Thursday, August 30, 2007



"Emergence"

Four years ago this summer, in 2003, I started to think I might be an adult. I was 36.

Sure, I had been married for a few years, I'd been teaching at the college level for more than a decade, I'd been a homeowner several times over, and I had two kids. But up until that summer, a big part of my self-definition had always been as "daughter." However, after my dad died the previous winter, and my mom started spending more and more time in California, deepening her relationship with The Other Man, I underwent a clear separation from the influence of my parents--a separation that many people go through during adolescence. For me, my parents had always been such good friends to me that I never saw them, metaphorically, from a distance; I was their baby, even into my thirties, basking in their attention and love.

But then my dad died, and my mom started transforming herself into someone entirely new (Exhibit A: the morning after she surprised my dad by having divorce papers served on him, she got a nose job; I remind you she was 67).

I felt as though somebody had put Baby in the corner.

Fortunately, my corner was bustling with matrimonial pleasure and the swirl of small children and the enlivening presence of friends and entertaining, so the diminishment of my "daughter" role felt okay. Things had changed. Things do that.

Thus, although I felt orphaned from my previous relationships with my parents, many good things emerged that summer:

--First, I had a really big, healthy baby who gave his sister an outlet for her desire to squeeze and wuv. At age 3, she already had two avocations: babies and clothes. She was already, and I strangle as I write this, a mini-Nicole Ritchie...although I daresay Nicole Ritchie is a actually a mini-Nicole Ritchie, and my three-year-old already outweighed the real Nicole Ritchie, so maybe she was a Big Nicole Ritchie. At any rate, our Girl surely doted on her brudder and her ponchos and her embroidered jeans.


--Secondly, with complete mercenary intent (read: I didn't really care what I learned), I was taking a couple more graduate courses, one online and one through correspondence. I did this to earn enough credits to move over on the payscale at work; we would be needing more money, what with having to feed our lug of a baby and keep his handler in ponchos. My strongest memory of these courses pertains to the online advanced grammar course I was taking; every time I had to take a timed quiz, which only lasted ten minutes, I would get to the second question, only to hear Wee Niblet start his predictable yowl. For about three minutes, I'd sweat it out and let him yowl, as I muttered, "Okay, so I'm thinking about generative and transformational grammars here, not about how my breasts are leaking milk onto the keyboard. Screw the baby. Ace the quiz." Then I'd give it up, and as the clock continued to tick down the minutes, I'd race upstairs, grab him off the bed, and then nurse him at the computer while I frantically finished the quiz. The pudgy little bastard.

--Thirdly, even though our house measured in at under 1,000 square feet, our willingness to entertain and our sense of hospitality were equivalent to Oprah's Santa Barbara mansion in size--we had fourteen bathrooms and eight bedrooms...in our hearts. That June, during Duluth's yearly major event of Grandma's Marathon, we delighted in hosting out-of-town guests and filling the house with no fewer than 63 other random stoppers-by, many of whom were not the slightest bit interested in cheering on sweaty runners but, rather, who had heard the Legend of Jocelyn's Chocolate Dump-It Cake (frosting: melted chocolate chips stirred into sour cream, spread on top of the cake at least 1/2" thick). For Groom and me, happiness is a front porch piled high with piles of shoes and stacks of jackets, discarded there by visiting friends.



--Fourth, our backyard garden patch offered up a cornucopia of raspberries, and, as it turns out, picking raspberries is one of my avocations (that and ponchos). The canes had been untended until we moved in, and once Groom cleaned them up, their daily yield in August had me picking both morning and night. Naturally, a fridge full of raspberries demands that a cream cheese pie be made--and that friends be invited over to share in it, so long as they insisted on having "only a slice" and leaving the lion's share for us'ns.

Yes, it was a charmed summer, save for one thing.

The reality of my mother's new boyfriend also emerged.

It wasn't gracious or or fashionable or hospitable or raspberry-tinged at all.

When Mom and Beau decided to visit Minnesota to attend a high school reunion together, I realized this was my chance to affirm that I was still behind her, despite all the rips and tears in our relationship that had taken place with the divorce and my dad's subsequent death. I definitely wanted my mom and her "friend" to come to our home, where we could play out The Family Acknowledgement part of this new relationship.

Before their visit, I asked my mom what kinds of things Beau liked to eat and if he had any food issues we should know about and plan the menu around. The response was, "Beau says you should make a roast and potatoes. And he likes bread."

Um, okay. It appeared we were to put the recipe books away and just follow orders.

The evening of the meeting came, and, as the roast slow-cooked in the crock pot, we welcomed Beau into our home. He was chatty, which my mom liked in contrast to my dad. He was jokey though not funny, again a departure from my dad. He said, clearly and loudly, positive things about my mom, which my dad had rarely done.

