You can’t make this stuff up. Or at least I can’t.
I’ve tried a couple of times to write fiction. Does NOT work. Maybe it’s a lack of imagination, though I like to think it’s just an endearing personality defect: I can’t seem to make things up. I can’t lie; I can’t even equivocate any more. Used to be that if I felt like hiding something, you had to ask me a focused, direct question to be sure you were actually getting the truth from me and not some carefully crafted weasel-words. Now, I can’t even do that. Seriously inconvenient, let me tell you.
But I digress.
So I told you all recently that I’m working on “mother issues,” which I most assuredly have. It’s not been easy to see them, but they’re finally sneaking out into the light, in some very odd ways.
The last few weeks I’ve been trying to focus on the part of my psyche that represents my first year or two of life. That little infant is terrified! And understandably so. I spent a couple of months of my first year in the hospital, for seizures or something that no one was ever able to explain to me. And Mom was depressed during most of my childhood. So it’s no wonder that poor little Baby Kay has issues.
So I’ve been “carrying around” Baby Kay during my daily routine—just holding her, talking to her, trying to make up for some of the mothering she didn’t get. It seems she holds in her tiny fists some of the answers to my painful jaw. What does she want and need? She has no words, and I have zero experience with babies….
Watching the baby, I have realized that the dreadful, crippling anxiety that I experience more often that I’d like to admit is also linked to her.
Any time I try to make a decision, even something insignificant, or any time anything—even the tiniest thing—changes or shifts in my world, or even in my daily schedule, Baby Kay starts to fuss and cry and get panicky. It’s so bad that just trying to figure out what time of day I should go see the horses is a frightening event for that baby.
I’m not kidding.
I don’t know enough about the psychological “why” of this to talk about it at this point. What I do understand is that it’s a really good metaphor for the way I am in the world—that internalized baby is terrified! She is so scared. Any time the mother (my adult self, at this point, or the internalized mother, my image of the mother, the baby’s image of the mother…) tries to do anything at all, any time anything shifts and the baby feels the least bit insecure, then panic sets in. Sometimes actual panic—and a terrible, gripping anxiety in my gut that just freezes me in my tracks.
Well. That explains a lot.
And then there’s this morning’s events. This is the part that you just can’t make up … and it’s the real wonder of working with the imaginal the way that I do. I love being able to feel the connection with ancestral figures and images, and to be able to “see” the dialogue taking shape in outer events.
So on the way home from the Metrolink stop this morning, I recorded some thoughts (thank goodness for the app on my cell phone!). What follows is edited down from the transcription:
I’ve been holding Baby Kay (who is, as always, anxious and fussy) and bouncing her around, talking to her, playing with her a little, getting her to at least look around instead of just squinching up her eyes and screaming. And all the while, I’m aware that my mother is nearby—my actual mom, Mary Ellen, not just my internalized mother. I can sense her with me in the car, and as I drive I’m able to feel at least part of what my mom must have felt when she held me….
Mom, as a teenager and young woman, was vibrant, serious, and determined; she had ambitions for her future, though she never told me what they were. Then she fell in love and married…and, I think, still believed her dreams could come true. But suddenly, holding her first-born in her arms, the realization must have hit home: the realization that nothing else was now possible. All her dreams and ambitions had come to an end. In the fifties, cultural expectations for women did not include motherhood AND a career. Mom and Dad both were conservative and cared very much about living up to the cultural norms.
How ambivalent she must have felt about that baby, my infant self.
I know my mother loved me—loves me still. But it wasn’t an easy, free, happy and joyful thing. A lot of the time, at least, it was mixed in with grief and anger, which moved into depression (which always follows when you can’t do anything about the anger, when there’s no action you can take). So here she’s got this screaming infant—and a sickly one, to boot!—and she’s trapped. There’s no way out…
At this moment in the recording, I’m sitting on the driveway. The car engine shuts down and you can hear the sound of the door handle…which does NOT open.
…and all of her dreams are gone, and … I’m not sure what’s going on here…. What’s my car doing? [Sound of car being turned on and off again, twice….]
“I’ve got to go. My car has locked me in. I’m not sure why my car has locked me in.” [half-jokingly:] “I’m trapped! Oh no!” and the recording ends.
What happened, apparently, was that I had inadvertently hit the “lock all doors” button … and for an instant, I was truly terrified because I couldn’t get out—I was trapped. Wow….
Transcribing this, I found tears very close. Mom, thanks for this graphic demonstration, or reminder. I love you, and I’m grateful for your help as we—yes, WE—work through this….
And as I type that, the sun comes out weakly, briefly, from under the clouds. Wow…. You can’t make this stuff up.
Kaye- I am glad you posted and that you are sharing your growing consciousness. You are now eligible to join that elite club “Women Who Are Working Through Their Mother Complexes”. The good news is you’ve already paid your dues, now you can just enjoy the consciousness raising!
I identified with many of the issues you raised. I too had a mother who was born too soon to enjoy the career benefits of the Women’s movement and perhaps suffered from post partum depression following my birth. The societal roles to which mothers of the 40’s and 50’s (and certainly before) were limited not only affected them but us as well. I too am working on nurturing the child within. It’s a challenge, but I am encouraged by your writing to continue. Thank you for sharing.
Thanks for your comment, Ann. It really is a challenge–NO part of this is easy!–but it’s really worth it, for ourselves and for them, too. Hugs!