“I’ll give you something to cry about”: A Prelude to Mother’s Day

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.

The mom I really wanted.

The mom I really wanted.

The mom I felt I had.

The mom I felt I had.

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.

Yup. Pretty much.

Yup. Pretty much.

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.

Look at us getting along like a good mommy and child! You have NO idea the years and years' worth of work this took. And no, neither of us shoved the other in the water after this shot.

Look at us getting along like a good mommy and child! You have NO idea the years and years’ worth of work this took. And no, neither of us shoved the other in the water after this shot.

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!





Filed under My Dearly Beloveds, White trash childhood

7 responses to ““I’ll give you something to cry about”: A Prelude to Mother’s Day

  1. Really amazing post, Erica! I’m really glad you’ve become friends with your mum; glad that it was possible after so many years of fighting and that both of you made the effort. This post really confirms the old saying ‘a mother’s love is unconditional’! …Even when she didn’t like you as her friend she still always loved you as her daughter.
    Happy Sunday! 🙂

    • Thank you!
      I’m also glad my mom and I worked things out.
      Although, sometimes I wish I hadn’t because I think this would all be a lot easier if I were still hateful and full of rage. 😦
      But I know that’s not true and I know that will be thankful later that we had a good relationship at the end.

      • I know how you feel- losing someone you love hurts so much it seems like not loving them at all would be easier. But love is the best part of life, and it makes all the other shit we have to deal with worth it. It just sucks when we have to say goodbye. They’re going on ahead, but we’ll catch up someday.

  2. Miriam

    Not to diss your mother, but that mostly sounds less like “miscommunication” and more like her being bitter about life not turning out the way she wanted, and taking it out on you. But it’s great that your relationship is better now.

    Man, I really need to find out from my mom how exactly to make her holiday dinner rolls… hope she hasn’t forgotten in her decrepitude…

    • NO! Do NOT ask about the rolls! You might find out you’ve known nothing but lies all these years! It’s horrible!

      You know, I think understanding that my mom was dissatisfied with her life and, as a result, took it out on me because I was the physical representation of the catalyst that altered her course is what gave me so much power to hurt her. It’s gotta be weird to live in that head space – being upset that one decision destroyed so many future options but knowing that the resulting kid isn’t actually to blame but then sometimes blaming it anyhow. I totally used that against her for years. And that’s half of the miscommunication right there – I wasn’t using my knowledge to find a more compassionate way to relate to my mother; I was using my knowledge to hurt my mother further. It took me a long ass time to figure that one out. In retrospect, I’m glad I did.

      • Miriam

        You are so mature! (I was thinking that the other day, actually, when reading your comments on income variance in couples.) My mother had me under similarly accidental circumstances, and it did hurt me that I knew I was unwanted, but I think overall she handled it pretty well and didn’t take it out on me. It probably helped she was older herself (over 30, whereas I think you said your mom was in college). Watching teens parent, including my little brother, I can see that no matter how hard they’re trying there’s usually some immaturity. Hormonal emotionality, lack of life experience, whatever.

        Ha! No, I’ve helped make the rolls, I just need the recipe for the dough. I think it is a basic white bread dough, but maybe there is egg in it? And possibly a tiny shred of butter goes on each roll before or during baking? Most of the effort was rolling all the dough into tiny balls. Each roll is three balls together in a cupcake pan.

        • HAHAHAHA! I think this may be the first time I’ve ever been called “mature” in a way that didn’t mean, “wow, you look old these days” (You don’t mean I look old these days, right?)
          Also? “Income variance in couples” sounds like I’m an economist and sociologist and it makes me appear way smarter than I am so THANK YOU! Tell everyone you know that my comments on income variance in couples impressed you because then everyone will think I’m some sort of brilliant genius full of thoughts and rationality and stuff! Hooray!!

          See, now, had I been your mom, I’d have FREAKED had I found myself pregnant in my 30’s. I like to think, though, that I would have been mature (hahaha) enough to deal with my new lifestyle with poise and grace and no blame. I’m sorry you found out you weren’t planned or wanted. You can come sit by me and we can be the Unwanted together. 😀
          Yeah, my mom was 19 when she had me, 18 when she conceived me. I don’t think she was grown-up enough, yet, to deal with all the emotions I entailed, so…you’re so right. Teen parents have it tough, especially if they had big plans that went awry. Thankfully, I think our culture is becoming a little less judgmental toward young parents; I know most college campuses have daycare centers and offer help toward paying for childcare so that people can still find a way to get degrees and not get too derailed by new family stuff. That doesn’t help with the immaturity and lack of experience but at least they don’t have to feel like failures as much anymore. As far as I know. and I don’t know much because I’m old and don’t have children.

          OH! Oh! I know those rolls! I have a recipe for rolls that you make out of little dough balls in cupcake pans! I think they’re named after a restaurant, aren’t they? The rolls, I mean? Yes. Get the recipe while you still can. Rolls can be a source of contention if not handled correctly.

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