I protected my mother, but I wasn’t the only one. All four of us kids protected her. We never told her how awful she was, how hateful she was, how we felt like shit because of her incessant screaming and criticizing. We hated her pickiness. We hated the exactness she insisted on things that didn’t matter. “Mashed” potatoes were not worth screaming about if they were not smoothly pureed. So what, if you pulled a towel out of the towel drawer and it unfolded as you pulled it? We never told her how much we wanted just a kind word from her, or even a smile. We never told her we wanted to be special to her, we wanted to feel as if we were special to her.
Why didn’t we say anything?
For one thing, she never gave us a chance. She was the only one who was allowed to talk freely. When I was four, I had been ordered not to talk to her unless I had “something important to say.” I knew she meant, important to her, but how would I know what that was? None of the younger children had that restriction, yet if any two of us tried to have a conversation, she insisted that we come into her presence and talk in front of her so she could monitor (and, of course comment and pass judgement) on whatever it was we wanted to say. It was simpler not to talk.
She never had conversations with us. She would demand information and pass judgment on whether the information was favorable to her or not. If not, she screamed. We had to second guess her reaction BEFORE we opened our mouths, and we had to think quickly – she wanted the information right NOW!
Did we somehow sense that she was oblivious, and incapable of understanding what she was doing to us?
Did we somehow perceive that she was doing the best she could, grossly inadequate as that was?
Could we tell that she was overwhelmed by the world and the responsibilities of us and the house were just too much for her?
I don’t know.
We could have screamed back at her – but not one of us ever did! There were no shouting matches in the family – except between our parents before Daddy was killed. He couldn’t compete – we were SURE we couldn’t compete.
We each escaped quietly in the ways that we could.
She was a prisoner in her own little world and we each coped as best we could.
After we left home, we left for good. We never had family gatherings at her house. Maybe one of us would host a family Christmas, but that was the only time we got together and, once our own children left home, even they stopped. We couldn’t be close to her, so we don’t know how to be close to each other. We are civil, but our relationships are individual, not corporate as a group.
I’m very happy to know that our children like each other and, now that they are all grown and on their own, have had their own parties. These are not frequent because they are now scattered over several distant states. They KNOW their grandmother was a trial to their parents. They don’t know how much, but maybe they don’t need to know that. We survived and they love us. What else is important now that she’s gone?