Yesterday my mom came over to help me pack. I wasn't expecting her to offer, and I had some ambivalent feelings when I saw her text message. Then I thought, I need some help, and she is good at what she does, and this could be a chance to do something together, when I am better rested, and in a relatively stable mood. I decided to call her, I had just woken up, I got a few things done right away, and then went back to bed, listening to music that I like. When I was on the phone with my mom, her tone was different than it had been the last time we were arranging a cleaning and packing date. This time she said she was ready to be more follower than leader, she didn't apologize, and perhaps I could have asked her for one, but I heard the hesitation in her voice, and knew that she was offering out of a genuine desire to do something nice for me, and to be honest, my place was a complete disaster when she came over, and I didn't apologize for that either.
Whether it was because we were both able to set aside some previous hurt feelings, or I had gotten more sleep, and was more tolerant of her way of doing things, which isn't always bad, and sometimes better than the way I might have done them myself, we got a lot accomplished. There is concrete evidence of this, boxes in my living room and chairs nested together, fewer things left in cupboards, and cabinets, there's the more important emotional work that was done. Several years ago I bought a navy blue summer weight pajama set. After my children outgrew their bathrobes I wanted to get them new ones. They scoffed at the idea, told me they wouldn't wear them if I did purchase them, and I backed off, thinking I could use the money for other things. One day I took a look at what my freshly showered child was wearing, and made a comment about how they both had sworn off bathrobes as this hideous concept only the aged would wear. She shrugged it off, and pretty soon the three of us were trying to share one robe, hence the purchase of the blue one.
When I was a child my grandmother on my mother's side would buy us pajamas for Christmas. I hate nightgowns, and rarely purchased them for my own children, but I wanted the robe, and the gown that looked like a dress to me went with it, so I went ahead with the expenditure. I put the gown on just to try it out, and my youngest asked why I was wearing the shower curtain. The curtain we still have is navy with white anchors on it. Normally I think that kind of thing is kitsch, but I had orange towels with thin white stripes, I went with it against some lower level better judgment, and we've had it ever since. I turned on the air when my mom arrived, and even with it running the day was sticky. We were in the closet when I asked if she wanted the nightgown/dress, and at first she resisted, explaining that she was already overly warm. I shrugged, and told her we could throw it in the wash, and it was made to be worn. Typically I threw it on over my swimsuit, it was a loose cotton knit that dried quickly, and since it was technically pajamas, it was cooler to wear than other things I could have chosen.
To my surprise, and hers, that thing fit my mom like it had been made for her. She's not that much taller than I am, but we are built differently. She has much longer limbs than I do, and growing up I felt as if this was some sort of deficiency of mine rather than primarily genetics at play. I was telling a friend that it took me decades to learn that the clothes I often long to wear doesn't look good on me. My mom worked during an era that required women to wear suits to work, and I'm glad I've lived long enough to see that trend slowly being replaced by more individuality, expression, color, and a break from the idea that a rigid dress code of prescribed clothing is going to somehow magically inspire and motivate a group of people that is often overworked, underpaid, neglected, oppressed, and dealing with far more weighty matters at home than they are at work. It seems as if parenting, running a business, or taking a sports team to a championship ought to be far easier than they are.
In the case of parents, they created a child, sometimes, but not always, consensually. A lot of people, including myself, wanted the children we ended up having. They were these beautiful gifts, arriving after pain, suffering, the misery of morning sickness, an expanding waistline, shoes that didn't fit, stares from complete strangers, condescending remarks from some who believed me to be an unwed mother, probably because I looked much younger than I actually was, and after a couple months, my wedding and engagement rings no longer fit. It was among the least of my concerns at the time, but it adds up, and contributes to the stress levels that inevitably get passed on to the as yet unborn child. Corporations hire people that they want to be a part of their team, and more often than not let their great ideas remain unheard, preferring conforming at the expense of uncomfortable innovation. Teams trade for and draft players, and then indoctrinate them with whatever culture the organization actually has rather than the one the PR branch touts.
If I had a child now, I would do things very differently. Now I see that when the mother, or father, suffers, so does the child. I really thought that some of the more important things were making sure that the child had a nutritious diet, and enrichment via books and play time were more important than some of the other factors I didn't fully understand such as harmony between mom and dad. I can remember crying when my parents were fighting, I often chose sides, and today I realize that while one person can appear to be the aggressor or instigator on the surface, the other person can share in the fault, and it is typically a shades of gray situation rather than a clear black and white photograph that more clearly denotes who is the bad guy, and who wears the halo. Perhaps the most startling thing I heard yesterday was my mom telling me not to do anything else after she left. I expected a lecture on how I should be more tidy, and I know I can be, and want to be. I'm excited to be moving and integrating these healthier habits into my life despite the difficulty that I am anticipating.
Yesterday when my friend and I were talking about our parents, specifically our mothers, I was so sad to hear about how she had been treated as a child. I wondered why we have this tendency to lash out, to react, to punish rather than protect, and how so many of us have developed and thrive despite how poorly we were treated at times. I grieve for the children I have because I wasn't the parent they needed so much of the time, but I also know in my heart that the majority of the time I did the best I could with the resources I had, and their poor treatment was often a result of me lacking the things I needed, and trying to cope without whatever it was. When I write, I think about these dynamics, parent vs child, parent vs parent, child vs child, child vs themselves, family vs the outside world, family vs other family members, and I reflect on how a great day with my own mother felt undermined by a call from another family member that left me feeling unsteady, attacked, and less than loved.
Most of all I regret the time I didn't spend with my children.
