Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Mother of All Lectures

The other day, I got an email from The Czarina. "Call me. I haven't talked to you in a while," it said.

You are thinking, "Oh, that's nice! She misses her daughter. VB, shame on you for not calling your mother!"

I am thinking, "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON!!"

Since you are not her daughter, you wouldn't know that my mother's email message is code for: "Get ready to be lectured. Topic TBA."

So I decided that a good time to call her would be the next day. I wanted to just get it over with. Besides, if I called her in-between leaving my main job and going to my part time job, she could only lecture me for a maximum of 45 minutes. This was good. I would have an excuse to cut it short, if necessary.

Unfortunately for me, the next day was filled with lots of work-related stress here at the library, which I won't get into right now. So by the time I left my main job, I was already frazzled and on edge. I called The Czarina anyway -- again, just wanting to get it over with. I would not rank this decision high on my list of lifetime achievements, let me tell you.

The lecture topic? Why CN and VB Have No Business Dating, Let Alone Ever Get Married.

Not exactly a topic devoid of emotion, at least on my behalf. "Oh Jeez Louise!" I thought. "Not this! Not today! Why did I call her??"

She started with a rather insulting premise: "Now, I like CN. I really do. He is a sweet boy, and he treats you like a queen. And if you were to call me tomorrow and tell me that you two are engaged, I would be so happy for you. But let me just play devil's advocate here by saying..."

What followed was a litany of reasons why she thought he and I are incompatible: I am too domineering (which isn't good, since "the man must run the show"), he doesn't have enough ambition, I haven't had enough serious dating experience, he will be boring...yada yada yada.

Nevermind that:
1. I have never at any time called her to express any doubts about CN. At all.
2. I am nowhere near as domineering as she was towards my father, and they were happily married until the day he died.
3. This isn't 1955.
4. If ambition were important to me, I would never have dated most of the men I've dated over the past 15 years. In fact, all the lawyers and ambitious guys I've dated have either been pompous assholes or incredibly boring. Besides, I don't want someone who is married to his job. Funny, but I would like to see my man at the end of the day.
5. Last I checked, it is not necessary to turn down multiple marriage proposals before accepting the right one. (Mom would feel better if I had "already broken off a few engagements". Because that's a goal to strive for!)
6. CN and I have yet to be bored. Ever. Actually, he and I never lack for fun ideas of things to do together. We like to do all the same things: antiquing, shopping, exercise, reading, travel, etc.

And let's not forget the most important point I would like to make: CN and I have never talked about marriage, proposals or anything closely related to that. We haven't even been dating a year! For Pete's sake, I just got the guy to say the "L" word only about 6 months ago! UGH!

My mother is INSANE. The whole time she was rambling on and on, all I could think was that she was grasping at straws, looking for reasons to say why I was making The Biggest Mistake of My Life and totally wasting my time. There were moments when I honestly felt like she was just simply making shit up!

Of course, the realization that she is totally bonkers was overshadowed by the following thoughts inside my brain: "OMG what if she's right? What if she's totally wrong? How dare she say all of this, when she hardly knows him!! Why is she saying all of this, when I've never once come to her with complaints or concerns about my relationship? I am not feeling quite as concerned about all of this as she seems to be. But maybe I should be. After all, she has a 28 year marriage under her belt. I don't."

Fighting the urge to plead with her about why she seems to be interested in making me miserable, I tried to keep an open mind and remember that The Czarina has a tendency to think that

1. I am her mini-me. Which is simply not the case.
2. I am a moron who cannot think for herself. Thank God I have my mother to think for me!
3. Everything is more important than it actually is. (Can you say "high strung"?)
4. It is 1955.

So with my head spinning, I managed to get off the phone before I burst into tears. I was totally confused, not to mention upset that she looks at CN and sees flaws. But I have never been happier in my whole life than I have with CN. When I think about the future with him, I get butterflies, not worry or dread. I really don't have any major concerns, and I can't imagine him not being in my life. Besides, we haven't even talked marriage yet. But I trust my mother's judgement. She is, and I hate to admit it most of the time, almost always right.

