I think it’s fair to say that my mom and I have enjoyed (more often not-enjoyed) a complicated relationship over the years. This is probably true for the vast majority of mother/daughters, it seems to be how these things work. After all, my mom had a complicated relationship with her mother and I don’t think Noelle or Bedot have had it any easier than I, either. Beyond personal experience, look at all the novels, movies, and psychologists who explore this same topic!
If you’ve been here before, you probably know my mom. If you haven’t and don’t, you can introduce yourself to her by clicking the My Horrible Mother tag at the bottom of this diatribe. So, anyway, you might have guessed that my mom and I, we share a sassy mouth. We both say things that aren’t politically correct…or any sort of correct, really. I’m pretty sure I learned this trait from her. While being on the receiving end of said mouth definitely hardened my skin to a thickness seen only on citrines and rhinos, it was something of an obstacle while I was growing up, resulting in a lot of miscommunication and injured feelings. Some of the slights were real and intentional but most were merely perceived on my part. Regardless, there were things she’d said to me that were burrs in my blanket for years. Or maybe, it was things she didn’t say.
I always wanted to have one of those nurturing mothers, the ones who listen to your hopes and dreams and find ways to help you achieve them, instead of the “practical” (her term)/”negative” (mine) parent who tells you why your ideas won’t work.
For instance, I always wanted her to like my drawings but she didn’t. I wanted to take art classes but she nixed that plan. I tried to take one in high school as an elective but because she had final say in the matter, I took drafting. I bore so much resentment toward my mother because I felt she was blocking my attempts to be the artiste I knew I could be, that I so badly wanted to be. To make things worse, she encouraged Noelle to take art classes, to draw and paint and do all the things I wanted to do. It’s kind of like how I kept asking for Sea Wees for my birthday and Christmas and never got any; Noelle got them, instead. Noelle, who couldn’t keep her poor little Sea Wees’ hair nice and who lost their pets. It’s also like how Chris got ice cream for breaking my Wonder Woman doll! My early life was full of injustice and misery and I’m surprised I survived. Back to my crushed dream, though: I thought my mom would be proud of my artistic endeavors because before she had me, she went to school for art. After she had me, she dropped out and got a job in a deli and never went back. During her angrier moments, on the days that she was probably wondering how she ended up where she was, so far from where she’d planned to be, she told me I’d ruined her life because I kept her from getting a college degree. Remember that smart mouth I inherited? I always reminded her that I did not get her pregnant, I was just the result of her not being able to keep her legs together.
We were an awesome pair. And by “awesome,” I probably mean “toxic.”
The older I got, the more frequent these types of conversations became and it was hard for us to be in the same room for more than half an hour without sniping at each other. I judged her for every decision she ever made. I held what I felt was her lackluster parenting over her at all times. I was self-righteous and constantly told her what she should have already done and what she should do in the future in order to be a better person, a decent mother, even though I hadn’t done anything with my life at that point so really had no foundation of knowledge. Youth allows for a great deal of arrogance, we all know this. But knowing it and being able to deal with it are two different things and I think when your child is battling you with your own weapons, there’s not a lot to do but give up or fight harder. My mom has never been the giving-up kind of person.
I stayed away from the family for a few years. I was so angry, so tired of everything. I felt like I was the only sane one, the only sensible one, the only one who could keep her shit together and nobody gave me any credit for all my hard, honest, upstanding efforts.
I would only engage with my parents on holidays and then only if my nieces (I don’t think there were any nephews during this time) were in attendance. This lasted for three years, I think? It was ridiculous. I was so irate about things that didn’t even exist, not outside of my own mind, at any rate. I was self-centered and self-wounded and it made me reject the group of people I felt had caused all my problems.
Mom and I broke the barricade I’d put up with the most horrible kind of honesty ever. I was over there for some event, maybe Easter, maybe the Fourth of July. Whatever the case, it was a warm day and Mom, tired from preparing everything for the festivities, tired from me sniping at her, tired of being in a house full of people, just tired, went outside to smoke a cigarette. She was sitting on the front step and I followed her. I meant to make some barbed point that would hopefully make her feel awful about one thing or another but…I dunno, something changed. I sat down next to her and didn’t say anything for a little bit. She smoked. I coughed and then I asked her, “You don’t like me, do you? I mean, as a person. You’ve never liked me.” She looked at me and she said, “No. I don’t. You are not the kind of person I like.”
