“Pandora,” by John William Waterhouse (1896, oil on canvas)
“The evils of the body are murder, theft, and adultery; of the tongue, lying, slander, abuse, and idle talk; of the mind, covetousness, hatred, and error.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I’m sitting here in a white cotton sweater that is probably sixteen years old. I love this sweater, even though it is torn. It is soft and comfortable, and it reminds me of my friend Mari, who gave it to me one Christmas.
I have a lot of things that are this old. I’m not complaining, just noting. Why? Well, I’m a tad upset, actually more than a tad, and once again, it has to do with my mother, the woman who can cut me down in two sentences and never glance back.
Today Corey stopped by her house to use the fax machine. My mother had a bone to pick. She asked Corey if we (more specifically, I) had made any big purchases lately. He was, understandably, confused as our purchases are limited to groceries and shampoo. My mother told him that she had heard we had bought a new big bookcase for the living room. I know where she heard this from—my other m-i-l, whose visit I mentioned a few posts ago. My other m-i-l noticed the large wardrobe that is sitting in the living room, the one that is supposed to go in the bedroom, but the bedroom has yet to be painted or carpeted.
This piece of furniture is very large and heavy. Moving it is not simple or easy; hence, we have not moved it into the bedroom. We purchased this piece of furniture four years ago with cash from our tax return at a time when money was not a concern as we were both working in good paying jobs. That this furniture is still not in a bedroom is a reflection of the state of our life right now. However, it is not a reflection of careless spending on our part, or extravagant purchases.
Try telling this to my mother who got the information from my other m-i-l, who lives in a constant state of confusion. Corey explained this to my mother, who informed him that he needs to keep me in line. Corey told my mother that I don’t buy anything, that he pays the bills and does the budget and that I don’t even go shopping, all of which is true. I have been shopping on my own once in the last 12 months—at Christmas—and even then I was very restrained and made no purchases for myself.
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
Now let me pause here to interject a bit of history, and I apologize if I am repeating myself. After Caitlin died, I shopped my way through my grief. I have admitted this and owned up to my mistakes many times over. I worked very hard to overcome the need to shop to fill the emptiness in my life. I still like to shop, when I have money, but I do not have a fierce need to shop, and there is a big difference.
I no longer go out every Saturday and buy things just to buy. I no longer go from store to store to store, picking up things indiscriminately simply because I can. I no longer do this not because I don’t have the money. I no longer do this because I realized why I was doing this, and I no longer have the deep well of emptiness inside of me.
I have moved on. My mother, however, has not. She still thinks of me as that person who shopped and shopped as if my very life depended upon it. I don’t know about life, but definitely sanity. I have tried to tell my mother repeatedly that I am no longer addicted to shopping (and yes, it is possible to be addicted to shopping). I have tried to tell her that I do not spend money without any thought of the consequences.
She, for whatever reason, does not believe me. Hence, the snide comment about a recent large purchase on my part. Why does this bother me so much when I know the truth?
Well consider: How would you feel if you had made a mistake many years ago, and you had learned from that mistake, and you had taken measures to correct that mistake only to have said mistake thrown in your face at any given opportunity?
I can tell you. You would feel like a failure, an abysmal failure.
“There is nothing more dreadful than the habit of doubt. Doubt separates people. It is a poison that disintegrates friendships and breaks up pleasant relations. It is a thorn that irritates and hurts; it is a sword that kills.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I truly believe that I will never really understand my mother, no matter how long either of us lives. She can be loving and generous and kind, but mostly with anyone but me. She will talk trash about me to just about anyone: my spouse, my children, my friends. She will believe anyone else before me.
There are so many little stories from my life that exemplify this, far too many to bring up, but one in particular illustrates my point: The homes in my parents’ neighborhood had septic tanks before the city installed sewage throughout the area. One time, the tank became clogged, and my parents had to call one of those companies that specialize in fixing such problems. My mother told the workers, my father, anyone who would listen that she was certain that I had thrown a bottle of nail polish down the toilet, and that had led to the clog. I was about 9 years old.
Nail polish . . . really? Why? I never even contemplated doing such a thing, even as a child. I mean, to what end? I didn’t have any nail polish of my own, and as far as I can remember, my mother did not paint her nails. Did the polish appear by magic? I protested my innocence, but to no avail. I had already been judged guilty, so that was that.
I hadn’t remembered this incident until a few nights ago when for some reason, it popped into my head. Funny how memory works.
“Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or ill.” ~ Siddartha Guatama (Buddha)
I know that I should not let what my mother said affect me so much, nor should I continue to be surprised when she makes these declarations. But it takes a great deal of self-confidence not to let disparaging words spoken about you affect you, especially when spoken by someone who is supposed to love you in the way that a mother is supposed to love. And self-confidence is something with which I still have a hard time.
At the same time, I know that my mother is a product of her generation, a product of the Great Depression, being the youngest in a family with 12 children, being the daughter of a mother who died when she was only eight, and the daughter of a father who drank. I realize that her life as a child was very hard, and not having her mother definitely affected her ability to show love outwardly.
I try to remind myself of these things when she does something to irk me. It helps, but truthfully, it does not lessen the hurt that I feel. I sound like a petulant child. All that is missing is the stamp of the foot and the protestation that “it’s not fair.” So of the two of us, I try to be the adult. All that being said, it would be so nice if just once I felt, truly felt, that she was not sitting in judgment of me.
All I can do, I suppose, is try to remember not to treat my own family in the same way, to let them know that I am proud of them, to tell them that I love them, and to refrain from interjecting past failures into the present. I hope that one day I do not have to read something written by one of my own children only to find that he or she sees me in the say way that I see my own mother.
Counting to ten doesn’t work. A hot cup of tea helps. Writing about it helps to lessen the sting. Time, healing, and all of that . . . scars remain forever, but my scars are the map of my world, each one a wound healed, a memory filed away, a piece of mortality tasted.
Patience. Is. A. Virtue.
More later. Peace.
Music by REM, “Everybody Hurts”