A child’s nature is so inconvenient...
I once read that the very word, "child", means something to the effect of "interfering" in people’s lives. When I was growing up in the fifties, surrender to Mom and Dad's reality was a small concession really, since according to them, I couldn’t really, possess a self. I was simply a lump of unformed clay, as far as my personality went.
Nearly a half century later, I remain a child whenever I go back to my mother's house. Recently, while visiting, I stood at the kitchen sink watching a squirrel jumping onto the back yard bird feeder. I was enjoying it’s antics: despite the fact that the seed was not intended for his likes, he had to throw pounce onto the window ledge in order to then propell himself to the feeder from there. I was thinking he was so clever, and probably so hungry, just as Mom, who has witnessed the same event , broke my reverie by shouting like a cop to my stepfather, to "come quick!" to shoo it away, crying, "... that one! That little shit with no manners! The nerve!"
I shrank away, thinking for a minute that she was talking about me until she added, "They’re so damn wasteful. I saw that squirrel the other day stealing apples from the tree, you know what that little rat did? He takes an apple, one bite, ONE and throws it on the ground and reaches for another." Neither that "rat" with the big tail, nor I, grew up in the depression like she did, and we will forever be on her shit list.
Just as when I was growing up, my Mom habituates that other world, the one I never gave a damn about. She didn’t send out heat waves, nor buzz with inspiration or purr with pleasure like the more sensuous ones in the family. Mom was more of a fixed object, something that didn’t need much attention. I still can not figure out what she ran on. But my hunch is that whatever it was, it was aided by her perceiving herself as having no real needs of her own beyond the maintenance of her body. Oh, to be so simple minded!
It was the road to madness that at the tender age of eight, I first became a little philosopher and mystic....
Mom gave me alarmed blank looks in response to my simple questions such as "What is before the beginning? I can’t go to sleep until I know. Instead of answering she pushed back my hair from my eyes because she said I had to keep it out of my face in order to see, when all I wanted was long bangs I could hide behind. When I pressured and asked, "what if I don’t really exist" she told me not to make crumbs. And when I demanded to know what "never" and "always" really meant, trying to comprehend the meaning of the infinite, with a finite brain, she said to sit only at the table and pull up my chair. My questions got tougher. "Why are we here (on Earth)?" I am answered with being reminded to do my dishes. If I ask "What exactly is time, would it exist if it didn’t have a name?" or, "How can there be such a thing as not existing?" Mom answers suspiciously: did I do the dishes—all of them. If she gets desperate she goes into a litany: Did I use Brillo; did I dry my hands and face; let me see. If she is truly worried about my impending insanity she will go on ad nauseum, just to be sure to drive me there herself: come here in the light; don’t frown; what were you and Celia fighting about and yes you were fighting. Next comes being my sisters keeper replete with the guilt tactics: why are you so mean to her when she loves you so much.
I wish she’d just told me she hadn’t the slightest clue what the Hell I was talking about, or had referred me to someone more spiritually aware. But where were these persons in the fifties and how could a mother access them for her spiritually premature child? Besides, had she done so, she’d been admitting defeat, she’d be letting me win , which was against the institution of motherhood itself. Aside from my growing rage which fueled, I supposed my attacks on her ignorance of things existential and vital, these questions were driving me crazy. She must have been trying to turn the tables, as if she did the job of driving me nuts instead, that was better. I felt absolutely invaded, tortured with questions and quizzes, I guess as she must have felt at the mercy of my questions also; my obsessions. What else had I eaten? When? Had I washed my hands? Had I been biting my nails and did I know there were microorganisms under them that were very bad for me? Why was I scratching down there- did my behind itch? You could get an infection. Go wash your hands. Aren’t you hot? Get your hair away from your face! You must be freezing in that thing! You are tired! You need to rest, go lie down. Right now! Always there was this sense of being about to miss a train. Everything unimportant to me was urgent to her and vice-versa.
Sometimes she ordered me to do things that I knew would ruin my life, with orders that were issued from an insistent, obsessive state… insisting I wear corduroy pants underneath my frilly dresses on my long walk to school in the winter. I made the noise but she was the one with the obsessive and anxious personality inherited from a mother who truly had needed some rescuing and never got it.
If necessary, Mom would drive us both mad so that I might one day awake well-adjusted. So I learned to routinely reject Mom’s meddling and mollifying. Once, when I was sick, I was going into a trance over a picture Mom had hung by my bed. A dog howling over a dead sheep on the snow. I loved that picture.
When Mom came into my room to force more ginger-ale down my sore throat, she found me transfixed, as if I’d actually stepped into it. I couldn’t understand her concern. If Mary Poppins could walk right into chalk sidewalk drawings, why couldn’t I? Did she really think I wouldn’t return? More likely, she thought I would be traumatized at the sight of death. When I didn’t want need explanations or help she would push both at me and when I did she’d look at me with anxious worry and be at a loss for the right words.
Mom, who always had an agenda, knew that had she commented on anything but the picture to try to avert my attention, I would probably slink down under the covers and refuse the tiring liquids. And then it would really be war. So she resorted to a simple intrusion with an innocent white lie, "...The dog is howling because the sheep is sleeping". "No, the sheep is dead!" I snapped out of trance to quickly correct her. It made her wince but what could she say. "Oh Leah, don’t be so real"? She could have fought dirty, with, "Don’t be rude", or, "Don’t interrupt me", but Mom always did have a weakness for truth.