In the few days that my mom was home (she’s at a conference right now in CO. She’ll be back Monday), I learned some not-so-pleasant things–about myself. As most of you know, I really really really like my space. Lots of it. All around me. Most of the time. Silence, except for whatever noise I choose. It’s pure bliss. So, it should come as no surprise that I’ve been gritting my teeth while being around my mother. Now, I think this would be true of anyone. I hated having a roommate in college, and I didn’t like living in a house with other people in California. I got along with most of the inmates, and I really dug Josie, a Taiwanese-American who is ten years younger than I am and reminds me a bit of me when I was younger, but I still was painfully aware when there was someone in my side of the house. Of course, that could partly be because one of the people was the landlord, who was an odd duck (and somewhat creepy) and the other one was a guy upon whom I had a crush–against my will. Let me tell you, it’s agony to want someone you’re not particularly attracted to in real life.
Anyhow, I’ve never lived with a romantic partner, so I don’t know if that would be a different situation. I have a hunch it strongly depends on the partner and where I am in my own life at that point. Down the road, way the fuck down the road.
So, that’s not the realization, of course, but it exacerbates the difficulties I have with my mother. There are some people with whom I can be in the same room for a great length of time, and it doesn’t bother me. She is not one of those people.
I have many issues with her, but so far, I’m uncomfortably aware that the things that really really really irritate me about her are things I do myself. Oh, the burn! Alex S. likes to say that parents know how to push our buttons because they installed them. I would add to that that they also install some of our coping mechanisms, be they healthy or not. Especially be they not.
My only saving grace is that I realize some of the traits for what they are so I seek to minimize them. For example, I don’t take advice. I am aware that I don’t take advice, so I don’t ask for it very often. I know how frustrating it is to be solicited for advice, only to have every bit of it immediately rejected. Thus, while I muse incessantly over my issues and problems, I don’t ask what to do about them because most likely, I will not listen. And, if I do, it’ll go like this: “Fuck no. Hell no. No no no no no no.” Think think think think think. Days, weeks, months later, to myself, “OK. Maybe I’ll try that suggestion ______ had ages ago.”
This comes directly from my mother, except she asks for advice. Then, after listening to everyone’s advice, she does exactly what she had planned on doing in the first place. It’s enough to drive me batty.
Now, let’s pair that with another trait we have in common. I don’t make decisions very easily. I agonize over them. I go over every possible pro and con, and then just to make sure, I go over them again. I get this from my mom, too. I know many people have a hard time making decisions, but for my mom (and for me, too), the problem is that there is no right answer–only wrong and wronger. No matter what decision is made, there is fault to be found with it.
For example, my mom’s last car purchase. She made my brother and me go with her to several different car dealerships every night, five nights a week. She asked my brother incessantly about different cars (he’s up on his car knowledge. Me, not so much). If we were all on the road together, she would ask my brother what each car was as it drove by us–as he was driving. It took her weeks to make her decision.
I am the same way. I agonize over every detail of a decision, trying to control for every possible outcome. Of course, that’s impossible, but it doesn’t stop me from trying. When I used to go on a trip, I would pack everything I thought I would need, from a raincoat to a tank top to a parka, if I thought it necessary. Kiki once said to me that she had never seen someone who put so much thought into packing.
This segues nicely into my next point. My mom flew in on Monday. She left for CO on Wednesday. I was up until around five in the morning Wednesday morning, and I heard her get up and move about around four-thirty in the morning. It turns out that she hadn’t packed the night before (for a six day trip), and she was worried she wouldn’t be able to get it done in time (we left the house at ten-thirty), so she woke up and did it at four-thirty in the morning. Then, she was agonizing over whether she should check the bag or carry it on-board. Kel can attest that I was having the same difficulty as well, but for my mother, it was for a weird reason–she was afraid she wouldn’t have any clothes to wear if her suitcase went astray. Now, I realize that it does happen, but it’s such a minimal thing, and it’s not as if she was going to Inner Mongolia. I pointed out that she could buy clothes in CO, if worse came to worse, and she immediately whined (and she does some high-grade whining, let me tell you), “I won’t have time to go shopping! My days will be so busy!” I didn’t say it, but I thought, “If you don’t have any clothes, I can guarantee you’ll make time to go shopping.”
Let me back up. I had a therapy session before I had to drop my mom off at the airport. She asked what time my appointment was done, and I said ten to twelve. She said, “Oh, so you’ll be home around twelve-thirty, and we can be to the airport by ten after one.” I said, “No, you’ll come with me to my appointment, and I’ll have you at the airport by twelve-thirty.” Her way made no sense, but it made sense in her mind, apparently. She got a look on her face like she was going to argue, but she didn’t. That’s probably what precipitated the late-night/early-morning packing, but whatever.
