I was not going to become my mother.
Posted on August 17th, 2015
We’d scheduled an outing this morning, but my daughter dawdled and one of the ways I am not like my mother is that I am willing to let things ride, rather than scream and insist. I can do other things today. I explained to pH that her failure to get ready by a certain time meant she wouldn’t get to do this today, and she was fine with it, and so am I…because I’m not going to be like my mother.
Do all daughters think this? I think so. The joke is that we become them, anyway. I was motivated, though. My mother is cruel, narcissistic, and vindictive. (I’ll own vindictive, but never, ever directed at pH.) I can make a compelling argument she’s a sociopath. The only time she ever apologized was when I was in my 30s, and it was a coldly calculated move–and in writing, not to my face.
So I was not going to become my mother.
My mother gave up her career for about twenty years while raising kids, with a handful of work here and there when she could. She bitterly resented it, and us, and particularly me, the eldest. (She did give up grad school when I was born, but it’s not like I asked her to.) For years I was responsible for everything that went wrong, at least until I was kicked out of the house, then it was another sibling’s fault. Eventually she ran out of kids to blame and it was my father’s fault, so she divorced him.
I have given up my career for the last five years while raising my daughter and then teaching her. I didn’t do it because I was following my husband’s career, but I did do it because someone had to keep the family together and there are only the three of us. I don’t think I’m bitter (but I am occasionally resentful, usually while doing dishes). I long for what I was trained to do. When I do get work, and I research and write and argue, I realize, hey, here is this thing that I’m good at, that I don’t constantly question myself about. (Unlike parenting, in which I double or triple guess almost all of my decisions, and that’s after reading two or three books on whatever the topic is.) But I don’t ever want pH to think that it’s because of her.
My mother was dependent on my father’s career for financial survival.
My father was never happy with his jobs and was either going back to grad school or looking for another position. We moved a lot. I was an adult before he stabilized (and then destabilized).
My husband would be happy with his job if he were left alone to do it, because it is a thing he is very good at and has a large number of awards for doing (I am the person in charge of storage of important things; he had more than I realized, as we put together his updated resume). But between being a whistleblower re: illegal hiring (hello, retaliation) and insisting on following the law in other ways (hello, retaliation) and getting caught up in a shitstorm of an investigation in which he was a major witness (hello, retaliation)…
What kH couldn’t have known–I wish I could have kept from him–is that any instability with his job, just any bad day, triggers a cascade of panic. I go from him coming home after a bad day to OMG, we’ll be living out of our car in 30 seconds. (Similarly, any medical bill, any student loan statement, any reminder in a bar news bulletin that some classmate has just done some amazing thing? That triggers a shame spiral that goes from “I am not working full-time as a lawyer” to “I am a complete failure because I am not making sufficient financial contributions to the family,” and it’s a lot faster than 30 seconds.)
Yes, I realize those are faulty thought processes. Are you kidding? I may not be OCD (my psychiatrist lets me borrow his journals and I was kind of disappointed to realize how completely mundane my neuroses are) but I have charts. And many highlighters.
She had parents and in-laws that provided a financial safety net and the occasional inherited windfall.
Hahahahaha. Excuse me while I check my bank account balance for the fourth time today. Nope.
My mother had no student loans.
Must be nice.
My mother was an alcoholic. I understand bourbon is this thing people love and savor. I can’t smell it without wanting to be sick, because it is the smell of my mother’s breath.
I have Xanax and very good oral hygiene (my dentist said so last week: still no cavities). I managed to be the only non-alcoholic, non-addictive personality in my family. Go me. And go team Xanax.
We could call my upbringing “genteel poverty” without too much irony. We had books and we travelled (mostly to visit family, but logged a lot of flight time), but ate a lot of beans on bread when I was pH’s age.
I use rice (wheat allergy) and salsa to mix it up.
My mother never would have given up her job to teach me. She was at home to raise me, but that was because she kept having kids. Teach me off the cuff, sure, if the opportunity was there (how I learned multiplication: she was cleaning or I was cleaning, and I asked and she told me, and that was that). But full time, if she could have worked? Nope.
How do I do?
Well, here’s this blog, right? I like my daughter, even when I’m hearing about Lego Jurassic World for the millionth time in a day. I don’t drink. I don’t hit (or scratch or scream) and I try to keep the panic attacks private and to a minimum. She’s probably busy thinking she never wants to be like me, but you know, that’s the way it goes. Maybe she’ll turn out to be the one non-neurotic, non-anxiety disordered woman my family has ever produced. She’s already on track to be the tallest.
Perhaps I didn’t become my mother. And perhaps pH won’t become me. If all we share is our mitochondrial DNA (or one or two other things), that will be okay.