Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mother Hen Nit-Picker

Barbara: So I thought it would just be about being sad and stuff. But the worst of that passed after about the first week. Here’s the biggest challenge I am having since my daughter left for college. Cutting the apron strings without also severing arteries.

If you want to know the truth: I’m not proud to tell you. Not even excited. I don’t need a good hug. But in this stream-of-consciousness, speaking-from-the-heart, this-is-the-truth-right-now-but-that-truth-might-change-the-next-minute blog thing that we do over here, that’s the truth of where I am right now this minute. Could be way different tomorrow. I just need to vent. And seriously, I just need to get over myself.

You know all the stuff I said about how close I am with my daughters? So imagine how devastating it is when every time I get off the phone with her, we’ve just waged another battle over something or other. Epic battles, I tell you. We who usually see things so much the same are now at (virtual, over-the-phone) loggerheads over everything, from how late she stays up to how she spends her days. She keeps reminding me that she is the same person with the same morals and the same standards as always, and I keep envisioning that slippery slope that all parents at some point face, where their child turns into this unrecognizable creature with really strange and awful habits. Of course, it CAN happen. We’ve all seen that too. Kids can go off the rails for any number of reasons. But I promised myself (and you) that I wouldn’t live the future ills, I would deal with stuff as it comes, live in the now, not panic about shit that might never happen, not imagine worst-case scenarios.

I’m sure she’s going through her own version of bloodletting string-cutting right now, but I have to leave her to it… Because I have no choice. She’s not coming home to me every night where I can, even surreptitiously, touch her cheek and know she’s not sick, see her eyes and know she’s getting enough sleep, or hug her regardless of which one of us needs it.

I phoned her with a mea culpa last night. I promised I would let her earn her triumphs and make her mistakes. I would try not to wage battle with the deadliest of maternal weapons: “worry”, “fear”, “disappointment”, “dread”.

Wish me luck. Because this is the hard part. Way harder than being sad.

Deb: Oh Barb. I know. They are excruciating growing pains that hurt so much; you think you are permanently damaged. I have felt these myself in recent months as I come to terms with a grown man son. There have been changes in our demeanor but not in our love. And every time I see our relationship shift, I have to remember that. Not clinging, but connecting. And shifting. Yeah. Shifting is the toughest. Shifting is what has been hurting and confusing me. I remember my Mum saying when the boy was baby, “Don’t dwell, because as soon as you do, he will have moved to another phase”. Well said, Mum. So I’m not. Cause he will. Thanks.


  1. I have had all of this. Having sons is a whole other ballgame. Wait until they marry and their allegiance is to their spouses and then grand babies and trying to stay out of the their business. I am farther down the road and it does work out. Everyone adjusts and life goes on and everyone finds their new normal but at least we Moms can go back to any stage and relish all the coziness that once was and will be again. Trust me. Everyone grows and it all gets better.

  2. Little children; headache, big children; heartache. I'll happily keep the headache a little longer.

  3. Thank you, Madge! Your words, as always, give me a sense of peace.

    Erin, yeah, I forgot that adage. So perfect. Of course, I'm also learning that so much of that heartache is of my own devise...

  4. When I first moved away for college,one of the things that my grandparents told me was to keep my head on straight. I think for some reason they thought that I was going to change because I was on my own and in school. Now when they call me I still tell them that I will never change. I am just the same person and always will be the same person as when I went off to school. Don't get me wrong there are times where maby sometimes I might have thought for a second that I would change then when I think that my grandparents get me back on track. I love my grandparents alot for making me keep my head on straight and just helping me and being right there for me in case I ever did start to change and get off track.

    PS: Barb I know you said you didn't need a big hug,but it never hurts HUGS to both you and DEB. Hugs never hurt.

  5. I've always been a level-headed person, never one to give into peer pressure or anything like that, but this post made me realize that my mom probably worried that first week of me and my sister being at college and she probably still worries now, since I am approaching graduation and being on my own. But no matter how I grow up or where my life will take me, I will ALWAYS need my mommy and her advice/opinion/etc!!! My mom has always been my biggest fan and supporter and I ALWAYS think of her whenever I am faced with something that might go against what I believe in and what I've been taught.

