If I have come to live here for no other reason, I might consider the insight I’m given by living with my mother close by. While I have tried to discipline myself to see things from the half-full rather than half-empty perspective, my mother reminds me why this is still such a struggle for me. She is, inherently, a seer of the half-empty glass. And fundamentally, I think I may be so too.
“Nancy’s your mother?” people say with great interest. “What a great woman! I love Nancy!” they usually say. With too much back story to impart, and knowing it’s not really the point anyway, I usually smile and respond that yes, that’s what they all say. From an outsider’s perspective my mother is one upbeat person whose personality attracts. The same could be said about me too, I suppose. But as with anyone, there’s so much more to the person that is apparent at a first encounter.
The only person to ever bear intimate witness to the two sides of the Conant women was my near ex. He was quick to point out how similar I was to her. I would protest – for the woman I see is always muttering asides to herself under the martyred burden she constantly feels. My mother, when faced with new information, almost always responds with a victim-like disgust. It seems no matter what is offered, she feels it represents an unwelcome challenge and a burden that she herself will ultimately have to carry. And in light of the back story, I get it. Her own father left and began a new family cross town before he’d wrapped things up properly with her mother. This was in a pre divorce-as-common-occurance world. Her father hardly surfaced again in her life. This and more chapters help explain to me, at least, why she reacts as she does. In summary, she feels the world has screwed her, she has to fight for what she does have, and if she doesn’t do something that needs to be done, no one will. Whether she’s made her world fit her truth, or it existed like that in spite of her choices, I can see that many of her suspicions of the world have come true. After all, if she doesn’t work, there will be no bills paid. If she doesn’t make supper, Dad won’t eat. If she doesn’t do the laundry no one will. (Is this not the case for most mothers? I think we all have reasons to see our jobs as invisible and thankless at times.) But if she would just stay her knee-jerk tendency to groan about the prospects before she responded, she might find that things aren’t as doomed as she’s programmed to believe.
I don’t like to spend too much time in my parent’s house because of the thick and negative energy there. When my mother turns away from us, my father and I share knowing glances and shrug our shoulders in our shared powerlessness as she mutters to herself in the aftermath of what she’s perceived to be some gross wrong that has just been imposed on her. She lives on a vocabulary of passive-aggressive asides. When I try – sometimes ever so gently, sometimes in the anger of a shameful blowup – to call her attention to this, she takes it in without protest, but she never seems to hear me, or to get it. My near-ex said that my own negative tendencies (or the “Nancy” in me, he’d say) added to his desire to leave me. And to some extent I can understand this, however I’d offered that our situation was different; self-discovery and change was something I embraced, something I actively sought. I’d say we had tools and abilities available to us that our parents didn’t. He wasn’t moved. (His current girlfriend is to the outsider’s perspective a perennially cheery thing who, to me, seems to share some aspects of Betty Boop. Blonde, curly hair, a buxom figure and a super-high speaking voice that might do well in character parts, she is rather the polar opposite of me. Perhaps he needed to get as far away from the shadows of my essence as possible.) My parents are lost in the world of their own creation. At this late date there seems no desire to change. It’s not my business to enlighten them either.
So, in an effort to be a half-full person, I don’t try to impose my insights on my mother as a matter of course. Rather I study her. I notice her responses to things, and I reflect on how I might respond to the same. It helps me to see my own habits, and to understand what I’d do well to avoid. Seeing my mother, and how she lives in her own world has helped me to avoid going further down the poor-me path. In that we both share a story of father-leaving-family I can begin to understand how deep her pain goes. It’s a difficult assignment to turn this around, but I’m equipped and ready for the job. To choose up rather than down, possibility rather than hopelessness. I have a few tricks that I employ to help myself to see the reflection without wincing. My near ex once challenged me to replace ‘no, but’ with ‘yes, and’. It was a good suggestion; it’s a technique I come back to when I think I need some regulation in my outlook. I also realize that it’s easier to criticize than to complement (why is this and what does this say about we humans?) and so I curb my first reaction to express what’s displeasing, and instead, I offer my gratitude for what is pleasing.
And so I offer my gratitude for my mother and all she’s shown me about the world. I thank her for teaching me all the wonderful secret things that only a mother can. I thank her for the reflection of my own imperfections. I thank her for going before, and I hope that I can serve to resolve some of the issues that she’s labored under for so long. With the mirror of my mother I see who I am, and I begin to learn the things that I may yet become.