Friday, May 12, 2006

Mother's Day Malaise

I actually have only one clear memory of Mother's Day as a kid.

One year, when I was about ten years old, my dad and sister and I pretty much forgot Mother's Day and my mom completely flipped out on us, since it was "the ONE day" that is supposed to be all about her. She made it pretty clear that we wrecked it with our thoughtlessness. So I came up with this idea in my ten-year-old mind that was going to make it all better. At church that morning we had heard a Bible verse that I remembered. I couldn't remember the reference, but the words were "Her children rise up and bless her..." (I have since found the reference, it is Proverbs 31:28)

So after scanning pretty much the entire Old Testament, I somehow found the reference I was thinking of, and then I sat down and cut out the individual letters to the words of the verse and the reference itself out of paper, colored them with crayons with my sister's help, and taped the letters to a bedsheet that I hung from the basement ceiling with clothespins. I remember that part SO vividly.

Anyway, we had it all done and it must have taken us a really long time to do it (I remember it felt like hours) so then I went upstairs triumphantly to get my mom, and I was all ready to surprise her with this creative masterpiece... so she came down and looked at it for a minute, and tearfully said, "Her children rise up and bless her? I wish that were true..." I was GOBSMACKED.

That's one of the reasons why I hate Mother's Day.

I know my mom would feel horrible if I ever told her about how much that event hurt me. I know she didn't mean it like that. I've never brought it up to her, although I'm sure she must remember it, although her memory of it may be different and may even be more accurate, who knows. It's just one of those things I never forgot. Now that I'm a mom, I really do know how she felt on that Mother's Day. It's really hurtful to feel unappreciated, and never hesitate to make sure my kids know that they need to appreciate the things that I (and other people) do for them. But it's also hurtful to a kid who is genuinely trying to make amends when her efforts are unappreciated or even mocked.

It's partially because of the Mother's Day Incident that I worry constantly that things I say will affect my children's future the way this particular snippet of time has affected me as an adult. I think it's the thing that I worry about more than anything else I do as a parent. I'm always afraid I'll say something that one of the kids will hear and internalize and spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars in therapy to understand.

It's taken me a while to really "get" that being a mom is not an easy job for anyone, and I don't even think it's supposed to be. Why do I drive myself crazy trying to make it look to the outside world like I know what I'm doing? The fact that my mom made it look so easy is to her credit. But in some ways, I almost wish I had seen her struggle so I could feel like it was normal and okay if I struggled. But why would I wish that? Isn't that ridiculous? Gosh Mom, why'd ya have to be so darn good at it?? Sounds stupid, doesn't it?

I don't remember her ever screaming at us or spending hours crying in her room because there wasn't anything for dinner. I don't remember any of her bad days or Major Parenting Errors. Did she hide it really well? Have I repressed it? Or do I just somehow unconciously choose to remember the good instead? But who would want their kids to see their vulnerability when a mom's supposed to be a model of inner strength? In my own defense, my mom didn't have two high-maintenance sons less than a year apart. And she'd helped raise her three younger siblings since she was eight years old. Even with all that experience, though, I'm sure my sister and I were more than enough drama for any mother (Ha - were??).

Like I said, I'm already worried about irreparable damage I might have done to my kids, since of course as adults we all blame our parents for what's wrong with us, on some level. I can so easily envision my daughter on a shrink's couch talking about the time I popped all the balloons after her birthday party because she and her brothers were fighting over them (hey, they quit fighting), and the times I've thrown away the toys that weren't picked up, all the countless mistakes I've made that I wish I could take back. It seems I add to that list every single day. I pray that my kids remember the good stuff more than the bad.

I know I've said hurtful things to my kids in heated moments of extreme frustration. I try really hard to make up for it without over-heaping the praise. My parents, God love 'em, applauded everything I did. And that's not wrong. Of course they meant well. But as a grownup, I'm an external affirmation whore. If nobody tells me that I did a good job on something, I feel like I did a crap job. If nobody tells me I look cute, I feel like I look gross. It sucks.

My lack of confidence particularly in my parenting skillz comes from a combination of several things. I think the root of it started when I was the preacher's daughter, unwed and pregnant. Even though my family was extremely cool and unbelievably supportive, there was enormous shame on my part. I was always the kid who worked really hard to stay out of trouble and make my parents proud, so I felt like an enormous failure. Right from the start, parenthood felt like a punishment for slutty bad girls who sleep with their boyfriends.

After three kids, I've never gotten to say "Yippee!! I'm pregnant!" And I really resent that sometimes. I got pregnant with Pie when I was unemployed, and he was a high-risk pregnancy so we were afraid to be excited about him, and then of course Tito was a TOTAL freakin shock. And now that hubby's had a vasectomy, I really won't ever get to have a baby that enters the world without being born into a big ol' mess of drama. I'm crazy about my husband and my kids, but I live in this constant cloud of self-doubt. Finding knitting as a stress-relieving hobby and Knitty (tm) as a fun group of friends has really helped me see that nobody really has a perfect life.

