An essay about my troubled relationship with my mother and a case to end the relationship.
| That day at work, I heard an author say on the radio, “We are our parents and what we do to try to not be them.” I think this is true, at least in the case of my limited experiences.
When I first heard the words I marveled at the simple profoundness of the impromptu statement and how it resonates with the human experiences in general. Then my specificity spiraled down, I thought of people I knew, my friends, overhearing that familiar bickering and exasperated tones of someone who has given up arguing with their parents, I thought of my father and how he reassures when times get difficult on how he has been there before, that all things will pass, I also thought about how because of him I have grown, or reduced down, to a minimalist due to his fondness of gadgets and technology he has yet found purposes for, but that doesn't stop him. But hey, he worked hard for it, earned the money, he can chose, just as I can chose; admittedly my choices are less mostly due to the fact that I earn less, but I digress.
Then finally I think of my mother. If there was anyone I didn't want to be it was her, sometimes. I have to say the word 'sometimes' because I don't want the truth to sound as harsh or as rash. It is not that I don't love her, I just don't want to be her.
Relations with my mother have always been rough, unsatisfying, and practiced; from both sides. It was only until recently when I realized I my have inadvertently decided that it is unrepairable, or that it cannot be made into something that it just can't be: allowing me to stop trying altogether.
This annoys my father, the self appointed mediator, to no end. “But you are mother and daughter,” he figures is his convincing statement when trying to push me to initiate something with my mother: shopping, cooking, a simple drive. But I always think internally, 'So?'
It wasn't until recently I found out why, a mini break through. Only mini because the realization can't really solve anything, it takes two to create a two state solution. It doesn't really work if one side gives up their nukes, while the other begins punching in the launch codes. I don't want to find myself in Nagasaki, because I have already been to Hiroshima.
Two weeks ago, I found something that was nearly a misplaced memory, but then suddenly there it was siting at the bottom of a plastic egg crate in the form of a notebook, cover a simple black matte leather with a black elastic band keeping it closed.
It is like many of my other notebooks. I have a notebook fetish, the plainer the better, and I tend to feel them all. Class notes, narrative ideas, stylized thoughts, no journals, well except this one. At the same time I cannot call it a journal. Journals are for yourself. This wasn't for me, it was for my parents.
Beginning in early high school, late middle school. I started to feel bad, real bad. My sleep pattern became odd. At first, no matter what time I went to bed I woke up at 4:30 every morning no fail. Then later in the day I couldn't keep my eyes opens as soon as I was ushered through those garage doors in my mother's SUV. It wasn't like I was sleeping, I just needed to let the world fade away and time to warp, but the world outside I am still painfully aware. Each rise of the garage door, slam of the door, beep of the microwave. Eventually I hear my dad cry out from the stairs if I was OK, if I felt alright. I was always 'OK'. No, no, I'm fine. Really.
Apparently I stopped talking much. I figured it was only useful to speak when you had something to say, and I didn't know what to say anymore. A month later, I was crying to myself at night when I thought no one could hear.
Teenaged angst. My mother rolled her eyes, and asked her friends when it would end, when I would stop acting like this. Some people told her a few months, a few were surprised that her golden accomplished angel would do something so cliche. She was frustrated and annoyed, and she didn't hide it. She never expected a teenage rebellion from her little girl. Thinking back now I think it is funny she considered this rebelling: depression.
I didn't let anyone at school know. I don't think I would ever tell them. Acting depressed was so 'emo'. I thought it was shameful, so I smiled at lunch, and finished all of my homework before the final bell rung.
My parents saw the shift in me, and didn't know what to do. At first they were puzzled, then angry. “Just say something,” my dad confronted. I broke down in front of him, and explained my feelings guided by an eight page hand written letter I had scribbled out in the minutes proceeding. At the end he hugged me and told me it was normal and everything was going to be OK.
The next day nothing changed much. Actually nothing changed at all. I had my outlet, I was done. A few months later my father would confront me again with my silence. I didn't say anything much this time. I realized that an eight paged letter wouldn't do it.
