Saturday, March 13, 2010

Rabid Dust Bunnies

I have a very big broom. I have often used it to sweep things under the rug in the interest of maintaining a relatively calm relationship with my mother. We've pretty much always had challenges getting along.

I'm told I'm too independent. And not just from Day 1. Stubborn from Day -2, that's me.

Apparently I have been a royal pain in the hindquarters since refusing to be born prior to her 30th birthday. Willful fetus that I was, I grabbed hold of her uterus and refused to come out for an additional two days -- not just one, two. Just to spite her. (The things you learn in a shared therapy session at the age of 18.)

There were more crimes in my list. I embarrassed her. People often mistook me for a boy. I was a quiet bookish soccer-addicted tomboy instead of a gregarious perky girl. I was shy to the point of dissolving in tearful terror when expected to order ice cream.

Oh yes, and willful. I willed my breasts to grow bigger than hers at an age far earlier than she thought appropriate. (Actually it wasn't will, it was Miracle-Gro. But don't tell anyone.) I didn't do much to try to fit in. Meanwhile, I was getting good grades, playing in the band (albeit badly), and selling my share of Girl Scout cookies in my little green uniform.

I recently went through an exercise about resentments. In total, I have very few. When it comes to my mother, I admit there is a list. And resentments are definitely on my to-do list. Interestingly, hers come from things over which I had no control. Mine have to do with her inability or refusal to acknowledge any of it. I've reached out, admitting that raising an unhappy kid couldn't have been easy, etc. I've given her free passes. She won't take them.

Two of the biggest examples are related, yet happened twenty years apart. When I was 18, I was working the summer near Donner Summit and was hospitalized twice after my blood pressure started dropping so low that I would lapse into shock. I spent a day in the ER, then was admitted for another four days. She didn't come to the hospital. She had plans to go to my grandparents' cabin in the area on the weekend, so she waited rather than modify her plans, by which time I had been released.

I delivered my twin boys -- her only grandchildren -- 14 weeks early. One of my sons died the day he was born, the other spent nearly four months in intensive care. Although she now lived in Seattle, she had a boatload of free airline tickets. Yet, she waited more than a month.

Even as an adult, but especially as a mother myself, it's hard to comprehend. I'm thankful that my brother has had a significantly better relationship with her. When it comes to me, any time anything has come up in conversation, it's quickly shut down in defense. Zero acknowledgment.

When I had my biopsy a few weeks ago, I sent a note to my mom, brother, and dad. My brother replied immediately, my dad called. A few days later, my mom wrote contending that I'd made myself sick via stress. The "you did it to yourself" is a pattern. In her medical omniscience, I contracted salmonella that kept me horizontal for nearly three weeks because I didn't wash my hands after using the restroom. (Wha? Huh? How dare...) The state health department on the other hand, traced it to a truck carrying lettuce, cantaloupe, and live chickens...

I considered getting out my big broom again, but found it jammed in the closet.

I wrote back explaining that I'm less stressed now than I can ever remember. She fired back about about me being rude and how messy my house was at her last visit. I'm facing a potential cancer diagnosis and her focus is on a messy desk.

Well, without big broom in hand, the rabid dust bunnies emerged.

I finally brought up an abbreviated list of "unacknowledged things." And that list, well -- I used to joke that I was raised by wolves. Someone who knew my history corrected me, "Oh no, wolves are far more nurturing."

I didn't expect an apology or some groundbreaking shift of tectonic plates. I accept that I can't change her. Any change must come from within her for her own reasons. But I can change how I interact with her. Saying it "out loud" to her took courage, but it also freed me because it gave the truth light and air.

After the second e-mail exchange, I got one more: "Have a nice life." I wasn't surprised.

The first words that came to mind for me? "I will."

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