Everything we do as parents is our reaction to what our parents did or didn't do for us. Sometimes we withhold, sometimes we overcompensate. And then it repeats, generation after generation. My kids will probably be better parents than I am. Or else they'll be too scared of turning into me to ever become parents at all. I'm not worried that my kids will get the idea that parenting is easy. Hopefully it will scare them out of having premarital sex. I'm pretty sure they've seen a pretty accurate depiction of what Having Too Many Credit Cards will do.

So, yeah, I get to spend my Mother's Day (a day that's as much about me as it is about my MIL) in my FIL's presence. I start the day with a very high baseline stress level, but the fact that it's supposed to be MY day too and I get to spend it stressed out at my in-laws' really, REALLY pisses me off. Every year I keep hoping that this will be the year that it fucking dawns on them that HELLO - I'm a mom TOO, and they let us off the hook for the Obligatory Visit.

I adore my MIL, but you know what I'm trying to say. I mean, MIL, I know that you've been a mom a lot longer than I have and I appreciate that you gave birth to my favorite person in the whole world, but you garden and read all day every day (and I bet you even get to go to the bathroom without an entourage too, right?) while I've got preschoolers with me 24/7 and I could sure use an itty-bitty break, thank you very much. I bust my ass making sure my mom and mother-in-law have a nice Mother's Day, and meanwhile I myself get very little enjoyment out of the day. (Sunday is R's only weekend day off. As you may recall, my Saturdays tend to suck ass, and now there's yet another colorful searchable phrase on my blog, lovely.)

You kinda have to appreciate what a complete dick FIL is, but to avoid his wrath, R waited six full months to tell his parents I was pregnant with Beeb. THAT aspect really hurt. The fact that he wouldn't tell him and then the shitstorm that He immediately unleashed, man, I don't know if I'll ever fully be over that. We expected the fallout to be bad, and it was a million times worse than we thought it would be. He literally didn't speak to R for three months - until he and my MIL showed up together at the hospital while I was in labor. R chooses to believe that He came to be supportive, but I will go to the grave believing that he came solely to make sure that baby looked like R. She did. No doubt about it.

Anyway, that was nine years ago and I still can't believe how much power this man has over the way I live my life. I know that ultimately I'm responsible for my own actions and emotions, but nearly everything I do is to prevent having to endure his Lecturing. I spend a lot of time worrying about how his influence affects my kids. He knows EVERYTHING, and he's only too willing to let you know what HE would do in every situation. Every conversation is steered, by him, in the direction of His field of expertise so that he may exert his Dominance.

My friends can't believe I haven't told him off yet. I've always been the sort to tell someone exactly how I feel, and this guy scares the crap out of me, only because I know that were anyone to stand up to him, he would actually become worse. One day I'd love to tell him how much I appreciate the convenience of never having to go to the trouble of ASKING him for his opinion. God forbid I should be called upon to speak at his funeral. His own daughter (the favorite, the successful plastic surgeon) has said that when he dies, nobody will even be sad. Isn't that the saddest thing you can imagine? I do feel sorry for him. But I also detest him for making the rest of us as miserable as he is.

Ironically, even if you follow his unsolicited advice, he'll still find something wrong with the way you did whatever he told you to do, and will not hesitate to point your flaws out to you. I think if he ever complimented someone, he may just burst into flames. Example - The five of us lived in a 2-BR apartment until fairly recently, and FIL constantly told R how stupid he was for throwing his money away on renting. That was when R finally told him about the credit issues that prevent us from purchasing a house, after he'd endured the berating for seven years. That's daily life around here. I truly believe that it is impossible to please this man. You are never good enough. Perfection is not even good enough. I don't know how he manages to go through life only focusing on the negative, but that's how he is, and it forces all of us to look at the negative too.

Again, I do pity him. It must be a very unhappy existence. In his defense, his own father died when FIL was thirteen, so he's kinda had to suck it up and be in charge since then, and I don't think he knows any other way to be. I don't know if he's aware of how completely worthless he makes us all feel. I've come to believe (perhaps erroneously) that pointing out your mistakes is his way of showing love. My guess is that he assumes everyone wants to be the best they can be, and the best anyone can hope to be is Perfection. Once I committed myself to that belief, he's been easier to deal with, but still, every time I'm in his presence, my stomach knots up and I get nauseous. I seriously make myself sick over it, and I hate that I allow myself to get so upset by this man.

