Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Judgements, Expectations, and Family Ties

Growing up I had a friend named Olivia. Her mother was from England and she was very proud of being English. Although she must have lived in the United States for at least twenty years by the time I met her, she still spoke with a thick accent and refused to change her vocabulary to accommodate us dumby Americans. She would always call bathing suits swimming costumes, and the back yard was a garden, rain boots were Wellies whether they actually were or not; and there were a million more that I have since forgotten. It could sometimes seem charming, but more often than not it came off as pretentious; clearly she knew that people did not quite always understand what she was referring to, and she didn't care, she just wanted them to know she was from England. She always seemed to be of the opinion that English people were more cultured and civilized than Americans. And not just some English people like herself, no, no, she thought the whole country was better. So why did she move to the states, marry a Greek man from Charleston, South Carolina and live out the whole of her life as a United Stated citizen? I think it probably came down to money, because she was obsessed with presenting her family as very wealthy and civilized. The more money her husband made from his computer jobs, the bigger the houses became, the fancier the cars, the gardens became more and more extravagant, the clothes they wore were suddenly so posh, and they were living the American Dream.

But no matter what, no matter how many years it had been, or how many good friends had been made, or how successful the family became, in her mind it still was not England so it could never be quite as good. There is a point to all this, just bear with me a bit longer. It was not just language, ideals, and possessions in America that did not live up to her idealized dream life; she made it very clear to everyone that her husband and her daughter, my friend Olivia, were not up to her standards because they were tainted somehow by too much Greekness. That seems like a crazy claim to make, right? How could I know such a thing about the way someone else feels unless they came right out and said such a thing? And why would a mother feel that about a child, much less say it outright? Why would a woman marry someone she felt was not good enough? Well, people like to think those things don't happen, but they do happen, they happen all the time. Having such a dysfunctional family myself, I am fascinated by the dysfunction of others. And the older I get, the more I realize that there are very, very few families out there that do not have some sort of issues with communication, or understanding each other, or maybe there is mental illness in the family, or addiction, or whatever it may be, they are human too. But people hide that stuff and portray their lives as perfect to the outside world, not wanting their weaknesses to show. For some people this may be fueled by competition, others may simply not want to expose their vulnerabilities for fear that they may be hurt that way. Who knows, but hiding the dysfunction of billions of families behind creepy plastic painted facades of happiness only serves to weaken bonds and perpetuate the disintegration of the family unit. But I'm running off on a tangent, my point is much simpler.

This woman had two daughters, Olivia and Eleanor. Olivia was the elder sister, my friend, and she took after her father in looks and character. She was quite pretty with very thick, dark hair and huge brown eyes. She had rich, buttery, olive skin and strong bones. But her mother would constantly make all these passive-aggressive comments regarding her coloring and her obvious Greek characteristics. She would unapologeticly compare her to her sister Ellie who had received her mother's looks. She was fair skinned, slender and had dark blond hair like her mother. And in her mother's eyes, all these traits were far more English and therefore more acceptable. She fiercely disliked her mother-in-law who was a short, round, Greek woman from the south. She was loud and boisterous, she liked to cook and eat, and she was very NOT English. She would liken her daughter to the grandmother and the father and then put them down; and Olivia knew how her mother felt about her.

Now, my Mom has always talked about these circumstances as if they were just so sad. How could a mother treat one child as if they are better or more important than another. How could her daughter's looks make her less lovable, she always cries. And over the past couple days, as I've listened to her go on and on about this family, even though it's been almost ten years since we've spoken to any of them, I've realized that she is just like that woman. And maybe it bothers her so much to think about her because she knows, however subconsciously, that she feels the same way about her own daughters and is ashamed to admit it. Projecting much?

I basically stayed away from my family as much as possible until recently. And coming back here has been a crash course in acceptance. The only way for me to move on with my life is to accept that I will never have the relationship with my mother that I wish I could have. I simply have to accept the only relationship she can offer and try to make the best of it. Trying to fight it is only making me fight with myself. I'm fighting with myself over something I want and know I can't have and it's driven me crazy for over fifteen years. My mother sees me as the frumpy, embarrassing child. I don't dress right, I don't speak correctly, I'm not polite enough, I'm too quirky, I'm too shy, and she's always told me. And my sister can be crude and disgusting, she can act like a mental patient, but all is forgiven because she fits into the picture of life that my mother has in her head. My mom wants herself to be living in a huge, antique home with a very handsome, very successful man with her very attractive, blond children standing primly around her. She pictures herself and Lily as fitting into this mold, she's delusional of course, but she has no idea that she sees herself so falsely. They are prim, and thin, and beautiful. And they act like the world owes them everything. They look like two little English garden statues. And me with my brown hair and breasts and my ass, and my crazy, unconventional tendencies simply shatters her picture perfect illusion.

