Southern Women, Part IV: The Mother.

This one's going to be the roughest. My mother is my mother, and therefore her drama is inextricably linked to mine -- her story is my story, experienced from different points of view. Not to mention, she's reading this. Talk about pressure. Well, there would be a hell of a lot more pressure, were my mother not the person that she is. Hi Mom.

My mother, of the three, is the soft one. At my more frustrated moments in our relationship with one another, this means the more gullible one, the more emotional one, the more irrational one -- the weaker one. The one most different from me. In my more sober and objective moments, this means the more open one, the more forgiving one, the more loving one -- the stronger one. The one most different from me.

I think every person has a tendency to align themselves more closely with one parent than another. It may shock anyone who knows anything about my relationship with my father to hear that I have always aligned myself with him -- both the good and the bad. My greatest fear in the past has been, and to this day to some extent remains, that I will make the same mistakes in my relationships with people that my father has -- that I'm too hard, too cold and too closed-off. Too cynical, too judgmental, and too wrapped up in my own will. My mother, being the gentle woman that she is, has always smiled and shaken her head at these worries, reassuring me that, like it or not, I have more of her in me than I realize.

My mother's biggest fault is that she trusts too much that there is good in other people. She's drawn in, time and again, by one or another fool's sob story, and often ends up walking away with little to show for it at the end. Her heart is wide open, no matter how many times she gets trampled on. I've always been extremely judgmental about this tendency of hers. One of the worst things I ever said to anybody was said to my mother. Actually, probably a few of the worst things I've ever said to anybody. But we'll talk about just this one, for now.

My mother loved my father with all of her heart. She met him, I believe, when she was 19 and they were married by the time she was 21, and I came along not long after, quickly followed by my brother less than two years later. She went straight from her parents' house into her husband's, and he was not a kind man. He held money over her head as a form of control, just as he had seen his father do. He had very distinct ideas about what made a man and what made a woman, and he expected her to adhere to them.

This went on and on. Without getting into details (because this story is not about me), I will say that I never even came close to meeting my father's standards for a female. We went back and forth in a constant struggle between respecting each other for the strength we saw there, and despising each other for the short-comings we both respectively observed. At times, I genuinely believe I made my father proud by defying him, but at the end of the day, it always came back to the fact that he was the father, and I was the daughter. And I did not even come close to behaving in the manner a daughter should.

My mother went through all of this, quietly comforting and encouraging me. She never once made me feel as though I didn't live up to her standards -- in fact, quite the opposite. I never had any doubts about the way my mother felt about me. Anything I could ever do would be fine with her. She accepted me entirely for what I was. It was this same quality in her that I viciously turned on, when I was 14 and I discovered that my father was having an affair. Taking the evidence to her, I sat and watched as she quietly cried and then instructed me not to say a word about knowing to my father. I looked at her then and, in her lowest moment, when she could have used a return on her support and love more than ever, said the most horrible thing a daughter can say to a mother: "I hope I never end up like you."

Years later, I find myself worrying about just the opposite. I couldn't have understood the reasons my mother had for keeping quiet in that moment. I didn't know then what it would mean for my mother to break away from my father, who held the financial reins in our household nearly entirely, along with just about all other forms of control. I didn't know then the value of swallowing your pride and doing what you have to do to get through a situation. I didn't understand that sometimes what looks like weakness is actually strength.

My mother is the most different from me. But I have to hope that she's right and that a bigger part of her exists within me than I have a tendency to realize, that her kindness and gentleness can come through in me when I need it to. That I can stomp down my pride in those moments when I have to think about the well-being of others, and that I can continue to be open and honest with the world, even after I've experienced its rougher edges. That I have the kind of forgiveness in me that allowed her to almost instantly forgive me for saying something for which I still haven't forgiven myself.


Willie said...

your mother sounds wonderful. i bet she likes to give hugs^_^

I'm no Picasso said...

You're right; she does. And I like to whine about them. ^^

Anonymous said...

That was a really great story. It made me consider a bit of irony about family: Family are the people most like us, closest to us, and who we know the longest, but it still takes decades to figure them out.

Although it is perhaps not ironic. Perhaps it is because we know them differently, understand them a little more or less, with each phase of our maturation.

It's always good to hear stories like these about people. It helps explain them. It adds new connotations to their words.

I hope you don't mind me butting into here, a person you've never met, but I thought you might use the encouragement.

And Merry Christmas. I got you a present, and it is not returnable, so I'm afraid you're stuck with it: *swoon*

I'm no Picasso said...

Are you kidding? I'll take a *swoon* any day of the year. Merry Christmas, Spesh.^^