My mother visited recently, and any time a parent visits me, a MILLION things come up (for obvious reasons, and especially in my new state of heightened self-awareness after having done the work).
Much of the visit was positive; we had no arguments, and only a moment or two when I had to stop myself from rolling my eyes. She otherwise enjoyed the boys very much, and they enjoyed her; they eagerly ate up all of the attention she and my step-dad gave them, and then hungered for more. It is actually a bit daunting, how much attention the boys want.
I had though a major reaction on a couple of occasions, and I don’t think I’ve really noticed before that this one thing bothers me quite a bit.
I think I’ve written about my mother on here before, but she is very extraverted. She walks into a room and searches for someone to make eye contact with. She speaks very animatedly, she touches people when she talks, she makes exaggerated facial expressions. This has caused several friends, and boyfriends, over the years to comment on how I am very unlike my mother (and could I maybe try and be more like her..?).
I never wanted to be like my mother, though. I didn’t see her extravertedness as a positive thing, i.e., a desirable trait. I often thought of extraverted people as being proud of being extraverted though, and my mother was. She would brag about strangers who came up to her and launched into telling her their life stories. She would engage in conversation with a waiter or a salesperson when we were kids, and we’d be sitting there for literally hours while they talked, and talked, and talked.
But to me, my mother’s pride in this trait of hers seemed misplaced. I didn’t see extraverted people as confident, or attractive, or interesting — I saw them as insecure, in desperate need for outside validation, which they would seek compulsively. I also saw them as completely inauthentic, which my mother epitomized. She bragged to us about her conversations with strangers, their hopes and dreams, reciting back every moment of her conversation with them in detail. She never engaged in those kinds of conversations with us, though. She never listened to us. For most of my childhood, my mother had no idea who I was.
So, I wasn’t impressed by her ability to connect to “new friends” she’d never see again. Anyone could do that. What she couldn’t do was be in a real, substantive relationship with someone — she was too afraid of it.
If this sounds bitingly critical, it’s because I am STILL reacting from two tiny incidents that happened during her visit (that are very small, and dwarfed by the rest of the visit, which was overwhelmingly positive). These are, I know, disproportionate reactions, and for that reason I feel compelled to take a look at them.
So, during her visit, my mom and step-dad never really ate a meal with us, unless we initiated it. They would go off to get lunch or dinner by themselves, excited by some restaurant they’d heard about because they saw some flyer at their hotel. I didn’t take that part too personally; it seemed to be their way of enjoying the trip, and having some time for themselves in addition to visiting us. But my mother would invariably come back from these outings and go on and on about some “new friend” she had made. In one of these stories, she recited back this woman’s life story in granular detail, as if she had hung on every word.
In the next breath, she told me she had forgotten why she needed to watch the boys for us that afternoon. It was because I was going to a music rehearsal, with Jerry, for our little two-person band. I have told her about this for weeks, because we talk every day online. I felt a pang of anger. She’ll listen to a stranger, attentively, for hours — but she still doesn’t listen to her daughter.
The next incident was at a store. The sales woman saw the twins through the window at came out to the sidewalk to talk to us. My mom enjoyed this greatly, the twins created multiple conversations with strangers and she ate it up. This woman immediately began launching into stories about her life, and my mom (being herself) showed tons of interest, eventually being coaxed into the store while we all waited for her outside for over twenty minutes in the unrelenting summer heat.
I told Jimmy — while this was happening — about a story from my childhood (I couldn’t help it).
My mom NEVER did things with just me when we were kids (she did things with just my sister a lot). It was either all three of us, or her and my sister only, hardly ever just her and me. One day, she said she wanted to take me on a day-trip to New Mexico (which was forty miles away), to an old timey town with lots of cool shops and restaurants that we’d go to as a family from time to time. I couldn’t believe it; she never wanted to do anything with just me, and this was a whole day together. When we got to the town, the first stop was a dress shop, that sold dresses, for her.
That ended up being the only stop.
I sat there in the corner while she talked up the sales person for hours and tried on dress, after dress, after dress. It took the whole day, and she hardly spoke two words to me. We did not see or do anything else in the town, and when I finally broke down crying (I think I was young, but not super young, maybe 11), she yelled at me, telling me I was being ridiculous, and ungrateful. I fucking hated her that day.
Crazy, right? I still feel the force of that memory, as if it happened yesterday, and it came rushing back just because she was chatting up some sales person for twenty minutes. I felt pretty ridiculous. Aren’t I, like, 34 now, with two babies of my own? Am I really still hanging onto this? Why?
It also caused me to think about myself, and how I am in relationships, and who I strive to be. I don’t give two shits about strangers, and very little about acquaintances or people I don’t know very well. Instead, I give all of myself to the people closest to me, and I do it all consciously, because I think that’s what’s right — that’s who I want to be. I don’t want to be my mother.
I know that my assessment of my mother is not fair. I know, too, that I have described these same qualities of hers in a very positive light, in awe of how people so positively receive her. And I think that IS true for me, I do have that view — but this other stuff is true for me, too. Something to explore.