I’ve been thinking about what would be the best way for me to describe the nature of my relationship with my mother. I’m not entirely sure where to start. Do you start at "I was born" ? Or do I describe my mother’s relationship with my grandmother in an attempt to discern why she has chosen to raise me in the way she has? I’m entirely unsure.
I think, upon reflection, the very best way of describing my mothers relationship with me, and maybe mine with my grandmother even, who has also played mother to me as I have matured, is to describe this past week with them. Before I start, though, I should point out one thing. I love my mother. I do. I know that this is going to be tinged with cynicism at my mother’s ideas. I have a lot of contempt for the way she lives her life. I have a lot of contempt for the way she raised me, and the way she treats me still. But I love her and would hate for something to happen to her. It took me a lot of time [and a fair bit of therapy] to discover that I love my mother, but I do not like her. I’m firm in the belief that this does not make me a bad person but it does explain a lot of my guilt issues regarding my mother. I do, however, think it is perfectly acceptable to feel the way I do. You probably ought to jump ship here if you’re of the belief that because your mother bore you she deserves for you to like her unconditionally. We’ll agree to disagree.
As I posted previously, I took my mother out for Mothers Day on Tuesday because I have to work this Sunday, which is the actual holiday. Per usual I let her pick the place we were going to eat. I was unsurprised that she chose a particular Italian restaurant in our town, she chooses it every time I take her out to dinner or for a holiday. I arrived about five minutes early and wandered into the lobby with her gift and sat down. She was 20 minutes late. [Incidentally, in this 20 minutes I spoke extensively about wine with our delightful waiter - he as far too knowledgeable for being as young as he was, but - there you have it.] I confess myself mildly annoyed with her for showing up late. We had pushed forward the time for our dinner when she called me earlier in the day and asked if I minded so that her dinner with me did not prevent her from missing American Idol. [No - really- that’s what she said] So, mom = late. Me = annoyed.
She finally arrives and we get settled in. I order wine, she has a daiquiri and she settles in for our meal. She broaches what I like to call "easy" topics first. These are the topics that generally do not annoy me, or that annoy me less than some of her other favorite subjects. She asks me what classes I am taking in school; "Sociology? Are you sure you can understand it?"
What I plan on doing with my degree; "A teacher? You’re about to rack up $10k in debt and you want to teach? Do you like to be poor?"
And, of course, my writing; "Is your novel done? Why won’t you give me your blog address? What kind of people read your blog? Are they all...you know, like you?"
I dive into my glass of wine and cheerfully inform her that I also took Sociology in high school and understood it just fine, that college professors [especially in my field] made decent money as well as having a rewarding career and that my novel was still not finished but I would be happy to discuss with her what I write about on my blog and what my delightfully diverse group of commenters think [respectively].
With the preliminaries out of the way my mother launches into her second favorite subject - our family. The first thing she does is ask after my Aunt A [lets call her Priestess], whom I am spending a lot of time with lately. Now, on surface this may seem very kind and decent of my mother, to inquire about her youngest sister. Its not. No one in my family ever asks casually about a relative out of the kindness of their heart. Its to get information to report to each other and to gossip about. My mother, the oldest of her sisters, does this especially often because it is her duty to report family gossip to my grandmother. Back top the point, though, my mother asks after Priestess very casually. I tell her she is fine. She asks, more bluntly, about some personal changes Priestess has made in her life lately, especially with regards to her personal beliefs. Before I can reply she looks at me suspiciously and asks why I have been spending so much time with her lately. I skip the first question because its really not my place to talk to her about it.
"Priestess and I have a lot of similar views. We talk about them. She and I also share a lot of the same personal problems, and its nice to have someone in a similar situation to talk to about it."
My mother blithely observes, "Priestess isn’t a lesbian."
I nearly choke on my bread and I set it down and reply, after a coughing fit, that its not a problem for me either.
"Of course its not," she says snidely before cheerfully changing the subject to [and mark this, Ka, and the other people I’ve been discussing this - it seems like the topis of the month] whether or not Priestess still has an eating disorder. I would like to note this is a problem that Priestess and I have both discusses, as we both struggle from time to time over this issue. I begin to make a comment about how it takes support and love to get through something like that, and that we support each other, or something of the like; but I never get to finish it. My mother then launches into a lengthy account of how Priestess, my aunt Dancer, and my Grandmother all had eating disorders, and how terrible they were, and what exactly the she knew about them, and how she could tell how hard it was on them. She finally pronounces,
"Its no wonder you got one too. Everyone gets them in our family. Its genetic."