I had opened up the journal and found my messy yet familiar multicolored scrawl. Right-side up on side and upside down in a different color on the opposite side of each paper. The journal wasn't for me, it was for my parents. I knew that I couldn't open up to them, but I knew that I couldn't say nothing forever. I wanted them to understand so much, so I decided to write daily letters for them explaining what I was going through. One side was for my father, and the other side flipped was for my mother. I didn't include dates but changed the color of my pen for each letter. None of them formal, a few times I am speaking directly to them, other times a frantic stream of consciousness. Tear stains smear the words on some pages.
Throughout that time, I was painfully aware that I didn't really have anything much to be sad about. I lived in an affluent upper middle class home. My father was always home at 4:30, my mother was pretty much home most of the time, and I had a little brother who had only good things to say about me. Great right? Yeah, I thought so. So why was I so sad? How does this relate to my relationship with my mother in anyway?
I knew I should be happy, I just wasn't. I began thinking that I deserved a horrible fate in order to earn these feelings. I also figured, that it was because something was wrong with me, deeply. That seed of some deep inherent flaw, planted by my mother.
Thinking back, I think I was some what of a normal kid, slow to learn social skills but where other things were concerned I was just a kid. I didn't want to brush my teeth, take a bath, go to bed, clean my room. Normal kid stuff. Who wants to do that anywhere when you have Nickelodeon readily available, at night Nick at Nite. Perfect.
Parents learn to work around this and try to teach their kids good habits and discipline the would need for the rest of their life. “Brush your teeth.” “Time take a bath.” “Clean your room.” I would have preferred to hear these lines. But instead what I was fed by my mother was something else. “You know what kind of man you will attract if you don't brush your teeth? One with just as bad teeth.” “No one will want to live with you if you have a messy room, only someone equal or messier will ever marry you.” “When I was your age I did this and more for my mother and she never had to ask. Why do you hate me?” But the thing was she never asked, she never even told me. Just guilt, and shame.
By the time I was seven, I thought I was unmatchable and possessed. I didn't tell my parents, I figured my mother already knew from all of her 'hints'. But I did to an impromptu exorcism. Well it wasn't really an exorcism, more so me talking into the mirror for the devil to get out, so I can be the daughter that my mom wanted. Nothing dramatic happened, not that I expected it to. But it was the start of some detrimental introspection for later down the road.
Despite for being so 'difficult' my mother got me presents all the time. I would get home and find my room cleaned, the vacuum streaks on the clean carpet still warm, and on my neatly made bed something knew encased in difficult plastic wrap. But the difficulty of the hard plastic wrap was worth it. I thanked my mom, and she would smile and ask if I wanted ice cream. That day was going to be a good day.
The next days not so good. She would be short with me in the car, and then she would complain that she does so much for me, why don't I ever do anything for her? “I don't know what else to do to encourage you to do the right thing? I give you so many incentives by you just love disrespecting me, don't you?” Eventually, my dad would sigh with furrowed brows, then smile and quietly lean over to tell me, “Why don't you go help mom right now?” The guilt still fresh in my my I would go do as he suggested. I helped her put dishes away. I cleaned my room and I brushed my teeth. Finally, I was a good daughter.
My mom noticed this and praised me. Not with “Good job,” but instead she said, “Aren't you glad you aren't a filthy person anymore?” or “Now that you are doing good, you will never be so bad again, will you?” She said those things with a smile.
I couldn't smile and I stopped doing all the things she wanted me to do because I didn't want to hear those things about myself, anymore.
Throughout the years I would flit back and forth with acceptable and unacceptable behavior, always reverting when the comments started again. And eventually I stopped trying, just to avoid those comments.
But even if when I didn't hear those comments, they still stayed with me, my mothers rants about my behavior was still steady but they weren't as frequent and concentrated as when I made an effort. “Smart people can be evil too, you know.” It all told me what my mother thought of me. That something deeply was wrong with me. When she felt really bad, she told me I was just like her mother. That was the worst, since her mother was highly neglectful and wasn't really a mother at all. “We were raised like snakes,” my mom would describe with a chuckle. I didn't think it was funny, I thought it was disturbing, most of her family was and to be associated with that level of dis-function was distressing.
From the time I was four we had moved five times across the state until settling in the house they still live in today. We moved in when I was ten or eleven, I was already feeling jaded.