And within five minutes, he had worked the words "Spics" and "Poofs" into casual conversation.

Indeed, he could not have been more unlike my tolerant father.

When the bigotry and homophobia emerged so easily, I was speechless. Then I experienced an all-over body flush, and not in a good way. Simultaneously, my brain started to spin around frantically, knocking against my skull:

"I can't just stand here and let him say those things in my house. I can't. It violates every value I hold dear. And he's saying those things in front of my kids, especially my impressionable three-year-old! This is unacceptable, and to remain silent would compromise who I am."

However, I did remain silent. In the midst of the tangled web of that previous year, with everyone in my family barely hanging on to anyone else, with so many misunderstandings and hurt feelings, this evening of deliberate acknowledgement of my mom's hard-wrought choices was huge. I couldn't see how to walk the line between my values and keeping my mother.

Hoping to compromise, I played around, internally, with ways to phrase my dismay to this stranger that my mother was thinking of marrying. How could I express my astonishment and upset in a way that wouldn't shut down our future as a family? (albeit one that would stand around awkwardly together at any rendezvous)

As I mulled over the options, Groom and I exchanged panic-stricken glances and then found ourselves, against our wills, distracted and entranced by the spectacle unfolding at the dinner table. See, not only was Beau racist, he was a bit of a pig. As he chomped on his roast and potatoes, he discovered he also liked the mandatory bread a great deal, to the point that he needed to eat seven pieces of it in quick order. Rather than asking that the board of bread be passed down to him from the far end of the table, though, he simply stood from his chair each time he wanted more, meat knife in hand, reached down the three feet of the table, across everyone else's plates, and speared himself a new piece. Seven times.

As it turns out, there comes a moment when awestruck silence is the best approach. We floundered through the rest of the evening, me with a hard nugget of sadness in my belly. In the past, I had been bewildered by my mother sometimes, but this was a new feeling.

This was disappointment.

I later asked her what she was doing with someone like that--pointing out that such language had never been used or accepted in the house I grew up in, that I had never seen bigotry tolerated from her before. My mother's response was that she just shut her ears when he started in; she didn't want conflict, so she said nothing.

This, in my view of the world, is nearly criminal. Yet I, too, had sidestepped conflict with Beau that night at our house. I had let it slide, in the hopes of some larger reparations.

Pretty quickly, though, I made up my mind that I wouldn't participate in the tacit support of his damaging views in the future. It just hurt too much.

Strangely, that whole episode--of being shocked by the new man my mom had chosen--ended up helping me understand her better. For her to abandon the values she'd lived by her whole life, just to have a boyfriend (her rationale for being with him, when I asked, was "He's a good kisser." I was very glad she was only acting sixteen and didn't actually have the eggs of a sixteen-year-old, or she'd have been pregnant within a month), well, it smacked of desperation.

Somehow, really getting how desperate my mom had been all those years, for affection from any male, well it softened my judgement into understanding. To sacrifice one's beliefs for a kiss--now that's tragic. That's lonely.

I did tell my mom how I felt and what I saw. Beyond that, it wasn't much my business. She was 68, had a new nose and a new boyfriend...and they were going to get married. In Reno. At a class reunion.

Shortly before the wedding, though, my mom called it off. She had realized that Beau not only kissed; he ranted. After extended harangues--she didn't order right at a restaurant one time, and she didn't put a stamp correctly on an envelope another time--Mom realized her stomach hurt a lot in this new relationship. Eventually, she realized he was borrowing a lot of money, not so much requesting it but rather telling her how much he needed. She also noted that he kept a lot of side relationships with other women brewing. So she called off the wedding.

Instead, she just shacked up with him in California. Rants continued. Money "lending" continued.

After more than a year, she moved out and got her own small apartment, Praise the Gay Dios! But they continued to date until just recently.

A couple of months ago, after they'd attended a bagpipe concert, Beau had a heart attack outside of his house, fell, and hit his head (something that's been known to happen after bagpipe concerts); as my mom dialed 911, he bled from the ears, and his lips turned blue. He died.

A few weeks later, another guy my mom went to high school with called. They've been dating now for a bit. The report is that he doesn't rant.

I haven't asked what kind of kisser he is.

Thus, four years ago this summer, the biggest thing to emerge was a need to be willing to renegotiate my relationship with one of the dominant people in my life. Continually doing that can be exhausting. But, heck, she attended every one of my piano concerts and cried in the audience when my Home Ec class had its fashion show. She could date David Hasselhoff and I, gulp, would still be there.

Mostly through email, though. A little distance never hurt anybody, especially when The Hoff is involved.

