What You Should Do. (Or, Happy Birthday To My Mom.)

Today is my mother’s birthday. She would have been sixty-six. We would have had a party that was organized by her, but Dad and Bo and I would have done the leg-work. That’s what we did.
My mother spent a lot of time telling me what to do.

She thought she was being helpful, giving me guidelines of how to live my life, but she had no idea of the chain of events she was setting in motion.
It was really highlighted for me when I was travelling with Kirsty and Michie in Italy. I realized that it was silly for me to have to call every two or three days “Or I’d worry, Dear.” And then when I did call, she’d tell me what I should do or what I should see. And little old me? I’d feel guilty for saying I wasn’t going to do things her way. While making agreement-type noises, because if I said “No, I think I’m going to do this instead,” she sulked. Yes, actually sulked.

Now, I have spent years rationalizing her behaviour. She was an invalid, she couldn’t do things and therefore wanted to have the experiences I was having, blah, blah, blah. All true. She was limited in her mobility. The recent trip my dad and I took to Philadelphia to see my brother, which involved a crack-of-dawn flight across the country, a party late into the night, and three days of walking everywhere, would have been as doable to her as a trip to Mars.

Okay. That’s the rational. Here’s the emotional: I am thirty three years old and swimming in the middle of a life that is absolutely strewn with possibility. Every day, my options are limitless, but I am paralyzed with fear that I’ll become her somehow. That I’ll cause people to form entire networks of interpersonal relationships just so that they can fulfill my every goddamned whim. And then, when the relationships are good and entrenched, and these people are completely emotionally attuned to do my bidding, I’ll die. And leave them flailing.

Because of my goddamned fucking fear of turning into my mother, I am afraid. I’m not sure if I want children. Why fuck someone up the way I’m fucked up? I don’t actually think I’d get a child as eager to please as I was (hard to do), but I still do not want to cause anyone to feel the way I feel. Or how my brother feels. I don’t want my nonexistence to fuck anyone up as badly as my dad is fucked up, either.

I also have this little voice of my mother in my head explaining that I won’t be a good parent because I will try not to do it her way. This is completely irrational,as her way consisted of being controlling but attentive until I was 12, getting a debilitating spinal disease, and being controlling but immobilized and out of touch from the time I was 12 onwards.

Sometimes I think I’d be a pretty good parent. I’m pretty sure I could work up the confidence If. Only. I. Could. Get. Her. Voice. Out. Of. My. Head.

And me? I’m still too much of her child to know how to kick the voice out.

Every day I am getting older and older, and the opportunities being presented to me won’t be here forever. And me? I’m a deer in the headlights, paralyzed by indecision, anger, and regret.

And I still don’t know what to do.

9 Comments to “What You Should Do. (Or, Happy Birthday To My Mom.)”

  1. By gen, August 8, 2006 @ 11:18 pm

    Lizbit – you are you, not your mother. You do have pieces of her but you have pieces of everybody that you have brushed up against. However, you are the artist, you are the one that decides what bits and pieces to keep, which ones to discard, which ones to pull out and turn over in your hands and hold them close before putting them in that secret place. You decide where the pieces lie and have the power to move them, change them, paint them, break them – whatever it is you want to do with them.

    You are not your mother. When you die regardless of what you do or not do – I will mourn you. I will reach for you and talk to you and berate the world for you not being ‘in’ it. But, you will never truly leave me and I’ll take the pain, because the light that you have shone on me will not dim, just because you are not physically present.

    You are not your mother. You, if you choose, will be the mother that you want to be. You won’t disengage. You will worry, you will have advice, you will want to protect your children but you will find your own way. Probably even taking some of the good pieces of your mother and fitting them in somewhere. You will let them make mistakes and make sure that they still know that they are loved.

    You are not your mother. I have seen you fight pain and suffering, refusing to let it beat you.
    You enjoy life too much, to walk away from it.

    You are you. Beautiful, passionate, imaginative, caring, compassionate, present and brave.

    You are a blessing.

  2. By Liz, August 9, 2006 @ 1:12 am

    Thank you, Gen. I love you. It’s not myself I have the problem with. It’s myself-the-mother.

    I think part of the problem is that I am too close to the situation to make a credible stab as the artist of myself as a mother.

    I have the potential of all these pieces and I’m not sure what’s right to keep and what’s not. What looks reasonable from a child’s point of view will probably not be reasonable to a mother. I know that this is a conflict as old as people have been people. And I’m afraid my notions of reasonableness are coloured by my mother.

    I fear driving my child away as I was driven away.

    Bo and I learned to keep our thoughts close, because any thoughts we shared with her, our mother would be evaluating and prioritizing, deciding which were important and which were not. And then we were told what was good and what was a useless or silly thing to think.

    Bo was better at avoiding this, maybe because he was the younger one, maybe because he was the boy. He’s always been the better arguer. Whatever the case, he learned from my mistakes and my fights. His entire teenaged life was totally under her radar. I fear becoming the mother who forces her children to fly stealth that way.

    I fear that I will damage my children with my mother’s expectations, unconsciously.

