being my mother’s savior

My mother is bubbly because she has something to say to me. She is chomping at the bit. I have something to say to her, too, but I have a strange side to me that prevents me from saying anything about me to someone who looks and feels like they are just waiting for me to be done so they can start their story. Words simply dry out and die.

My mom is all excited because she has been helping her grandchildren (respectively 16 and 18) with their school work. She is full of details about it. Mostly, her part in it. What she did, what she told them when they came home with a low or high grade, what she fed them, how long they stayed at her place, how exhausted she was at the end. “Do you have a sense of what 3 to 9 pm means?” “Yes, mom, I think I do.”

My heart sinks and I am filled with speechless sadness. Mind you, I was already pretty speechless, but this gives my speechlessness the final blow. It seems like I can barely take it.

Last summer my mom and I had this long talk. It went on weeks, really. My mom was pretty down about things, and I was down about things too, things I couldn’t or wouldn’t talk to her about because she seemed to her have plate full and, well, I can’t really say anything to anyone who is chomping at the bit etc.

I did have a full plate myself. I was busy and I was full of some sorrow I was trying to process. So I told my mom that all the grief she was pouring into the telephone was too much for me. I told her that she needed help, a listening ear, and under other circumstances I would have been happy to be that listening ear, but right then I couldn’t, I simply couldn’t.

One of the reasons for her bitterness and sorrow was her lousy rapport with my sisters. I told my mom that finding help in sorting out why she was so bitter toward and disappointed in her children (her disappointment in me took the form of being worried about me, a worry she constantly asked me to soothe, much to my rage and overwhelm) might help her improve her rapport with them. I told her that this was a pivotal time: find a way to like your kids or lose them.

Bravely, she listened. She went as far as to a therapist, a lone visit that nonetheless  made her feel better. She arranged to see him again after the summer holidays.

But she didn’t go back. When I brought up the issue  she got testy and stubborn and told me not to make her do things she didn’t want to do. That was hard for me, this sudden retreat into misery and away from the possibility of changing and healing. But I didn’t complain. I only told her please not to treat me as the therapist she was refusing to see.

Normally, I really believe in listening to others; I believe that we, all of us, are each other’s saviors, and listening is one of the most powerful ways we have to hold each other and soothe each other and help each other. but it’s terribly hard for me at this time to be this person for my mom. And I fail to see how I should be doing this when she can afford someone who is probably going to be much more helpful to her than tortured, wounded me.

Since that time she has been keeping our conversations at a maddening even keel. I shouldn’t be annoyed because that’s what I asked, but it seems as if, without painful things to talk about, we can achieve no intimacy whatsoever. And without intimacy my bi-weekly conversations with my mother are nothing short of torture.

Yesterday, though, she was happy. The grandchildren, who stopped needing her around when they stopped needing to be baby-sat, need her again. She is useful. They seek her out. And I want to scream: GET YOUR OWN LIFE. GET IT NOW. STOP WAITING.

I want to scream this because, the moment the grandchildren pass their tests, my mom will go back to being a sad person and I will be all the life she has, and I don’t want to be that for her. I don’t want to absolve that function any more. How much farther away do I have to get to stop being her salvation? Is a full ocean not enough?

Art by Mark Spain