-----------------------

Wow. After all this typing, I'm a little peckish.

Pass the bread, woncha?

31 comments:

lime said...

ok, a couple thoughts for my psyche sister.....i agree that houses should be filled with many loving and fun friends and since i have a fondness for raspberries and cheesecake and god KNOWS i am ready to sell my soul for good chocolate i propose i come to visit you sin familia and then i will take your progeny with me to the crayola factory....what say?

now, onto more serious matters. i have had to negotiate many issues with my parents as relates to their divorce and many issues with mr lime's family as relates to violation to principles i hold dear. as you know, neither is easy. i am hoping you have reached around back to give yourself a pat on the back for choosing a way to find peace without compromising who you are. it's a delicate balance to find.

My Reflecting Pool said...

Welcome to the adult world baby!
A nose job in her 60's? Give your mom a hug, things must have been harder than imaginable.

It is obvious your mother taught you tolerance, after all you didn't beat her for her choices. And you kept a postitive relationship with her during it all. Couldn't have been easy.

Voyager said...

I would have been dying to give Beau a good smack upside the head. I admire you for not judging your mother. And your understanding of her motivation. A tricky tightrope you walked with finesse.
Ain't adulthood grand?
V.

Logophile said...

Mr. Logo and I recently noted that we've had company less lately than ever before and have been working on reversing that trend. We like having the people around too.
Re-negotiating is never easy and I love your outlook on it but come on, the Hoff? I don't know if I could take THAT!

Glamourpuss said...

Yes, I think itis imperative we renegotiate our relationships with our parents, and more often than not, it is up to us to be the grown-ups.

It's taken me years to forgive my mother, but you, well, you worked it out striaght off. That is inspiring.

Puss

Jazz said...

Your house is our house. Always open, always full.

As for your mother, it's great you didn't judge her, but personally I would draw the line at David Hasselhoff. Seriously, J, there are limits.

Diana said...

See, it'd be so very easy to just get caught up in the anger and the bitterness and not see it for what it really was, desperate loneliness and the need to be desired by someone. I'm really glad you were able to do so. Many daughters would't have been able to. I'm guessing your relationship with your mother is better as a result.

Of course, I could just be talking out my ass.

I hope she finds someone who truly makes her bloom. (Of course it goes without saying that someone should not be a bigoted pig nor have Smarmy Hollywood brewed deep in his soul.)

Em said...

Sometimes it sucks being an adult, huh?!? All that work to create new relationships with parents. Seems like there ought to be an easier way! LOL

Jill said...

I admire your maturity. I don't think I could have handled all the things that happened without things getting ugly. Your family is a lot better for it too. Bravo.

Theresa said...

First of all, that photo of Girl and Wee Niblet is adorable. That said, on to your mom's situation: I truly don't know if I could have kept my mouth shut and listen to that guy; I hate conflict, but he sounded like a real jerk. It must have taken a lot of determination on your part not to say anything, and that shows how much you really love your mom. I hope she finds what she's looking for, and that it's not David Hasselhoff.

urban-urchin said...

what gorgeous babies! come hang out with us at our tiny house on the east coast anytime. Is it wrong that I breathed a sigh of relief when I read about the beau dying? Yes,probably but- WTF? He could be related to my MIL, when I asked how her trip to Vegas was a few years okay she said, "Great, we saw the two fags with the tigers." ?!!

WSG said...

I'm sorry. If it helps, I know *exactly* how you felt about your mom's relationship with Beau. I've been there Anyway, I hope the new relationship is better, for your sake as much as for hers. But the best you can do for her is just support her and try to make her as happy as possible. Your kids aren't going to absorb bad manners or bigotry from spending a few hours around some boob, but they will benefit from having their grandma happy and active in their lives.

Good luck, hon. *Hug*

Jeannie said...

All I can say is...hey - if at 67 your mother was capable of finding a boyfriend who was also a good kisser, you gotta forgive her rose coloured glasses. Here at 48, I'm thinking that if something happens to my hubby, I'm alone for life...maybe not if I can overlook a few flaws...

jen said...

lessons (and inspirations) are all around us aren't they?

you. your mom. so many things.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Wow. It seems a couple of my blogging friends are intent on teaching me a thing or two about grace and love (you being one of them). I am humbled and appreciative. Very well and sensitively told.

Stepping Over the Junk said...

WOW. I can't believe he was so specific on what he wanted to eat. It wasn't like "I am allergic to shellfish" but more "Make me roast and potatoes!" Snort.

I love this post because since my divorce, I have actually "renegotiated" within myself, my relationship with my parents as well. Upon helping my mom move the last few days (I feel a post coming on about this), I have suddenly felt yet another transition in knowing her as a person and not just a mom. As in, role reversal.

