My daughter hates me.
It’s not that openly hostile I-hate-you-and-never-want-to-speak-to-you kind of hating. It’s more low-keyed, more subtle than that. It’s buried somewhere below the surface.
There’s a part in the movie On Golden Pond where Jane and Henry Fonda confront their relationship as father and daughter. Jane says “It’s just that we’ve been mad at each other for so long…” Henry responds with “I didn’t think we were mad; I just thought we didn’t like each other.”
It’s a relationship that was bad, and stayed bad throughout their lives. And it stayed so bad for so long, neither of them really even knew why any more. And when relationships are bad, it’s easy to find a comfortable place within that bad relationship — in fact, we may even embrace the bad because it’s all we’ve ever known. We’re uncomfortable when the bad relationship becomes better or good. We don’t know how to act.
When I was much younger, a teen, I always sensed that it would take next to nothing to destroy my relationship with my mother. For most of my childhood I fearfully and carefully walked on eggshells trying to avoid the anger, conflict and demonic wrath that my mother could so easily put forth. There came a point when I began acting out and rebelling, figuring I could just get it over with and stop tip-toeing around my life. It was emotionally and spiritually draining.
As an adult, I went back to the eggshells for about as long as I could stand it, until I could stand it no more and shut myself down and away from her, insulating myself from the constant hurt and rejection I felt.
I realized that I have come back to that same kind of relationship with my own daughter.
I feel compelled to preface this whole assertion by saying that, even as a newborn infant, Linda was fiercely independent. She was never snuggly or cuddly as a toddler and, by the time she started school, she was already more independent than many kids twice her age. Perhaps her aloofness is born of that independence.
My ex and I divorced when she was 8. There were 3 kids — Michelle was 11, Linda was 8, and Joe was 4. I told my children that I had asked their father to leave, that he hadn’t abandoned them, that they didn’t do anything wrong and that, if they needed to be mad at someone because of the divorce, to be mad at me. Big mistake there.
By the time Linda was 11, Michelle was giving me so many problems that most of my energies each day were focused on the bad behavior of one child instead of the good behavior of two. Michelle had taken me up on my invitation to be mad at me because of the divorce. Michelle’s acting out got so out of control, I sent her to live with her father. My mindset was that I had two other kids I was going to lose if I didn’t do something. Was it the right decision? In hindsight, I would say that, for Michelle, it was not. For Linda and Joe, it was.
We moved into the house we’re in now in 1991 — Linda had just turned 12 and was going into the 7th grade. I was working as a temporary at the time and, even though a morning off work meant a morning off without pay, I took the morning of the first day of school off so I could drive her to school and get her settled in. She was terrified and, I believe, needed me to take her to help her calm herself and so that she didn’t have to walk into that school not knowing where to go and looking (in her mind) foolish.
This was the same age when she began taking off whenever we went into a store. She would quickly find some other part of the store to occupy — any part of the store that did not have her mother or brother in it. And KMart? The worse! She once said she was afraid her friends might see her there. I asked her “But, if your friends see you there, doesn’t that mean THEY shop there too?” No amount of reasoning made her feel any better about being seen in public in the company of her mother.
I worked full-time hours as a temporary, had the Reserves one weekend every month, and worked a part-time job doing medical transcription out of the home. I worked my ass off, often into the wee small hours of the morning, so that Linda and Joe could have something that resembled a normal life. I was able to pay for Linda to be a cheerleader, for her uniform requirements, shoes, and everything else that came with it. I was able to pay for Joe to play football, along with all of those additional expenses. I never missed a home game for Linda and rarely missed away games. I was at all of Joe’s football games. I did all that I could, and as much as I could, and sometimes more. When Joe received a national academic award through the Pop Warner football program, I borrowed money for the trip to Disney for the award ceremony. I invested as much as I could in Linda’s senior year, in order for her to get as much enjoyment out of that experience as she could. I took time off from work to stay home and hug my daughter when her best friend was killed in an automobile accident. I helped make four proms happen for her. I made a car happen for her and, later, when she wanted a newer car, I co-signed the loan. I robbed Peter to pay Paul in order to pay Linda’s tuition at college. I stayed home so that my kids had a mother, and not someone who looked like their mother that flew in the door from work and back out the door heading for the next party or the next date. My kids were my priority. I knew my time would come later.
I don’t feel I did anything extraordinary. I have never looked at those years as having made any huge sacrifices. I did what a mother should do — and I would do it again.
I yelled a lot. I grounded Linda when she missed curfew. I sent her to her room sometimes because she made me so damned mad, I seriously thought I could just smack the shit out of her. I slapped her once when she said something so disrespectful that my mind just went blank. I remember hearing the crack and realized it came from me, from my hand, when it slapped her cheek. I don’t know who was more stunned. One other time I was so GD mad at her (she had a real mouth on her), that as I turned to leave her room I tripped over her stereo (why was it sitting in the middle of the floor, anyway?) and, in my anger, I kicked it several times. I may have lost my cool badly more times than these two (and likely did), but these two stand out in my mind. My point is, I did what I could. I did the best I could. And sometimes, my strength faltered.
