My mother’s daughter

My Mom
My Mom

Just so you don’t think that I’m laying the blame for everything at my mother’s feet, I’ll try to spend some print time on her for a change. I love my mother, I really do. But it is a love that comes at a steep price. My mother once went almost four months without speaking to me, and to this day, I’m not really sure which sin I committed. I called her during this time, and left messages on her answering machine, but she would never pick up. Actually, I hadn’t committed the sin, my eldest son had, if memory serves me correctly, but somehow, the entire situation grew to enormous proportions, and everyone in my house became persona non grata, even my youngest son, and he had no idea as to why. And then the cold war was over just as suddenly as it had begun, and no mention was made of the offense or the treaty. My son had called and apologized, just as he had done in the beginning. But apparently, this apology was better than the first, and so we could all move on. This is how my mother operates.

As she gets older, she becomes offended more easily; however, I do not know what offends her, so it is always prickly. For example, she pulled my Obama 08 yard sign up and threw it off to the side in my front yard several months ago, and then pretended that she had no idea as to who would do such a terrible thing. I pretended that I did not know that it was her. We pretend a lot.

I have gotten used to her method of conversing, which can best be described as non sequiturs in action. For example, start of conversation:

Mom: Well I told him about it. (pronouns have no antecedents; actually they do, but the antecedents were mentioned days before).

Me: Told who about what?

Mom: You know (exasperated at my ignorance). Bill, (names made up for privacy), Mary’s nephew. You remember him. I told him about the door.

Me: (at this point I can either pretend to remember Bill and Mary, neither of whom I have ever met in my life, and the conversation will progress more smoothly, or I can be honest. Which way I go is based on how much time and patience I have). Which door?

Mom: The storm door. Remember I told you that it needs to be replaced/painted/fixed?

Me: I thought that you had decided to buy a new one from Home Depot (conversation we had on Saturday)

Mom: I never said that.

Me: Oh.

Now other people might be frustrated at starting in the middle of a conversation discussing people you are supposed to know, but after years of doing this, I’m pretty much used to it. I will admit, though, that at times it drives the ever-loving bejeezus out of me and I start rebelling by saying that I’ve never met this person or heard of that person, and then we begin to have a stalemate.

This is not to say that my mother does not have her good points. She is very generous with most people, and she loves her grandchildren unconditionally but not uncritically. But she doesn’t have an internal censor button. For example, when I was pregnant with Eamonn, she actually said to me, “I knew that you weren’t carrying a girl because you weren’t pretty like you were when you were carrying the girls…” Let’s talk about the roots of my self-esteem problem, shall we? And then she does love to point out to me that I have put on weight, or ask me things like, “What in god’s name are you wearing?” because I obviously got dressed without a mirror or a clue.

I have tried many times to unravel the mystery that is my mother. She was the baby of 12 children—eight boys and 4 girls—a child of the great depression. At one time, her family was fairly well-to-do, but her father drank most of it away. She lost her own mother when she was just eight years old, and that had to affect her own ability to mother. Her father was a stern man. She grew up in a small town in North Carolina, but ended up traveling all over the world as a result of marrying a sailor. She had to have some rebellion in her; after all, she married a Filipino man when it was still considered an interracial marriage. She has lived through hurricanes and monsoons. She has lived without much at all, and she has dined at embassies. She is a walking contradiction, my mother. That’s probably why I really don’t understand her.

But I suppose that I am not unlike most adult women. We love our mothers, but we wonder why they continue to tax us and demand so much of us. Will we ever get to a point at which we feel adequate in their eyes? Or is this just me? I don’t think so, not after talking to my friends. Is this one of those puzzles in life that is never meant to be answered? The more you ponder it, the more confused you become by it? Is it the mother enigma, the holy grail for daughters, the real answer to the riddle of the Sphinx: Can any daughter truly please her mother during her mother’s lifetime without going mad in the trying?

Uh, that would be a no.

