Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, June 28, 2012


It surprises me that I can think of so few memories of my childhood (pre-divorce) with my parents.  I have a great memory.  I can recall in vivid detail some memories of my life.  I can recall with great clarity staring at the yellow school buses in the dark, mangled by rain in my vision as Mom told me my Dad was moving out.  I remember my(now) husband sitting on the steps of his house, in my rearview mirror, as I drove away when he would be moving the next day.  I can remember, vividly, my desire to be an OB.  And I remember vividly my realization that it meant I also must be a GYN (and what the hell a GYN actually did).  I remember outings and vacations, but the pop into my memory in images of the photo albums that I have.  I don't have the actual memory, just the image I've memorized from the album.  Sure looks like we had fun.

But I don't remember a lot of things with my NM.  I remember she cleaned alot.  And mowed the lawn.  And had a lot of things to get done.  I always liked it when she spent the afternoon cleaning and cooking a nice meal and offered us warm chocolate chip cookies.  It was such a treat and I remember feeling so cared for.  I remember her being brisk, and cold, and distant.  I remember her putting me in charge a lot.

I remember that she picked out my clothes a lot.  That I didn't have a lot of choice about personal style.  She decided that for me.  In fact, sis and I were often part of a coordinated set.  I don't remember her taking any real interest in me.  I don't remember her asking me how my day at school was.  I don't remember her ever taken my part with a teacher, or going to school to defend me, or even being really interested at all.  As long as I excelled, behaved well, caused no problems, it was all good.  She didn't bring me flowers to my school players.  She often expressed that it was difficult to get time off of work.  I remember one time fighting over a part in the school play with my teacher.  The teacher had been nagged by another parent to split the part-there were four performances-because she felt her daughter should've gotten the part (you know, give another kid a chance to be the lead).  I remember arguing with my teacher that this wasn't fair.  Not because it wasn't fair to yank the part from me after I'd had it for weeks, but because my mom didn't know what show she could attend and I wanted her to see me perform.  And I was 11.

I remember that mom always ticked the boxes of being a good mom (again, credit to Kara "The North Wind).  Buy nice school clothes, tick.  Enroll in dance lessons, tick.  Attend parent teacher confrences, tick.  But she never seemed interested.  I don't remember a lot of love, or affection, or consideration for me.  I wondered for a long time if this behavior from her started only as I reached adulthood.  But I can see so many mini-signs as I grew up.  We went on vacations, we rode bikes together, we went shopping (mainly I watched her shop).  But we didn't have a relationship.  We didn't have a connection, at all.  She didn't really know me then, and she sure as hell doesn't know me now.  And in fact, I don't think it would've even accord to her to think about me as an individual.  I was just a kid, what did I know.

I do remember that she favored my sister.  Always.  She let her get away with murder and she expected me to do the same.  She made me her "littler helper."  I was her assistant, and that made me feel important.  But I often felt more like a pet than a human being.  I remember her braiding my hair into tight braids because that was what was easiest for her.   I remember her picking out every outfit I had for a special occasion, with out me.  I remember always feeling that I needed to be with my family.  I always felt, even at 8,9, 10 that going out with friends, was somehow a betrayal.  I remember she never helped me with my homework or inquired about what I needed.  All so distant.

I remember one time in the summer (Sis and I spent summers pretty much locked in our house.  We weren't allowed to go outside because it scared NM who was at work.)  I babysat, cleaned, did chores, and sat around.  I had started to start suppers for her before she came home.  She would call on the phone and give me the instructions on what to do.  Brown the hamburger.  Boil noodles.  Pretty soon I became adept and could cook whole meals.  I noticed that her kitchen was a bit disorganized and disheveled.  Not horrible so.  So, I thought, in my little innocent mind, that I would clean an organize her cupboards.  I didn't rearrange things terrible.  I didn't overhaul the whole thing.  But I wiped the drawers and the cupboards.  Lined up the spices.  Put like things with like and moved a few things to where they would be easier to access.  NM flew into a rage.  Not at me directly.  She screamed at my Dad about what a horrible person I was.  How dare I arrange HER kitchen?  I had screwed up all of HER things.  Where did I get off thinking I needed to do that?  Yup, that was mom.  No good deed went unpunished.


