Thursday, May 11, 2006

Terminal Grumpiness

Last weekend when I called Mom she said she thought it might have been the assisted living staff calling. They call her once a day to check on her: "How are you doing today?" I didn't realize they did that, though Mom's been living there for two years. I said I thought it was nice.

"I don't think it's very nice sometimes!"

"What do you mean?"

"Sometimes they call too early and I have to get out of bed to answer the phone!"

This is the way my mother communicates. Always. About everything. It's like she's in a race to get the the worst, most awful thing about the topic as quickly as possible. This time, it only took her two sentences to get to What I Don't Like. That's pretty good.

A couple of weeks ago we were talking about my grandmother, Mom's mother-in-law. This woman wasn't perfect, but she did an awful lot for us. I adored her. She used to have my sisters and me stay overnight at her house, which gave our very depressed mother some precious relief. If we were sick and needed to stay home from school, it was her house we stayed at. She and my grandfather helped my folks out when times were hard, though they didn't have a lot themselves. Still, the only thing Mom seems to remember about Gram is a harsh exchange they had when my father was ill for a year, over 50 years ago.

It's a way of communicating and relating to the world that I'm trying to unlearn, well into the middle of my life. Always focusing on the negative, complaining, criticizing, tearing down. On one hand, it's a way of bonding with people: "Isn't it awful? Oh, YOU think it's awful TOO?" Misery really does love company. On the other hand, it communicates the hopelessness of our inner world. It encourages others to see the clouds with us. It penalizes the happy. It places a burden on those around us. That's what growing up around this kind of talk did for me. To be happy -- genuinely joyful -- was seen as an affront. This is what can happen when depressed people parent, I think. The exuberance of a child becomes an insult. It feels threatening for the joyful child and the depressed parent. Children learn to adapt to the family status quo and hide their natural curiosity and enthusiasm for living. Eventually, they may adapt so well they stop feeling any wonder at all.

It's too late for Mother, I'm afraid. It's probably too late for my sisters. But it's not too late for me.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

By Mary Oliver


Krupskaya said...

Ah, Amazon. I saw a book last week that got all groovy and talked about the "Young Self" still inside us all and I just wanted to say that I've always thought your Young Self is so obviously going strong because you know it's there and you know you need to take care of it.

Sending you hugs, my dear.

frog said...

Mary Oliver, oh how she rocks.

Gosling said...

Did Krup just call me immature? She didn't, right? ;) (Excellent to "see" you here, K, and thanks!)