This is long, it’s whiny, and it’s self-serving, so…you’ve been warned.
The amount of work I’ve gotten done over the last week amounts to zero words written, other than stuff on Facebook, and that doesn’t exactly count as work. Max’s book has come to a screeching halt, because every time I sit down and try to write, everything else starts clamoring for active space in my brain, and I can’t hear his voice.
Odd as it sounds, that’s how I write for him. I listen for that voice, the exasperated, snark-laden, sometimes compassionate but often bemused Max-voice. He’s just been very quiet this last week, and I’m not sure if it’s apathy or sympathy.
I suspect it’s because there are 1001 things that want to slip from my brain to my fingertips, and most of them are either boring, self-serving, unimportant, or unkind.
That last one, I try to avoid that more than the others.
A couple of evenings ago, I mentioned to a friend that I couldn’t seem to get started again; I have, somewhere in the back of my brain, most of the things that will eventually comprise Max’s next book, but I can’t reach them. Whatever is in the way refuses to move; it’s allowing for quite a bit of clutter to swirl around it, but it won’t get out of the way.
Grief does that, she stated simply. You wrote eloquently after your father-in-law and then when your father died. Maybe you need to sit down and write about your mother.
I’ve tried. But like I’ve said before, ours was a complicated relationship, and there’s no easy way to separate the good from the bad, or the pain from the joy.
I know. Sometimes it really is about the cookies, isn’t it?
And with that, she nailed it on the head.
I’m choking on cookies from when I was eight years old.
Look, I know we all screw up our kids. It’s a part of parenting; there’s no required class to take before you bring offspring into the world, no test to pass, no license to assure that you get it right. We’re all kind of floundering around, testing out our personal parental theories on the kids we spawn. We’re often wrong, sometimes horrifically wrong.
I cringe at some of the scars I likely left on my son. I don’t know any parent who doesn’t have a psychological trunk-load of mistakes, at least not parents who are honest with themselves. There are far too many instances of words I would like to take back, reactions I wish I hadn’t had, and stupid things I did.
For every one of them, I am a kind of sorry that there really are no words for.
I was filled with a lot of anger in my early 20s, anger that seeped into my 30s. I don’t think I realized it until the Boy was pushing 10 or so, and I don’t think I got a good grasp on it until he was a teenager; I don’t think I was really able to pinpoint where it came from until he was nearly grown, when I was trying to construct some simmering anger and uncertainty in a character I was writing for.
After one line in a book, where one character asks a specific question of another, and the answer that he responded with was not the answer I originally intended but one that burst out of me like a spent bubble, far too many pieces of my very own puzzle of angst fell into place.
When I wrote It’s Not About the Cookies part of my intention was to exorcise some of my own demons. Weaved into the fiction of that book is an incredible amount of truth; some of it is exaggerated, but much of it is not. My mother hated that book, and I understand why. What was supposed to be somewhat cathartic for me was pretty much like having her face shoved into a giant pile of Thumper-colored truths. As exaggerated as the realities spread through that book were, she recognized the kernels of truth, and hated them and hated that I would display them for public consumption. She was more than a little unhappy that anyone reading the book would think it was 100% true, and thought it painted her in an unfavorable light.
No matter how many assurances that 1) people are able to understand that there is always truth in fiction, but in the end it’s still fiction and 2) at least half the people who have read it hated it, too, and didn’t believe it was anything but a giant whine-fest with no truth to it, I don’t think she ever really forgave me for that book.
I’m all right with that. My intention was never to shove deep into her heart any daggers of my own insecurities and anger, but the facts woven into the fiction were undeniable. If she had been able to admit to any of it, she would have acknowledged that I barely covered the bases; if she had been able to see how big the little things really were, it might have made a difference, but I suspect her disappointment in the mere idea that I would publish anything at all like that clouded her vision.
Oh, hell yes, I am responsible for how that book made her feel. I don’t deny it. But I have to be all right with it, because in the end I wrote that book for myself. I’d hoped it would help me work through some of the issues I have.
If anything, it’s created more gristle for me to chew on, tasting things I’ve never been able to swallow. It pulled open in my head doors that I had shut, and pushed forward memories I wanted to keep boxed and taped closed. And when that happens, when the scars you have are throbbing, it’s hard to feel anything that was good.
So yes, my relationship with her was complicated; I want to write about the myriad of good that made up most of my childhood and teen years, but I haven’t been able to see past the scars in a very long time. There are still things that echo in my brain that I can’t get rid of; words that were probably never meant to sting but instead left knife-like wounds, and off-hand comments made that later elicited firm denials but are carved into my deepest sense of self.
And all of that, everything I’ve written to this point…that’s my baggage. It’s the detritus that’s kept me from being able to really write about my mother.
I can tell you this: I know, without a doubt, that she loved me. She didn’t like me—and no, I don’t need anyone to tell me that she did, because I’ve heard the truth right from the source—but she did love me. And I know that more than half of the things said to me through my childhood and teen years were only symptoms of her own unhappiness, and she either didn’t realize how much of that she was pouring onto her kids or just didn’t see it.
I honestly think she didn’t know that a lot of what she did wrong was wrong, and I suspect that she would have taken it back if she had.
The legacy she left was rich. In spite of everything, she sent out into the world some pretty terrific kids. My sisters are people with whom I would choose to be friends even if I hadn’t been raised with them. We’re all vastly different people, but in good ways.
My sisters have raised kids who are everything a parent wants; I raised a son who is a good man, and he’s exceptional in spite of my own parental shortcomings. I think we were able to do that because we had an idea of what not to do, but more than that, we were able to raise such wonderful people because we all knew that no matter what, we were always, always loved.
I suspect that I will write more about it all later, while I work through it. Just know that in spite of how this all sounds, I know my issues are my own; I know she loved me, and I truly, deeply, loved her.