Yesterday I spoke with my older brother. I called him to find out about his second son, now 7 weeks old. I called him because I am, as I’ve mentioned, alone and lonely. I called because I wanted to put forth my plan to cease & desist with destructive personal narratives: this is the year to stop obsessive narrations regarding [myself as] failure, to try and be clear about who I am, what I want, etc–many things I’ve already posted about.
But what he told me in the conversation outshadowed [yes, I just made that up. get over it] anything I said. In an earlier post on my skepticism of narratives, I may have mentioned that he, my brother had suggested via text conversation that our mother had never wanted to be a mother, but her options were limited. I was furious with him for this, although I may not have been clear with myself about why. In the conversation yesterday he elaborated: that before she was married and to went off to Korea where my dad was stationed, she was in California to help her sister with her two small children. The kids, my cousins, were hellions. Given our age difference, I’s suppose they were ~2-3 years old. She came back from this experience horrified and told my dad she didn’t want to have kids. My dad, of course, said what are you talking about? everyone has kids.
I hadn’t heard this story before, although I was familiar with the next one he told:my mom, at some point in her and dad’s romance, had decided she didn’t want to get married. Her mother and sisters had pressed the marriage on her. My dad showed up and cry. I assume, from the fact that he cried, that she must have actually broken off the engagement. If it was just a breakup, why the tears?
I’m not sure, sitting here, how to even process my emotions.
I’m sorry, I guess, that I didn’t know: I wouldn’t have invited her to come to a foreign country and help me with the birth and first few months of my first son. I may have curtailed our stop at her house after we returned to America and I applied to grad school. I wouldn’t have come to her house for the birth of my second son.
I wouldn’t have been surprised that she didn’t seem to enjoy her grand kids. I wouldn’t have asked in the first place-or if I had, I would have been much more cautious, hesitant and pleading for the help I needed.
I thought she loved kids, loved being a mom. But now it’s like looking at a photonegative, and details which escaped me before are suddenly clear: why my mom and dad waited 5 years before having their first. That when she says my little brother was an accident, she doesn’t mean with perhaps the same explosive joy that I say my first was a surprise.
I think about her watching us, tiny children, by herself in foreign countries while my father globetrots. And rather than that tenacious free spirit, I see the alienation. Children as inescapable burden. The brutality of sleeplessness and and neediness and lovelessness that small kids assault you with. But I was ten years older, there was no doubt I had many choices, and I exercised some: having my husband stay home with my first son while I worked. I had a friend that came and took N in his infancy just to give me a break two nights a week. For my second son I pined for a year before conceiving, peeing on strips of paper which tested the chemistry of my clit (ah, yes. that was rude. but such alliteration)
Because it’s my mom, I’ve become so painfully aware of her two-facedness, of her spinning of narratives to fit the day’s mood, I’m also troubled by how much to believe these stories. I’ve been the brunt of her changed story, where what she told me in the moment and the way she spun the story later were night a day.
But I believe she didn’t have many options. I was angered at my brother’s first text on this subject, he writing that she wasn’t able to have the life she wanted, and me firing back with: did someone hold a gun to her head? One of many frustrations with her is her inability to be clear about what she wants and needs, she’s a rag doll that says yes to everything and resents it later. So the idea that she didn’t have choice, that she was bullied into marriage and kids pissed me off because it seems more of the same, more of this pathetic abdication of responsibility for her actions. But I’m not sure it’s wrong either.
My grandmother cut out on her own. And so have I, again and again, chosen an inobvious path. Yesterday, in relating this story to my husband, I pointed out that not everyone ignored all warnings and ventured out on their own the way I had. But that’s not fair, and our situations are not comparable: I often felt I was making decisions in a void, and it’s clear looking back at my choices, that there are many I made from lack of ideas or from tenuous scaffolding.
Her anger at my father’s lack of finding her attractive makes more sense. That she has held on to this pain near twenty years since their divorce has been obnoxious to me. It seemed, like her aggression towards my husband and uncles and other random people, a way of holding on her aches, another excuse to have a drink. But if someone begged you to marry them and then spent the next twenty years letting you know you weren’t good enough?
holding me up as hero, which has never ceased to frustrate and exhaust me: beating down on my marriage, beating down my choice of a religous life, the constant narration of me as something more, better:
My older brother, mom and I in NY, at a restuarant near Bryant park. It’s near Christmas, I ‘ve been working the holiday market selling cheap jewelry. She looks up at wrought iron light that hangs above us and says, as she rises to go to the bathroom, ha, my kids could do that.
I turned to my brother and asked, has she always been like this?
this memory goes back 13-14 years, maybe more. But her comment was the concrete form of the pressure I feel from her: be, be, BE. Somehow I must DO … SOMETHING AMAZING. TBD. And as I’ve aged, as my path has become a concrete one beneath my feet, as I’ve realized some paths are blocked and others are different that you imagined, as I’ve felt increasingly like I was failing her, that I just wasn’t enough, and yet I didn’t know how to be more than I was, to be this person she wanted me to be, I’ve grown more and more resentful.
This memory was also the beginning of understanding that she had a certain mania, an over the top exuberance. But we’ll leave that for another post.
But doesn’t it all make sense in the view of a thwarted life?
who would you be if you were suddenly free? I’ve never been other than free, but I see now how this has been the question lurking at the back of her mind.
of course, yes, I see now, why she wants me to be a drinking buddy. Why she JUST WANTS TO HAVE FUN. and why I seem such a drag. Imagine you finally have the freedom, the emotionally economically philosophically… but it didn’t come until you were 50. and by 63, you’re still experiementing, you’re still seeing the world, you still have these teenaged emotion, a kids view of wanting to find the edges of the new world you’ve discovered. But who is there to have this with?
I’ve been so angry at her, that she didn’t understand what it was like for me, that I’m tired, that I have responsibilities to my sons, that I have a job and personal ambitions beyond my job. I kept looking to her for good advice, and felt she encouraged only dreaming and magical thinking. But she was seeing the me she needed me to be, just as I have seen her as the mother-grandmother I needed, and we are both disappointed by the reality.