Things said to me at a gathering recently: “Are you just going to keep having kids until you finally get one right?” “This is husband number three, do you think you can keep this one?” “You are such a breeder!” At first I was told that I looked like I had gained 50 pounds, and then when I said no, actually, I have gained 7, I was reminded how important it is to not worry about my weight when pregnant. And the funny but not funny thing about it is that while I have expected to hear at least some variation of these things, I certainly didn’t expect to hear them from my own mother.
I do so well most of the time (maybe because I live 150 miles away from here and therefore can keep some emotional distance from her as well?) when it comes to my mom. I mean, she is how she is, and she isn’t ever going to change. If I want to have a relationship with her (and most of the time I do), I have to accept how she is and try to work around it. Mostly I do all right with it, because I can often understand why she is the way she is. That doesn’t make it ok, mind you, but at least I can come from a more compassionate place. This time, however, well…
Part of it was because we were at my sister’s house having a barbecue with several of her friends/co-workers. I don’t how much, if any of it, was heard by them, but my mom isn’t exactly the most quiet of people. I was cringing inwardly while she said, in so many words, that I am a careless breeder who can’t keep a man or raise decent children. Also a FAT one who doesn’t care enough about the health of her baby to gain weight (yes, I know it doesn’t make sense). Still, that maybe I could have blown off; more than likely, these people who love my sister have heard about how mom is. What really got to me is Owen tugging on my arm and asking,”why doesn’t your mama like you?” And how do you answer that one, friends? More importantly, why should I HAVE to?
And the thing with my mom is that she just doesn’t get it. Never has, never will. We are looking at a woman who has been married seven times. Or maybe six, because she had one marriage annulled so it’s like it didn’t really happen, right? She had four kids and would have had five had she not lost one. She thinks she raised us all so right because we are all successful women in our own right, but she doesn’t get that each one of us is fucking crazy in our own ways because of the life we had with her. We have all been the therapy, we all have body image issues, we all have to fight probably daily with her voice in our heads, but at least we appear to have turned out ok, right? Not long ago she asked my why I think of myself as fat and ugly, because I really am “quite pretty.” All I could do was look at her in stunned amazement. Um, because since kindergarten I was given cottage cheese and bread with diet butter, along with my sisters, because we are all FAT? Or maybe because we were all abused to varying degrees by her many husbands so learned early on that our bodies were the only thing of value with us? Or let me see, because we were all fat but if we didn’t eat everything on our plate we got hit? Yeah-there is no reason why I should feel less than glamourous, right?
But like I said, she doesn’t get it. And also like I said, there isn’t anything I can do to change it, to change her. It’s so hard to make that voice shut up, and it affects my life, my family, my relationship with Steve. I begin to believe, all over again, the things she says about me, and I withdraw. I isolate myself from my friends and my family (that was another thing she brought up: “I thought you had more friends? Because if Steve’s family and I hadn’t come to your bridal shower/wedding, no one would have been there!” Yes, thank you for pointing out that I am, in fact, a loser with very few friends. Like I don’t know that about myself already and struggle with it every single day?). I withdraw from Steve because how, really, could he love me? I am fat and unnattractive and a horrible person; of course he is eventually going to leave. It’s only a matter of time-so I become cold and hard, preparing myself for that inevitability.
I have spent the last two weeks trying to remember everything I have learned about myself in my years of recovery and therapy, but even that has felt like a lesson in futility. After all, isn’t it terribly egotistical to even think about any good points I might have? But I know this: that I don’t have to become my mother, and I haven’t. I am often a loud parent, a short-tempered one. I demand perfection and have to remind myself constantly that my kids are simply human in order to not give them the belief that nothing they do is good enough. but I remember one night about a year ago, I was falling apart and I was screaming at Owen (yes, screaming-I am not proud to admit this, believe me) and yelled,”Do you want a spanking?!?” and he sobbed and said “Yes,” because he did not know what that was. Not in that context, certainly. He thought I was asking him if he needed love. I have a daughter who made a poor choice and had a baby at 17, and I have never been prouder of her. Yes, my teenage son has been in trouble with the legal system, but he does not doubt I love him; he just wants to manage his own life. And today, I got a letter from Sam at camp: “We stay up until 11:30 every night reading a book of questions and one said,’You and a person you love deeply are placed in separate rooms with a button next to each of you. You know that both of yuo will be killed unless one of you presses the button before 60 minutes; furthermore, the first to press the button would save the other person, but will immediately be killed. Who would you be with and would you save the person you loved?’ I would press the button for you.”
So maybe if I keep those things in mind and keep reminding myself over and over and over again that I am not her, maybe I can quiet those voices. Maybe I can keep moving past this, over and over again, until I have the ability to not become mortally wounded every time she aims one of those darts that never, ever miss. Maybe.