I was the “this is my daughter, she’s a lawyer” object to impress friends. I was also the one who was “not married” and would “never produce a grandchild.” Such are endured by many a young woman, and I place no especial emphasis on them as harbingers of some future face off.
But the beginnings of the end started when I converted to the Catholic church. Since my parents were never ones to “talk” about the past, I had no idea whether I had ever been baptised. I assumed not, but it was made clear that I needed to know.
I called Mother to confirm that such was not the case. In a strange prescient moment, she responded, “well just don’t end up being a nun or something.” I laughed, assured her that nothing was further from my mind and soon joined the ranks of the newly baptised at the age of 43. It was several months later when I felt the call of the convent.
In a conversation some months after that when I was beginning that process, I mentioned that, ironically, in fact I had decided to join a religious community. Her reaction was short, sullen and non-communicative. In later years I asked her why she was so unpleasant about that choice, and her only response was the “way I had announced it.” I still have no clue what that was about.
What followed were another couple of instances of intense criticism, unwarranted and in the end, simply glossed over by her as if they had not occurred. Such was her way. She would blow up over some perceived insult, only to find in a day or two that she was wrong, and yet she never could make the call and say she was sorry for her outburst of anger, so misdirected. She even at one point claimed that I could not at my age enter a religious community, per some unknown “friend.” I learned as always, it was simply best to not respond.
Things started to unravel rather quickly after I decided that I in fact was not called to such service. I had met and fallen in love with a man from Connecticut. I called to tell her that I would be moving to that state and that I had cancelled plans to join the Dominicans. Her response was bizarre to say the least.
She was purely ecstatic. She was thrilled beyond words. She did not ask his occupation, his previous marital history, whether he had kids, his age, ethnicity, or anything whatsoever. It didn’t matter. I was finally “attached” to a man. I had of course been “attached” to several men over the years, but somehow this one mattered, since it saved me from the church, which apparently was important.
I was appalled frankly at her lack of concern about any particulars. I told her I would call when I arrived in Connecticut, and I did so. But the more I thought, the more this all seemed so exceedingly crazy that it required more thought.
What was this relationship? Clearly there was no interest in my happiness, or even safety. There was only one issue: was I living a life that met with her approval–which validated her own perhaps? It was never explained and I was unable to see any mothering or indeed any relationship whatsoever to preserve.
Since, as those of you who have read through the pertinent sections of the autobiography already know, the relationship was over before I arrived in Connecticut, I was loathe to explain this event. I could not bear, given my fragile state of mind, what might ensue should I admit that the hoped for marriage would not be occurring. Somehow it would all be my fault of course, and since I felt no responsibility for the demise of said relationship, I was not ready to withstand the torrent of blame that would come.
So I lied, or more to the point, didn’t bring it up during those couple of conversations that were initiated in the early months of my life on the east coast.
But as I said, as I pondered this thing called a mother-daughter relationship, I saw nothing to preserve, and out of sheer avoidance, the next time she called, I didn’t pick up. The next time, I avoided it as well. She was never good at even the easiest of technological innovations, so she never left messages on the answering service. I became simply “never there” when she called.
It became easier, and easier, and more difficult to contemplate actually explaining my “unavailability” for so many months. I decided to make it permanent. I of course later met the Contrarian and moved to Iowa. She is aware that I am now married, is thrilled, and understands that I wish no contact.
That is how it stands. As a Christian, I periodically think about it, and often decide I’m not honoring motherhood as I should. That somehow, I should stick it out, and make allowances. Yet, I cannot bring myself to open up that can of worms again. I cannot bring myself to willingly offer myself up to that “motherly criticism” offered so easily, and always without request.
I don’t feel sorry for myself. One is dealt the cards one is dealt. I wish things were other, and I wish I had the relationship I sometimes see between other mothers and daughters that I know. But I don’t dwell on my misfortune. I am not the least unaware that another woman could have handled it where I could not. The blame is partly mine.
My cousin offers the example of one who faced similar nonsense from his mother, but firmly dealt with it, without shutting the door. Grandchildren may have had something to do with that decision, and I would probably have not made the drastic decision I did had there been children involved.
Still, I return to the decision, as I said, from time to time, and I only ask for God’s forgiveness, for I feel sure that I’ve not done the right thing. But I also feel I did the only thing for myself. I feel at peace with my decision. I simply refused to be part of a toxic relationship.
It is a fine line between honoring parents and honoring self. I hope others are not called to make such a choice as I, yet, I have now a measure of self-respect, pride, and strength that I had not before. That soothes me in the those moments of doubt. I have been, to that degree authentic to my self.