    And I agree with Lyndsie, hugs never do hurt!

  6. And Barb, you seem like a wonderful mother to me and you should have no shame in what you are proves that you love your daughter THAT MUCH MORE!!!

  7. Aw, Lyndsie and Holly, you see I said I didn't need a hug -- but then they feel soooooo good when you get the :) Thank you!!!

    And all this reminds me once again how you really don't know how you're going to react until you ge there. I don't think I thought about what my mother (or parents) went through when 1, 2, then 3 girls left home. But it's a process. And all will be and is good.

  8. Barbara--as usual, we are on a similar wavelength. my son is in England for 3 months (as you know) and I'm working on a poem about letting go. I'm crying as I write the poem, just as I'm crying as I read your blog. and I'm not a crier. really. I think that the only thing I can tell you from a place of wisdom (since my son already stretched the cord veeeery thin this summer when he went halfway across the world for a month)--is that when they're away from you, they exhibit everything you put into them. when they're with you? maybe not so much. so that's what keeps us hooked. our worries that the "not so much" is what will prevail. but I know (in my better moments) that our kids were given every drop of our earnest & loving souls and they are already everything they need to be....including human. which means they will make mistakes like we all it all comes back to the same old thing: the only person you can control is yourself. just know you're not alone in attempting to do so. xo Lori

  9. Oh, Lori. Heart stopping beauty. Yes! And thank you.

  10. Oh, Barbara- I'm so sorry it's hard. I think it will get easy again when you manage to really let go of it... I know, easier said than done, but my prediction is there will be some stupidity, followed by some regrets, and then anything she's doing that isn't a great idea will self-correct. I don't know how your household growing up was, but my observation is the kids who had the coziest security in childhood need to sprawl the farthest when they have the freedom. Hang in there.

  11. I'm at work...will respond later. :]

  12. I know we have said it before but I feel that today justifies repeating. You are the most supportive group who read our blog. My heart is always lighter after reading your comments.

  13. Ok, I will now respond accordingly...

    I know without a doubt that my mom worries about me, Holly and my older brother. But I worry about my mom too (not as much in light of recent events). I think it's just natural; I've grown up my entire life under my mom, and I remember being on my own for the first time. Holly and I had just finished unpacking and we just stood in the silence of our tiny room. Finally, I said; " what?" We don't need mommy and daddy's approval anymore when we're away from home.

    But don't get me wrong, I still console my mom about EVERYTHING. I can't imagine my life without my mom. I still miss my mom when I'm away and I think about home more now than I ever have in the past. We grew so much closer this past summer and now we tell each other everything! Barb, promise you'll never stop calling your daughter. She'll get annoyed at first (trust me, I did), but later on in life she'll thank you. And tell her you love her, all the time.

    Sometimes mom just sends me and Holly things "just because she was thinking about us." Sometimes I call just because I was thinking about home. Ok, I need to stop because I'm getting myself worked up. :]

  14. So sorry it's been so tough Barbara. I have no words of wisdom, but I'm reading and learning because I'll be there with my oldest child in less than 5 years. I'm learning from you guys example (and that includes all comments made from those who have gone through the experience.) Deb is right, this is the greatest, most supportive group there could be.

    And my own philosophy: Chocolate is great in all circumstances!

  15. Hart, I know you're right about that cozy/spreading wings link. It's one of the reasons I go into worry wart mode! But I do trust her and have full fundamental confidence (even if I sometimes forget). Kelly, thanks soooo much for coming back to weigh in. You guys are so AWESOME! It's great hearing from you younger friends who are on the same kinds of adventures that my girls are on. Such a great perspective.

    Molly, we're here for you!! And yes yes YES! Best group ever!! (and also the chocolate? poor little chocolate doesn't stand a chance against me)

  16. I still call my 84 year old Mum whenever I am traveling to let her know I have arrived. She doesn't ask me to but I know it means the world to her. I love her so much and yet we had epic battles when I was a teen. One day I stuck my tongue out at her for such a long time (hiding on stairs) that she caught me because my throat went dry and I started to gag. True story. Man we laugh about that still.