I had to make sense of this. So that evening, I did a lot of thinking. And since I was stressed out and upset, I did what always makes me feel better: I talked to CN. I guess maybe I shouldn't have brought up that whole conversation with CN of all people, but my poker face leaves something to be desired. He could tell I was upset about more than just work that day. So he dragged it out of me. I told him about what The Czarina said and told him that I was confused and didn't know if these were her issues or if they were my issues. He was upset because he felt like The Czarina hates him. (And I can totally see why....which makes me feel really badly about bringing it all up...) He's also afraid that he's not what I'm looking for. As soon as he said that, I knew something didn't feel right. The Czarina's concerns just didn't sit well with me. They weren't meshing. The whole time she was talking, I never once thought, "That's a good point...I have actually been worried about that myself." All I could think was, "I'm not really getting where she's going with this."

I know it sounds stupid, but maybe it's a daughter thing. Or an oldest child thing. But even at my age, I crave my mother's approval and trust her completely. And you'd think that after moving away, going to grad school, buying a house and being financially independent, I would learn to trust myself a little more. But one lecture from my mother can make me doubt myself totally and without question. She could make me doubt that the sun rises every morning.

Luckily, as I have aged, there has been a little voice in the back of my head. It says, "You cannot live your life for your mother. You have to live it for yourself. Only you know what is best for you."

And the voice was there. And I listened to it. I am not exaggerating when I say this might be the hardest thing I have ever had to do in my whole life. Just trust myself. Believe in myself. Such a simple concept, right? But so terrifying.

If there were a resume for this sort of thing, it would be impressive. I listened to no one when getting my dog. I adore him. I picked out my house without the help of anyone else. I didn't even get a 2nd opinion before signing on the dotted line, and I have loved every minute of it. When I graduated college, it was my idea to try teaching school. It ended up being the only job I've ever loved. These were all big decisions and I was perfectly happy with all of them. It's so easy to forget that I've already done a good job in this department.

My mother was just crazy, that was all. I could ignore her. Nod and smile. Nod and smile. Cut the phone calls short. I can do that.

But why on earth was she doing this in the first place? Most of the time, our phone calls are jovial and relaxed. We talk about decorating or books or travel or our family. We trade exercise tips. But every once in a while, The Czarina will call me and I swear it's like her whole goal is to remind me of how I am screwing up my life! And it makes me hate her!

It wasn't until the next day that I had an epiphany. I realized there was a pattern to these horrible lectures. They tended to happen after I hadn't talked to her in a while. I used to be better about calling her once a week, and if I did call more often, the lectures would either be very mild or totally absent from the conversation. I don't get the lectures when I go home to visit her.

It seems that I get the lectures when too much time passes. It's like she sits and stews and thinks up all these things to advise me about. But by the time we talk, she's about to boil over, so it all comes gushing out: wrong boyfriend, wrong job, wrong diet, wrong name it!
And since my dad passed away, the lectures have gotten worse. They are more frequent and longer.

Which leads me to my conclusion: When I don't call, it makes her feel like I don't need her anymore, which scares her. This causes her to grasp at straws, trying to think up reasons why I might need her. So she starts to make mental lists of things I am probably not thinking about or doing correctly, and then dumps them all on me at the next phone call. And now that Dad is gone, too, she has even fewer people to lecture, which is why she's been lecturing me more often.

After 29 years, I finally figured it out.

Some people are amazed and even heartbroken to hear how far away I live from my mother. But after phone calls like this, I want to move to a remote region of Siberia. And have no telephone.


cmk said...

