A little background, first. Before I tell you what happened today, I should explain that both of my parents have a history of undermining me.
No no no, you can put the violins away.
I’m just saying that I grew up with a father who told me when I was a kid that he wished that my best friend was his daughter instead of me. He also wrote (in a letter to my mother after their divorce) his considered opinion that he would rather his daughter be a prostitute than go to _________ College. And yes, this was his response to the news that I was, in fact, transferring to _______ College.
There’s just no pleasing some people.
Well, while I don’t have to deal with my father’s opinion anymore (he moved to California years ago, and might even be dead at this point), I still have to deal with my mother on a regular basis. My mother’s approach is more subtle — not a direct stab to the heart with a spear, but a thousand tiny cuts with a thousand tiny thumbtacks that cumulatively add up to the same effect. One of the main ways that this comes across is by taking the side of whomever I’m with rather than me. The classic example was the time that I came home after having an argument with my then-boyfriend, my mother saw me crying in the kitchen, and when I explained that we’d had a fight the FIRST THING OUT OF HER MOUTH was, “Is there anything you can do to make it up to him?”
The really weird thing about this is that since my mother is now both disabled and retired, she has a LOT of time to sit around the house Thinking About Things, and occasionally comes out with some odd examples of revisionist history. Like the time she told me that she wished that I’d told her how bad things had been with that then-boyfriend because, “I would have supported you, because you’re my daughter and I love you!” She said this very quickly, maybe because she was as surprised to be saying it as I was to be hearing it. In response to this statement, I looked straight at her and said, “Well, that would have been nice to hear when I was 20. But that’s not what you said at the time. In fact, you said the opposite.” I then quoted to her what she’d said at the time, which I could quote directly because those words had burned themselves into my brain. My mother considered this, and replied, “I don’t remember saying that.”
So, there you go.
Anyway, my boyfriend came with me today for my regular weekly visit in which I bring my mother containers of food that we’ve made as well as books and DVDs from the library. He came along because of that favor my mother had requested — she needs some shelves put up in my brother’s room, and her super said he would do it but keeps putting her off. My boyfriend has the Manly Gene, which means that he has the ability to put up shelves and the tools to do it. So then my mother starts telling my boyfriend how she doesn’t know how to do any “handy” stuff around the house, and how her father didn’t know how to hammer a nail into a wall, her ex-husband didn’t know how to do anything with tools, and how my brother doesn’t know how to do any of this stuff because no one ever showed him.
[Side questions: Was this behavior part of 1950’s housewife training? Were women told to act as helpless as possible so that big strong men would rescue them? This reminds me of when the cable guy would come to install a new cable box, and my mother would spend the whole time talking his ear off about how she didn’t know how to do anything technical, and even had her children put their own batteries into their toys because she found it so confusing and I WAS SO FRIGGING EMBARASSED.]
Okay — back to the story. So after my mother finishes telling my boyfriend how it’s so nice to have a man around who actually knows how to DO something, she tells him that I am very lucky to have him.
[This statement could be interpreted in one of two ways. As a compliment to my boyfriend, or as a way of undermining me. Before you start jumping to conclusions, I will point out that I am an educated and fair-minded person … so naturally I see it as both.]
Then my boyfriend, who a) does not have the sensitivity of a rock and b) has been with me for over a decade and thus is well-aware of my tensions with my mother, replies, “No, I’m the lucky one.”
And, I swear, I don’t even have one second to feel my mouth twitch up into a smile and to feel my heart swell up in my chest with love and pride. Because within that second, I realize that not only did she not hear him, but in fact she talked right over him. She continued to talk about how wonderful he was, and how wonderful it was to have someone handy around the house, and how lucky I was … and AGAIN he said, “I’m the lucky one”
… and AGAIN she talked right over him.
Conscious? Subconscious? On purpose? By mistake?
In any case, it was a perfect example of how my family dynamic works.