Her Story
September 3, 2006

My mother is insane.

I say that knowing that my sister sometimes reads this blog and will probably disagree with me and will perhaps even be a bit horrified by my writing that. But I think of a particular definition of insane: doing the same thing over and over and over and over yet again and yet expecting different results.

My mother is insane.

She hides in her condo after work most evenings, terrified and disapproving of the world around her. She has recently made one of her periodic attempts to break that same pattern that she has played out so many times before. Unfortunately, she's going about it in the same way that she has before. Not so much examining her own self as condemning the behaviours in others which she thinks she sees ... which she fears she feels.

Everyone has betrayed her ... her entire life has been full of attempting to reach out and to love and then being betrayed.

Other eyes see her story in different ways. But what I'm writing today -- I think -- is how it has looked through her eyes.

I don't know what her first betrayal was. I'm not sure that she is capable and strong enough to remember that first betrayal.

In bits and pieces ... in fits and spurts ... she has related to me how her mother betrayed her. How fearful my mother was of having her first born child. She was terrified of that small, tiny creature. Afraid to do something wrong. Scared to death she'd damage that tiny life.

So she turned to her mother. And was abandoned. Through my mother's telling, her mother refused to help her learn how to deal with the new infant. Abandoned her alone with this tiny alien creature and ignored my mother's fear and paralyzing terror. Walked away.

She struggled to overcome her fears and nurture the baby. Four years later, as she awaited the birth of the second child, she rested assured that this time, she lived in the same town as her mother and would be able to get some help as she learned to cope with both a precocious four year old and a newborn.

This time, thought, her mother made plans to be out of town at some other family event. And this time, her husband waited out the birth of his second child in the bar across the street from the hospital. Where the first baby had been relatively quiet ... to the point where my mother suspected the baby was a candidate for SIDS ... the second baby was anything but quiet and perhaps even more at risk for SIDS, requiring an intensive hospitalization before the age of one.

And she was alone and abandoned with two children to care for. Her husband gave her no support. Her mother gave her no support.

And yet, she kept at both of these people who should have been her support. She kept reaching out to them over and over and over again, expecting different results, expecting that they would somehow miraculously change, that she would finally find the right words to make them see her fears and help her.

As we grew up, my sister and I, she and her mother exchanged long phone calls every Saturday morning ... occasionally Sunday morning instead. One week my mother would call, the next her mother would call. Yet, when my sister or I talked happily of Grandma, Mom would get this look of bitter frustration ... bitter disappointment ... sadness ... a little masked rage ... and utter confusion ... expressions of emotion that flickered so quickly across her face and through her words, I was never really sure what I was seeing until I was much, much older. Jealousy that we seemed to get along splendidly with the one woman she really wanted to connect with.

I don't know what the tension is between them. I don't know much about my mother's childhood except that she utterly idolized her father, adored him to pieces. And I know about the tension between her and her mother. I can make some educated guesses about that tension. But I won't do that right now.

Every friend that my mom had during her adult life ... at least so long as I was old enough to observe the pattern ... each one betrayed her. Some friends would last two or three years. Some last seven or eight. But she only had one close, female friend at a time. It was as if she could screw up enough courage to "put herself out there" once ... and that was it. And when the inevitible "betrayal," or difference of opinion, would come along, Mom withdrew into her shell and hid from the world once again.

It was an amazing pattern to grow up with. I would watch her, timid and yet yearning for human contact, yearning for some sort of affirmation from someone other than her own children. Creeping ever so slowly out of the house ... into a class of some sort, usually art. Cautiously making friends with one woman in the class ... and I would be so happy. She finally had another adult to talk to, things to do with herself during the day while we were gone to school. Something to distract her from the fact that her life revolved around cleaning the house for her two allergy-ridden children.

And then, I would hear the tale of betrayal again. Once it was a friend telling her in no uncertain terms that Mom needed to be less judgmental and cut her kids some slack now and again. Another time, a friend made the mistake of trying to get Mom to relax and take a real vacation. Another time, it was a horrible racial slur made against someone that Mom found to be a very good person. Some of the betrayals were certainly "real," whatever that is. Some were simply friendships that had become too close, too revealing. Terrified of having to look at herself and her life, she bolted instead.

