I have been writing stories about the imp inside me, the fun loving, bright being who never seemed afraid, who was impetuous and daring, who seemed to easily handle life and its iniquities. She was the light side of my normally quiet and withdrawn child self. Today I leave her for a more serious subject: Mother.
In his blog earlier this week Chuck wrote of a man’s relationship to mother and how crucial it is that he separate from her and go on into life fully available to have a true relationship with another person freed of his infantile attachments to mother. In the end he must return to mother and love her from his separateness in order to achieve full masculinity. Whether his mother was a good mother or a bad mother is not important; a man still needs to rid himself of his attachments to her if he is to truly individuate and wholly become who he is. For women it’s a different scenario.
Women have an initiation ceremony built into their DNA. Somewhere between the ages of 10 and 16 a female begins to menstruate. This is the initiation into womanhood. Like all women before them, every young girl has to accept and deal with monthly bleeding for a good deal of her adult life. Some initiation! It lasts a very long time! I remember reading a little booklet my mother gave me when I was about 11. The phrase “you’re a woman now” still sticks in my head. Just like that, I was a woman! Just like that I was like my mother. But I did not want to be like my mother!
I did not have a good witch for a mother. I got a bad witch for a mother. If you have read my books, and especially Place of No Pity, Volume 4 of The Recapitulation Diaries, you know what I’m talking about. She was harsh and neglectful, not the kind of mother I wanted, not the kind of woman I wanted to grow up to be. Nonetheless, she was the mother I got and the mother I had as a role model. I was however always at heart a kind and gentle soul, even when I was being an imp.
The shamans would call the type of mother I got a petty tyrant. A petty tyrant is someone whom you probably hate for what they do to you, for the way they torment and belittle you, but may later realize that they taught you a great deal about how the world works and, most importantly, about how you yourself work, as they relentlessly and cruelly force you to face what you are most afraid of, most angry about, most resentful about, etc. When you cease to blame them for all your problems you may begin to see just how good they are at making you confront every uncomfortable and disagreeable thing about yourself. The petty tyrants of the world are the projections of all that we must sift through if we are to achieve our wholeness. For a woman, the kind of mother I got presented quite a challenge.
During my childhood I dreamed about other mothers, wove fantasies about the perfect, loving mother, the caring being I longed to have in my life. These fantasies got me through a lot of terrible times, as I could always envision a good and comforting mother in times of need. These loving mothers, fantasized though they were, became good role models, based on my own feelings and perceptions of what a good mother would be like. So even though I got a bad witch for a mother I was able to construct images of good witches who came to my rescue when needed.
As I grew into adulthood I had to figure out how I was different from the mother I got, just as I had to figure out how I was like her. For I am, in many ways, just like my mother. It has taken me a long time and a lot of work to accept this fact, that I too have the bad witch inside me. Though I have tended toward the good witch side, the bad witch has popped out often enough. I can truly identify with my own mother. At the same time, I had to extricate from deep within myself who I truly was, separate from her. For I am truly not my mother, I am me! And that’s where individuation takes place for the woman, in both accepting that she is like her mother but that she is equally her own being with her own emotions, feelings, and beliefs based on her own experiences in life, totally separate from mother.
My mother is still alive. Nearing 94 she now lives in a nursing home. Since my father’s death 12 years ago she came back into my life in ways I never imagined. Never a good driver and having not driven in 15 years or so at the time of my father’s death, she needed someone to take her everywhere. After a few years of accommodating her from afar, it became clear that she needed to be closer to me. Although I have many siblings I am the eldest daughter in the family and the one she calls upon most often. We moved her out of the family home and into a small apartment nearby. For several years she lived there in the company of her cat and some very nice neighbors, one or two of whom she grew fond of, until it became clear that she could no longer care for herself. Too many accidents and near fires paved the way for the next stage.
It soon became clear to me, as my mother’s demands and needs encroached on my own life, that I was not yet done with my mother. I was not going to be able to just walk away from the bad witch. We still had things to live out together. What they are continue to unfold to this day.
Demanding and petulant, like a spoiled child, she has relied greatly upon the kindness of my heart. I have met in her every permutation of the bad witch. Very rarely, she has thanked me or told other people how much I have done for her. It’s a rarity, but it does occasionally happen. However, most of the time I am the target for all of her own unresolved inner disturbances, resentments, and regrets. It can be pretty hard to be in a small room with a woman who did horrible things to you and still love her, have compassion for her, and be kind to her while she’s belittling you, laughing at your clothing, commenting on your hair, or angry because you didn’t invite her to Thanksgiving. And yet I accept all of this from her, for in her own way she has been my greatest teacher in what it means to be a woman, a mother, a lover, a kind and compassionate being.
To this day, though I sometimes quake in my boots at the sight of her angry demeanor and the mood she’s in when I visit, I am grateful for all she still teaches me. Indeed, I truly am a full-fledged woman because of all that I have learned from her about being a woman. She has often been an excellent example of how not to live, but also how to stoically face what must be faced. Every time I see her I must face myself at her age, in her physical condition, and wonder, “how will I face what she faces every day? How will I choose to face my death? How will I live out the last days of my life?” She is my greatest advisor. She has given me a lot to mull over, and I still learn things about myself and about being a woman from her.
So, to get back to the point of this blog: women, though we are naturally initiated into womanhood, still have to learn to be the woman that we truly are, biologically alike and yet totally separate beings from our own mothers.
I had to find a way to fully embrace and live life as my kind and loving self, the gentle soul I really am, so different from the mother I got. I had to learn to be this kind and loving being toward her too, even after discovering and understanding the truth about her.
But even as a child and living in my mother’s house I was always kind to her, from the time I was very young, complimenting her on her clothing or hair, and every evening at the dinner table I always told her how delicious the food was, without fail. It was almost expected. The meal could not be eaten until I had delivered my opinion, always positive, and she said, “Thank you, Jan.” Only then was the meal consumed in earnest. In a sense, perhaps a part of me was trying to placate the bad witch, being nice so she might be nice in return, but the truth is, I always meant what I said. I really am a kind person and always was, that too is in my DNA.
I am a kind and gentle soul partly because I have had the greatest petty tyrant of a mother to teach me how to be that way. She pushed me, through her neglect and cruelty, to find and embrace my true self, the kind and loving being I am, the part of herself that she always seemed to reject. For some reason that she has not ever revealed she has hated herself and been exceedingly hard on herself. But she was not going to let me be like her. In her own strange, unintentional way she made sure of that.
I often wonder how evolved a being my mother might actually be. The possibility exists that she planned and accepted the role as one of my petty tyrants in this life, and the truth is, it benefitted me! I thank her for that. And yes, I do love her.
A blog by J. E. Ketchel, Author of The Recapitulation Diaries