  17. When I was in school my grandparents and I would have our little fights over this and that. I never understood why we were fighting over the things that we were until now. I think now I understand better why we had those fights. It was because they loved me. They have always been the worrie kind and even now that I am out of school,they still worrie when I go out of town or just in town. It's now because they don't trust me or because they think i AM going to do anything bad,they just like to worrie sometimes. I am ask them the other day why they worried so much,and the only answer that I got was "because we can,and we want to" they also told me that the only time that I would ever have to worrie is when they stopped carring and worring about me ,which they never would.

    Sometimes I think that it just takes time to understand why parents tend to fight and fude and worrie so much about us. I am still trying to figure that out,well parts of it anyways.

  18. PS: SORRY for the second comment,I had a lot to say to this post.

  19. Lyndsie, never apologize for long comments -- we love hearing what all of you have to say (especially when it's a tricky subject). I so appreciate your take on things . And I love your grandparents response to your question!!

  20. *sigh* Barbara, I had typed out a comment to you earlier today, but the blog ate it. So, I'll just go back and make sure the most important bit comes across: {{{HUG}}}

  21. Rigel that's too bad. But we always know you are there for us.

  22. Been there with my Dad lately. Seems like every time we talk we end up fighting about something (and major epic fights). But that just makes the times we have pleasant conversation that much sweeter. It's all about finding the new boundaries. Sometimes you have to swing too far in one direction and then come back to the middle. Hang in there!!

  23. Barbara, when Michele is next home for a stretch (e.g. summer), please recognize and honor that she has been living with freedom and functioning independently on a day to day basis. She has begun taking adult responsibility for her hourly actions. I'm not talking about who's paying for tuition & housing. I know she's not financially independent, yet. I'm talking about the fact that she has come and gone as she's pleased, gotten herself up in the mornings, gotten to class, to work, etc. And, you know what? If she's pulled in decent grades, kept her scholarship qualification, not landed in jail, not gotten addicted to anything, and not gotten pregnant or caught a disease, then she's passed the test.

    So, don't go treating her like a little girl or even a young teenager when she's back under your roof. Don't do what my mother tried to do the first summer break I went home. I can't even remember what the fuss was about, but I do distinctly remember realizing that it was a point of preference and not a point of right and wrong and thinking, "Really? She's gonna make a play for power over this? She has no legitimate argument. This is nothing more than her resisting that I differ." She tried pointing with an imperious finger and commanding, "Go to your room!" Like she was gonna ground me. Like I was 11. At that moment, it took absolutely every ounce of self-control I had not to laugh in her face. But, I did walk over and stand directly in front of her and look her dead in the eye (we're the same height) and silently defy her lunacy. I was absolutely silent, but I did not budge.

    She backed down. She turned around and walked away from me without a word.

    See, she had no ground to stand on, not even the "authority of a parent" or "respecting one's elders". She new damn well that I knew damn well that she had blown it. The sad truth is that she was the smaller person that afternoon. And, btw, I HATED that. I HATED losing respect for my mother. I was SAD. There was no gloating or rejoicing in my victory. Instead, I MOURNED. But, the sad truth was that by that point in her life, she had gotten pregnant, been forced to marry my father, and dropped out of college. And, that afternoon, something in me just snapped. I had already proven that I had could exercise better judgement than she had at that age. I had a full tuition scholarship, and I hadn't screwed up. I was doing well. I realized that I had to reject her belittling me, that I couldn't consent to it.

    Oh, and did she learn her lesson? No. The first Thanksgiving after I graduated from college, I was living on my own in a large city out of state and working 2 jobs. Yet, when I drove over to Arkansas for family Thanksgiving (the last time I would see my Gram alive), my mother tried to make me sit at the children's table instead of at the family table with all the aunts, uncles, and grown cousins. She refused, REFUSED, to treat me as an adult. My Grandmama, her mother, even rolled her eyes over that one.