Such Stuff as Dreams are Made of

I had one of those dreams last night that I really didn’t want to end. It was about my father, or rather, it had my father in it in a prominent role. From what I can remember, it started with my dad and I in line at the commissary (for you non-military people, that’s where you buy groceries on a military base). Everything had already been rung up by the cashier when I remembered that I was holding a bunch of bananas. I told my dad that I would pay for the bananas separately as he was already writing a check. In my dream, I watch him write out the check very carefully, and I know why I am doing this. I always loved my father’s penmanship; it was very beautiful, carefully formed and readable. He hands the cashier the check, and I hand her one dollar for the bananas, and we leave the store. Then, on the drive home, we pass my mother who is driving the opposite way, and she rolls down the window and tells us that she is going to the diner with someone to have lunch. I can tell that my father is upset that she is going to the diner without him. We keep driving, and he tells me that he and my mother used to go to the diner together all of the time.

That’s about all that I can remember of the dream. Nothing particularly spectacular, other than the fact that I am spending time alone with my father, something we rarely did once I grew up. Now that he is gone, we do it a lot in my dreams. We go to a lot of places together in my dreams. We have lots of conversations, one-on-one conversations. I don’t suppose I need to mention that we didn’t do that a lot either once I got older. My father wasn’t big on conversations. He was a quiet man, at least at home, unless he was angry, and then he was loud, full of ire, sometimes uncontrollable ire. My temper is very much like my father’s at times—uncontrollable. It is not something of which I am proud. It is as if some switch goes off, and I can no longer contain the words tumbling out of my mouth, and I hate every second that this scathing venomous attack lasts. I have gotten much better at controlling this switch, but it still happens, but it takes a lot more to set it off.

But with my father, you just didn’t know how long his fuse was. I think that’s the way it is with people who hold so much inside for so long. You know that sooner or later it has to come out, but you just have no idea what is going to set it off. So spilling kool-ade might set it off, when in fact, it’s really something from three months ago that has been simmering. And then he would (to use a good old southern word) holler like crazy. So there would be hollering in the house, but it was almost always between my mom and dad.

When I was a child, I only remember two times that my father really got angry with me. I mean good and angry with me. My mother usually handled the discipline. But there were two times that my father stepped in. That was as a child. But as I got older, as a teenager, I remember my father saying something to me one time when I was acting like an ass over something that really caught me short. My dad was sitting in his usual chair in the dining room, and he looked up at me with so much pain in his eyes, and he said, “when was the last time you actually said hello to me when you walked into the house?” It stopped me dead in my tracks. In my self-absorbed 16-year-old self, I suppose it never even occurred to me that my father would want to hear hello from me, one simple word. Talk about making a person feel horrible, he hadn’t even said it in anger, just in resignation, a tired man who had realized where he stood in the hierarchy of his daughter’s priorities. God, if I could take back that moment.

But as to conversations, my father wasn’t big on sitting down and having heartfelt conversations. He would have brief conversations, usually consisting of two to three questions: “You doing okay?” “You like your job?” and maybe one or two more. If it went further, it was more of a 20 questions kind of probing on my part or on his. Not nosiness, just a comfortable questions and answer period. I think that we communicated like this mostly because he knew that I understood how taxing his communication was with my mother and I realized that if wanted me to know something, he would tell me, and that was somewhat of a relief for him. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to denigrate my mother. You just have to understand her modus operandi for communication. It can be relentless and includes many assumptions, and unfortunately, I sometimes fall into that pattern if I am not careful. So often when my dad and I were together once I was older, it was in companionable silence or with a few questions here and there so that once my mother got me on the phone, she couldn’t interrogate me as to what my father and I had spoken about.

So when I have these dreams in which I am spending time with my dad at the grocery store or in the car or just talking, I relish them, cherish them because I know, deep in my heart that they are my father’s gift to me. That somehow, somewhere, my father knows that there are days on which I would give anything, everything to be able to pick up the telephone and hear his voice, but that will never ever happen again. And so I must settle for what dreams may come.