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.

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Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

That Mama’s Intuition (5/25/2016)

There was no getting past Mama.

The woman claimed she had eyes in the back of her head, which led me to dig furiously through her hair while she slept when I was a small child.

But Mama had a keen sense of when I was doing something I shouldn’t, was in trouble, or just all around in a pickle, often of my own doing.

I spent most of my earlier years wondering how my Mama knew what I was doing or more accurately, had done, outside of her presence.

And this was years, decades even, before we had the technology we have now.

No, Mama had her own GPS system that ran on what she called Mama ESP.

Once, when I was heading out with a friend, Mama cautioned us we better not be cruising with any boys, without looking up from her crossword puzzle.

“Oh, we won’t,” my friend replied.

A few hours later when we pulled back into the parking lot to pick up another friend’s car at the Winn-Dixie, there sat Mama, on the hood of her car, like a little skinny red-headed angry hood ornament, breathing fire from her Virginia Slim 120.

She tried to pull me from the backseat, the first of many occasions where she would try to pull me out of a moving vehicle.

“You lied!” she had screeched as she continued to try to pull me through the window. I am not entirely certain the window was even down but rather, she was executing something straight out of “The Matrix,” only about 20 years earlier.

I was embarrassed and more accurately, scared. I had been caught in a lie by the red-headed dragon herself. And I think she was going to do more than just put me on restriction or hide my phone.

Somehow, somehow, one of my friends saved me and used some Jedi mind trick to convince Mama to let me go home with her. I am still not sure how this happened, as Mama didn’t really like her, but the girl had pulled off a “This is not the droids you’re looking for” move with such aplomb, I would have thought she was Obi Wan Kenobi in the flesh.

When I got in my friend’s car, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know how you managed that, but thank you. You just spared the skin on my hinney.”

My friend shook her head, “I just don’t know how she knew where we were. It’s like she’s psychic or something.”

Or something.

I asked Mama the next day how she knew where I was. She was barely speaking to me and giving me the silent treatment which meant she scowled at me with disappointment most of the day.

“I have my ways,” was all she said.

“What ways?” I asked.

Was it smoke signals she sent out from her Virginia Slim?

Did they go to other chain smoking mothers to keep a lookout for daughters with rebellious attitudes, big hair, and too much makeup? And boyfriends who could be described pretty much the same way?

Whatever it was, she knew where to find me, and where I had been.

On a few occasions, this internal tracking system came in handy in circumstances that didn’t involve me being caught in a lie.

Once after going to a friend’s house to sit out by the pool, I suffered a pretty severe sunburn. I was miserable. I also may have had a slight case of sun poisoning. I managed to whimper my way through a late night run of “Pretty Woman” at the theater, but only because I was promised extra butter on my popcorn.

I wouldn’t dream of asking my friends to drive me 30 minutes back home; I had to be a trouper and tough it out. Besides, wasn’t this how you got a good base tan?

But all I wanted was my Mama.

She had never been to my friends’ house, and it was late; I couldn’t ask her to drive all the way out there after she had worked until 2 in the morning.

I was so busy whimpering I didn’t see the headlights of Mama’s car as they flooded the driveway at my friend’s house. Even though it was late, Mama drove out there to get me.
She gave me an emphatic gasp when she saw how burned I was. “Oh, dear,” she began. “I am so glad I came on to get you; you may need to go to the emergency room.”

“Did someone call you?” I asked.
Mama shook her head, gently leading me to the car. Everything hurt. I felt like I was overcooked and even my hair felt extra crispy.

“No,” she said.

“Then how did you know?….”

“A mother just knows,” she said.

She never told me how she knew, or how she found my friend’s house in the dark when she had never been there before. This was decades before cell phones with Siri and navigation, which even now, I am sure my now fluffy, slightly darker haired smoke-free dragon would mess up.

She took me home where it took me a week and a lot of vinegar baths from Granny to survive the burn.

I still don’t know how she figured all these things out.

Just the other day, I asked Cole something, very direct when I already knew the answer.

He gasped in horror. “How did you know that, Mama? Are you violating my privacy? I have rights you know!”

I hadn’t violated any rights.
I was a mother.

And some things, we just know.

When All Else Fails (4/20/2016)

Do you know what having the title ‘mother’ means?

Don’t think it means you are adored and revered – let me stop you right there.

No, it means you are the one whose advice, warnings, and wisdom is completely disregarded.

Whatever comes out of your mouth is ignored, causes involuntarily eye-rolling, and may cause stomach upset.

It’s more harmful to your health than the newest pharmaceutical.

“Don’t do that, you are going to get hurt.”

I think I wake up saying that some mornings.

“But –”

“No. No buts, just do what I say.”

Of course, I don’t know anything. I mean, what could a mother possibly know?

I can see the impending accidents that can occur and despite having no working knowledge of physics, can ascertain at what speed and velocity something will ricochet through the air to make contact with one’s head.

Maybe that’s mother’s intuition but who knows? That’s just as ignored as everything else.

“What don’t you put that up to keep it safe?” I ask.

“It’s alright.”

The next day: “Oh, man…that’s ruined…”

Really?

“Mama…can you get me another one…”

Unfortunately, no; that was the last one.

“Oh, man….”

“Didn’t I tell you?….”

Just the beginning of this phrase causes the rest of what comes out of my mouth to be muted.

Don’t try finding sympathy in the company of your own mother. If she is anything like mine she can remember every time you ignored her heedings. Mine will even side with my child just to pour salt in the wound.

“You never listened to me so why should he listen to you?”

“Maybe because I am right?”

Mama sighs, an exasperated, slightly dramatic sigh. “I am usually right, too, you know.”

“So far it hasn’t happened.”

Of course, when I was younger, I never thought for one moment she could be right. She was far too full of rules: telling me what to wear, what time I needed to be home, to watch what I was doing, and not stay up late on a school night. “If you know something is due, make sure you do it when you get the assignment – not the night before it’s due.”

I ignored her then, and, yes, I ignore her now.

“Make sure….have you…did you?”

Her statements are all peppered with constant warnings and advice.

“I am an adult, you know. I can do this,” is my retort.

A few days later – sometimes, it’s not even days but hours, actually – I am on the phone with her, asking her how to fix it.

“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t you listen to me to begin with?” she will ask.

How can I tell her that I am not supposed to listen to her? I am pretty sure it is written somewhere that while a mother can be adored and cherished, she is not necessarily listened to.

“Did you ever listen to Granny?”

She didn’t respond.

Granny would give Mama many words of wisdom, none of which my mother would take.

“She’s just being bossy and controlling,” is how Mama described the advice.

In hindsight, however, Granny was right.

She was right about a lot of things, like wearing a slip, even if you think you don’t need one so everyone else won’t see all your glory; never buying cheap shoes; and always making sure you look presentable before you head out, lest you want to run into everyone you know in town.

She was right and, as much as I hate to admit it, Mama is right about a bunch of stuff, too.

Having a son does increase the validity of what I may say, but not by much. I can tell my child what to do or, more accurately, not to do, and he will listen in as much as he feels applies to him and what he wants to do at that given time.

Our conversation usually follows a rhythm of me telling him not to do something and him declaring he knows what he’s doing.

This is typically followed by a thud or the sound of something crashing. “I’m alright,” he will call out, not too convincingly.

“Didn’t I tell you?…”

“Yes, Mama, you did…”

I sigh as I survey the damage. Wood floors can create pretty immediate bruising.

Didn’t I just tell him not try to run-slide in socks?

Did he listen?

Of course not.

When all else fails, just do what your Mama told you.

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/