    Further loss of respect: One time when I was back in my parents' house (by that point, it wasn't "home" to me anymore -- just their house) during college, I finally came out and told my mother that the reason I wasn't dating the man I had earlier been involved with was that one night he had hit me across the face. So, I walked away from him and never went back. Her response to this revelation was, "I don't want to hear about things like that," and walking away.

    When Michele comes home, please treat her with respect. She is an emerging adult functioning in a larger reality than ever before. And, there's no going back so please don't try to squash her. Not that I think you would because you ARE a better mother than that or you wouldn't have caught on to what's been going on lately and posted this lament on the blog.

  24. I'm dealing with the same situation, but from both ends. I'm trying to guide my daughter without locking her up, and trying to be patient with my mother, who doesn't know there are even scissors, never mind being willing to cut the cord.

    My daughter's 16, so I still have a significant say as to what she can and cannot do and where she can and cannot go. It's tough to watch her pull farther away, but I'm starting to accept that it's a natural occurrence, and the best thing I can do is keep the lines of communication open enough for her to still be able to come to me.

    Of course, this is all well and good in theory. Right now, she lives just down the street with her dad. Actually LEAVING is going to be a different thing, I'm sure. I'm sure I'll find out, as you, Barb and Deb, have, that knowing it's just a natural part of things, and dealing with it, are two separate things.

    (I'm having a hard time wording this next part, but I hope the idea is there.)

    It's a much more complicated issue with my mother. I know she has some issues, due to the way she herself was raised. What she doesn't realize, and refuses to listen to me about, is that I'm not the same person she is. Lines of communication were practically non-existent to begin with. My psychiatric issues made it worse, as I'm sure you can imagine. Priorities are VASTLY different for each of us, to say the least.

    My parents visited me while I was hospitalized, and one particular visit stands out. You know that phrase about "the elephant in the room"? We were, for all intents and purposes, sitting IN the elephant, and her conversation revolved around happenings at the church she attends. (I don't.) She couldn't talk about the big stuff. Meanwhile, my dad is telling me about the time he spent in a psychiatric hospital. (In the early 1950's, he was in the Navy, serving on a ship, and sleep-walked. They needed to evaluate him, and that's where they did it.)

    On the intellectual level, I KNOW it's part of her defense mechanisms, and that there are reasons for that. Be that as it may, I'm still not comfortable talking to her, even to check in. Too many defensive walls go up. I'm trying to work on changing it, because of the "do it now, because otherwise you'll regret it" theory. But again, it's a tough thing whose roots go deep.

    This was a big part of my therapy session this week. Once again, timing is everything.

  25. Oh, and Deb and Barbara, ummmmm, OK, how to put this? Once your grown kids have been away for a while (3 or 4 years?), they won't just be insiders in your family but will also have gained enough distance to have the perspective of outsiders, too. And, one day, you may have to face the sting of them calling you out on a hard truth. Now, let me be very, very clear that I absolutely admire how healthy y'all's families are. Y'all are magnificent mothers, and your kids have a FABULOUS start on life. Healthier than most! But, maybe, just maybe, one day they'll call you out on something. Maybe there's an inner-family game they'll one day choose to no longer play.

    I first realized something was wrong with my dad around the time I was in 8th grade. I turned 13 in the middle of that school year, and he was such a raging, hateful, cruel, irrational beast that day that he ruined my birthday. It was the first time I ever remember looking at him objectively and thinking, "There's something wrong with that man. And, he's scary." After that, there was no hiding the fact that my dad was pathological.

    Dawn, you want to talk about an elephant in the room? Oh, sweetie, I am with you there on that one. Dawn, that one made TOTAL sense to me, bless your heart! *hugs* When I was a teenager and in my 20's, my mother NEVER ONCE acknowledged that my dad was an alcoholic. She NEVER ONCE acknowledged that he drank way too much every single day and that it modified his behavior in a horrible direction. The most she could ever say was to label it "your Daddy's beer." Well, yeah, it was "Daddy's beer" --- by the case full. She also never once acknowledged that he had anger management issues, that he was cruel, that he had out of control rage, that he was irrational. Imagine sitting down to dinner and having your father look across and tell your mother to go to hell and then looking you in the eye and saying, "You, too. You can go to hell, too." And, then imagine your mother's response being to shush you and motion for you to make yourself invisible. And, that was a quiet night. A far less painful night. An easy night.