I struggle daily with wanting to accept myself, because I actually think I'm pretty enough and really cool. But it's hard to stay positive and move forward when someone is constantly questioning things that you thought were fine. We went out to dinner last night, it was the last evening we had alone, and we walked to the other side of town to eat at the Exeter Inn. It was a very warm night and I had overdressed slightly. I sweat very readily and profusely if I get to warm, much of it is due to the methadone but I'm sure being overweight does not help. So by the time we got there, I was definitely sweaty and my forehead was slick with shine, my feet were slipping in my boots from the moisture I worked up chasing my mom to the restaurant. And when we walked in my mom asked me where we should sit, and I immediately said let's not sit at the bar, let's get a table in less light with less people. But no, she wouldn't have it because then we wouldn't be on display, she wouldn't be able to shamelessly flirt with someone else's date then. So she dragged me to the bar, and we sat directly under these lights that were making me even more hot and sweaty, so then I started to get anxious because I knew I looked like a wet seal on a bar chair at this point and everyone is staring and my mom is scrutinizing my skin and whining about why it's so blotchy and why don't I go get the facial she set up for me, blah, blah, blah......it got so bad I could feel my ass sweating. I couldn't even think about eating because now I felt sick I was so hot, the lights above me felt like flames and my Mom is looking at me like I have three heads, "what is wrong with you, Nellie? I don't remember you being such a sweaty person. You know, that will stop once you lose some weight". It's always about my weight or my skin, is it possible that all the pressure makes both worse? Finally she relented and let us move to a table in the corner, away from the lights and a breeze coming in from the open doors. It was the table I really wanted to begin with. But she wanted to sit at the bar because she likes to put on a show. And the whole night I knew she wished she didn't have to sit there with me. And I try and try to talk to her, to relate, but I just don't know how she sees the world as she does.

Anyway, this is a big ramble and I know to anyone reading this I probably sound like I'm seeing more into things than what's really happening. But if I went into more detail, I swear you would see that my Mom really is ashamed of the way I look and she treats me accordingly. And it makes it hard to not obsess over things that someone harps on you about all the time.

So I'm off to Curves which she made me join. I'm glad I get to go, but I don't think she wants me to go so I get healthy and feel better. I get the distinct feeling that she wants me to go because if I'm going to live near her and be seen with her I can't be fat. And I can't have bad skin. And I can't wear weird clothes. She signed us both up but she's gone once while I've gone every day. Honestly, I like going alone. I just wish she could accept me for who I am and I'm starting to consider that that's never going to happen.


Sarcastic Bastard said...

I so admire your honesty and think you are a really sane and smart individual. You are right, acceptance is the key. Your mother may never wake up and smell the coffee.

You are loved,


Jeannie said...

Many years ago, I read a book that made a huge difference for me and changed how I reacted to my mother. I don't remember what it was now but basically it pointed out that there will be people in your life who are incapable of seeing you for who you are and appreciating you. And it described how frustrating it can be to try to please that person when they simply can not be pleased. Because you can't change how they view you. And so you simply must accept the fact and move on. Realize they are wrong and forgive them and live your life anyway. I have very close to the same problem with my mother. Once I realized the problem was hers and not mine, it made a huge difference in what I expected out of the relationship. And that meant that she hurts me far less than she used to. It's almost amusing now when she puts me in a box I don't belong in because she decided I belonged there when I was 2 months old or whatever. Once my expectations changed - I stopped wanting her to be in the "Loving Mother" box and let her be in whatever box she wanted, our relationship changed. I will never be her favourite person. She will never be a doting mother. We are relatives but not overly close ones. It doesn't hurt quite so much. There are other people who like me even if she doesn't.

If we were neighbors, I'm pretty sure your mother would be bitching about me while you and I hit it off despite the age difference.

Gledwood said...

My late uncle from Australia ~ my Mum's brother ~ who always struck me as more Australian than Paul Hogan or Steve Irwin and complained how everything was better over there, took the opposite stance at home ~ telling everyone he was English (even though he'd lived in Australia since emigrating at about age 20)... and how the grass was far greener back here (but of course!)...

You also reminded me of this guy I met at university, he was one of the "international" people I met. There were a few of them. Mother lived in Hong Kong, father was in Japan. He had grown up in Oxford, but had an American accent. He spent most holidays in Asia.
Anyway, he met and married an American girl (over here) and emigrated with her back to Colorado...
... about a year into this I went and phoned him. The American accent had suddenly changed into this ridiculous posh English voice. The kind of accent you'd expect from a bad Hollywood actor when they can't be bothered to cast the real deal. And I heard him and suddenly realized he was a fake and a lot of things fell into place and I found it truly pathetic.

Where have you been? Come back!!

sickgirl said...

Oh my goodness!!! You've just described a typical day out with my Mom and I. It has gotten to the point that I'll near do anything in my power to avoid a get together as the first thing she inevitably brings up is my weight gain since starting methadone - like she'd prefer the other option? - or laughing at how hot and sweaty I always appear to be. Nice, n'est pas? Not so much. I hate myself for even considering this but I've decided to join Jenny Craig next week so that when my Mom returns from Spain next month, she might have something else to say to me!

peace, love and happiness...


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