The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

No one listens to the baby

I am used to being ignored.

You’d think being the only child, only grandchild and only niece would have meant I had a house full of grown-ups, hanging on my every word.

Nope.

At least not when I grew up.

Granted, when I was smaller, I may have said things they found adorable.

I was asked cute questions, like what was my favorite animal, who did I think was the best college football team, and what did I want to be when I grew up.

My answers were anything with fur, four legs and a tail; UGA; and, since I was about 3, I wanted to write ‘stories.’ Not much has changed.

But once I hit a certain age, one where I may have actually gotten a lick of sense in my head – something Granny said I was sorely lacking for most of my life – no one seemed to think I knew anything.

Somehow, I was still the baby of the family, but I was just bigger.

And my family thought I only knew about things that were pretty much along the lines of favorite animals, football teams, and television shows.

To prove this point, my uncle had an outrageous medical bill once he could not get resolved. He didn’t know why it was so high, and Granny, even with all of her tactics, could not get to the bottom of it either.

“Why don’t you let me look at it?” I offered.

You would have thought I had suggested I was going to split an atom on my grandmother’s kitchen table.

My uncle looked at my dumbfounded. “What in the world would you know about a hospital bill, baby?” he asked, shaking his head and walking off.

It was my turn to look dumbfounded. At the time, I was in college and working for two surgeons. And doing of all things – processing insurance.

“Granny, I think I can help with this,” I said.

Granny shook her head. “You’re just the baby. You don’t know nothing about this kind of stuff.”

“Actually, I do. I deal with this all day at work. Please let me look at it.”

She shook her head. “Ain’t no need in you messing with it. You may get it all jumbled up anyway.”

I rolled my eyes. They wouldn’t let me look at something I handled every day, but two days later when my uncle received a mailer from the Publisher’s Clearing House, he gave that to me and told me to figure out what magazines he needed to order to win.

“None of them,” I said. “I hate to tell you this, but it is a scam.”

“Well, I want Sports Illustrated and TV Guide, so see if their prices are good.”

I could price check magazine orders but not even see an insurance claim?

That evening, Granny knocked on my door.

“Don’t you breathe a word of this, but see what you can do.” She handed me the paperwork.

Were they really, finally, going to trust me with grown up stuff?

It took me a couple of days of making phone calls, but I managed to get the bill resolved.

When my uncle received the new revised statement, he was shocked. “The baby did this?” he asked.

“She did,” Granny said.

You would have thought that would have ingrained some level of trust in me, but no, I was still the family baby and any attempt to offer advice or suggestions continued to be ignored.

Mama sometimes ask my opinion, but then disregards it.

I have tried to tell them about things that would make life easier and they completely dismiss it.

But, let two people get the boot on my uncle’s favorite show and he knows who to ask.
“He still thinks all I know about is TV shows and frivolous things, doesn’t he?” I asked Mama.
“He just knows you can find out for him.”

“He knows I Google.”

“If I had a Google, he’d still want me to ask you,” Mama said.

You would think they would have a bit more faith in me, but in their eyes, I am still the baby.

At least to a certain degree.

When Cole was born, he became the baby of the family.

“No one listens to me,” Cole lamented one day. “I was trying to explain something to Nennie, but she didn’t believe me.”

I completely understood.

It looked like the baby torch was being passed off to very capable hands.

 

listeningman

If only they’d listen (2/4/15)

No one listens to me.

No one.

I kind of know how my own Mama feels.

“Do you ever feel like people don’t listen to you?” Mama asked me one day.

“What?” was my response.

She sighed, proving that giving birth doesn’t obligate one to listen.

“No one listens to me,” she repeated. “I tell people things, and they just look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Does that ever happen to you?”

Of course it happens to me.

I am a parent myself and I am married. I have two people right in front of me who think what I say is crazy talk.

“What are you telling them they aren’t listening to?” I asked.

“All kinds of things,” she said. “But they always think I am wrong.”

Again, I know how she feels.

I have told Cole to do – or more specifically, not do – something and he will do it anyway.

“Did you hear me when I told you not to do that?” I will ask him.

“Yes,” he will say, upset. “But I thought it would turn out differently.”

“How did you think it would turn out exactly?”

“The way I wanted it to.”

My husband is just as bad at not listening. I can’t tell you how many times I have told him something and he’ll completely disregard my warning. Like when I clean out the fridge and put leftovers in the trash.

“You need to take the trash out,” I will tell him.

“I will,” he will say, annoyed at my request. He forgets, we go somewhere and come home to three guilty looking girls and a floor littered with what looks like a small landfill exploded.

“I bet that makes you want to say ‘I told you so,'” I told her.

It did. She loves to say it, too. She has a roundabout way of doing it, with her, “Well, I am not one to say this but if I were, I would be saying ‘I told you so’ about right now…”

She has a dance that goes with it that is even more annoying but she hasn’t broke either one of them out in a while.

Probably because she hasn’t had the opportunity to do so lately; if she is right, about anything, I am taking it with me to the grave.

“You know what’s worse, Mama?”

She couldn’t imagine. My mother has been on a soapbox for as long as I can remember, spouting off her outrage at injustices and unfairness, promoting what she feels is everyone’s inalienable rights, even when it is something as trivial as to which way the toilet paper needs to hang, so she found it hard to believe there was something worse than someone not listening.

“When someone asks you for advice and then doesn’t take it.”

“Who does that?” she shrieked.

To Mama’s horrors, I told her about people who were always sharing their issues and complaints, their problems, and when given sound, logical advice chose to forego it and not listen.

“That would really tick me off,” Mama said. “If someone asked me what to do and then didn’t listen to my advice that would really make me mad.”

Of course, she has pretty much stayed mad at me since I was four for that very reason, but she wasn’t thinking about this fact and I wasn’t going to bring it up.

“How do we get people to listen to us?” Mama wanted to know.

Good question, I thought.

Cole even admits he doesn’t listen and defends his right to do so.

Once, another student stole Cole’s $5 bill out of Cole’s desk at school.

Cole got his money back, but when the principal was asking him about the money, Cole admitted he had put it in his pocket and forgot to take it out.

“Mama told me to, but I didn’t listen to her,” he told the principal sincerely. “I should have listened.”

“Oh, but you’ll know to listen next time,” she replied.

“I doubt it. I probably won’t then, either,” was his honest reply.

He has even told me, “I sometimes occasionally listen to you, but not every day and not always and only halfway.”

At least I know someone is listening, even if the consistency is sporadic.

“You don’t listen to Nennie,” he said, looking up from his Minecraft game. “So don’t go judging me for doing the same thing you do.”

True, young grasshopper, I thought.

When Mama told me something, even when she was meaning to be helpful, it was irritating, condescending, pandering, as if I was too foolish to know what to do. Her frantic calls and text messages urging me, “It’s raining – don’t leave the house,” or, one that really annoys me is her, “Supposed to be really cold tonight – make sure you’re warm.”

Why that annoys me, I don’t know, but it makes me want to run around in freezing rain barefoot while wearing shorts and a tank top.

Maybe it is some sort of inner child raging and rebelling in all of us – resenting when someone is just meaning to help.

I was considering all this until I heard a crash. I had just told Cole not to leave his plate balanced on the arm of the couch, and what happened?

I sighed and got the dustpan and broom.

If only they’d listen.

But none of us ever do.

http://www.dawsonnews.com/section/30/article/16051/