I've tried to be the better person and think, y'know, no matter what I do he'll still tell me I did it wrong, so why kill myself trying to make him happy? That mentality doesn't help. Over the last nine years my spine has slowly eroded and I've taken my place among the other family members who just let him be how he is because there's less drama that way. I hate it. I'd love to kick him right in the nads for some of the things he's said to us and about us. There have even been times when I've actually considered leaving my husband because of his father, but then I realize that would punish all the wrong people. In fact, that would probably be a victory for Him. On our five-year anniversary, R and I giggled because we imagined FIL losing a big fat bet that we wouldn't have lasted this long.

So it's not R's fault that I hate Mother's Day, it's not even the kids' fault. It's the mere fact that I have to spend MY day with one of the people in the entire world whose company I enjoy the least. Ugh, it pisses me off so much. I've told R that I don't want my kids to EVER have to feel the way I do every Mother's Day. I don't want them driving themselves crazy so I'll be happy. My Mother's Day gift to them is that when they're parents, they can have Mother's Day with THEIR kids.

Last year, I tried to get my mom's package in the mail on Thursday - since it's a VERY big deal if my card isn't there on time - and I was sending a little package so I couldn't just drop in in a mailbox. Every tried to take 3 kids to the Post Office? Well, the lady turned the sign to CLOSED just as I was unbuckling the baby and screaming at the other two to stay close to me in the parking lot. I cried the whole way home, in rush-hour traffic, front of the kids. Then I get even more pissed at myself for letting them see me like that. Beeb tried to make me feel better, saying "Mom, its okay if the card gets there a little late..." And I said, "No, honey, it really isn't..."

This year, having learned my lesson, I mailed my package on Wednesday. I sent my Mom some tea and a little teapot/cup combo so she could take it to work. I also knit two of those faboo little dishcloths. And I picked out a great card and put pictures of the kiddos in it. It should be arriving there today or tomorrow. I hope she digs it.

Today, I got a card in the mail from my mom and dad that said "Happy Mother's Day from someone who thinks you're doing a terrific job." It meant a lot. She totally understands that if I don't hear it, I don't believe it. So she told me. Good job, Mom.

And I also got a wonderful Random Act of Kindness from Kay, the rightous babe who took the Muppet Shawl to WalMart and to work, and took pictures to prove it. A cooler chick you never will find.

I think maybe we'll try to have my Mother's Day tonight while I'm in a good mood!


Jennifer said...

*Hugs* From one mama to another, I hope your mother's day goes smoothly, and you find 5 minutes of peace that day.

jackt said...

Wow. In Japan, moms don't spank their children. They don't even raise their voices. They just give them unapproving looks. And it works. But maybe it takes an even heavier toll on the kids.

Pyewacket said...

"Beeb tried to make me feel better, saying "Mom, its okay if the card gets there a little late..." And I said, "No, honey, it really isn't...""

That part made me cry.

It's sweet that you think your mom did everything perfectly, but if she taught you that her love is contingent on your strict adherence to Hallmark's calendar, then she fucked up.

Beeb has a much healthier perspective. Make sure you acknowledge that to her and to yourself.

Happy Mothers Day dear. (((PK)))

Bezzie said...

Overall I think we grow up blocking out the not-so-motherly things our moms did.

Don't feel bad about your balloon popping to keep the kids from fighting. The reminded me of the time my mother "cancelled" Christmas. Me and sibs were being such little shits one xmas that she made us start undecorating the tree like 3 days before xmas. One of my sisters' second grade teacher happened to pop by at that moment when we were all putting the ornaments away. I was so embarrassed. She ended up relenting--but not until we had the whole tree packed up.

I hate crying in front of Chunky too. He shouldn't have to see mom like that. So I know exactly what you're talking about there.

Sometimes I miss being so far away from my parents--but your post about FIL reminded me why it's not such a bad thing.

Mom (a.k.a. Mary Ann) said...

I wish your mom could read all this. She knows she made mistakes. We all know we made mistakes. But she would be very proud of your insights and parental concerns. I know she would. And she would be proud of what a good writer you are.

I think one way to handle Mothers' Day so you won't be disappointed is to not expect anything. Believe me, life is not a Hallmark Card. Mothers' Day has become just a marketing tool, profitting from everyone's guilt about not doing enough for their mother. In point of fact, no one could ever do enough. If your children hug your neck or bring you wildflowers any day of the year, cherish that. Don't expect an overwhelming wave of terrific feelings one day a year.

DomesticOverlord said...

I think you do a great job you external approval whore, you. Now validate me!

But seriously I really get where you're coming from. The rest of what I have to say I'm going to email because it doesn't need to be pubic. Public. Whatever.

brewerburns said...

You know, your FIL sounds like someone I have to deal with more than once a week these days. It sucks. But I do have a small suggestion, or perhaps question. When you see him gearing up for the Big Lecture, is there a way to politely shut him down? Can you excuse yourself and leave the room? Say politely, "thank you for sharing that with me. I'll think about it?" Or something like that?