  26. Imagine having a father who, when he couldn't get the alarm clock to set, roared cussing and went out onto the front steps and slammed it against the concrete to shatter it. Imagine hearing your father over and over and over degrading your mother, screaming horrible things in her face about what worthless shit she was, yelling at her that "as soon as I've done my duty as a man and Rigel has graduated, I'm going to divorce you and be rid of you!" Constantly putting her down, constantly shredding her. Every time he did that, I'd always be thinking, "Don't wait. Please go ahead and do it. We'd be better off without you." And, as the years went on, he began it with me, too. He would bad mouth us even in front of members of my mother's family. I vividly remember one time my great-uncle looking at me with sadness and compassion after my dad had just spouted some put down about me. Imagine having your mother raising you saying to be honest and not to lie but constantly, on an almost daily basis, witnessing her lying to friends and neighbors to cover up for her husband's behavior -- and insisting that I do the same. She would literally instruct me on what lies to tell to cover up his latest debacle. I hated it. Loathed it. Wanted to disappear. All she ever cared about, cared about more than me as her daughter, was keeping the peace (which was impossible because we never knew when and why he would explode) and hiding the truth from everyone else. She never once ever defended me. And, she never once ever said he was wrong. And, when he would explode into rage, when he would behave so terribly, it was always my fault or her fault. Never mind that his stimulus-response was nightmarishly disproportionate. Never mind that his rage was usually for no identifiable reason. She never once held him accountable for his behavior. It was always someone else's fault. Usually mine. I was constantly blamed for his drunken rages. It seemed that in her eyes, my only roles were a) to get good grades, b) do whatever it took to keep Daddy from exploding, c) hide the truth about what our family was like to everyone else.

    Daddy was miserable at his job. He was miserable in his marriage (a trap he'd set for himself when he'd gotten my mom pregnant when they were 19). And, he took it out on us. Constantly. Still does. He and I can't be together for more than 2 hours before getting into it. It gets ugly real quick when we're around each other.

  27. Ah, but see, that's the difference between then and now. I don't take it anymore. I stand up to him which horrifies my mother. She's always, "Shush, just let it go." "Be quiet, don't make trouble." "Just ignore him." "DON'T UPSET YOUR DADDY."

    No. Because, you know what? What about, "Daddy upsets me"?

    I am not a coward like her. I am not a doormat like her. I am not weak like her. I will not let him shit in my face.

    Madge said, "Wait until they marry and their allegiance is to their spouses and then grand babies and trying to stay out of the their business."


    The decisive moment was when my son was 13 months old. He and I had flown to Alabama in early December from California to do a pre-Christmas visit to all our people in the South. Being my son's mother pretty much instantly cured me any tolerance I may have once allowed for twisted family bullshit. No way. I repeat: NO WAY was I going to let my dad's crap mess with my kid. It was a Saturday, and my dad was home from work. The 4 of us were going to go out to a really yummy BBQ restaurant for dinner that night. He'd been drinking beer after beer after beer after beer (ad infinitum) all afternoon and was obviously pretty far sloshed. I mentioned it to my mother, and she said, "Don't worry. I'm going to tell him that ***** wants his Grandddaddy to sit by him in the backseat. And, I'll drive." Yeah, right. Like she'd ever been able to manage something like that before. *rolls eyes* She always would plot these manipulations rather than confronting the truth, and they never worked. Guess what? It didn't work that night, either. We were all in the garage. She was struggling to buckle my son into his carseat but wouldn't let me help because she insisted that she was getting it. I was in the passenger seat of their car. My dad got impatient and mad at her and started verbally slicing her up over how long she was taking to buckle kiddo in and how stupid she was. (He can be cruel about ANYTHING.) And, he slid into the driver's seat and put his keys in the ignition. She kept using her very fake, happy, high pitch voice trying to convince herself (because she was a fool if she thought she was convincing anyone else) that she had the situation under control. He was barking at her to get in. And, she kept trying to make nicenice and get him to come to the backseat. He was getting madder and uglier. He was insisting that she get in and that he was driving. Finally, I snapped. Very calmly, in a surprisingly even and low voice, I looked over and asked simply, "Daddy, how many beers have you had to drink today?" You'd've thought I'd slapped him. He exploded, "How dare you ask me that?!?! How dare my DAUGHTER ask ME her FATHER that?" In the same surprisingly calm, low voice (I still boggle that I pulled that off), I stated very simply, "I can't let ***** ride in a car when the driver's been drinking." I sat there as calmly as I could, hands in my lap, deliberately keeping an even voice. It didn't work.

