Some Thoughts on Christmas

Mothers and Daughters at Christmas

My Mother the Christmas Grinchgrinch_santa

Something about the holidays brings out the worst in some people. Take my mother for example. It wasn’t always this way, but in the past few years, she has turned into a real Grinch. She spends most of December complaining about Christmas, Christmas decorations, Christmas dinner, Christmas presents, Christmas cards, and then she hurts herself by putting up lawn decorations and inside decorations after complaining that she’s never going to do it again. She buys presents for “people who never appreciate them and wraps them. She sends out cards to people who “don’t send out cards any more.” And if I say that it’s fine if we don’t have a big dinner on Christmas day because she says that it’s too much work, or if I offer to cook, she’ll end up cooking most of it anyway.

It’s another one of those damned if I do, damned if I don’t propositions for me. Whatever I do is wrong, and whatever I don’t do is wrong as well. And I’ve finally had to admit in my later years that my mother can be just plain mean to me when she wants to be, and I just take it, for two reasons: my Dad is gone, so Mom is all that I have left because I have no siblings. And, my Dad is gone, so I’m all that she has left to pick on. I know. I know. It’s a very dysfunctional relationship, but it’s all that we know, and it’s way too late to change now.

The Cleavers we definitely are not. I content myself with the knowledge that my own household is a little more sane. My relationship with my own husband is actually loving, and I do try to talk to my children, not down or at them. But, who knows? Maybe one day they’ll write their own tell-all books, and I’ll find out that they actually think of me as a “Mommy Dearest” . . . no more wire hangers . . .

Speaking of Mothers

It’s hard when you notice a decline in someone’s health. My mother-in-law on my ex-husband’s side was diagnosed a few years ago with one of those conditions that progressively worsens the ability of the nervous system to work properly. For quite a while, her symptoms weren’t that noticeable. But lately, I’ve noticed that she is displaying more symptoms, and I’m in denial about it. I don’t want to see these symptoms because I know what they mean.

She talks freely about her disease and even mentions that she thinks that it is progressing. But lately, I find that I am having problems reciprocating in these conversations. I don’t want it to be this way because we have always had a good relationship, one in which we would talk to each other about pretty much anything. But if I talk to her about this, it becomes too real for me. I know that I have to get over this so that I can continue to be there for her just as I would want her to be there for me, but it’s going to take some backbone on my part. And I have to admit that at the moment, I need to find that backbone.

But what is more important is that I am there for her, that she be able to talk to me. My knowledge that her condition is worsening means that I will be losing her and it is something that I will have to face and work through, regardless of my own discomfort.

And Daughters . . .

Alexis tells me that for the past four years when she has taken her boyfriend Mike over to her grandfather and step-grandmother’s house on Christmas Day, Mike has yet to be acknowledged. Now I can understand this possibly on the first year, but Alexis and Mike have been living together for four years quite happily but without the benefit of marriage. I have no problems with that. I do have a problem with Nancy, her step-grandmother being so rude to Mike.

On Mike’s side of the family, they have gone to great lengths to welcome Alexis when she has visited at Christmas, even when they barely knew her. They don’t have a lot of money, but they have always made her feel as if she is a part of the family.

On my side, my mother and my mother-in-law and Corey’s family have all acknowledged Mike, but it still hurts Alexis that he has to sit there on Christmas Day while everyone is opening family presents, and there isn’t even a card addressed to him. Mike is so easy going that he has never said a word, but Alexis is angry on his behalf, and frankly, I don’t blame her. It’s a blatant statement of omission.

sad-elfNow you might think that it’s just an oversight, and if Nancy were any other kind of person, I could agree with you. But this woman is very meticulous. She has a white couch in her living room. Her home is spotless. The only time children have ever been in her home is when she married their Grandpa and our kids started to come over for a few visits a year. Ann and I took our children aside and threatened them to behave as if they were in a museum because we certainly couldn’t replace any of the antiques that adorned the tables.

She also does not forget the basic rules of etiquette, so this omission of Mike from the family gift-giving is not a slip up, certainly not four years in a row. So this year, Alexis plans to take a present for Mike to open when everyone else is opening presents. She asked me if I thought that this would be all right. I told her that I thought that it would be fine. In fact, I think that it’s a wonderful idea because Nancy will certainly notice, and what can she say? “Where on earth did that come from?”

Ah families. They keep the holidays interesting at least. By the way. I can check off Christmas Cards, but I haven’t bought stamps. The buffet has been moved out of the dining room, and the new table is being put together. Brett put up the outside icicle lights, but we need to find an extension cord. The tree goes up tomorrow, and I start the wrapping tomorrow. And yes, I realize that Christmas is just three days away. I did not need that reminder, thank you very much.

I need to go now because the pressure is unbearable. There might be more later if I can still type with my right arm. I’m getting a shot in my arm later today.

Peace on earth.


Because I Said So . . .

I Promise Never Say To My Children Some of The Bizarre Things My Mother Said To Me

“Someday you’ll have a daughter, and I hope that she’s just like you” (mom)

How many of us remember swearing when we were younger that we would not be like our parents? That we would never ever answer a questions with the completely nonsensical words “because I said so”? How many of us have used those exact words out of complete and utter exasperation only to realize two seconds later, ‘I’ve become my mother/father’? I’ll admit to doing worse. I’ve actually used the mother’s curse: I’ve said, “I can’t wait for you to grow up and have children of your own some day so that you can see what it’s like to have an ungrateful child.”