    Sometimes I think I’d be more confident as a potential parent if I had been raised by wolves.

  3. By Beth, August 9, 2006 @ 8:30 am

    Might I suggest that if you want to know what kind of mother you’ll be, look at what kind of teacher you are. I know that my teaching and my parenting are not far apart.
    Do you let your students have ideas of their own and praise them for their creativity and enthusiasm without trying to mold them and direct them into your own image? If you can do it with your students, my guess is you can do it with your children.

  4. By Liz, August 9, 2006 @ 11:05 am

    Beth, the kind of teacher I am depends on the kind of student I have. I generally like to be very laissez-faire. I know that if I micro-manage the placement of every comma, I’m going to alienate the kid and frustrate myself. I loathe riding herd on kids who don’t want to work, too. That being said, I do do it, because it’s expected that I will. Also, it’s expected that the kid will work.

    I know I sometimes steer kids in a direction, in terms of creative stuff, but what they do when they go that way is up to them. My job is to teach them to do what they need to do, not to do it for them.

    I will admit freely that I do have a better time with more intelligent students. It’s not that they’re easier to teach. Usually they’re not. But I love to put an idea in front of them and say, “Okay, GO!” That work is never a hardhsip, even if it means (for example) I need a crash course in Jungian archetypes before I can mark someone’s essay.

    Now, I can look at these things and think, “Hey, that sounds like some good mothering technique!” But it’s such a huge thing. I don’t want to potentially hurt another human being just because I want to see what kind of mother I am. That is fair to no one.

  5. By Beth, August 10, 2006 @ 9:13 pm

    “My job is to teach them what they need to do, not do it for them.” Yup, that pretty well describes a big part of parenting.
    I figure that a parent’s job is to:
    1. provide for a child’s physical needs – food, shelter, clothing, medical care.
    2. give them the emotional strength to believe in themselves so they can face the world with confidence. (that’s probably the hardest and most delicate part).
    3. teach them the skills that they’ll need to survive in the adult world.
    So, I figure number one is the obvious one that most of us can do with not a lot of thought. Number three is the most satisfying to those of us who love to teach. Number two is the one that worries you and will worry most parents if they consider it at all.
    You can’t know what kind of mother you’ll be for sure until it happens. The most you can do is think about it and try to avoid making the mistakes you see that your parents make. With the kind of thinking that you have been doing, I bet you’ll do that just fine. You won’t be your mother. You’ll make your own mistakes for sure. No human being can be the perfect parent. You probably won’t even know what those mistakes are unless your child grows up and is able to talk to you and let you know that that thing you did then, that sucked. If your child can actually tell you those things, that’s a good sign that you didn’t screw up too much.
    If you believe that you have a bunch of good stuff to offer a child, and you really think about parenting and you have lots of love to give, my guess is you’ll do a fine job.
    But parenting doesn’t come with guarantees.

  6. By Liz, August 11, 2006 @ 12:16 pm

    Thank you, Beth. It’s funny that numbber two is my big concern. I guess a lot of parents don’t think about giving their kids emotional strength. And it’s hard. How, exactly, do you go about doing that? I’d be more concerned about getting that right than about tangibles like food, clothing, shelter and medical care. Those, you can see if you’re doing them right.

  7. By Beth, August 11, 2006 @ 7:23 pm

    I started writing an essay here, then decided the issue is too big for a simplistic answer.
    I’ll just say this.
    I was over 50 before I started to understand the idea that someone could love me just because I am me. Not because I cook well or can keep a house clean or bake bread. I don’t have to take care of my husband to earn his love. This was a revelation. Me, just me, my feelings and thoughts and the things that make me laugh, just me, I am loveable.
    How did I get to 50 without knowing this? I wasn’t taught it as a child.
    Love them. Without boundry or condition. I don’t mean they shouldn’t have boundries or limits or demands. Of course children need that. But how much you love them isn’t based on how well they live up to your expectations.
    Believing that one is a worth-while loveable person goes a long way to being a self-confident adult.

  8. By Beth, August 11, 2006 @ 7:25 pm

    Of course, the other thing you can do is put money aside during their childhood to pay for therapy later. Let them know it’s there. Go with them.
    That works too.

  9. By sarah, August 13, 2006 @ 11:06 am

    My mother always assures me when I worry that I’m a bad mother that if I really were a bad mother, I probably wouldn’t worry about it. I don’t know if that sentence makes sense.

    I do know that, no matter what kind of parenting you got, you will doubt yourself as a mother. In my experience, that’s what mothers do. If you care about your kids, and are aware of them as emotional beings, you will worry about fucking them up. Alsoplus, if you are aware that they are emotional beings capable of being fucked up, you are that much more likely to treat them with respect and that much less likely to fuck them up.

    If you have a brain in your head (which you do), the thought of the awesomeness of parenting will scare the crap out of you. Being scared that you’ll do a crappy job is not a reason not to parent. Not wanting to do the work is one thing, but I do not know a single parent with above average intelligence who is not terrified of doing a bad job. A good parent, as I see it, wants to do it anyway, and does his or her best, in spite of the fear.

    That’s about enough out of me.

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