Oh, let me back up even further. She flew in around six in the morning Monday. I told her that my brother would be picking her up since he lives ten minutes from the airport. My brother wanted me to drive there to meet them for lunch at eleven-thirty. I said fine (but grudgingly, of course. That’s a tad early for me to drive forty minutes). In addition, we had to pick up my niece, so I actually had to be at their place a quarter to eleven. Fine, whatever.
My mom called me Sunday night, and I told her the plan. She immediately launched into a recitation about how she had been on a plane for so long (it takes roughly a day total to get from Taiwan to MN, including layovers) and how she just wanted to go home. She was quite prepared to go on and on, but I cut her off at the pass and said that my plan had been for my brother to drive her to my place and then going to lunch out here. She needed to talk to him.
I got off the phone frustrated because she was so rigid about her plans, but I know I am the same way. I am a princess when I travel (I hate the actual traveling part), and I would want to go home right away and take a bath, rest up, whatever. So, even though I was annoyed at her, I realized that I was being hypocritical.
Back to the issue of placing obstacles in one’s own way. My mom does not know how to set her cell phone as an alarm. Now, neither do I (my own), but I am confident I could actually figure out how to set mine. My mom is not. She’s staying in a dorm in CO, and they don’t have wakeup calls, of course. She didn’t bring her portable alarm clock from Taiwan, so she was fretting about what she would do. If she didn’t have an alarm, she said, she would wake up every hour until she had to be up. She was considering asking someone else to wake her up (one of her colleagues). I said, “Why not buy an alarm clock at the airport? I’m sure they have them.” And, lo and behold, they did, and she did. Had I not made the suggestion, however, she would have kept worrying over the issue until it blew up into a crisis.
And, as I’m sure you all know, I do the exact same thing. Hell, I do the wake up every hour thing even if I do set an alarm. But, no, I mean I do the worry incessantly over a relatively minor thing until it’s a huge crisis. For me, it’s partly a PTSD symptom. My alert system is so out-of-whack because of the ugliness of my childhood and because I never knew WHAT would set off my father’s anger. Therefore, my own color-coded terror chart is set on RED (not orange, like the lame Homeland Security terror alert which is ALWAYS set at orange) so that someone making a snippy comment to me is the exact same as someone choking me to death.
Listening to her is like listening to the voices in my head. No, not the demon voices, but the other voices who are constantly telling me what’s gonna go wrong and have I thought of this or that or the other thing? Oh, I can’t do that because surely, surely something bad will come out of it. I shoot down ideas without really thinking about them because I immediately think of a zillion reasons why they will fail.
I brought this up in my therapy session because it’s really sobering to be faced with your own weaknesses in such a concrete form. I have said that the one woman I seriously dated enabled me to see the things about myself (in relation to, well, romantic relationships) that I hated because she did them to me. The best example is when I mentioned I was going dancing with a friend. I was supposed to pick her up, my girlfriend (let me call her Reiko so there won’t be a confusion of hers and shes. And, the friend was Kiki), the next day and drive her to Target–she didn’t have a car. I got home from dancing to a message on my answering machine from Reiko. It was very terse, telling me not to bother picking her up. That was it. Nothing else. I got a sinking feeling in my stomach, and I called her the next day. She was very quiet. When I asked her why she was mad at me (‘coz I knew she was mad), she said, “You know.”
I saw red at her words. A hot flash tore through me, and I wanted to reach through the phone line and throttle her. With admirable restraint, I said, “No, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking you.” You have to understand that for me, asking her was a big deal. Since anger is so taboo in my family, I have a very difficult time confronting it. For her to pull THAT shit on me, well, it pissed me the fuck off. She still wouldn’t tell me, so I had to cajole her as I steadily got madder.
Now, my fellows can probably guess why she was mad at me, but it blew me away when she finally told me. She was mad because I had told her I was going dancing with Kiki and didn’t invite her to go, even though she didn’t want to . Let me repeat the last part: even though she didn’t want to go. Now, to me, the whole thing was bullshit (I don’t believe a couple has to do everything together), but that last bit really frosted my cake. She was soothed by the end of our conversation, but I was madder than hell. I was also uncomfortable because I remembered doing that to D, my first love. Once, as I was studying in his rooms for finals, he was invited out for a beer with the boys. He asked if I minded if he went. I did, but I told him to go in my frostiest voice possible. He didn’t hear the tone, and he went. Of course, I snubbed him when he got back, but not for very long (hey, sex was to be had!).
After my experience with Reiko, I resolved never to do that again. And, for the most part, I’ve succeeded. So, can I make the same adjustments as to the negative traits I see in my mom that I also exhibit myself? That remains to be seen. Many of my OCD issues (which is what she has as well) are very deep-seated. I watched how automatically she would go into worrier mode and not be aware she’s doing it. I know that I can get like that, too, and from the inside, it looks impossible to get out. The changes I made after dating Reiko were not as difficult for some reason.
I will keep you updated on how much more I learn about myself when my mother returns.