Yep. I have gone there. More than once. Even when I swore in my oh so holier than thou youthful twenties that I would never say that to my children, that I wouldn’t resort to the same tactics that my mother used. But of course, that was before . . . before my daughter went through her teens, decided to use her bedroom window as a door to the world, decided to run up $500 in long distance charges on our phone bill because we didn’t get her a cell phone, to name but a few. But that was nothing as compared to my oldest son, who really was supposed to be born to very rich parents because his sense of entitlement is beyond astounding.

However, I am told that this is not a phenomenon belonging to him alone. If all is to be believed, his entire generation is rich in its sense of entitlement and completely lacking in a sense of sexual morality. Okay. Let me stop here. I know, you will say that this is a generational thing, that each generation believes that its younger counterpart has no morals when it comes to sex. Our parents were astounded with the whole idea of “free love,” and then living together before marriage and then living together with no intentions of getting married. Admittedly, each generation breaks boundaries of the generation before.

But there are a few significant differences between the generation that grew up having sex from the 90’s on, and the biggest one, of course, is that no other generation before could literally die from having sex. You could catch some nasty diseases, but they were all curable. Herpes came along, and that one, we found out, stayed around forever, but no one died from it. It could cause birth defects if a baby delivered vaginally while the mother had an outbreak. But with AIDS, we were moving onto a new playing field.

“Babies comes from mommy’s tummies, but don’t tell anyone” (mom)teens-sex

So when you gave the lectures on sex and birth control and being responsible, you also told your kids about AIDS and what it was and what it could do, and you told them that birth control was not AIDS control, and you prayed that they listened and you hoped that they would be a little less free with their love than maybe you were and that they would wait a little longer than you did.

Turns out you were wrong. The average age at which teens lose their virginity today is 15, and more young girls are shooting for 14. I’m not using the phrase “shooting for” lightly. That whole peer pressure thing is a bitch. Only about one in seven uses birth control, often because the male pressures against condom usage, and the girl is afraid that if she pressures for a condom, he will find another willing partner. From the statistics, it seems that he probably will. A new study from the Kaiser Foundation shows that more than a third of new HIV infections in the U.S. occur among young people between the ages of 13 and 29, those very people who do not believe in their own fallibility, the ones who are not using condoms religiously like their older counterparts.

May I just pause here to say, What In The Hell Is Wrong With This Picture??? If you just read the paragraph above and are thinking that those statistics only apply to a certain ethnic group or only apply to urban high schools, well I hate to burst your great big bubble of unreality, but WRONG. In one of the surveys I read, 14 percent of the 10,000 participants said that they are having sex at school ( Something even scarier: one in five girls claimed that she wanted to be a teenage mom. Teen pregnancies already occur in about three quarter of a million girls a year. Whoa!

What a lot of these young women, (using the term loosely) do not realize about frequent sexual activity at such a young age is the risk that they are taking with their bodies and how it might affect their ability to have children later in life. Their cervixes aren’t fully formed and are at greater risk for diseases such as chlamydia. Left untreated, chlamydia can lead to cervical cancer. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease often goes undiagnosed and untreated and can also lead to infertility. Undiagnosed STDs are passed from partner to partner, and male partners are not invulnerable.

“Women aren’t supposed to enjoy sex” (mom)

But what about intimacy? What about saving yourself for that special someone? That does not even seem to come into play with this generation. Sex is truly casual, referred to as hooking up; oral sex is seen as non-sexual, which, pardon the expression, blows me away. Something that we used to save for special relationships, fiancés even, these kids perform in the gym on people they aren’t even dating.  I found the following statistics from the The Guttmacher Institute staggering, and as you know, I’m pretty liberal:

  • More than 75 percent of teens have had sex by the time they are 19 years old.
  • Some 25 percent of virgins over 15 have had oral sex; of those who’ve had intercourse, almost all have also engaged in oral sex
  • Eleven percent have engaged in anal sex.
  • Of kids under 15, about 14 percent have had sexual intercourse
  • One quarter of teenagers have had at least one sexually transmitted disease
  • Young people account for half of the 19 million new STD cases each year.

holding-handsThe problem—as far as I can determine from reading about it in article after article—is that young people who are sexually active with partner after partner, treat sex like a party favor. They don’t understand the concept of intimacy, of finding closeness with one person and how that intimacy actually changes the whole sexual experience, transforms it. In an age of entitlement, in which the man-child wants what he wants when he wants it when he wants it and sees no need to wait for it, how does society convey intimacy against a backdrop of video games, movies, and comedians in which the badass refers to women as hoes and bitches, demeans them to non-entity status? How or why should one seek intimacy with an inanimate object? Bros before hoes, right?

How does a young female with limited self-worth thrive against such a backdrop? Bros before hoes—it’s the mantra she hears, and she grows accustomed to it unless someone tells her no, that’s not how it should be. You are worth something. And you hope that she hears you, actually hears you.

No matter what our teenagers are told at home, no matter what kind of loving, respectful relationship they might see between their parents at home, how can that compete with what happens when they walk out the front door? You talk and you talk and you talk, and then you read about how camera phones allow teens to send each other explicit pictures of each other that end up on the internet, and they may have just been playing around, but never thought about the consequences of a wired in world.

Being a good role model, taking the time to have those special talks, showing respect to one another within the family unit, reinforcing treatment of women as people not objects . . . how much more can you do? It tends to make me want to crawl back under the covers and never come out again, just when I was beginning to think that it was safe out here.

Too much to think about. Peace.

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.