I try not to be angry about they way she talks about it, casually, as though its not a big deal that three generations of our family have suffered with body image issues. I delicately point out to her that someone [anyone] should have talked to said aunts or my grandmother, or me for that matter, about it.. If they noticed the habit they should have helped them with it. I then firmly tell her Priestess is doing well, and that if she cares so much about it, and her condition, that she should talk to her about it herself. My mom replies with our family motto:
"Everyone already knows. Why talk about it? That’s uncomfortable."
As my mother eats her salad she prattles on about my aunts, their bad habits now, and as teenagers, and how in general we are a maladjusted, completely screwed up bunch of women. I try to change the subject and steer her in a new direction. I tell her about Beloved making the Deans List and being invited to join National Honor Society. She doesn’t reply so I tell her about the trip we took to the synagogue with her class on Jewish Americans. I tell her about the service, about the service, the Purim holiday and my chats with her professor and the rabbi, who was a fantastic lady. I also tell her about the discussion I had with the professor about how her class was having a hard time coping with the idea that "you can not believe in god, but still be a good Jew" In essence, the idea that religion is a lifestyle guide as well as a spiritual guide for them.
Have you spotted my mistake? If you’ve ever discussed my mother with me you likely have.
"What! So you don’t believe in God anymore, is that it?" she demands haughtily.
"I didn’t say that. I said I thought it was an interesting concept."
"I’m sure hell will be interesting too."
"I just made a point that its an interesting idea. It’s a fascinating religion."
"Well, I’ve been studying a lot of religions"
Has she? It turns out she can’t understand Buddhism. [It doesn’t make sense!] Catholics creep her out [Did you know they believe funny things, not like a normal Christian religion] but not so much as the Jehovah Witnesses who *apparently* believe Jesus and Lucifer were bothers. She also doesn’t personally agree with the idea of Scientology, but "Tom Cruise and John Travolta are great actors"
It’s a wonder I am even halfway normal, isn’t it?
All of these religions are wrong, of course, but fascinating to my mother. I think for her its like watching ants in a magnifying glass - it’s a better study of action when you know the fire is moments away. I manage to wriggle out of telling her too much about Priestess’s spiritual beliefs and I dodge the discussion of mine almost completely, outside of me admitting there is a god [notice I don’t capitalize the "g" though] This is a good thing, despite the fact that I shouldn’t have to hide my beliefs, because I have a hard time explaining the exact nature of my beliefs to someone open minded. I hope you’ve gathered by now that my mother isn’t one of those people.
I sigh with relief as the waiter returns with our food [bless him, he refills my wine glass with a pitying look, I know he’s caught some of the conversation.] and my mother changes the topic to her favorite topic of all. Her.
"Well, I haven’t been doing well at all. I wish you wanted to talk about problems with me. I could use some advice, really."
"Mmm?" I ask through my mouthful of pasta.
"Well, first of all, 3.0 and I are having problems. [3.0 is, you guessed it, her third husband] I just can’t understand why he acts like this."
"Well, he’s not come home for three nights."
"Did you call the police? Is her hurt?"
"Well, no, we had a fight over your brother," she sighs.
She is referring to Punk, my 22 year old brother who still lives with her. I’ve discussed him a few times, but I can review the highlights. He is a drug addict and alcoholic. She pays his bills, gives him gas money, pays the insurance on his car, gives him an allowance, cooks for him, does his laundry, etc. In general, he has a huge case of failure to launch and she allows it, and I honestly think encourages it. He has a terrible temper and my mother will do anything to keep him from getting angry. There’s been more than once she’s tried to get Beloved and I to let them "hide" at my house for a few nights so he could "calm down" at theirs.
"I see. And so he left?"
"He said he wasn’t coming home until I did something about him. So I kicked your brother out."
"You did?" I ask skeptically. She’s said she’s going to for the last 4 years now.
"Well, I told him he had to be out of the house by the end of the week."
"Uh, huh. Did you tell 3.0 this?"
"Yes, but he’s still mad."
"Well, I told him I thought he was irresponsible too."
I nod, waiting for the bomb to drop.
"Well, I paid off the Visa, and he charges it up again. He sold his car and bought a motorcycle. And he wants to quit his job because he doesn’t like it. And he wants to sell the house. He says we can’t afford it."
"Wow." I say. What else do you say?
"So, what do you think I should do?" she asks.
"Mom, I don’t know." I shake my head. I really want to tell her that mother’s don’t ask marital and financial advice from their 24 year old unmarried daughters.
