Sunday, May 26, 2024


I was thinking about the conversation at the party about the jealousy in some mother/daughter relationships, and I remembered that Joyce Carol Oates just captured the whole thing in the opening paragraphs in the short story, "Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been."

Her name was Connie. She was fifteen and she had a quick, nervous giggling habit of craning her neck to glance into mirrors or checking other people's faces to make sure her own was all right. Her mother, who noticed everything and knew everything and who hadn't much reason any longer to look at her own face, always scolded Connie about it. "Stop gawking at yourself. Who are you? You think you're so pretty?" she would say. Connie would raise her eyebrows at these familiar old complaints and look rightthrough her mother, into a shadowy vision of herself as she was right at that moment: she knew she was pretty and that was everything. Her mother had been pretty once too, if you could believe those old snapshots in the album, but now her looks were gone and that was why she was always after Connie.

"Why don't you keep your room clean like your sister? How've you got your hair fixed—what the hell stinks? Hair spray? You don'tsee your sister using that junk."

Her sister June was twenty-four and still lived at home. She was a secretary in the high school Connie attended, and if that wasn't bad enough—with her in the same building—she was so plain and chunky and steady that Connie had to hear her praised all the time by her mother and her mother's sisters. June did this, June did that, she saved money and helped clean the house and cooked and Connie couldn't do a thing, her mind was all filled with trashy daydreams. Their father was away at work most of the time and when he came home he wanted supper and he read the newspaper at supper and after supper he went to bed. He didn't bother talking much to them, but around his bent head Connie's mother kept picking at her until Connie wished her mother was dead and she herself was dead and it was all over.

The story is a masterpiece, of course.  Connie doesn't end up doing very well in the end, but I'll leave it to you to read the story if you care to.  

Freud, of course, wrote about children's' competition for their parent's affection calling it the Oedipus and the Electra complexes.  It was shocking, at the end of the 19th century, for anyone to suggest children had an unconscious, latent sexuality and would feel competition with their same sex parent.

But what had been written about jealous mothers?  Well, there was "Snow White," of course, in which the wicked stepmother was originally Snow White's own mother in the 1812 version but changed by the Brothers Grimm in the 1819 edition.

The story goes back, however, much further than that.  

So I used The Google.  And there it was.  Everywhere.  The dirty little secret, they said, that people did not like to talk about.  There were variations, of course, but. . . and here we go. . . a narcissistic mother gaslights her daughter. . . .  Familiar?  Yea.  We hear the terms bandied about all the time.  

But according to my Googling, it is not so uncommon as one would think.  Motherhood and maternal instincts don't necessarily go hand in hand.  To wit: an insecure mother becomes jealous of her daughter's beauty, intelligence, and success and so she either overtly or covertly tries to discredit and undermine her.  It can take various forms.  She might be dismissive or controlling.  She might become too enmeshed in the daughter's life and become competitive, or she can overstep boundaries and give her daughter no individual space.  She might become unreliable, dismissive, and emotionally unavailable.  She may become jealous of her daughter's relationship with the father who will consequently be doting or, conversely, emotionally removed.  

The end result, however, was most surprising.  I was gobsmacked, really.  Why had I never thought of this before?  How in the world?  Daughters of jealous, controlling mothers, are (duh) often emotionally damaged and have troubles with intimacy.  They often develop trust issues, are insecure, and ascribe their subconscious feelings toward their mother onto their partner, accusing them of possessing "narcissistic personalities" and declaring that they are "gaslighting" them.  

Alright.  O.K.  I've always joked that my first question to women has been, "Did your daddy treat you bad?"  But I've been asking the wrong question, haven't I?  I just don't know how I could have been so off.  

Well, I guess therapy could help.  There was some great advice.  "First, recognize the problem."  Ho!  

"I like to take the money up front."

My favorite phrase of the day was "emotional incest."  Now there's a few years worth of therapy right there.  

As one famous actor so infamously replied to a talk show host who asked if fifteen years in Freudian psychoanalysis had helped in any way: "Well, I now think about the person I'm actually with when I'm making love."

Cue the laugh track.  

I had to quit reading about it, though.  It was time. . . uh. . . uh. . . to go see my mother.  

She was not doing so well.  She thinks that she is suffering some damage from falling on her head.  I've read up on it, and it scares me.  I suggested "we" might want to go to see a neurologist.  My mother didn't object.  I'm going to suggest it to her GP when I take her back in a few weeks.  

I am thinking too much lately about illness and death.  

I decided I needed to get out for a bit after sitting with my mother, so I went to my favorite sushi place.  

 Japanese comfort food.  Sitting alone at the sushi bar, however, my mind was racing with memories.  I looked around.  The place was full.  I looked at the women and wondered if they had loving or manipulative mothers.  It was a 50/50 proposition according to what I had read.  I wondered if I could tell.  Was there a giveaway?  Women with mommy issues, they say, try to be overly pleasing.  They seek to be liked and seek the approval of others.  Well, fuck.  So what does one do, go for the mean ones?  The girls and younger women were all smiling, laughing.  The older women seemed more strained.  Were they sorry they had children?  Did they feel they'd given up the things in life they really desired?  

Questionnaires given to people who had grown children came back with an overwhelming "yes."  

"It wasn't worth the sacrifice," they said.  

That doesn't mean, though, that they were all bad parents.  

My waitress was very friendly, and I wondered.  

There, at a table just behind me, was a woman I have written about here before.  She has been at the bar of my favorite Italian restaurant most times I've gone.  She is probably in her sixties and always very wonderfully and expensively dressed, not flashy at all, but quiet and understated.  She has perfectly coifed white hair as in the pages of Italian Vogue (the only good one).  I commented that when she took off her sunglasses, the effect just disappeared as her eyes seemed to be pinched up in crazy, awkward angles.  That, however, must have been shortly after the surgery for now they have relaxed and there is nothing awkward about them at all.  She has the skin of a newborn.  

She was sitting in a booth next to a woman of her own ilk, long white hair attractively pulled up in a loose bun, white blouse delicately unbuttoned, and the manners of a relaxed aristocrat.  Across from them sat a silent man whose face I could not see, but he did not seem to be part of their conversation.  

Had they had children, I wondered?  Had they been loving mothers or had they felt a sense of competition?  

I could not imagine either thing.  They seemed to me to have always been that age, carved from alabaster.  

Well. . . you know the verse.  "This Be the Verse" by Phillip Larkin.

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.

Good advice, I'd say. Just think how lovely things would be if nobody had ever had children. At least in the past, parents didn't really have time to know their children.  They pretty much left them alone except for the occasional beating.  But by and large, in my neighborhood at least, kids were told to go outside and play.  I don't remember any doting parents like I see now, parents that want to be an intimate part of their children's lives.  People didn't post pictures of their little darlings, of course.  They hardly ever took photos of them.  I know people who have none at all.  

And there is nothing wrong with us.  No, siree.  We're all just as fit as a fucking fiddle.  

Did I ever tell you my band opened for Lauper at a university concert one year?  Ha!

1 comment:

  1. I think you may be retarded as well as autistic.