Around 1981, my mother took a cooperative extension course near her home in Charlotte, NC; I don’t even know what the topic was. What my sisters and I DO recall, though, is that it had a profound, and, from our point of view, negative impact on her.
The message she received from the class was that she was a bad mother. She worked outside the home most of the time when we were growing up. She left her children with HER mother for the bulk of the day. She wasn’t much of a cook – because her mother, who was pretty good, didn’t bother to teach her – so couldn’t share this with skill with her children.
The first time she mentioned this to me, when I visited the family early in 1982, I thought she was kidding. But she brought this up
time and again. In 1984, I remember spending a whole train ride from Providence, RI, where a cousin had graduated from college, to New York City, where we rendezvoused with the rest of the family, trying, and failing, to convince her of her positive qualities.
After a while, my sisters and I developed some pat, and perhaps snarky responses to her ridiculous narrative:
“Mom, we all turned out fine, so you must have done SOMETHING right!”
“You were not around all the time, so we appreciated you when you WERE there.”
“Hey, none of us are in jail. We didn’t end up as mass murderers, or anything. So there’s that!”
This litany of hers went on, off and on, for perhaps a decade and a half; I specifically remember addressing this topic as late as 1996, because I probably said something such, “You have to stop beating yourself up over this! We’re not unhappy with you, but we’re sad that you’re so unhappy.” This wasn’t the first time my sisters and I had said that, but I don’t recall her launching into this particular diatribe, at least with me, again.
Still, I’m pained that she could be so susceptible, for so long, to someone else’s script. I knew that she could be emotionally squeezed by her mother and her husband at times. Still, this (bogus) message from a stranger really stifled her self-confidence at times.
As I remember my mom, two years after she died, I wish she could have listen more to her own voice.
Mark Evanier, his mother, her ophthalmologist, and a certain cartoon character, which is a fun story.