You know what? Even though I knew that would be the answer I’d get, had known for many years, it hurt. I started crying. We sat there some more. She smoked. I sniffled and coughed. She said, “But I love you. You’re my kid.”
Fat lot of good that did me.
So I did what I’ve always done – mouthed-off, then sucked it up and pretended not to care, just shrugged it all off. Whatevs, dude.
There had been many times up to that point that I did not believe my mother loved me. I didn’t think I loved her, either. Sometimes I hated her. But I hated her because I wanted her to be someone she wasn’t, because I wanted things from her she couldn’t give me because that’s not the type of person she was. Maybe that’s why it hurt so much to hear that she didn’t like me, it was one more thing she couldn’t give me. Some of the reasons for her dislike were real, like I was judgmental and arrogant. I was a bitch. Yes, she had to concede that I probably learned that from her but that didn’t make it a likeable trait. Some of her reasons were things she’d made up, like I thought I was better than everyone else because I went off and got a college degree and traveled across the world. I think she took my enthusiasm over the things I had learned as me rubbing my successes in her face whereas I just wanted her to be impressed with all the amazing stuff I was doing because…well, I wanted her to be proud of me and she wasn’t.
So much miscommunication.
I stayed away from home for a long time after that day despite the knowledge that one of the things I had learned early on, something that also came from my mother, was the value of honesty. Honesty was always a big thing in our house. I love to embellish, to make stories bigger and grander but I still understood when I needed to be honest and when people needed to be honest with me. Honesty gets a bad rap because people only want it when it’s nice and pretty, not when it hurts. The thing is, if it’s real, it will probably hurt. Almost always. There are coping mechanisms you can learn to deal with honesty: You learn to take it, let it hurt you, turn into a big baby over it all, then look at it and figure out what to do with it OR you learn to tune it out and rely solely on what you believe OR you learn to change it into something that is pleasant and agreeable OR you learn to twist it into what you want to hear. There are probably other things you can do, too, but I’m not familiar with them, having never employed them, myself.
I tried to learn the first coping mechanism and I think it has done me worlds of good. There’s not a lot that bothers me anymore. Yes, of course I hate criticism but I can tell when it’s meant for real and when it’s meant to hurt. If it’s meant to hurt, I can just ignore it. When it’s meant for real, I can take it apart to see if there’s a misunderstanding on the part of the criticizer or if there’s something in me that needs to be examined or both. This is an excellent skill to have and I have it because my mom did not mince words. School of hard knocks, and all, but come on, it totally makes for a kick-ass character in the long run.
In case you’re wondering how the whole “I don’t like you” thing turned out? After I sat on that for awhile, pitched some hissy fits, looked at the statement and the feelings behind it for a long time, after I broke so many things down because maybe they shouldn’t have been there in the first place and maybe after I realized I needed to be less of a jerk and needed to respond to my mother as a person and not as my mommy, I realized maybe we could get along. I think my mom had a similar response because after I ended my self-imposed exile, we both worked at our relationship in a different way. I tried to stop judging what she’d done in our past (except for those damned rolls! How could she lie about that? SO EVIL!) and tried to interact with her like I would a normal person, not like I would with my mother. She had to do the same thing, I couldn’t be her daughter, I had to be a person. After awhile, we worked something out. It was fragile, at first, and it was difficult. It was hard for both of us to not revert to catfighting and I know we’ve slipped up here and there. But we made the effort we both needed to make and, after a few years, we became friends. Once we were friends, it was a whole lot easier for me to respect her and appreciate her knowledge and abilities. I don’t know that she feels the same about me, but I know that she gets excited when I do big things now, instead of resentful because I’m one-upping everyone in the family. She’s become more nurturing, actually. She’s become my mom and I like being her daughter.
So I guess she wasn’t kidding when she said I’d better knock it off or else she’d give me something to cry about…but at least I know she loves me!