By that time I had learned that the best response to my mother's observations was silence. Just keep quiet until you to school, get home, go into public. The funny thing once in public I was the perfect daughter, at least at my mother told it. I had good grades, and all of my interests only added to my academics. I loved to read, solve puzzles, and play math games. My father gave me ten dollars for each A I got in each math subject.
I was becoming increasingly apathetic. I was like a pebble with the current of criticism smoothing over me, but it still eroded away at me slowly.
I was feeling more and more hollow each day, I stopped caring about most things and people. I had realized that most of my personal tastes weren't really personal. I liked things I was expected to like, disliked things in the same fashion. It was tailored in a way to fit the persona I thought I had, and that it was best not to deviate from it, whether I liked it or not. A person like me should enjoy that, a person like me shouldn't laugh at that joke, a person like me should disagree that opinion. After a while I stopped feeling like a person because I didn't enjoy that, I liked that joke, I thought that person was interesting, and I agreed with that opinion. I wasn't what I was supposed to be, so who was I?
Reading back in the notebook of letters to my parents. The letters to my father are calm earnest. I wrote about the things that I thought to mundane to talk about, about how mundane it all was. I apologize for being ungrateful, and try to explain the reoccurring thoughts in my head. I try to explain my frustration with my mother, as if he didn't already know. I use it as an opportunity to tell him how I feel at certain times, and how things he said made me feel. Our sense of humor does not really mesh, and he tends to overlook that for his own enjoyment. But I could handle that. It was all done in fun and good jest. Dad teasing daughter, daughter rolls her eyes and murmurs, “That wasn't funny” through clenched teeth. I realize now that nothing could be more normal.
I really didn't need to write a letters to my dad. I think he understood more than he let on, I just wanted to make it seem even. But the letters weren't even. At one point I wrote, “You have a lot of catching up to do” ten pages in. The length and frequency of my letters to my mother were putting my father's side the shame. It wasn't any surprise that I had a lot to say to her.
The letters to my mother were quite different and quite the opposite of those to my father. I can tell at what point in my emotions I wrote down my thoughts to my mother just by the handwriting. Is it big and messy or small and neat, does the neat get messier while retaining its smallness or does the breath increase as well? There are times when I am collected and resolved to calmly explain things to her. I try to empathize with her and then explain my point of view in terms she can relate. I try not to accuse and I actively express that I am taking her feelings into account. I try to predict what she is feeling as she reads the letter, and what I am feeling as I am writing it. Other letters, the ones I didn't have time to compose a mask for, or the letter starts out composed but degrades as my emotions build again and I try to make the paper bleed with the same emotion.
I reading back at the center, I realize now how depressed I was, and how angry. I didn't truly believe the counselor. I began seeing, when she said I had dipped into major depression. I was in college at the time and my parents had been waiting for me to 'go back normal for six years.
But I was so angry back then, and so sad. But the worst part was that it could have been better, but it wasn't. My mother believed in the philosophy that people choose to be happy. She lamented that crying was destroying my brain, and why I was indulging in such behavior. “Just stop,” as happiness was a switch I decided to not flip. She lamented on why I was doing this to her. That it was a sign that I disrespected her, hated her, cursed her behind her back.
At one point I wrote:
Today, when you dropped me off at school. Along the drive you kept saying how selfish I am and how I don't talk to you guys. You act like you have never been to my university, as if it was this place I made a bar against you here. You just kept saying how you sadly accepted the fact that I will never change and how I don't tell you what is going on in my life. Actually, as you dropped me off I was thinking to ask you if you wanted to see the lab where I spend a lot of my time. I decided against it since you probably didn't want to see and you probably didn't care about a stupid lab. Plus, would you just invite someone who just called you selfish and inconsiderate? Who you invite that person into your inner sanctum. I was afraid that you would still tell me all those things despite the fact that I showed you. Then you would make the place that I am [myself] a lot lesser. Make me lesser. Also, you drove off so fast the moment my feet touched the pavement, I knew you just wanted to get away from me, which is reasonable. I don't like me either you know.
