This is my post Mother’s Day post. I find myself continuing old arguments with my mother. Arguments that I can not win. I hear her yelling “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you be normal? What did I do to deserve this?”
My mother and I argued from nursery school through graduate school. I couldn’t take it. I gradually reduced the number of visits until I only saw her at funerals, weddings, and Bar/Bat MItzvahs. We could not be seated at the same table. In the end we had nothing to say to each other. We argued silently.
My mother was always angry with me. She wanted a daughter. She wanted me to wear pretty dresses. She wanted me to be coy and precocious. She wanted me to prove that she was a good mother. Instead, I was an embarrassment. I was boyish, chubby, awkward, and shy. I was willfully disobedient. I threw tantrums. I was visible proof of her failure.
She was an unhappy person. She was critical of everyone except for her mother and my brother. She felt slighted in every interaction with the outside world. She blamed it on me. I made her look bad.
She could not accept I was at the boy’s end of the girl’s bell curve. She tried to force me towards the middle. I did not budge. She would argue “How can you go out looking like that? Who will be friends with you? Who will want to marry you? What college will accept you? Who will hire you? What is wrong with you?” I could not defend myself against her. Answering gave her more fuel; silence allowed her to continue because she was right all along. Heinz Kohut called this narcissistic rage. It was my mother’s modus operandi.
There are parents who do not silence their children or force them to hide their true selves. They love and accept their feminine sons, their masculine daughters, their transgender children. They take a lot of flak for practicing unconditional love. I follow two blogs written by the mothers of transgender children; George Jesse Love and Trans*forming Family. They give me hope.
When it was clear she was dying, my mother told my brother to let me know, in case I wanted to see her. I told him to tell her that if she asked to see me I would go. She did not ask. I did not go.
Donna and I went to the funeral. My mother was interred in the last crypt of her father’s family’s mausoleum. She was placed directly under her mother. She would have been upset with the rabbi (too young), with the service (too short), and with me for wearing black Levi’s (inappropriate).
When I die I want my ashes to be mixed with the ashes of my dogs. I want our ashes scattered at Good Harbor Beach in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It will be my last act of willful disobedience.
If my mother-in-law were not still alive (in our house) and kicking me (with her currently two broken legs) I would think that she and your mother were one and the same. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could choose our blood family the way we select our families of choice?
I can not imagine what kind of a mother I would want to choose – probably an earthy, artistic, warm one with a good sense of humor. Which explains why I took up with Donna. Sorry about your mother-in-law. Perhaps you can keep her drugged up.
Your blogpost reminds me of Jeanette Winterson’s “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” (2011), an autobiography that really moved me.
I love that book, even though it is painful to read. She is a great writer, and courageous to tell the truth about her depression and breakdowns.
I loved your post, especially “We argued silently.” and “I was at the boy’s end of the girl’s bell curve.” And it made me feel not so bad about me and my dad constantly arguing (and I often do not argue back anymore, as there is no point, but it hasn’t stopped him from saying zingers all the time… but ANYway…). The reason I feel “not so bad” is because although he is constantly criticizing the way I live (I am too messy, I am overweight, my lawn is overgrown, I refuse to use chemicals in my yard, I don’t plant my garden the right way, I don’t save money, why don’t I want a full-time 5-days-a-week regular job,…), he doesn’t criticize ME so much, you know? He is happy with me, as a person (though he worries about my constantly being single and I volunteer too much etc).
I find it funny how parents can be so critical of their kids sometimes. I mean, they often take the good parts for granted and hound you for whatever you don’t do to their liking. Don’t THEY remember what it was like to be kids?! I think there should be an age at which parents are no longer allowed to criticize their kids — they should be able to accept that by, say, 30, they have done their best to raise their kids, and they should just accept them as individuals.
Ok, that’s my rant for today. PS. I have to add that I have said to my dad more than once: “You know you don’t have to tell me that anymore! All of your criticisms and warnings play in my head automatically now, whether I want them to or not!”
Sometimes I just can’t find the off switch for my mother’s voice. Also, problematically, she wasn’t completely wrong about everything. I’m sure your Dad is right about your garden, but so what! There are more important things than a neat yard and garden. Thanks again for writing.
It took me many years to make peace with my mother, admitting that she did the best she could with what she had. I still have her voice in my head, but not so much anymore. Having people in my life who love me enables me to forgive her for not being able to.
Fabulous post. I’ve lived a very similar tale with my own mother. I guess there’s a few of them out there, and to that I say- Here’s to willful disobedience forever!
And to our survival!
Crazy, guilttripping Jewish mother?
RIght out of central casting.