"Well! You have advice for your Aunt Priestess, but none for me?"
"Mom, its not advice...and, well...I mean, can’t you go see a counselor?"
"Well, I suppose we could. Maybe talk to our pastor."
"That’s a good idea mom."
"Yeah, I’ve been thinking of it for a while now...."
I stare into my dinner and try desperately to think of a topic she and I can talk about that won’t want to make me drink another glass of wine [I have to drive, after all]. I end up lost in trivial prattle about American Idol and other TV shows until I order dessert.
"Get something mom." I encourage. She never eats desserts.
"No, I don’t think so. Those are so fattening. I’m down to a size 6 you know."
I fight the urge to tell her there’s no way she’s a size six [I’m a size 10 or 12 most days, if you care].
"So? There’s fruity stuff on there, its not all chocolate and mousse. I’m getting some."
"You are?" she looks at me critically.
"I am." I say defiantly. I give our order to our waiter. He smiles at me reassuringly, as though he is telling me I won’t get fat and ugly with a single dessert, and promptly brings it out for me. When he hands me the bill as well she looks at me.
"Do you have the money to pay for this?" She asks.
"Of course," I reply. At this point it is surely the wine and nothing else that is keeping me from murdering her. She’s implying I don’t make enough money to take care of myself. Or that’s what it sounds like to me.
I walk my mother out to her car. [As a side note, the waiter made my night, and told me quietly as we were leaving that he thought I was "lovely" dessert or no dessert. I could have kissed him.] She hugs me and tells me to call her and gets in the car and drives away. I heave a sigh of relief as I climb into my truck and head home.
My Grandmother calls the next day. I think to myself I can gloat, because I assume she is calling to remind me of mother’s day. [She calls and reminds me of every holiday and to go visit my mother, as if I can’t remember] But she has apparently spoken to my mother already and is calling for another reason.
"You don’t need to go telling Priestess that your mother’s marriage has started to fall apart. Your mother is devastated you know."
I take a moment to quietly fume.
"Why would I tell Priestess?" I demand.
"Well, I know you two spend time together, and I know you’re close...I just don’t want anyone laughing at your mother, you know. She’s had a hard time."
"And you think I would tell her, and laugh about it?" I try not to shout.
"Well, sweetheart, you know..." she trails off.
"Is this the only reason you called?" I ask.
"No!" she replies quickly. "I wanted to tell you thank you for taking your mother out. She had a nice time."
"That’s good," I reply.
"You should take her out more often."
"Grandma, I don’t have the money or the energy to take her out on a weekly basis and buy her dinner."
"Your mother told me you were making a lot of money at that restaurant."
"I do, but I have to pay bills, and save for school and pay off my truck loan. Things like that."
"Well, doesn’t Beloved help?"
At this point I am nearly ready to scream.
"Of course she does! She supported me while I was unemployed. She takes good care of me. But, and mom should learn this, since her and 3.0 are having financial trouble, you can’t live beyond your means. I’d like to have a nest egg in case something comes up."
"Alright, sweetie, alright. You know, you should spend more time with your mother though, she won’t be around forever..."
"Okay, Grandma," I give in wearily. There’s no point arguing.
"Gran?" I ask
"Did she really kick Punk out?"
"Well, I know she told him he needs to start thinking of a place to go in the next few months. He has to find a place and get himself under control first, you know. He’s got a bit of a problem, with the drinking and alcohol, you know."
"Its an addiction and he needs help and she needs to stop enabling him."
"Well, honey, he knows he has a problem. There’s no point in saying something."
See? There we go again...
"But he’s not going to be out by the end of the week?"
"No! Its cruel to think that about your brother."
I thought not. Bet me money, friends, he’ll be living with her st Christmas, still.
"Well, Gran, I better go..."
"So you aren’t going to talk to Priestess?"
"Alright, well, take care sweetie."
She hangs up the phone. I try not to throw mine. This is like every interaction I have had with my mom and Grandmother since I’ve started to see Beloved. Since then, I say, because I was completely unaware that this wasn’t normal family behavior until I met her and her family. Its since then that I have noticed the way they think. And its only since then that I noticed how mean they can be. When I was younger I would have thought nothing of my mother telling me I would have been so pretty, if it weren’t for my glasses. [and she said this several times] I only felt ashamed I was so ugly. I know better now. And being around them wears me down. A lot.
At this point I regret to say I am too tired for further analysis. You do it, . Tell me I’m wrong in the way I feel. Hwo would you feel were you me?