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my mother, my nemesis

July 15, 2010

so my friend sent me this guest post on dooce, by sarah of que sera sera. and it delighted me and made me remember my childhood battles with my own mother. fighting with your mom is not like fighting with your brothers; for one, you can’t just pound your mother into submission. there are power dynamics at play. but if you’re persistent enough, you can actually win on occasion.

even during my high school years, i didn’t engage in many drag-out battles with my mom. i’m not much for confrontation to begin with, and both of my brothers led very dramatic lives (one unintentionally, through health problems, the other just by being a rebellious drama queen). i figured out early on that if nodded, smiled, did well in school, and came home on time, i could get away with quite a lot and avoid the entire need for a fight.*

but, you know, i am also a terribly stubborn person, from a family of terribly stubborn people, and so altercations were impossible to avoid entirely. there were the small, long-running battles: whether i would ever put on a slip without being argued into it first (no), whether she would ever let me have my hair the way i wanted (not for a long time), whether i could wear shorts to school (not until i wised up enough to start changing at school). but then there were the few, the proud, the blowouts. some of the more memorable below the jump.

incident: i neither return home immediately after school nor call my mom immediately to apprise her of a change of plans. during a rain storm. she completely flips her lid.

okay, this is how things worked when i was in high school: my cousin and i went to school together, and she had a car. so we would come home together, and i would call my mom to check in, and then do my homework/chores or go out somewhere. if we were going somewhere right from school, i had to tell her this in the morning or call her from the pay phone at school with an update. on this particular occasion, when we left school (during a perfectly normal late-winter storm, not a fucking hurricane or anything), my cousin informed me we needed to stop in and pick up her paycheck and then get some office supplies. we got home like half an hour late. when i called my mom, i got an earful about the weather and how no one had heard from us and blah blah blah terror! when she got home later, she laid into me even worse. i, of course, felt like she was blowing things way out of proportion and instead of just tolerating the lecture as i normally did,** i got quite snarky with her. in fact, i think i said something along the lines of “yes, there was a horrible crash and nobody bothered to call our parents. that’s a completely reasonable scenario!” my mother does not appreciate back talk of this nature.

winner: mom. i don’t think i got punished beyond the lecturing, but i’m also pretty sure i was religious about checking after that.

incident: my entire relationship with a high school boyfriend, m., culminating in a huge fight after we broke up. see, here’s the thing. my mother expressly forbid me to date before i turned 16. i thought this was ridiculous. i tried to talk it out with her, but she refused to budge. so i just lied about what i was doing. she suspected, but couldn’t prove anything. anyway, this particular relationship was my most serious and also my most troubled and dramatic. m. had issues, let’s say. there was the day i found out he was using meth again, and i was really stressed out about it, and my mom and i argued about why i wouldn’t tell her what i was moody about. but that was nothing compared to the day that m. and i broke up. she was out during my cry-a-thon, but my face hadn’t fully recovered when she got home. so then we spent 4 hours arguing about what i was upset about and why i wouldn’t tell her (“IT’S OBVIOUSLY NOT NOTHING, [SLIMLOVE]!”). this culminated in my shouting “IT’S NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS!” this, you can imagine, did not go over well.

winner: me, incredibly. i never did tell her what i was upset about. this was one of my first lessons in simply brazening something out and hoping that whatever trouble you get into, it will be less than what you’d get for confessing the truth.

incident: i, for some reason, try to go goth. well, okay, i never owned enough black for that. but i did go through a phase of enjoying heavy black eyeliner. i emerged from the bathroom one friday evening with heavy eyeliner (drawn out past my eyelids in little curlicues; very dashing, i thought), ready to go out with my friends. she took one look at my face and promptly ordered me to go wash it off. i tried to insist that i was old enough to do as i wished and god, mom, it’s just some eyeliner what is your problem? she told me i looked like a raccoon, that black was far too harsh and heavy for my coloring (i still maintain that she was kind of missing the point there). we argued, she refused to let me leave the house like that, and finally i stomped off to the bathroom and washed my face.***

winner: mom, in the short term. after that (in fact, starting that evening), i would just get ready at a friend’s or do my makeup in the coffee shop bathroom. or even on the street corner, on occasion.

incident: where i would go to college/who i would live with when i got there. mom didn’t want me to go to berkeley, because my grandmother convinced her it’s in a bad neighborhood. then she didn’t want me to live in a co-ed dorm, an argument i found ridiculous considering i had grown up in a trailer with two brothers (mom: “it’s not the same thing!”). the answer to both of these was pretty much “too bad, that’s where i want to go and i’ll be 18 and you’re not paying for it.” i had never found poverty so freeing. by the time i was living in off-campus apartments (WITH BOYS) she had given up even trying to argue with me about my living arrangements.

winner: me, obviously.

incident: i (try to) go walking after dark. sigh. especially those first couple years of college, nothing made me act like a child more than being at home. suddenly i would be sneaking around, trying not to curse, hiding things. i felt like i was regressing. nothing proved this so much as the arguments about when i could and could not walk by myself. since i didn’t drive in those days, i had grown up walking around town, and my mom had always insisted that i never walk anywhere after dark. i usually abided by this, but if i couldn’t get a ride home, i’d just walk and lie to my mom about who had dropped me off. but my first christmas home from college, i had decided i was Too Mature for such behavior, that i was an adult and i would act like it. so i had to finish up some christmas shopping one night and i was going to just walk over to kmart. my mom and i got into a big argument about whether i could walk, by myself, to a store less than a mile away, at 7 p.m. she argued that it was a bad neighborhood and that it had changed since i’d been gone. (in 3 months? i don’t know.) i replied that i lived in a freaking city, and that i walked around after dark all the time.

winner: mom. it took us a few years to find the right adult/child balance. most of the time i was in college, she would drive me places after dark. it was kind of embarrassing, and i definitely saw it as an infringement on my adulthood, but at least i wasn’t going to bars in those days, so i was spared the humiliation of being dropped off at a bar by my mother.

*one of my ex-boyfriends once told me that this propensity meant that i was not so much rebellious (i never maintained i was) as i was devious and sneaky. i don’t think he meant it as a compliment.

**my system involved staring at a point on my mother’s forehead and zoning out. it works surprisingly well, plus it irritated her: “stop giving me that look!”

***nothing says “sulky teenager” like stomping off, except maybe slamming a door. after the time i broke my bedroom door, i didn’t slam them anymore, though, so i had to content myself with stomping.

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