If you have figured it out at the tender age of 29, then you are LIGHT YEARS ahead of me! I don't have much advice--after all, my way to deal with The Mother is to cut her out of my life. Not exactly the most mature, best way to handle things. :) If there is any way you can go to your 'happy place' in your mind during one of the lectures and keep saying 'cancel, cancel' while she is talking, then maybe you will weather the storm better. You have shown that you can take care of your life well--believe in yourself and let the criticisms evaporate from your mind. Good luck!

Capricorn Cringe said...

I think you should send her this post. You said it all perfectly.

Meghan (The Declaration of MY Independence) said...

I am so super jealous that you have all of this figured out. I think I'm going to send you informational tidbits of my mother and see if you can figure out why she acts the way she does!

But you know that I can very well sympathize with you on this. And if you ever need to talk, well I'm here for you!

Stella said...

This was awesome and I completely understand. If the topic of dating comes up I usually end the conversation with "I have to go, I'll talk to you tomorrow". End of conversation. If it's really bad I'll call up my sister(s) after and start the conversation with "Our mother is crazy". Strength in numbers. If its really, really bad I wait until I can talk to my Dad and have him knock some sense into her. The only logical reasoning I have is that mothers forget that you're a grown woman.

RWA said...

What? You're "domineering"?

And CN is still going out with you?

You need to give me his e-mail address, cell phone number, SOMETHING.


Poor guy needs help.


Just kidding...

M said...

hm. if she said stuff you hadn't thought of before the lecture, throw it out the door. seriously. do not let her opinions put a wedge between you and CN. the issues you have with CN should be your issues not your mother's issues.

teahouse said...

Very good epiphany.

My godmother used to be like that (before she passed away, God rest her soul). The way I handled it was to write her letters and emails a lot instead of calling her. That way, I got the credit for contacting her, but I didn't have to put up with her lectures. Not sure if that's an option for you, but I thought I'd throw it out as a suggestion.

Big hugs to you. Try not to let your mom's words spread poison. I know it's hard, but you're an adult now and you can make your own decisions. And it's time she learned that her efforts to stir things up will not be rewarded.

Phantom Hater said...

I've often wondered what motivates some parents to act like this. I think I mentioned it before, but my last ex's mom reminded me a lot of the way you describe your mom, and her relationship with my ex was similar. Her mom was very much an "in-charge" Southern Matriarch who had very definite opinions on things. I found out later in the relationship that she had wanted to chaperone our first date!! lol. Such a time warp some people live in. What really reminded me was the comment that your mom "always ended up being right". My ex said the same thing. Is that *really* true, though, or is it just an impression that all of the negative portents she described came to happen in some fashion, even if it wasn't exactly as she predicted? My dad's a little like that. I think "I told you so" may be his favorite expression.

Anyway, I could think of a lot of reasons why my ex's mom acted the way she did (her comments were usually very negative, but she never understood why people took it that way--very lacking in empathy). An alcoholic husband who basically left her in charge was what I always thought was the main one.

I think the main thing is that older people are lonely and that older women might still try to live out their lives through their daughters. As people age and slowly start to have less control and influence over people, they try to tenaciously cling onto what they do have. Since you haven't let her into what's going on with you and CN, she is forced to create her own scenarios and fill in the blanks. And if everything is going well, she doesn't have as much to do in your life, so maybe she likes to stir up the pot a little.

Some of the stuff she said is just downright crappy. Breaking off a "few engagements?" Why say yes in the first place? That's messed up. I know your "mom wants the best for you", but I don't think that's what is motivating her here. I'll tell you the only thing that would make her happy in your choice of mate--if *she* picked him out herself. Anything other than that will fall short.

I also don't know if you should have told CN. I know you shouldn't keep things from a bf, but I'm sure he'll now have some resentment towards your mother (and IMO, rightfully so) and that might make things awkward.

Becky said...

omg yes i can see why you want no phone. how disheartening to get a call like that?! that totally sucks.

Caz said...

hey, try living across the world from your mother! Luckily I manage to head off most of the lectures but I think there's some equation including # of miles from mother = exponential increase in worry causing lectures of infinite proportions (except I suck at math).