A whole weekend without talking to my mom

So, now that I’ve decided there are things I don’t like about my relationship with my mother, I have to identify exactly what they are. Because I am usually so immersed in what’s going on with her, I really needed a break from my mom this weekend. Maybe I would actually have a chance to MISS her. There’s an unwritten rule that we will talk every day. In the morning, after I’ve dropped my child off at daycare, I will check in with my mom. There is usually little reason for these conversations- just a casual exchange of banal facts. She finished painting the dinette. My sister wants to exchange the toddler toilet seat for another one. Highway 141 is still closed due to the flooding, blah blah blah.

This weekend, I didn’t talk to her at all. It was… really nice. Not only did I not have to spend at least twenty minutes a day listening to a bunch of activities and details that really mean nothing to me, I didn’t have to listen to any criticism of my siblings!

I just came to this realization last night, as I was finishing up a chapter in my new book about toxic mother-daughter relationships. I began reviewing my weekend of non communication with her, and I realized how much time I spend listening to the unending litany of my mother’s complaints about my brother’s family. Now, I will freely admit that I have been aiding and abetting this behavior for years at this point, and it is going to be quite a pain in the neck to end it. But man… so much of my time and energy would be freed up if I didn’t have to listen to her complaints about the amount of free child care she and my dad provide. I wouldn’t have to listen to her opinions on what my bother and sister in law feed the kids. I would not have to listen to her concerns about how much money they spent on something. I won’t have to know whether or not she deems the spending necessary.

I didn’t even realize this was something that bothered me until I was free of it for three days. It’s like a whole new world without it!

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A new day

Recently, I had a bit of a breakdown of sorts. I didn’t require hospitalization, and I wasn’t in any immediate danger, but I did learn some things about myself while it was happening. It all started because my husband encouraged me to do something fun for myself. The nerve. Our toddler had been sick for a few days, and I had been planted on the couch, cuddling and watching Peppa Pig. In the course of our conversation, I realized that I didn’t really know what I would want to do with my free time and I had no idea with whom I would want to do it. I had been a working mother for the last two years, and I had completely disappeared into my identity. I hadn’t seen some of my friends in MONTHS. Crap.

I have to admit I was slightly aware of this. When someone asks you what’s new and you really have nothing to say on the matter, it speaks volumes. I had been comfortably ignoring it for a while, so I did not take this sudden acknowledgement well. Like any sane person in the 21st century, I immediately posted to a Facebook moms page about my trauma. (This shows me that I had some to think of this group as a support system of sorts. Which is fine, but still. It’s Facebook.) I set my oldest friend into a panic, since she’s a member of this group, and then I texted my geographically closest friend who happens to be a survivor of WAY more drama than I could ever hope to experience. Both were amazing and both gave me a bit of what I needed that day to get through to the next moment in time.

Over the next few days, as I started to feel a bit more confident, and less like a dishrag, I started to look around for answers. The easy thing to do would be to blame this on some of sort of long running postpartum depression, and at first, I was inclined to do that. It didn’t feel like quite the right fit though. I had actually been doing pretty well for a long period of time in the last two years. I had gotten out and done some performances in that time. I had gone out with friends. Sure, it wasn’t perfect! There were also lots of time that I begged off because I just couldn’t get myself out the door, but I’m also introverted, so that’s not really that strange. So what had happened in the recent past to set this off? There had been a lot more contact with my mother. *sigh. Oh goody! Here we are again.

It seems like such a tired trope to blame your problems on your mother. Too easy. And after all, I don’t even live in the same zip code as my mother. The only real clue that I had was our recent Easter… well, we can call a ‘celebration’, but honestly, it was really just an awkward gathering of people whose only common thread was blood relationship. I had not enjoyed this experience AT ALL. In fact, I had pretty much actively hated the whole damn thing. I was only doing this to please my mother. There. I said it. I didn’t really care about Easter at all. I didn’t care if my daughter had an Easter dresss, if we had an egg hunt, and I had no interest in attending church. The only reason we were doing any of this was because it would please my mother. Yikes. I didn’t know that I was such a compliant people pleaser. I like to think of myself as this bad ass who doesn’t really give a shit what any of you think of me, and while to a certain degree some of that is true, it’s not as much as I would like to think.

