There are certain things about my mother that are real hot buttons for me — things about her or that she does that just really get under my skin. I have spent years trying to come to grips with them, or to learn to let them go, or to even try to see the endearing side of them, but I know I fail far more than succeed. Yesterday she hit three of my hot buttons all at once.
She was feeding E1 and E2 whilst I packed a snack bag so we could all go out. Both girls were in a mood to be a handful, and neither of them were eating their lunch. “Here comes the train…” my mother said in a sing-songy voice as she tried desperately to turn the tide. “Here it comes! It’s heading for the tunnel!” I hate it when my daughters don’t eat — we’ve had so many food issues with both of them (and I think there is something primeval for a mother about knowing her child is fed) that I come over quite ridiculously desperate when that food is not going in their mouths.
“Come on!” she said, growing frustrated. “Here comes the train! It wants to go in the tunnel!” I kept my back turned and focused on the bag, not wanting to add my frustration in with hers. We needed raisins… applesauce… “Good girl!” Ah, good, she’d done it. I felt that slight tension that had been building wash right away, as E2 imitated her big sister and allowed my mother to pop a laden spoon in her mouth as well.
“Oh no! I don’t want to see that!” Mum said, turning back to E1. “Close your mouth as you chew!” But she stopped herself and took the irritation out her voice, saying, “Close the tunnel! The tunnel is closed! The tunnel is closed for chewing!” Then added in a bouncy tone, “Closed for mastication!”
Here is one of my hot buttons: my mother always wanted me to be exceptional — wanted it so much that it affected everything about the way she and I related to each other as I grew up, wanted it so much that I struggled under the weight of her hopes and expectations as I defined the person I was becoming, wanted it so much that I still reel from it even now. If there is one thing I want for my girls, it is for them to have the freedom to become whomever they will become, in their own space and at their own pace. I want to give them that room that they need to be as normal — or extraordinary — as they want. And when I see my mother doing to them what she did to me — laying an oh-so-hopeful path of wildly unrealistic expectations — it sets my teeth on edge. ‘Mastication’ is not normal vocabulary for a three-year-old. It’s ridiculously contrived and I don’t want my daughter to have to be that child. Mother… don’t.
And here is my second hot button: my mother has a ditziness to her that is charming, for sure, but is also so profound that it often reaches the point of being quite dangerous — so much so that M and I have actually decided that we do not feel comfortable allowing her to take the girls out on her own. We have been shocked to see so many frightening situations and near-misses in the past nine months that we have finally come to the realisation that we not imagining this nor exaggerating it, and so have had to come that difficult decision. And I find — somewhat to my bafflement — that I am angry with her for it. I am angry that someone so intelligent and competent can allow herself to indulge in so much ditziness, so much simply-not-thinking, that it has come to this. I don’t want to feel this way about my mother — I don’t want to feel that I can’t let her take her grandchildren out on her own — but I have to, and every time she does something glaringly unthinking, it reminds me and I hate it instantly. It was perfectly obvious to me that ‘mastication’ wasn’t a clever word to be teaching to a three-year-old who has a gift for mangling pronunciations, but she was so swept up on the highway to toddler precociousness that she never saw it. Mother, please don’t teach her that word.
“The tunnel is closed for mastication!” she continued cheerfully. I focused on pouring the raisins into a Ziploc bag and tried not to grind my teeth.
“Closed for mastication. Can you say that? Can you say mastication?”
“No.” E1 is like me in a lot of ways, and I’ve already noticed she likes being able to come to things in her own good time. Left to her own devices, ‘mastication’ (or something close) would have popped out of her mouth at some point over the next few days, but being chivvied into performing gets her back up — just like me. Mother… stop.
“Sure you can! Mastication. Go on! Say it… “
And here we have my third hot button: my mother, in her own particular way, is one of the pushiest people I know. Once she has hold of something that she thinks should happen — and she has a lot of ideas about what should happen where her children and grandchildren are concerned — she does not give up, she does not let go. Until she is made to stop through some considerable force, she just pushes and pushes and pushes. As a child, I found that pushiness overwhelming, and exerting that necessary force nigh on impossible. As an adult, I am better at it, but it is still excruciatingly difficult and the repercussions are usually long and hard to live with. Mother, please stop.
“Come on. The tunnel is closed for mastication. Mas-ti-ca-…”
“Mother. Please stop teaching her that word.” I had my back to her, I never looked up from the snack bag, and I nearly growled the words.
There was a long pause. I pushed the applesauce containers down into the bag a bit too roughly and one of the tin-foil lids split slightly.
“Mmmm… yes.” She’d twigged. At last.
I replaced the applesauce and then sliced some bread and wrapped it up. The girls, remarkably, allowed my mother to finish giving them their lunches with no further resistance. And then we all went out for the day, and waited for the coolness in the air to subside, whilst I chided myself, once again, for not being able to just let it all roll off my back.