One morning my mother’s car was in the shop, and so she wasn’t able to pick up a coworker to carpool for once, it had to be the other way around. I had much bigger things on my mind and didn’t see this as significant. Yet after I got out of the car and began the long walk onwards from their office to my college campus, my mother suddenly screamed at my back “Say thank you!” I kept walking, unwilling to acknowledge such an undignified demand, or allow her to humiliate me as she had many times in the past. It is incomprehensible to me that my mother would want to make such a scene in front of her coworkers, to undoubtedly not just embarrass me, but herself and everyone else who heard her. My mother’s self-righteous punitive drive was socially blind, but I could see that no one in the car cared to talk to me or that I was there, and I doubt they kept track of how enthusiastically I seconded each of my mothers ‘thanks.’ But she cared more about them and their feelings then she did about me and mine, and this gesture was to remind me of that.
My mother always prioritized this self-effacing, overblown deference to strangers, acquaintances, and other remote agents over her own children. Falling all over herself to apologize over the littlest things we did, she felt her responsibility was not to protect her offspring, but people she might see only once in her life. Mother never apologized to me despite all of her abuse or took responsibility for it, but made me responsible for the feelings of every adult we encountered. Likewise she had a habit of speaking for me, in refusing my needs, in telling everyone they didn’t need to change anything ever for my sake. She would give me this look like “oh please!” to silence me, to tell me I wasn’t worth any special consideration. When of course I was and am, because everyone is. Being forced to turn down things that would make me happy, comfortable, or healthy led to so much misery.
On our first morning at summer day-camp, my brother and I were approached by another boy. I blew him off, said I didn’t like him or want to play with him. And in response my brother pushed me down onto the blacktop, stood on my back, and jumped up and down on me until I was wheezing and crying. Then, as I struggled to get up, he said to the stunned stranger “Don’t worry, he didn’t mean it.” How considerate of him! The phony lessons about ‘being polite’ that we were taught were filled with these double standards, as well as a general intolerance for the way young children naturally are. I could have been stressed out that day for many reasons, or I might have recognized this boy as someone mean from school who I had a right to express my boundaries with.
It was none of my brothers business, but I was treated as being so far below him and everyone else at that camp that I could be insulted and assaulted, but had to be 100% sweet and nice in my own behavior. That was not going to happen. I was being taught one set of unhealthy standards verbally, and another through nonverbal messages, but neither benefited me, neither matched up with the conditions I developed due to this trauma or my natural personality. I know we only attended that [obviously not safe or well-supervised] camp over one summer when I was 6. But I’ve recently remembered one of the other places we were often dropped off at. In a dingy, barren old house I was made to line up with a row of other naked children and sized up, chosen individually by the pedophiles who decided our worth via their own sick desires.
One morning at 6am before school my mother burst into my room and put a pair of new overalls on the floor, announcing “wear these today!” before leaving. I hated them, and didn’t want to put them on. I started crying, until ten minutes later she came back in a rage, screaming “Well, fine! I saw them on a boy in your class and thought he looked really cute!” before taking them back and slamming her door behind her. She didn’t think it necessary to comfort the six year old crying and sitting on the cold floor, all that mattered was her feelings, and how they were hurt. When if she had gently introduced me to the idea of these overalls at a decent hour, I might have been convinced to try them on, though I thought they looked incredibly stupid. But always the fault, guilt, and obligation were put onto me, and she did not feel responsible for anything.
If I ever expressed an opinion boldly, my mother would apologize to everyone in the room, loudly deny that I really thought that way, and then pretend it never happened. So indeed, my brother’s “he didn’t mean it” came from her mouth first. But I did and do have opinions, feelings, and ideas not accounted for in my mother’s delusional, controlling little world. I don’t care if her circle liked my opinions or not, I still had a right to express them. One of the things that I really hate about repressive family systems is that the children are pressured into muting who they really are lest grandparents, uncles, cousins might be “offended.” My mother always harassed me about my hair, about my sexuality, my personal style, [lack of] religious beliefs, my eating disorder, lest her glass box of denial would form a fissure or some extended relative I hardly even knew might disapprove. That is sick and unacceptable.
If her relatives were such bigots, wholly uninterested in letting people be who they are and connecting on a deeper level, then they shouldn’t have been in our lives in the first place. Adult children filled with an obligation to their parents over their own kids begin to perpetuate that system very early on, and often never stop. My mother extended it to practically the whole world. But she was dead wrong, and passing this poisonous pattern onto me did so much damage. Today I know that I am not less then other people, I am not less worthy of being myself, having my needs met, or telling my story then anyone else. I don’t care about age, class, or any other status system whereby people place some as being “more worthy” of respect at the expense of others. I don’t buy into or validate that. If I had children, I would recognize my first obligation being to them, to protecting and nurturing their feelings and rights, not to perpetuating a social system where they are considered to be nothing.
And since I’m not less worthy, I don’t act like my mother. She could go far out of her way to pick someone else up for eight months, but was in such nervous worry about the “imposition” of having the favor returned for one day that she made an insane scene in a parking lot, desperately drawing attention to how ‘grateful’ she was by attacking me. That shows she saw herself as less worthy, and of course me as even less, since I wasn’t allowed to voicelessly nod the way her coworkers did to me, but was expected to grovel. I believe in equal, mutual respect, and taking care of myself does come first. I’m not going to have anyone standing over my shoulder dictating what I ‘should’ say or do, or deciding my worth for me.