So, like any overthinking, over analytical, over intellectual person, I immediately took advantage of being behind a university paywall, and started reading psych journals. If you put any stock at all in self diagnosis, here is the crux of the matter. I am enmeshed in my relationship with my mother. I’m not quite ready to regurgitate all of my findings here. Also, I’m not actually a mental health professional, so I’m not going to pretend that I am. (By the way, I have reached out to a mental health care provider. They experience a high volume of calls. I hope to hear back soon.) However, there’s value in distilling it to a short, laymen’s terms description- my mother is a narcissist and as a result of being raised by a narcissist, I became someone with too little of my own identity and interests. I became a compliant people pleaser who is deeply motivated by the guilt she loves to heap upon me. Wow. The shoe fits.

My husband and I have have been married for 4 years. During these years, he has often questioned why I need to do particular things for my mother. She’s an adult. Do I really need to call her back right now? Why do we have to stop at their house before heading to Thanksgiving at your aunt’s house?- getting off the highway makes no sense. Surely, she can book her own hotel room!? Ah, but you see, I am her best friend and her caretaker. I help her navigate this cruel world and if I didn’t do it for her… well, … huh. Well, it’s not like she’d die, right? Some lovely customer service individual who is being paid to deal with her nonsense and the nonsense of thousands of other people would help her, right?

There are so many many examples of ways I have gone above and beyond to subsume my own needs and desires in order to keep my mother happy. The one that comes most readily to my mind occurred during the labor and delivery of my first child. Outsiders would see my mother as a concerned parent who wants to be present to be of assistance to her laboring daughter. It’s a good act, but I’m not convinced at this point. My mother simply wants to be near the action so that she can be recognized as the grandmother. She can regale the labor and delivery nurses with tales of her experiences during her BRIEF stint as an L&D nurse. She can show me all of the baby clothes she insists on showing me even though I am incredibly stressed because I just gave birth and my newborn is in the NICU with acidosis! She needs the spotlight!!!

After the horror stories my sister-in-law had shared about her labor and delivery experience with my mother present, I insisted she was not going to be present in the delivery room. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have even let her know my due date. In the end my OBGYN scheduled me for an induction, and I shared that information with my parents. After all, it only seemed far since my in-laws were going to come as well.

So, I’m in the hospital, in the very early stages of labor. As they are on the road, my parents still haven’t worked out where they are going to stay. I think they assumed I would let them stay at my house since Ben and I weren’t there. Since I was not going to let my mom run wild over my house in my absence, and since at the time my parents were without smartphones, I used my smartphone from the labor and delivery suite to attempt to book them a hotel via hotels.com. Let’s step back and appreciate the CRAZY of this for a moment. Here, I am. I’m in labor with my first child. This should really be all about me at this moment. Everyone should be taking care of me. (In all fairness to my husband, he was wondering why the hell I was doing this.) To make this even better, there’s a problem with the website, so I end up getting on the phone with the local Holiday Inn to make the reservation for them! WTFF?!?! I told the woman on the phone – a lovely lady – that I was in labor and making the reservation for my parents. She probably thought I was nuts.

In the last week, I have finally processed all the questions my husband has been asking over the last four years. Why do I do this to myself? I am not required to be my mother’s emotional support. I do not need to book hotels for her or answer the phone every time she calls me, whenever she calls me. I do not have to let her guilt me into doing things for her, visiting her, allowing her to visit whenever she wants, etc. I am allowed to have interests and needs of my own.  In so many ways, I feel so free all of sudden. I’m a little drunk on power here. I want to register for a class on something that interests me. I want to join a club, any club. Heck! I feel so free that I am ranting about her in a blog post! Normally, I keep this stuff to myself because god forbid, I wouldn’t want to say that anything that would embarrass dear mama.

