The question a simple one. In conversation with a close friend about the difficult relationship I experienced with my mother she asked, “What did your mother like best about you?” My answer, “not a thing.” I have mulled this over for weeks wanting to come up with at least one thing she liked about me. For most of my childhood and adult life I struggled for my mother’s approval and worked hard at being more likeable. As she aged her dislike and disapproval grew even stronger making our relationship untenable at times.
My mother died in February of 2001 and the loss was significant despite our alienated relationship. The craziness is that I loved her and in her own way she loved me. Translating the love into a viable and sustainable relationship never happened. In my deepest dreams my mother surfaces as an ageless shadow figure, hauntingly beautiful, and with a low guttural voice. As I step towards her wispy visage with wide open arms she steps back and bows her head. It’s both painful and impossible.
My life with mother is the stuff that “tell-all” memoir is made of. I can jump on the “Mommy Dearest” bandwagon and regale any reader of this genre with dark but hilarious vignettes of dialogue stranger than most fiction. I always knew that my mother was less than pleased by just about everything about me from my appearance to personality to goals, to values, and in the heady late 60’s my politics. “Oh Marshy,” was her usual preamble to a scathing critique of my outfits, make-up, hair, inflection of voice, body weight, vocabulary, grammar, sense of humor and my choice of friends and lovers.
“Oh Marshy, YOU”RE not wearing that tonight, are you?” This whispered at the moment I nervously descended the spiral staircase to meet a first date.
“Oh Marshy, promise me you’ll never wear that skirt again.” This at a packed high holiday service at our Westchester temple; provoking looks and frowns of one too many congregants. Impervious to the reactions she rasped on, ” It cuts you in all the wrong places. You look like a house.”
When she died I thought that I would be free of her powerful impact upon my compromised self-image. Was I ever wrong. Like most children of narcissistic parents I instinctively internalized her negative judgments as she lives on as one hell of a “”looking-glass self”.
Constantly editing and criticizing things I say, frowning upon my choice of a particular outfit, begging me not to make an unwise business decision, or asking when will I toughen up or why did you do that?
At the ripe old age of 64 it is time I pop the question. “What is it that I like most about myself?”
I have made some progress on this and now talk back; countering her judgements with my newly discovered confidence about what I do, how I act, how I dress, how I relate and how I parent my children. It’s a journey but a journey worth taking as I contemplate the last chapter of a life worth living.