I’m home sick. It is truly miserable. In that “I-must-have-gargled-shards-of-glass-last-night-feeling-a-strong-aversion-to-all-solid-foods-miss-my-mommy-maybe-I’ll-use-this-fever-as-my-excuse-to-write-incoherent-genius” way.
Aside from feeling like microwaved death (which must be similar what microwaved overcooked lasagna feels like when the noodles crunch and burn at the edges), I’m enjoying being home. It’s great to have a reason to stay in my sweats all day under the covers and just work my way through a stack of movies – and not feel guilty about it!
I’ve also been crawling around the world wide web, reading through one of my favorite things – advice columns. I love them! Growing up, I would beg/borrow/steal the comics from my dad every morning and then dive right into the wisdom of Anne Landers. Advice and self-help are fascinating – how do we shape our own experiences into these little nuggets of information to pass on to others? How are we so certain that because it worked that way for us, we must be right? What makes others turn to us for advice?
I love giving advice. I always take advice with a grain of salt myself – it’s far better to be the exception than the rule. But when someone seeks my wisdom, oh do I enjoy giving it out!
Recently, a girlfriend (T$) sought my advice about visiting family during the holidays – specifically, how to minimize mother/daughter drama.
I was honored! My friend recognized my exceptional amount of experience blowing up at my mom.
I am actually trying to think of a time we have spent together since I was about 16 that did not end in tears for BOTH of us…Hm. Nothing comes to mind…
This is what I had to say to T$:
I don’t think there is a cure-all for getting along with your mother. Unfortunately mother-daughter relationship drama is like the common cold: you can mitigate the painful symptoms with everything over the counter, but there is no real cure, so you just have to ride it out and be uncomfortable and it feels like it’s going to be that way forever.
Somewhere this ideal image of a mother-daughter best friend relationship was formulated. Whoever planted the seeds of this ideal should be shot. This best friend standard just adds pressure to one of the most complex relationships under the sun. When you put people under pressure, they usually lash out emotionally, and estrogen only intensifies this emotional geyser.
Now, add subtle hormone conflicts into the mix – I’m pretty sure that a daughter’s 20-something-year-old uterus is a subliminal reminder to a mother’s shriveling menopausal uterus that we are in the prime of our “baby-manufacturing” years and they are past theirs (I say in jest….but only kinda). This is something we would not normally sense or label, but it’s one of those subconscious things – the deepest part of your Id resenting the flowering youth as they purchase green nail polish and AcneFree while you sift through bargain Retinal creams at the drug store.
So, we have two people who share that universal umbilical cord bond from the Red Tent (awesome book, BTW) ages to our current wear pink to fight breast cancer crusades – Mother and daughter are supposed to know each other better than anyone else in the world, tell each other everything blah blah blah. More pressure.
I don’t think parental units and offspring really know each other as much as they know exactly which buttons to push to ensure a rise from one another. It starts as soon as children learn how to talk (I’ve been watching my friends with their kids). From statements like, “YOU NEVER BUY ME ANYTHING” to “You are ALWAYS too tired to read to me whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa” I have seen little cherubs send daggers to their mother’s hearts. Naturally, practice makes perfect, so by the time we are adults, we are pros at getting each others goats.
Here are a few things my mom has said recently that have brought me down in screaming/yelling/crying flames:
“Erin, don’t forget to turn that movie in at Blockbuster”
“Your flight got canceled? Erin, what are you going to do? You need to get in line at the ticket counter now.”
“You know Erin, I really don’t hate Kyle”
I hope it is obvious how the aforementioned statements justify my burst of intense rage and emotional projectile vomit of words towards my mother.
I responded with things like:
“Omg – I never did return that movie. Oh wait, I remember now, MOTHER, I AM 26 fucking years old, I can return my own movies on time or suffer the fair and just penalties of late fees.”
“GEE MOM, WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO DO? NOT LIKE I HAVEN’T BEEN ON MY OWN TRAVELING AROUND THE WHOLE FUCKING COUNTRY SINCE I WAS 17 – that’s 9 years without you holding my hand, I think I can handle myself in the Miami airport. Besides, I ALREADY got in line at the ticket counter like 10 minutes ago. It’s just a really long line, ok?”
“MOM, it is OK for you to hate Kyle. We are never going to get back together. EVER. WE ARE NEVER EVEN GOING TO FUCKING TALK AGAIN, so if you never say his name, that’s great. And if you hate him, that’s even better!”
*Editor’s note: a few years ago, I dropped the F-bomb in front of my mom. It was kinda a big deal – she had just come home from teaching pre-school and we were talking about my calculus grades. *FBOMB* After that, it was like open season. I can use it without even blinking. Sorry mom.
At this point, I interrupted myself and asked my friend if she still wanted my advice…
But, even with all the repressed emotional garbage of our relationship, my mom and I can have a good time, and this is why:
1. I prepare emotionally for family time. I tell myself that I love my mother. I think of everything about her that pisses me off, wave the same magic wand of compassion and forgiveness that I afford my friends and laugh. I take her quirks and endear them to my heart. And I laugh, because I know she is still going to piss me off when we are driving and someone cuts me off and she takes a deep sharp breath inwards or screams “SHIT, ERIN” like it’s my fault that fucker cut me off.
OK. So Step 1 – Prepare. Love. Endear. Laugh.
2. I call my sister Molly. We get all that venomous family gossip out in the open laugh at the fact that we are the only two sane and fully capable adults to whom we hold blood ties. We plan our escapes.
Step 2 – reach out to a sibling – they remain your strongest allies
3. I psyche myself up for family time. I reminisce about the past. I meditate on a mantra. I think about how awesome my mom’s meatballs always turn out – she’s a great cook. And a food pusher – so she makes a perfect target for when I feel bad about my body. “NO MOM, I DO NOT WANT ANY MORE FUCKING PASTA” ok I stay away from thoughts about food.… but I try to exercise the power of positive thinking. And when I am having a hard time with it, I pour myself a really big glass of wine and take a deep breath.
Step 3 – Positive thinking or wine, whichever works.
4. When I am with my mom, I try to control what we talk about. If she is about to start in on one of my guaranteed “Hot” topics, I interrupt and ask about her friend Peggy. There is always a Peggy story.
Step 4 – Control Conversation and Deflect irritating subjects
5. When I am with my mom, I do not keep expectations. This was key for when my family visited me over Christmas. Of course I wanted to take them to my favorite breakfast place, but since they wouldn’t wake up before 11, I promptly informed them that they had made a poor choice – excessive sleep over Lena’s pancakes. That stung. But I focused on the end goal, it wasn’t breakfast, it was surviving a 5 day visit without screaming at anyone.
Step 5 – Don’t hold any expectations outside of your end goal, do not let anything distract you. Keep your eye on the prize.
6. I believe in Honesty. I say, “I love you” because I do. This isn’t much of an option, you are like required by law or something to love your mother. I say, “you drive me nuts,” I scream it sometimes, but then I START LAUGHING. So, laugh and giggle and crack yourself up by how crazy this one person can make you. And she’ll probably laugh too. Be honest and avoid known pit falls (ie my mom and I do not talk about my dad’s funeral. ever. it’s better that way.)
Step 6 – Maintain both your integrity and your sense of humor.
7. IF ALL ELSE FAILS – Escape to Grandma’s. I moved in with my grandparent’s that summer before I moved to Mexico because my mom and I were so tense with each other ALL THE TIME (and I hadn’t discovered steps 1-6 yet). Even though my mom is just like her mother and I am just like my mother, that one generation degree of separation does wonders. Probably links back to the uterus theory….
Step 7 – Remove yourself from the line of fire.