Her Grace said...

I clicked over to you from Jen's at One Plus Two because I loved your comment there. I'm glad I did. I love this post and can't wait to check out your archives.

BeachMama said...

Kudos to you for taking the high road with your Mom's Beau. It must have been very hard and I don't know that I would have had the same Grace. I am sorry for her that he passed away, that must have been quite difficult. Hopefully her new Man treats her right and she can enjoy her time with him.

Claire said...

I can really relate -in the whole "geewhiz things sure have changed" Department. Long story short, My mother was alternately a good mom, a bad mom, an ok mom, a bad mom. I left at age 17 for the opposite coast. Then she was an ok and sometimes good mom. Now she is old and I am middle aged. She has morphed into a strangely child-like creature. She calls every week and tells me every little detail of her life and doctor's appointments. I am grudgingly taking the high road and trying not to think of all the times I was ignored. I am doing the Right thing.
This is what it seems to me you are doing as well. What else can we do with the women who gave us life?

Emma in Canada said...

What timing for this post! Today I met my father's ex girlfriend from when he was in his early 20s. They are going on holiday together. And although i find the whole situation somewhat odd, luckily she is no Beau. Definitely a nice Irish lady. But way too skinny.

mcewen said...

Excellent as always.
Best wishes

Whippersnapper said...

My step-mom-in-law uses the N word. A lot. And honestly, I think she uses it especially often around us because she knows it makes us cringe. For the sake of family harmony I don't say anything. That makes me cringe too, and also hate myself a little.

These stories are fascinating to read. Your poor mom. You're right, of course. She must have been terribly lonely.

Groom's a CUTIE!!

Diesel said...

"something that's been known to happen after bagpipe concerts"

Dammit, Jocelyn, you're not allowed to make me burst out laughing while the man is bleeding from his ears and his lips are turning blue.

frannie said...

you have to write a book--- every post you do, I am immediately drawn in and can't look away until I am done--- even if the little Drama is yowling!

choochoo said...

I've been thinking that I might be an adult, too. Actually I've been thinking that I might be turning into an old lady. Lately I've been so exhausted by 8pm, I'm pretty much ready for bed. Next time I'm at the salon, I might ask to have my hair dyed blue.

Mother of Invention said...

You negotiated well in a tough situation. I guess we never know how lonely it is when we lose a mate and what we're willing to trade off to secure another or "settle". It is sad when people compromise principles. Hope your mom fares better this time 'round.

Nice post.

Princess Pointful said...

Wow. These past few posts have been so amazingly insightful-- I can't even begin to imagine what you went through in those years, and how you managed to keep the love of family going despite all these enormous changes. It is hard to see you mother, of all people, making such fatal errors.

Ann(ie) said...

You are the best damn writer. And you always make me cry. But, I'm a sap so it's not entirely your fault. =P I've found in life that divorce can really change your parents as you knew them. It's still hard for me to get around my mother's tolerance of my stepfather and his family. I'm really not sure I'll ever understand it all. *sigh*

Great post as usual!!!

CS said...

Pass the berad? Just stand up and spear yourself a piece!

So, spics and poofs and a dinner order of roast beef? I am the kind of person who'd have cooked something else (anything else and gone from there. But I understand your desire to keep the peace. I'd ay karma got him in the end, but it wasn't instant enough. It's so hard to let go and watch your parets make foolish choices, isn't it. Sigh, grown-ups these days.

cathy said...

The worst thing about your blog is that you write really long posts and I have to read every word.
The best thing about your blog is that you write really long posts and I have to read every word.

I've got a horrible feeling that I am going to have to read this post again. I think that I'm in danger of becoming like your mum in 20 years or so.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

It sounds as if this guy was so wrong for your mother that the "universe" or whatever stepped in to save her, since she was unable to do so herself.

I read this with such empathy for you, and also for my own children who were forced to put up with a boorish and cruel tyrant during my long years as a single mother. I had been so wounded by those before him, starting with my family, that I was desperate for affection.

I cringe mightily when I think back to those horrible years, and feel deeply ashamed to have inflicted my insecurities on the people I loved most, my children.

I hope your mother has found someone worthy of your family this time. I'm sure that she is still the person you remember inside, and hopefully she has reconnected with herself again.

It is very difficult to keep quiet when someone spews prejudiced remarks in your home. I have been there, too, and felt as conflicted as you and Groom did. Atrocious table manners are also impossible to overlook because you can't correct your children without seeming to apply a double standard. Of course, you are not responsible for the manners of other "adults."

Great post, Jocelyn. Nobody writes better than you. I love coming here.