  1. It looks like you were there for her benefit, to make her look better to the outside world, make her feel better about herself and to make her life easier.

    With the cleaning a lot, our NM's differ. Cleaning was below her, she employed someone to do that, and us kids washed up and made them coffee after dinner almost every night.

    Her fridge was jam packed full of nothing, it was all little plastic boxes with leftovers. And the cupboards were stuffed full of every kitchen gadget you could buy. She tried to use all these gadgets for preparing meals and almost every pot, pan and serving plate. It took ages to wash up, but that was never her problem.

    The food was edible mostly, but overcooked or undercooked quite often and she blamed the huge collection of cookery books. We were too scared to complain.

    The school play thing rings a bell, but it was when I was a soldier and was picked as part of a group to go to Canada for 6 weeks. It was my first time out of Europe.
    I'd just been told and hardly got out of the Captains office when a colleague went storming in. This wasn't to say why he should have been picked, but why I shouldn't be going.

    It might have worked but among the pleadings was stupid stuff like, I was married and should be home with my family and I've done tours before and he didn't have any medals. (medal for going to Canada??).
    Our boss kicked him out of the office and told me about it a few days later. Canada was great, even managed a weekend in Montana.

    Spoiled child got his tour, 6 months in the Falkland Islands, it was winter down there and no medal, the war had been over for years.

    The kitchen organising episode sounds scary, I can't get my head round it. Was it just to knock everyone off balance? Just to show everyone she was the boss and not to be messed with?

  2. The kitchen thing, I think, was seen as an insult. Like because I cleaned and organized it, I must have been implying that she DIDN'T have it cleaned and organized enough. She often finds ways to perceive gifts and things as a slight to her. Must actually be an insight into how her brain works. "If you are doing this for me, than I must somehow be inferior" is how SHE thinks and I know that when she does something nice for me, there is the underlying message that I'm somehow not measuring up. Like her recent offer to come "help me" because my kids are sick. She is suggesting that I can't handle it one my own.
    I was there to just to serve as an assistant. To provide companionship. To watch her try on clothes while shopping, help her with the groceries, and later, to be her confidant and "personal psychotherapist" (her words). When I became old enough, she started to unload more and more of her housework on me. Cooking, cleaning, ironing. I spent most of my summers with a list of hours of chores. Bathroom scrubbing, mopping, dishes, a mountain of ironing, laundry, and on and on. I do think kids should do chores, but I often felt more like an indentured servant. And mom wasn't above cleaning. Her mom was neurotic about cleaning and that was passed down to her. Plus it gave her an opportunity to play the martyr card and the "you owe me" card.

    Where about in Canada and Montana did you go? I love Montana.

    1. I also might add that my NMIL also plays the game of seeing everything as related to her. I recently stated that I don't like to bake. She took it personally because she DOES like to bake. I never implied baking was bad, just not my thing. But she'll get all huffy and then somehow turn it around to suggest that "well, I don't really like it much anymore and have been into canning." Everything I do is seen, to her, as a comment on her. NM finds that if I do anything different than she did as a mom, then I'm implying she did it wrong. It's all so black and white. Unless you do it like they do, and think like they think, you are personally attacking them.

    2. Hm. That's interesting. Who is it that's always saying that YOU take things personally? (Your EF?) That's one interesting facet of a narcissist - they perceive that EVERYTHING is a slight against them. If you say, "I don't like baking" THEY feel slighted, as though you said something terrible about them.

      All the narcissists I've ever known have been this way.

      Also, "We went on vacations, we rode bikes together, we went shopping (mainly I watched her shop). But we didn't have a relationship. We didn't have a connection, at all." I recently asked DH what, precisely, he and his NM ever talked about. I mean, he too remembers the fact that they went on vacations (a zillion of them, to all sorts of lovely places) and trips and whatnot, but that's as far as the memory goes. It's most likely because if they "talked" it was nothing more than superficial chitchat and therefore, the mind can not retain it. I mean, what's to remember? You can only talk about the weather for so long before your brain stops storing the information.

      There can be no true connection with a narcissist. They are just too emotionally shallow. Connectedness requires true, deep communication (among other things).

