Friday, January 04, 2008

Enough

Some days you just want to go hide your head in the sand. Ok, maybe that's just me…and the ostriches.

After the most recent bout of Mom nuttiness, I decided, at Pele's prompting, to take her head on. My first instinct after our last conversation was total avoidance. While I tend to urge other people to confront the big emotional issues in their lives, and I'm pretty good at confronting recalcitrant boyfriends, I much prefer to run from my mother than confront her. It never goes well. Someone, odds are it's me, will end up screaming. I find giving or receiving screaming to be almost equally unpleasant. So, if that's where we're heading, I want to run.

I can think of a few "famous" confrontations in my life and how I tried to avoid them. The best ones have to do with Tom (important grad school boyfriend). After our first big fight, my instinct was to leave his house. We were standing in the kitchen. He said something that I found completely unacceptable and the next thing I knew I was standing at the door. I actually didn't remember walking there, I was just there, hand on the door knob, ready to go. Tom came over, put his arm across the doorway and said, "What are doing? Were you going to leave?"

I said, "I guess I was going to leave. I dunno."

He said, "No, we have to talk. You can't just leave."

Our worst fight came a couple of years later and was over the phone. I hung up on him two or three times and, after the last time, he just showed up at my house to deal with me in person.

I actually give him some credit for not letting me run away from these fights, though a little break and resumption under calmer circumstances might have been a good idea. Actually, though, knowing my powers of avoidance, it could have been a good long while before we ever got around to resolving those issues. (Of course, the issues were ultimately unresolvable, and we broke up.)

Ah, the issues. The problem with the current situation with Mom is that she knows what the issues are but I don't. I find this super perplexing. How can she have problems this urgent and difficult when I don't have a clue as to their nature?

So, trying to be proactive and conciliatory, I sent Mom an email last night that read in part, "I'm all for discussing the issues that concern you. We can either set up a time or do it when I next call…"

Today, I got her response. It read, in part, "I will try to note down my issues so I don't say them in a way that is uncomfortable for you. If I fail at that, please be sure that I love you and want to like you also."

I'm sorry, she "want[s] to like" me also? Wants to like me!!!! It's quite a pretty pass we've come to when the problem is that my mother doesn't like me anymore.

I tried very, very hard not to rise to this bait. I did not write back an angry, hurt response. To be honest, my initial response was to chortle in amazement that she could send such a message and think it would be comforting. I recognize that the love part is comforting but she immediately undercut it by adding the "want to like you" part.

I mean, am I really that bad? Could it really be that bad?

After some mulling and a couple of false starts, I sent this reply, "I'm trying not to be hurt that you 'want to like me.' Makes me feel pretty darn unlikable. However, I'm willing to listen and will do what I can to resolve your issues. I hope it will be enough."

Did I go for the guilt in this? Damn straight I did. And I hope she feels the twist of it because I find her approach to be unkind and unnecessarily harsh.

Plus, until I hear from her again, I'm in complete suspense (still!) as to exactly what these issues are, except they impede my likeability in some substantial way.

But, of course, and, as always, I dare say we will be quite far from scratching the surface of the "real" issues, whatever the heck they are, even after our next conversation. The "real" issues have to do with how my mother feels about having a child at all, which isn't something I can help with, no matter how much I change my behavior. (Not to mention that my attempts to change my behavior will most likely fail—as most humans' do.)

So, I don't know what to do. I think I'll go back to doing nothing and ignoring Mom until she gets in touch and tells me what the problem is. Though, of course, if I wait, she'll probably tell me I should have called—that she was waiting for my call. I guess I have to accept that I'm never going to win.

Clearly, I must have some issues with my mother or I wouldn't have so much to say about her. I do—I have more than one. The first that comes to mind is that she tends to be the voice of gloom. Whenever I tell Mom anything, she goes right to the most negative possible interpretation. I'm doing something wrong: expecting too much, expecting too little, worrying about nothing, behaving foolishly, etc. I don't feel supported by her or that it's safe to talk to her without getting hurt. She's always honest, though.

I also find her behavior frighteningly unpredictable. I'm never sure when something I say or do is going to make her upset.

When I visit, I fuss about how messy the place is, then I start cleaning up. Mom feels judged when I do this. Perhaps if I skipped the fussing and went straight to cleaning, that could be avoided.

There are topics she wants to discuss that I don't care to get into. She is offended when that happens. This may be one of the "issues" she wants to discuss.

Here is a good (or bad) example. When I was home for Yom Kippur, I fasted. Mom fasted for most of the day, but, for health reasons, she had water and a little food in the afternoon. At about hour 23 of my fast, she suggested I break early. (The fast should last about 25 hours, which I think is extreme!) I declined but, in the end, I started eating at about hour 24. It was around then that she asked, "Why do you fast?"

Now, I’m not saying it's an illegitimate question, but given that she seemed not very pleased that I was fasting (and that she wasn't—was it a contest?) and that I was tired and grumpy from fasting, I wasn't in the mood to talk about it. Religion is a tricky ground for us as she's gotten more religious over the years and I've stayed more or less the same (not very religious). So, I didn't give her an answer (I think I said, "I don't know"), she pressed me, I pushed back and ended with, "I don't want to talk about this!" She was royally pissed. I felt imposed upon. We ate together but it was not a cheerful meal.

I'm just going to hope that I can find a way to be understanding. I will pray that the "issues" are somewhat reasonable and won't set me to chortling incredulity. Or, if they do, I can restrain myself. Heh. Right, like that's gonna happen.

Grateful for: never a dull moment.

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