I watched when she finally went to therapy ... she left any therapist who suggested that she needed to make some behavioural changes.

So, as I had known she would, she turned to the church. Another day, I'll tell of that betrayal. (And no, it doesn't involve any kind of Catholic priest scandal at all.)

And as I grew to adulthood, past the pesky quasi-adolesence of the 20s, I realized that all of this was a simple pattern.

Mom is in love with fear.

For whatever reason, it's a comfort to her. She's known fear for so much of her life, that she cannot function for any real length of time without it. She feared for years what would happen if she left her alcoholic, abusive husband. She feared what would happen to her when her eldest moved out of the house. (The fire of the devil she knew or the cauldron of living as a divorced woman?) She moved out with the youngest child, now 15, and struck out on her own. She lived with the fear of having no money now that she had no husband. She feared all men. She feared the power of her bosses. She feared that the eldest would reject her, so she both rejected and latched onto both children. She feared everything in the world around her. All those people, out to hurt her ... ready to offer a hand which would inevitably turn around and bite her.

And yet, she did the same things over and over and over again.

After all of this ... knowing much of the abuse and years of fear that she underwent while married ... why, and more to the point, how, can I say that my mother is insane? It is not because she has such a difficult time reaching out and trusting ... but because she thinks that she is reaching out when she is pushing others away. Because she thinks that she is listening to others when she is only thinking of herself. I don't say she is insane as a judgment ... it is a statement of fact. She continually believes in the same manner and expects that the world will suddenly conform to her. Unbending even as she attempts change.

And until I can learn a new way to reach out to her, it is insanity for me to try. Years of listening to her ... attempting to coach her ... attempting to strengthen her self-esteem ... bolster her confidence ... only to face derision and scorn masked as loving concern.

It may be that she has been betrayed and abandoned too many times for a relative to reach her at all.

Posted by Red Monkey at September 3, 2006 3:50 PM | Struggles | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


Jodi said:

Are you sure we are no related?
Reaching out at this point is about listening and just 'validating' they are heard...Man I so get what you write.
My mother cut my hair, I played sports, pretty much one of the boys, the layering of clothes...Protecting me from the evils that lie within her...
WOW...Just blew me away with this Ender...I have to read again...
Think it is a 50's mentality? Or the Conservative of the 60's? Jus wondering...

Red Monkey says: I am kind of wondering if this is the dark side to the idyllic 50s, actually. I've seen several adult males from this time period who also do the same type of thing ... think that they should know everything, how to do everything, how to behave, how to cope with every situation ... and then when they are confronted with something they don't understand, they flip. They insist they're right when they know they're not and generally act like bratty little boys ... but, if you continue watching past that moment when they think everyone else has stopped looking at them ... you can see it ... scared little boy, unsure, terrified, and no idea how to express any of that. I think that the women got much the same indoctrination and with similar disastrous results for so many of them.
September 3, 2006 6:02 PM


Peety said:

Wonderfully written..


September 4, 2006 3:40 AM


Smash said:

I think sometimes that people would rather fear something and dismiss it, rather than enjoy it and suddenly get their fingers burned. It's safer that way. To be cocoooned. Nothing you can say will change that, you just have to wait and hope for that fundamental shift... *hugz* Smashdudexxx

September 4, 2006 3:13 PM


Erin said:

I think you are right, she does love fear. It seems to me that she tends to look for betrayals because she assumes it will happen. It is very sad in a way, she shouldn't have to live out her life like that!!

September 6, 2006 6:58 AM


serenity said:


That's all, just hugs.

September 6, 2006 1:10 PM


Babs said:

RYC: Glad to know the admins are working on it.
PS. My mom really is insane. I disagreed with her almost 20 years ago and she hasn't spoken to me since. Some people can't see their own actions and don't know how to change. Sad.

September 7, 2006 2:08 AM
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