    3. Maybe I didn't communicate clearly, but I meant that MIL takes it personally. I have been told I take things too personally, but not lately, as I don't give any of them the satisfaction of knowing I hurt my feelings...and I know it'll give them ammunition and a weak point to hit later. But yes, NMIL takes it VERY personally. (I remember once DH telling his parents that,as much as he liked my mom, he wouldn't want to live in the same town as her. NMIL spat, "well, THANKS A LOT!" I was, like, who was talking about you?!)
      I think to your point about meaningful connections, that was what I was thinking when I wrote this post. There was no communication. It was all so shallow. I, too, struggled to remember any meaningful conversation or moment with my mom. We didn't do "mother-daughter" things. I don't remember heart-to-hearts. I don't remember confiding in her about anything. In fact, I distinctly remember that I had to hide anything from her that was general pleasantries. We didn't do anything of substance together. We didn't watch movies or hang out and she never helped me with my homework. She was always so distant and disconnected.

    4. "...and later, to be her confidant and 'personal psychotherapist' (her words)."

      Wow, my mum has often called me her "psychologist" or "personal therapist," too... since I was eight!

    5. Cassandra, that is just so WRONG. No daughter should be any mother's therapist.

  3. Suffield, near Medicine Hat in Canada, it's a training area for the British Army, it was hot , dusty and windy. We rented a car and just drove around Montana, went to a few bars, bought some jeans.
    Countryside was interesting and towns were small and quite friendly. We wanted to visit some reservation, but it was too far. It was just a long weekend.

  4. My husband and I came up with the term "ticking boxes" after observing how my sister treated her eight year old daughter. Then I realised that my mother had behaved the same way with us. I cannot recall what my mother did when we were growing up, cooking and cleaning I presume but I never saw it: I was always in my room reading books. I don't remember her ever spending any time with us or playing games with us or even asking what I was reading.

    1. Thanks for the term Kara. It has become very useful in explaining things for me.
      I also spent a ton of time reading, or doing something by myself. I don't remember my mom ever asking what I was reading or doing either. I wonder how shocked she would be to know how much she missed of me. Or how little she knows of me. When I got to be an adult, I always felt like I had this double personality around her. Then, I realized I was always struggling to be myself, and not the person she imagined I was (which wasn't even who I was as a kid).

  5. Wow. I really connected with this post. I actually couldn't put my finger on a lot of what I experienced as a child, but I think most of what you mentioned had a lot to do with it. The whole "being there but NOT being there" aspect really hits home. At least, when I was young, she made an attempt to APPEAR interested in me and my activities, but that's long since dissapated.

    One thing I could always count on was having to depend on others to get me to and from any extra-curriculars I might want to participate in. When I played basketball in grade school, I needed rides to and from practices and games. It was even more convenient that the coach lived two streets down. In fact, when my little brother was court-ordered to undergo therapy when he was about 12-14-ish, my mother refused to take him to his appoinments, forcing my brother to ride his bike the 5-6 miles between home and the facility. It doesn't seem like much now, but it's a main street the entire way, and he was 12!

    And forget about constructive criticism. My mother took a creative writing class at the local community college. I was still living at home, working through college myself. She had asked me to read one of her pieces and critique it (her words). I don't consider myself a "writer" by any stretch of the imagination, but I am an avid "reader" and have thoughts about what I enjoy reading and what puts me off. I read her piece and told her that I thought it was decent piece, but I felt she was trying too hard to be descriptive throughout, and it felt forced. Basically I said, "It's a great first draft, now it just needs some editting," which I didn't think was a horrible thing to say, but she got so upset she never returned to class. She also mentioned to several people at several different times that I "ruined her dream." Yeah, it went down like that.

    My apologies for hijacking the post! I felt pretty emotional reading it because it brought a lot of focus to some fuzzy events in my youth, and I thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for the comment Shaun! I'm glad that it connected with you. I also appreciate your thoughts, so feel free to "hijack" whenever you feel the need.
      I rarely participated in extra curricular activities until I got to high school. I remember feeling like it was such a burden for my mother to have to pick me up, so I just didn't do anything unless it was in school. Plus, I always felt obligated to go home and watch my sister after school, so, again, I never even thought about doing it. She had me convinced that I had so many advantages over her childhood (which is probably true, but wasn't that I had it that wonderful, just that she had it that bad) and that I shouldn't expect or want anymore than the she gave me.