Or maybe 13, but certainly not more than 14 ... in my mother's eyes. This was a new development as of 5 years ago.
Until mom's move into my home I was a "married adult" in her eyes.
I moved out of the status of a "child" at 22 years old on my wedding day. It almost seemed as if on that day, she viewed me differently. I was now independent. My future was with another. Her knowledge of my activities, my thoughts, and my goals became seriously limited.
She had launched me into life on my own and then "let go!"
Now I am not saying that she was a distant and uncaring person. Not at all. She always lived within a 30 minute drive, hosted family dinners, baby sat her grand children, called me to chat, ...
But she never inserted herself into my life. If she made judgements about my actions she never shared them, never gave me advice unless I asked for it. None of that. Our lives were now separate and she moved on with her life. Of course, during my first year as a young married woman, she was still living with my dad. His alcoholism was a daily cross she carried.
I also suspect that their own personal history as a young married couple impacted how they treated me. Somehow I became aware that the move to Maryland so long ago was partly due to too much family in their lives.
Marriage seemed to be the dividing line in my mother's eyes for when you became an adult.
Getting engaged was the first step in that direction. And that conversation rings clear in my mind as if it was yesterday.
Mom and I were walking our dog, Lucky, in front of our house. I turned to her and said, "He has asked me to marry him, and I said yes." There was no congratulatory comments, no expressions of love, no joyful response for my happiness. She was quiet for a moment and then said: "You must be sure, because once you are married, I won't be able to help if things don't work out."
I was 20 at the time. I remember feeling a sense of disappointment in her response.
Looking back I can see this statement was a peek into her own past. Things didn't work out very well for mom after she married, she didn't have any help from her family, friends, or her church. When she married, she was on her own. If her married life had been different, would she have responded differently to me? Maybe. I can't imagine ever saying those words to one my children. I would extend a helping hand as long as there was breath in my body. But my married experience was different from hers ... mine was normal.
I know now she was dealing with a lot then. But at the time I was too young to be understanding or reflective. I feel badly that I expected more.
So as a married adult, she had a hands-off policy with me. I was mature, someone's wife, and taking on adult roles. She had done her job with her first child, and she moved on with her life.
That all changed when she moved into our house five years ago.
It is hard to step back into being a child when you have been an adult from age 22 to 59. It is hard to accept direction on activities that you have been doing successfully for 37 years. It is hard to respond in an adult fashion to questions that imply you may not be able to handle the everyday functions of your own life and household, even though you have done so without help ... did you lock your car? don't forget to lock up the house when you go to bed? you will be home before dark - won't you? who called and what did they want?
It is hard.
And while I was being downgraded as an adult, my husband was reaching nose-bleed heights as an adult. In my mom's world, women were secondary and subservient, men were important and in charge. It was her life experience and something she didn't outgrow as she matured.
It is an element of her personality that gets in the way daily for both of us.
So now my husband was the adult in our house. And technically she probably thought of it as "his" house - not "our" house. His opinion was very important. His littlest actions were noticed, remarked on and thanked. She seemed unaware that we were a couple who handled many of life tasks equally. It was no matter that I did everything for her ... I was 14!
I remember one birthday conversation that demonstrates this thinking better than any recitation of examples.
Mom used to take us out to dinner for our birthdays. Every year, she would begin with date setting and then selecting a restaurant. One year on my birthday she reminded me that we needed to set a date. We did. Then she asked me "Where do you think Mike wants to go?" I paused, letting that statement hang in the air a bit. Then I responded ... "Well, since it is my birthday, I don't care where he wants to go." There was another pause while my response hung in the air. Then she started to laugh a bit. We both laughed, but it was how her mind worked. In every situation, what did the man want to do?
I do understand where her perception of life came from. But it was impossible for me to reject the whole of my adult life and step back into the 1950s role of a house wife. As my age and equality dropped in her eyes, there was more friction between us.
I have often remarked how it was that mom managed to raise 2 daughters who were so entirely different from herself in attitude and independence.
Generational differences can put great pressures on parent-child relationships. But, thankfully, over the 6 months I have seen her attitudes soften a bit. The full impact of her health issues and physical limitations have made an impression. She can't help but notice, that when life has covered her from head to foot in lemons ... I was the one continuously standing at her side batting those lemons away. I think she recognizes that now. But old habits die hard. It is still a constant battle.
So let me revised my initial statement ... today I think I have grown to about ... oh, maybe 17!
If she could just think of me
as an independent 28 or 29 year old ...
I think that imagery could work for me
as long as I didn't look in the mirror!
Care Giver and Daughter