Credit Where Credit Is Due

Standing in the kitchen last night, waiting for the water to boil for my soon-to-be-steamed zucchini slices I was rehashing the previous night’s conversation with my mother when I realized that there was something positive to be found in the experience.  I believe it’s important to give credit where credit is due so let me take moment now to do that.

You see, I realized, that as frustrating as this conversation was for me, it was an improvement.  I have to give myself credit.  In the past, I would have sat quietly and made affirmative sounds and gestures, nodding my head as though I agreed.  I would have lied.  Not because I like to lie.  Not because I’m a dishonest person, but because without putting a lot of thought into it I would have instinctively taken the path of least resistance.  I would have felt that the only way through this was to go along and let her say her piece and then move on as quickly as possible.  I would have allowed her to come away from the interaction with the assumption that I agreed with everything she said.  Bush, Good.  Comedians, Bad.  Obama, Crazy.  Me Tarzan, you Mom.

I’m in a very tight spot here.  It’s true that the completely honest thing would have been to tell her that no, I don’t agree that George W Bush was a good President.  Yes, he may be a “Christian”, but I think “good man of God” is taking things way too far.  And, not only do I not think Obama is “crazy”, but I do believe he’s doing a good job; and, though, it may be too soon to really say, he may well be the best president of my lifetime, thus far.

I give myself credit, though, for not falling into the old default of, “Yes, Mother.  No, Mother.  You’re absolutely right, Mother.”  My silence was apparently deafening.

I give her credit, too.  I give her credit for recognizing my silence and for recognizing it for what it meant.  I give her credit for realizing that perhaps I am not in agreement with her and her fanatical politics.

I’d like to give her more credit, but how can I when she followed-up her acknowledgment with this:

“You may not agree with me, I don’t know, but if you’ve gone that far a field, I just don’t even want to know about it.”

That is pretty much what it boils down to, isn’t it.  She can’t accept that there’s any other possible perspective besides her own and if I so completely disagree with her, I must be wrong and shameful and unacceptable and she doesn’t want to know.

I hung up the phone after that conversation and for the first time in my life, I thought, “That woman is crazy!”  I don’t mean that she’s crazy in the “we don’t see eye to eye” sense.  “Crazy ole mom!”  I mean, that woman is crazy!  And now it has me thinking: Why am I so affected by her?  Why does her opinion matter so much to me?  Why is it so important to me, to feel like she accepts me and my life?  Why does it crush me so for her to speak to me with disdain and shame and judgment in her voice?  Why do I take such extreme measures to try and avoid any opportunity for disagreement with her, even at the cost of not being truly open and honest?  Why am I so afraid to hear the things I already know she would say?  And why am I allowing this person, this person who clearly is no authority on anything, to prevent me from living my life fully with confidence and courage and satisfaction?  Why?

My mother raised me, along with my older brother and sister, essentially on her own.  She was the only present parent I had.  Yes, my father is alive and I always knew him but he was never a stable part of my life and to give him any credit as a parent, as a force for good in my upbringing, I feel is to give him more credit than he is due.  My parents separated when I was two years old and I don’t know any other arrangement than this.  My mother was both parents to me.

My mother was also no parent at all.  She provided the absolute bare necessities of my existence.  A roof over my head, lights to read by, water to bath in and meals that may or may not have been palatable but were sufficiently nutrionally complete.  She did not provide emotional support and encouragement.  She did not provide a safe loving environment in which it was possible to make mistakes and learn from them, to have wants and desires that couldn’t always be fulfilled and understand the reasons why, to grow and learn and become a whole and complete being, independent and apart from her.

I didn’t know better.  I didn’t know what I didn’t have and what I ought to have been able to rely on.  I didn’t learn the kind of strength and acceptance that a person needs to be a strong and independent adult.

Despite all the things I didn’t have, despite all that I didn’t know I was lacking, she was all I knew, all I had to base my existence upon.  And so as a child it was imperative that I got approval and affirmation from her, and I would do and say whatever it took to get it, even if it wasn’t really what I felt.  Growing up, with this being all I had to go on, it makes sense that what she thought, how she acted and treated me mattered and affected me deeply.

But then I grew up.  I became an adult.  I moved away and became independent and separate from her and yet, when I speak to her all that falls away and I’m that child who is affected by her behavior and her tone and it hurts me and I don’t know why.

Ironically, a moment ago, the song “That Ain’t Love” by REO Speedwagon came on my iPhone.  At first I didn’t particularly notice, and then the line “That ain’t love, at least it doesn’t feel like love to me” penetrated my senses and broke my concentration. I looked up the lyrics on line.  The song, of course, is about a broken romantic relationship, but reading the lyrics, all but a handful of them seemed remarkably applicable.  Take a look:

That Ain’t Love

by REO Speedwagon

You tell me what you think I’m feelin’, you know why I do what I do
Why should you listen to a word I’m sayin’, when it’s already so clear to you
You tell me ’bout my bad intentions, you doubt the very things I hold true
I can no longer live with your misconceptions, [Mother] all I can say to you, is

That ain’t love, I believe you’ve got the wrong emotion
That ain’t love, at least it doesn’t feel like love to me
As long as I say what you wanna hear
Do what you wanna do, be who you want me to be
You think that’s love, well [Mother] that ain’t love to me

We’ve got to talk it over sometime, these feelings won’t just disappear
I’m just gonna keep telling you what’s on my mind
Even if it’s not what you wanna hear
Oooh right now your world and mine are such different places
Through yours I wander lost and confused
And I feel like I’m speaking in a different language
And the only words I haven’t used, are

That ain’t love, I believe you’ve got the wrong emotion
That ain’t love, at least it doesn’t feel like love to me
As long as I say what you wanna hear
Do what you wanna do, be who you want me to be
You think that’s love, well [Mother] that ain’t love to me

I honestly thought that in writing this, maybe I could find some answers to those “why” questions.  I guess to some extent I have.  I also hoped to find an answer to how to deal with it, how to move past it.  On that front, at least, it seems I was wrong… for now.

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