After high school, Linda planned a trip out to Colorado to visit her father. I learned two weeks before she was to travel that she had no plans to return home. I heard it from Joe. Linda was going to fly to Colorado, and not come home, and had no intentions of telling me about her plans. I was devastated.
Conflict arose after Linda moved to Colorado and she wouldn’t speak to me — didn’t speak to me for at least a year. After 9/11 happened, I called my ex-husband’s house and asked his wife to have Linda call, to let me know she was okay. Linda called. I walked eggshells around her after that. She and her (now husband) boyfriend came out to visit in June of 2002. We had a good visit. But the eggshells were there. Along with some very thin ice. Not long after they returned back to Colorado, Linda informed me that she was pregnant. The morning little Brandon was born, she called me and I could hear the little guy in the background, indignant at having been pulled from his warm, moist hibernation. I cried. Happy tears. I flew out to see my new grandson and stayed with the kids for 2 weeks. Eggshells. (I feel compelled to note that I kept Linda on my health insurance throughout all this time because she was still in college — and were it not for that, she would have had some serious expenses. As it was, my health insurance covered her pregnancy and delivery in its entirety, as well as the first 6 weeks of the baby’s life.)
As time went by, we talked on the phone a lot. And always, as the conversation would turn to Joe, Linda would badmouth him. “That kid is as dumb as a box of rocks.” “He’s such a dork — that’s why he doesn’t have any girlfriends, they all think he’s an idiot.” It hurt me to have her tear him down like that at every opportunity. Linda and her fiancee were planning a wedding in June of 2004. That year, on Easter morning, I’d had all of that I could take of her badmouthing her brother and told her that, if all she could say about him was to tear him down, I’d appreciate it if she just didn’t say anything. It infuriated her.
She yelled at me, and I quote, “I hate you and never want to see you again.” Even now, in retelling this, I can feel the piercing pain in my heart that I felt at that moment. She later told me that I had never done anything for her, and that I was a lousy mother. And, the icing on the cake was when she told me that I was not welcome at her wedding — that i hadn’t earned the right to be there. The knife had not only pierced my heart, but had been twisted and twisted and twisted.
A few days later, Brandon (her fiancee) called to ask me to reconsider the wedding. He said that Linda felt really bad about what she had said and that she was sorry. I asked him “Then why am I talking to you instead of her?” He also said that she said “I hate you” a lot to him. And that makes it okay? When is it EVER okay to tell someone you love that you hate them, even if you don’t mean it. Those are three words that can never, EVER be unsaid and the effects of those words last a long time. So, we didn’t go to the wedding. How could we?
It took a year or two before things got smoothed over that time, but always the eggshells. On again, off again, on again, off again. Always the eggshells.
As it turns out, I have to stay well within Linda’s very carefully drawn boundaries and live up to the standards she sets for people and, if I do not, our delicate relationship is easily damaged for a long period of time.
Last summer, Lisa and I got married on the farm. Linda and Brandon and the boys drove here from Colorado. When they arrived, they stopped at the house and the kids had lunch, we chatted a bit, and they were off. And we didn’t see them for more than a week. It seems two of Linda’s friends had sent them money to help finance their trip, so Linda felt beholden to them. I was hurt. I was angry. I was furious that Linda hadn’t yet decided that her family was important to her. And I cried a lot. I got all of two days worth of time with them out of the nearly two weeks they were here. Linda recounts it as “…we split our time with you guys…” but we got the lowest possible percentage of that split.
Now, they’re coming again in June for her friend’s wedding. They won’t be staying with us because, as Linda put it, her other friend has more room, and besides the kids have a blast with their kids. (Translation, we don’t like your sleeping arrangements and it’s more important that the kids have fun.) She figures they’ll spend time with us over the weekend at the farm — when we have the least amount of free time. Frankly, I’m hurt that I’m an “obligation.” I cried a lot last night. Again. Sure, maybe I just need to get over myself, but I’m hurt. And Linda has always been very, very good at making me feel bad about me. I can admit that I don’t take rejection very well, especially by those who supposedly love me, and whom I love.
I had a really shitty childhood. I suffered abuse at the hands of my mother. I suffered unspeakable abuse at the hands of my step-father. I suffered abuse at the hands of my brother. Eventually, I suffered abuse at my own hands, until I was able to see what I was doing to myself. As Katharine Hepburn said to Jane Fonda in On Golden Pond,”Don’t you think that everyone looks back on their childhood with a certain amount of bitterness and regret about something? It doesn’t have to ruin your life.”
And she’s right. It only ruins your life if you let it ruin your life.
I didn’t speak to my own mother for fourteen years. I had to insulate myself from the hurt and rejection. But I had the opportunity to make my peace with her, and I did that. For the last 3 years that she was alive, I had her in my life. Eggshells. But she was there. Along the way we found a place where we could both be comfortable and still have the other in our lives. She had no expectations of me and I had none of her.
I feel that Linda has set some standard so high that I will never be able to live up to it. Her friends are fiercely important to her but, my perception, her family — not so much. She judges us because we can’t meet that standard. And if she is always judging us, she is pushing us away. And if she pushes enough, at what point will she no longer be able to find her way back to us?
I fear that time is closer than anyone could realize.