  28. All hell broke loose. I'll spare y'all the details. Suffice to say, it was an extraordinary level of ugliness. Really ugly. Quite bad. The stuff of legend.

    Fast forward about 15 minutes, and the name of the game was Get Out of Dodge. Kiddo was buckled in back, I was in the passenger seat, and my mother was in the driver's seat. My father was inside the house destroying who knows what. But, one way or another, I was removing my kid from that situation. My mother, ever the coward, just drove on toward the BBQ pit like nothing had happened. As we were pulling up toward the 4-way stop sign further down their street, she had to nerve to start fussing at me. "Why did you have to say anything? I had it under control. Why did you have to make him angry?" She went on and on for a couple of blocks nag, nag, nagging me.

    All I could think of was all the times she had let him drive drunk when I was in the car. I kept thinking about one time driving back from a Mexican restaurant when he hopped the curb after turning wide in an intersection.

    And, I freakin lost it.

    Did you know that you can literally be so angry that you CAN see red? It is possible. I was there. I saw red. It was a rich, dark, blood red. It blinded me.

    I could barely speak. My throat was closing off. My jaw was clenched. My vision dark red. I have never in my whole life felt rage and disgust like I did at that moment.

    I didn't speak. I growled. "Don't you DARE put this on me! DON'T YOU DARE! I was protecting my child. I WAS PROTECTING MY CHILD. What kind of mother would I be if I did otherwise? WHAT KIND OF MOTHER WOULD I BE?"

    She didn't say a word. She just drove on in silence. But, we both knew the answer was, "A better one than you."

    I do not play that bullshit game anymore. There is no more covering up. There is no more lying. There is no more protecting Daddy. There is no more pretending that he is anything other than what he is.


    When it comes to my dad, I am on what Anne Lamott calls a "bullshit free diet."

    And, for the record, when I'm around, I don't let my mom get away with it either. I call her bluff. I will say to her, "No. Why do you take that?" Or, "No, I'm not going to go along with that. We shouldn't have to put up with that." Or, "No, tell me the truth. I can tell you're lying to me. Be honest. What really happened?" And, every now and then, she'll come clean. Every now and then, for a few seconds, she'll be honest with me and honest with herself. But, it never changes her behavior. And, it never changes how she allows him to treat her.

    I have found the courage to take care of myself when he's around. But, I can only do so much for her. She has to find her own courage. They've been married for 38 years.

    Point being, sometimes the kids outgrow the parents in some ways.


    I'm gonna go lay down and read for a few minutes or something. Maybe go take a shower. I don't feel good.

  29. Amazing story, Rigel -- so honest and soul-searing. I'm glad you felt that you could vent about that. I think it's deeply important to say the things you never got to say back then.

    As for my own sitch, I'm sure there will be future tales of "this is how I saw that", but I will say this: my kids are extremely extremely honest with us already now. And have been since they hit their teens. They call us out. And I am grateful for it. It keeps us honest. And out of the vacuum. xoxo

  30. Ooh! Dem's wize woids frum yor mum, Deb.
    I'm going to remember them and make good use of 'em.
    Hang in there, Barb. Your daughters will have good heads on their shoulders, which you put there. They've gotta make a few less-than-stellar choices due to their youth and humanity, but those good heads will pull them through.


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