There were times when my dad would spend hours with us, shooting freethrows, going for bikerides, playing catch in the back yard, reading the same books to us that we had heard numerous times, but having that ritual because it was important to all of us. My mom gets things done. My dad did too, but he would work, and then switch gears completely. There were times when he would insist that we spend time together as a farmily, and use cruelty or brutal treatment to get his way, I remember being forced to sit at uncomfortably tense family meals because it was good for us to gather that way. While that may have been true at times, I saw the hollowness of following a tradition that didn't instill anything other than a growing sense of resentment, the veneer of civilization has never been enough for me, I need the real thing, and if that means two people are eating a snack when they are hungry, and supper is something other than meat and potatoes, I'm fine with that. I remember begging the father of my children to be with us, just sitting there was all I was asking for, he didn't have to eat the food if he didn't like it.
Looking back I was asking far too little. He had the choice to opt out, and later I grabbed that as my own right, letting my children open the fridge, the pantry, helping themselves to whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted it. He would erupt if a particular food was gone right away, while my own mind went back to childhood, and the feeding frenzy that would often ensue whenever there was a perceived treat in the house. I figured that the food was meant to be eaten, and it was galling to listen to him say that he didn't want to go out to eat since he had just gone out at lunch. There was very little compromise, almost no negotiation, there was me trying to get along with someone who was going to do their own thing regardless, and then it became the marriage my parents had, two people sharing space like roommmates who had sex, and probably didn't enjoy that the way that they could have. Retrospectively I can see that I wanted to feel needed, and tried to subjugate myself and the emotional comforting I required since I had never received it from my own parents, and hadn't learned how to soothe myself, or sleep deeply when the day had ended.
Doubtless this sounds depressing, and it's not the happiest of materials, but good came out of it. I learned to live on my own, I did things I never expected to be doing, received things I didn't believe I could have as gifts, freely given by another, without manipulation. I'm happy my mom came over, today she is having a get together in honor of my youngest, and after she left I had the sinking feeling that she stopped by as a way to get me to attend her gathering. I don't enjoy those types of thoughts, and I could be wrong, but once again a sibling of mine asked if I was going to attend, and that is the type of control I will resist, probably until my dying day. It's why I would rather let my own children sink when I could dive in after them and try to save them. I've paid for swimming lessons, they haven't, and aren't reaching out, so I keep praying for them, and reach for the metaphorical oxygen mask that the airlines warn us we need to secure and activate before trying to get air to them. There's middle ground in there somewhere, and I'm sure others have their own ideas on this, but I'm proud of all of us in this fractured, previously nuclear family unit.
It takes great courage to let someone else fail in any capacity. I don't have all the answers, or even most of them. All I can do is what makes the most sense to me on a certain level, mostly an intuitive one as that is the way I operate best. Seeing patterns, connecting things that don't seem to go together to anyone else. I was telling my mom about some of the people I've worked with in the past, and had some wonderful memories revisit me, tiny movies inside my head that only I can see in full, vivid, technicolor. The smiles, a flash of some deeper emotion, concern for me when I was struggling, joy when I received a raise, sorrow and outrage when I was asked to accept a lesser position than I had. Some people think they are winning the war merely because I conceded a battle, and on some primitive level this amuses me. Today's sermon was about prayer, and I listened to one of my dad's favorite hymns with tears streaming down my cheeks, knowing I do not deserve, have not earned, and receive regardless. I went for a walk, and probably will stop by my mom's because I am grateful, and this feels like a healthier interaction than past ones.
Until next time,
P.S. My mom told me not to pack up my paints, and that was another really unexpected statement since I feel she disapproves of how much I spend on that hobby.
- Today I read an article about neurological
- plasticity in children, how their brains, that
- may have been damaged when their bodies
- were abused, can be taught to change as
- they were allowed to voice their frustrations,
- and how these disruptives were offered snacks,
- space, and compassion rather than more
- detentions, punishments, and other
- traditional methods that failed to
- address the underlying problems.
- Reading that took me back in time, to
- a moment when I felt that a teacher
- cared enough to listen to me. It
- never feels as if I had enough attention,
- perhaps the quantity was
- adequate, but the quality
- was lacking. I believe
- that you have a secret
- world too, one where there
- is a lot more color, expression
- and beauty than one might suspect
- given how often you sit on the
- sidelines. I love dimensionality
- in art, and strive to create
- the layers I see in you,
- and myself, I want
- tangible proof it
- exists, even
- though my
- belief ought to be enough.
- I've seen glimpses of it here
- and there, but mostly it's
- an awareness, and this
- might sound like a
- silly way to think
- about it, but when I saw
- the way you worked,
- I thought about
- something an
- uncle of mine once said.
- A woman I worked with told me
- that you can only control
- disorder in so many
- areas of your life,
- I like the order of
- organization, but the
- words of my uncle rang true
- when I saw you searching
- for your missing wrench,
- creating genius out of chaos.
- I wonder if you could learn
- the lesson that I did, to
- view oneself with eyes
- of another, to stop focusing
- on the flaws, and appreciate
- all of the amazing things you
- bring to the lives of others.
- Nobody writes poetry about
- rear trailing arm bushings,
- nobody, except me apparently.
- I used to think that we were
- so different, and that is still
- a perception I'm sure many
- share, but more and more I
- see the similarities surfacing.
- Functional art goes unappreciated
- which is why I took the time to
- write this, every tire, every set
- of brakes, the serpentine belts,
- satellite radio issues, rear diff noise,
- All of the things that make you
- brilliant are easy to take for
- granted since there is a fundamental
- lack of understanding, customers
- want miracles, often for nothing,
- and so often you deliver, at a great
- cost to yourself. The other day I was
- thinking, this is it, no more luxury cars
- for me, but then I think, had I not spent
- what I did, we would still, be strangers...