So, after years and years of farting around with this blog and wanting to write something, but not having any idea what I wanted to write, because I’ll never be as good as Margaret Atwood, blah blah blah, I think I have found a direction for this blog. I am going to use it to work through my recovery from my narcissist mother. I am going to discover exactly who I am, without reference to my mother, and I am going to tell the truth, even if it is ugly. ESPECIALLY when it is ugly!

 

Daily Prompt: Bespoke

The word ‘bespoke’ recalls an earlier time. It reminds me of Shakespeare and clothing items such as doublets and slops. When one went to the haberdashery to bespeak himself a hat. Or when the satin trimmings on her dress bespoke wealth.

I prefer the definition- ‘suggest, or be evidence of.’

My glasses bespeak my poor vision.

My wedding band bespeaks my promise to my husband.

The small greasy hand prints on my upper thighs bespeak the presence of a tiny human, demanding my attention.

It’s a solemn word. I expect to see it in legalese rather than daily life. I could use it in a solemn statement such as, ‘my whiteness bespoke me a fool.’

Ten years ago, I had no proper understanding of institutional racism.  My white privilege wasn’t something I could point to or even name. To me, it was simply the way of the world. Every time one of my black coworkers came to get me to speak for them, whether it was to another white person, who would accept no from someone of their own race… or even worse. They brought me to pose as the white supervisor to another black person. Surely, they would listen to the voice of white authority. I accepted this at the time, not as evidence of my whiteness, that protective power that allowed me to move through the world with more authority and more safety than my black, brown, and tan peers, but as evidence of my intelligence. I took it as evidence of my wonderful talent in the area of management and interpersonal skills. People came for me in moments of crisis because I was such a wonderful asset to have in these moments.

What a fool I was!

If I could go back in time to those moments, I would walk in with an awareness of the armor I wear. With an awareness of the power I wield.

I’d walk in with my accident of birth.

 

Daily Prompt: New Horizon

How appropriate that this is my writing prompt today! I am facing the start of a new personal venture in my life. I am going to write.

I know, I know. I’ve tried this before. I’ve bought new journals and never even come close to filling them. I wake up in the middle of the night to go to bathroom and a great idea for a writing prompt comes to me and rather than stay up and write it down, I go back to bed. It would be very easy to conclude that I am not writer material. My personal habits so not jive with my earliest impression of a writer.

I really have no idea how old I was the first time I read Little Women, but I do know that I have reread this book so many times in my life. Honestly, I’m probably long overdue for another read. I do recall Jo March and how much I wanted to be her. She was tough, yet kind. She was defiant, and usually for a good reason. She stood out from the crowd and Laurie loved her for it. And it just so happened, she considered herself to be a writer. She would sit up late at night in the garret with a candle, writing the scenes and people who invaded her imagination after dark. She couldn’t even think about going to sleep when she could be writing.

Now that I think about it, I think Jo March’s work ethic colored my impressions of what a work ethic should be in general. I approached being an opera singer with the same sort of slavish devotion, allowing no other time for other interests or distractions. In fact, if my husband hadn’t have been such a wonderfully persistent human, I would have succeeded at sending him away and living my solitary musician life. Whew! Thank goodness I avoided that. Anyway…

So, if I was going to be a writer, obviously, I had to be a writer like Jo March. I had to sit up late at night, and I had to have this ravenous, cannot-be-denied desire to write. In any of my past attempts, I have never managed to be this person. I have never found a routine that continued to work for me. I have never even found a format I’ve really liked. So here I am. I am turning over a new leaf. I can see on the horizon, a person who writes. Who contributes her thoughts to the world. I’m not exactly sure how I will get there. I’ve chosen a WordPress blog at the moment, and I’ve started reading Bird by Bird, which has given me the realization that most writers find it difficult to write. I’m not alone in my struggle to fill the page. This was probably the best realization I could have made.

This isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it.

I’m not going to be good right away. No one was. It takes work and you have to put some terrible things to paper in the beginning.

Finally, you just have to do it. There’s no way around it. It’s not going to do itself.

The Horizon doesn’t come to you. You have to move toward it.