My mother used to tell a few stories about me, about when I was a baby. She relayed them with a chuckle, as if they were humorous. Typical silly stories; you know the kind. About the darnedest things that kids do and say.
Initially, I laughed. But later…upon reflection…well, you can see what you think and make up your mind for yourself.
One of her favorites, she told of the day when a few of her co-workers were coming by the house to see me for the first time. She wanted to look like a good mother. A mother who had everything under control. And she did…until I sabotaged her (her words). She had me all dressed up in a cute little outfit, bathed and smelling like sweet, powdered baby. But moments before their scheduled arrival, I started crying. Wailing! Nothing would console nor deter me from sobbing…loudly. Which is when she realized my diaper was wet. Very wet. Exasperated, she unpinned the sopping diaper and wiped my bottom. At which point, I pooped. All over everything. Including her; her new dress. A massive and stinky, horrible poop as only a baby can. I exploded. And then the doorbell rang. Mid-change, no way to quickly clean up the mess I made. She had to answer the door with a naked, crying baby in her arms and with poop all over the front of her and running down her leg. Everyone looked horrified and she was completely humiliated. Her expression and explanation, not mine. All she wanted was to look good in the eyes of her co-workers and I totally messed up her plans, making her look incompetent and out of control.
She did laugh a little when she told the story.
Another story she liked to tell was of an evening when she and my father were watching a very exciting movie on television. I was about 2-1/2 and was playing on my rocking horse. Playing and playing and playing as they watched the movie. I kept inching forward until I was between them and the TV. Frustrated, they would drag me and the horse back over to a corner of the room, then resume watching their show. After the 3rd of 4th time, I finally slid off the horse and waddled over until I was between them and the television. At which point, I raised my arms into the air, pointing my index fingers straight up, shook my arms and said, “Look at me! Look at me!”
She laughed a bit more genuinely when she told this story.
She also loved to tell everyone how, even at the hospital, I had my antennas out. How I focused on every person who came to view me through the nursery window and carefully checked them out, even though babies are not supposed to be able to focus. She said I came out of the womb tuned in to frequencies others seemed not to hear.
No doubt, this was due to her superior baby-making capabilities.
As an example of my antennas, she told the story of their brief move to Idaho, where my father had accepted a teaching job. I was a baby and they laid me down to sleep in the back of their station wagon as they drove into the night. About midnight, they stopped at a gas station to fill the tank when suddenly, a man in a car at the next pump exclaimed, “Look at that baby!” And there I was, eyes wide open, pushed up on my arms, peering out the window, taking it all in. That antenna…still on hyper-alert. Ever vigilant.
When she talked about me being a colicky baby, she didn’t laugh. I cried without ceasing. Wouldn’t sleep. Couldn’t be cajoled or comforted. I was a royal pain in the ass. One she wanted to chuck out the window.
And she loved to tell everyone how I started talking. Early. In full sentences. My first words were, “See the plane!” She attributes this to the fact that she spent hours and hours and hours of time over months and months telling me all of her problems. About how her marriage wasn’t turning out to be what she wanted or dreamed it would be. About all the issues she and my father had. How motherhood was harder and more frustrating than she had imagined it would be. How life in general was disappointing. Hard. Unfulfilling. As a result of her constant spewing of words as she released her emotions and vented to me, my language skills were advanced. She said this with pride. As if she had done something wonderful.
Then, there was the story about my beautiful blonde hair. So blonde it was almost white. I was an adorable child (when I wasn’t pooping, crying, demanding attention, sick, awake, or talking). She was so proud of how cute I was…how I made her look good because of my cuteness.
As a child, I loved that my mother seemed to think of me at all. Because most of the time, I wasn’t on her radar. She was so self-focused, it took a major event to get her attention. So when she talked about me, I thought she was noticing me. Cherishing me.
But as I grew older, I began to perceive and understand a different side to her stories.
First, there weren’t many stories. This is pretty much every single story about me that I can remember her telling. And when I reached my 30’s and asked her about what I was like as a child, she told me stories about herself, her feelings during my childhood, her disappointments. When pushed for any information about me during my formative years, she simply replied, “I don’t really remember you that much.”
What I learned was that, as long as I was cute, not bothering her, and making her look good, I was a wonderful child.
When I had colic, something that she blamed on me, she resented me for being needy and difficult.
She resented the fact that I started talking because I was supposed to listen to her spew and vent.
I probably came out of the womb in a state of hyper-vigilance because of the chaotic environment. I was extremely sensitive. I knew things without being told. I perceived things. I was tuned in to a frequency that most people didn’t know existed and could never hear themselves. I had to be. To survive. To survive the abuse and neglect and rejection. What I didn’t see, didn’t know and didn’t understand could destroy me. I sensed it early. So even as a baby, I watched. Everything.
I longed for attention, as do all small children, but my mother resented this. She didn’t want to have to watch me. She wanted to do what she wanted to do. If I could make her look better, bring her fulfillment, improve her credibility, then I was adorable. If not, I was a bother. I played alone, even as a very tiny girl, and I tried not to bother my parents often. I can remember as a child under the age of 3, taking my music box Easter egg out to the trash can by the road, which was some distance from the house, sitting in the dirt and gravel, listening to the music as I turned and turned the handle. I hid there to escape. Sometimes, I begged for attention. But not often. I learned early that there were unwanted consequences. I learned early that “look at me” didn’t get the results I hoped for. I learned it was better to be invisible.
I also learned that when my hair started getting darker and I wasn’t so cute, I lost value. I became a worthless object. A major disappointment.
And I realized that my mother talking to me about all of her problems and frustrations was probably not a healthy thing. Children are not equipped to handle that kind of negativity. They aren’t able to deal with depression and mental illness. Marriage problems. Money problems. Grave disappointments. They don’t have the tools. And though I was more sensitive and perceptive than a lot of small children, her words were heavy. Too heavy. The constant spewing of all the darkness in her world made my world dark too.
My mother wanted me to fulfill her. To validate her. To make her look good. To be easy and beautiful and precocious. I failed her. She let me know often how totally I failed her.
It took a lifetime before I finally realized, in reality, she failed me.
Her own words tell the story of her failure. They paint the hidden picture. And yet, I still find it hard to place the responsibility where it belongs. On her. I still struggle with blame. Blaming myself. I still feel as if I let her down. I couldn’t fix her. Couldn’t fix her world. No more than I can fix my own.
Two sides of a coin. Two perspectives. One story. One little girl who, in spite of her 6th sense and sensitivity, never really figured it out and is paying the price for that failure to this day.