the bipolar diagnosis. She was 6 years old when her mother went on disability.
“There were things I didn’t know at the time,” Cierra said, “Now that I look back at it, it’s not normal. But I didn’t know any different.”
She tried her best to identify the cause of any emotional reaction and rectify the situation. If a sinkful of dirty dishes set off her mother, Cierra did the the dishes. If the dogs needed to be walked, she walked them.
“Most of the time, there really wasn’t anything I could do,” Cierra said. “I realized that, but at the same time, I wanted to help.”
Whether the sink was emptied didn’t matter to Lisa. Her daughter’s intentions, though, meant everything.
“It wasn’t her actually washing the dishes,” Lisa said. “Being upset about me being upset is the one thing consistently that could bring me back up.
“I would be in a crying tantrum and all of a sudden I’d go ‘You’re a mom,’ and I’d pull out of it. Just seeing the look on her face.”
Suddenly the storm would abate.
“It wasn’t like it lasted for hours,’’ Cierra recalled. “She’d have a five-minute meltdown or a 10-minute meltdown and then she’d be OK.”
‘a really fine line’
Reading “Basketball for Dummies” has become a funny anecdote for Lisa Burdick to share. But the exercise didn’t prepare her for riding shotgun on her daughter’s basketball journey.
“We don’t talk about Xs and Os,” Lisa said. “But we talk about attitude. I understand people.”
Cierra grew up dealing with her own issues related to anger management. When her temper reared like an unbroken colt, Cierra struggled to rein in her reaction.
Lisa accompanied Cierra to the kitchen, where they clattered pots and pans as a form of release. An occasional healthy scream did wonders as well.
“I’m a therapist,” Lisa said. “That’s what I do.”
Cierra said she had her anger under control by high school. Much to her relief, she’s feeling better about her father, Derrick Heard. Cierra’s parents never were married.
“When I was growing up, I was so angry at my dad because we didn’t have a true father-daughter bond,” she said. “Since I’ve turned 18, we’ve both made an effort to better our relationship and we’ve become really close.”
Still, she’s been susceptible to frustration, which is apt to infect her basketball demeanor. During her decorated prep career, which concluded at Butler High in Matthews, N.C., Cierra was perceived by some to be a coach’s headache. Others were adamant in saying she simply was very competitive.
“I’m still working on this — how to channel my love and passion for the game in the right way,” she said. “It’s like I want to do great things all the time but I realize that’s not going to happen. So it’s a matter of channeling that in the right direction.”
During her freshman season, Burdick met regularly with the Lady Vols coaches about her role. Her sophomore season was cleaved by a fractured right hand, which occurred when she was doing extra work at Pratt Pavilion. The injury cost her nearly a month.
Lisa has borrowed from her daughter’s strategy in offering support. She has allowed Cierra to vent. Any advice has been considered carefully.
She telephoned Lady Vols assistant coach Dean Lockwood last season and head coach Holly Warlick this season, not to harangue them but to ask: “What can I do to help her get where she needs to be.”
“I’m still her mom; I support her no matter what,” Lisa said. “But that’s a really fine line between saying ‘that (stinks) you’re not playing’ and ‘Be patient, you’re going to get your turn.’ ”
‘An open book’
After nearly an hour of telling stories and occasionally finishing each other’s sentences while sitting in the Lady Vols locker room last Saturday morning, Cierra Burdick shared a mother-daughter conclusion,
“We always joke how we’re an open book,” she said. “I’m big on adversity shapes us.”
With that outlook in mind, Burdick went on to say, “I wouldn’t want to have been brought up any other way.”
The book on Lisa certainly has its share of hardship. There’s also two chapters devoted to Cierra and her younger brother. She wouldn’t want that any other way either.
I wanted to be a mom,” Lisa said, “so I take that very seriously.”
It’s all she ever wanted.