Sometimes depression is just depression a chemical imbalance in the brain occurring due to deregulation of neurotransmitter, such as serotonin and dopamine. Or it can just be a rite of passage in this global culture for adolescents to get all mopey and introspective when one is trying to figure out who they are. Just don't make it worse than it can be.
I found a slide show article titled, “10 Things To Say (And 10 Not To Say) To Someone With Depression”. Like do offer a hug; don't say, “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.” Do say, “When all this is over, I’ll still be here and so will you”; and don't say, “Its your fault.” Do say something like “I'm not going to leave you or abandon you,” and don't say “I think your depression is a way of punishing us.” Simple things, but it seems like my mother was ten for ten, in some form, for all of the things not to say. I realize now that the reason I have given up on trying to connect with my mother is that at the point when I was the lowest, confused and I needed my mother to just give me a hug, she judged and criticized, it just tore me up inside. And it is hard to convince me to be that vulnerable again, with someone who hasn't changed much.
Don't get me wrong. I love my mother. I feel bad when she is hurt, and trying the best she can. I can never hate her, I can't even say, let alone think, the words stating the contrary. Partly because I want to prove her wrong. None the less she is my mother and I recognize that it isn't her entirely fault.
Her life has been hard. If her life were a book or a movie, she would be sitting on Oprah's couch with the whole audience crying with at her life. It is a wonder on how she came out for it alive and sane, it would be presumptive to add the description 'whole' to that wonder. Such a tumultuous surrounds does not leave the mind, body and soul unscathed. As a response to her upbringing, she coped with cleaning: making the bed, doing the dishes, cleaning the house, anything to make her surroundings appear presentable. She learned the resolve to do what she had to do make it out of that house, out of that town, to survive on her own.
The worst part is that I can't tell my mother that I love her, and have her believe it. That I understand more than she thinks. That I know her sometimes better than herself. That I have see the opened baggage of all the things she had to drag herself through, and that I get it. I understand why. Why image is so important to her. Because keeping a good one kept people from knowing the bad things that happened at home. Why she spoils her children at every opportunity. Because she was raised with nothing, and was never happier when one of her parents brought home a Mouse Trap game with half the pieces missing.
I can see every time she comes home from a thrift store with something vintage that it is her attempt to try to remold her past into something she is proud of. Buying another tea set; it looks like something her mother would have given to her, if she wasn't so neglectful. An old egg beater that her father would have used to make pancakes on Sunday mornings, instead of drinking. An old iron, the kind of solid metal heated on the stove, her mother would have used to make sure that her children's clothes looked nice at school, if she cared.
I don't want to be like my mother, and judge her like she has judge me. I want to be opened minded and understanding, thinking before saying, knowing before judging, if I judge at all. The funny thing is finding my letters to my mother, made me think I am more like my mother than I thought or cared to be. I spoke rashly, but from the heartbreak. I expressed disappointment, in our relationship, anger, and most of all sadness.
It is hard to believe reading back that I ever was in that mindset, and it is a wonder how I got out. Sometimes I think you can never truly leave or shake the feeling. That an idea once fully planted in the mind is the more invasive and dangerous than any virus. I heard that in a movie. But I am better. I have moved out to out my parents house, two years ago, but sometimes living fifteen miles from them isn't enough. I can attribute my improved mood to the move, and separating my personality and being, from my parents. I now feel free to be a person, I never thought I would have the freedom to be. I never thought I would drink tea, now that is all I drink. I enjoy rock climbing, I sing when I am stressed, and one day I want to learn the guitar. I like knowing me. I like knowing that I know more this year and that I will know more the next, and the next.
I, also, know that my mother is still torn up inside, not just from our relationship, but from wounds that trace back to her birth. I recognize that I can't fix those hurts, fears, and anxieties. That she her back must hurt from carrying all of this baggage for so many years. I can only hope that she finds the strength to look back to try to understand it all. And hopefully look back to re-examine our relationship, because as it stands now, it is doomed. But with seeing the past in a new light can enable us to start a new relationship. But until then, her mind has a firm idea of who I am, and who she sees she believes she cannot have a good relationship with that person. And I recognize that I cannot truly have a healthy relationship with someone who doesn't see me as I am, and not a caricature of who they think I am. So we are at an stalemate, but I still I can't wait for her to meet me.