My mother and I

I haven´t really seen my mother for one-and-a-half weeks now because first she´s been in her new flat for a week, and then I´ve been avoiding her. Like: Staying in my room, or being away a lot, and it also helped that she was working late. And I was feeling a growing dread of finally having to face her. Not just because of the whole uni trouble. Also in general. Because for some reason she knows me through and through. She knows I´m avoiding her. She knows that I know that she knows. If I denied it, she´d laugh and tell me to stop playing games. The weirdest thing about this is that she sounds like my avoiding her doesn´t even affect or worry her. It is almost like it is in fact she who is playing a game. I´m just not sure what the name of the game is, after all.

This night she “caught me” when I was sitting in the living room. She came to me, put one hand on my knee and laughed. “It´s so funny, the way you have been staring at me when I was standing in the door.”, she said. “Like you thought: Oh god, there is my mum, I hope she doesn´t come in and puts a hand on my knee!” There was a really false note in her voice and laughter; but not the way it sounds when you try to hide that you are hurt. I almost sensed a kind of satisfaction in her tone. “And of course you do it straight away.” I remarked coolly. “Weird, huh?” I mean – if she feels like I don´t want her to do something, why does she conclude that she should definitely do it and then laugh at the look on my face? Really nice, isn´t it?

“Of course I do!” she replied instantly, in a tone that was only pretending to be playful. “Just to annoy you!” I felt a little jolt of helpless, homicidal anger somewhere in the back of my psyche; the type I always get when I feel defeated. I knew that there was nothing I could do: Me showing anger would have looked both hilarious and inappropriate to her; so she knew precisely that there was nothing I could do but bear her behavior.  My anger made me feel inadequate; like uncontrolled emotions were a reason for shame. I didn´t want her to know that she made me angry, so I kept up a blank face. “But of course you know that!” she added in a soothing tone. Suddenly I was starting to feel guilty. It seemed to me like she was trying to establish some kind of connection between us, and I just kept on pushing her away. What a bad kid I am. Avoiding my mum, and then getting childishly angry because she teases me about my aloof behavior. Instead of being grateful that she even puts up with it and doesn´t just kick me out (hey, wait a sec, that´s basically what she is doing atm, isn´t it?).

What is so uncomfortable about being with my mother?

It is really hard to pinpoint. But I think it might be the fact that she makes me feel like I´m being scrutinized. She picks up on the subtlest changes in my tone or the look on my face; or she remarks on my choice of words. She analyzes me just the way I described above. Almost all of our conversations start with her probing me about my behavior, the look on my face, my tone or – most harmlessly – the make-up I wear. She always seems to read deep meanings into my every gesture, and then wants to know what they are all about. What is wrong with me. What it is with me. What is going on inside of me. (Ironically, she loves to accuse me of “being paranoid” or “being dramatic” whenever I read something deeper into something she does. That never occurred to me until now.)

For a long time I was really dependent on my mother. But for a few years I´ve been trying to live my own life, now, and I´m behaving in ways she doesn´t like. I´m unreliable. I don´t call. I cannot tell her if I´ll be home for dinner. I avoid her. I go out at night. What happens is that she demands explanations. Not excuses. She wants emotional explanations. She basically wants to know what type of extreme emotion or conflict makes me act in such ways. Because my behavior isn´t the normal behavior of a young woman, you know. My sister was much more reliable, after all.

And now I´ve done several severe things at once. I´ve been avoiding her for almost a week. And I´ve failed to enlist for my exams. Of course she will establish a connection between these two things. She will infer that I felt guilty for not managing to enlist, and therefore I tried to avoid her. She will say that in this knowing tone; signaling that I´ll get away without being scolded, but only because she is so proud of her cleverness for having figured me out. She will also infer that, because I feel guilty, there must be something I have done wrong. She will grill me about it.  She will grill me about my feelings over having failed. “Huh. Well. Now that´s really annoying, isn´t it? I mean, not because of us (my parents), just that you have to wait for another six months, having nothing to do. You sure would have liked to finish college soon. Or wouldn´t you?”

I´m dreading this. I´m so dreading this.

It is such a humiliating procedure. I will feel both numb and resentful and probably either get loud and “insolent”, declaring that I didn´t mess up at all and that everybody else is at fault (and I´ll hate myself for it because that´s pathetic; after all I know it is my fault to a great extent, I didn´t care enough and I still don´t!) – yeah, or I´ll just fall silent, stare at the floor, grumpily shrug every now and then and make it clear that I don´t give a damn about the whole thing. Both these things might look like some kind of resistance, but they are not. I´m basically just rolling over and demonstrate to her satisfaction that I am a difficult, ungrateful brat. I make a fool of myself. That´s all she needs. Basically, by “acting out” I´m admitting defeat. It proofs, after all, that I must feel deeply ashamed of my failure. (In case you wonder if my family is in fact a bunch of highly intellectual sadists: I´m wondering the same thing.)

What would be truly empowering (and what would also take a shitload of courage) would be acting. Like: “Yeah, it is sooo annoying, I could kick myself in the teeth for not dealing with that application earlier!” Feeding her fake emotions. I´m sure she´d be extremely disappointed. Admitting to shame (even if you don´t really feel it) is one of the most mature things there is, after all. It shows so much strength. It would take away all of her power. Her power, after all, consists in seeing me warding off shame and guilt by acting out in a childish manner and generously allowing me to do so. Not reminding me how childish I am. Not scolding me even though she feels she could. Yes. This is where her power lies. In being in the position of being generous towards an undeserving child.

And my position is as unfavorable as it gets. Either I need to masochistically accept responsibility and consequences I don´t need to accept if I rely on her generosity. (I´m talking about emotional consequences like shame/guilt rather than about material consequences.) Or I need to be deserving. That is: I need to do everything completely right. I must be morally, psychologically, academically immaculate. I need to be perfect.





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