October 10, 2011

Powerless over Other People, Namely Mom

"If a crisis or any problem baffles me, I hold it up to the light of the Serenity Prayer and extract its sting before it can hurt me." One Day at a Time in Al-anon

I've found it irksome when my mom goads me on the telephone. This past Friday she rang me after over a month of no-contact, by telling me she has not heard from me in awhile. I responded lightly, "I was thinking the same thing."  For it is she that has not responded to my phone call on her birthday, nor has she said a word about receiving the present I sent.

She reacts as if this is a power play. Did I expect otherwise? The reasonable part of me still wants her to be reasonable. Honest would be nice.  

First she asks where my son is. I tell her he has gone shopping. Her response?  To see it as something I am doing wrong; isn't MY responsibility to shop?  I listen and then share he is shopping with his Boy Scout troup. She acts as if she never knew he was in Boy Scouts. Maybe I forgot to share this with her, so I give details. We talk about his being in orchestra, and she seems to have forgotten completely that he plays cello. I am sure she heard him play by phone not too long ago. But she moves on too quickly for me to get alarmed by this.

She does a quick shift in topic, to ask if there are "other" Caucasians at my son's middle school. I tell her, gently,  that the complete statistics are available on the school website.  I know data is better than trying to reassure with my words. After all, she'll know better that I have not stretched the truth of past conversations. We have talked about this several times before. 

But of course, she wanted my answer, not to be advised to do research. I am right there on the phone, but I cannot save her from a world that is becoming more different than the one she grew up in.

Her next story is about how the elementary school where I went to school is all-Black now. Nearby families, she says,  don't take their kids there and the real-estate values are going down. My head now feels foggy and my gut a little squeemish.  I begin to tell her that I am confused.  I'm self-effacing, so I don't get effaced by her. I say, "I may be stupid.   I feel confused and would like to understand this better."

Mom quickly reassures me I am not stupid, but is eager to change the topic. She says, "I don't have time to explain, I have to go soon, I only have a few minutes." I kind of know this pattern too well. She is removing a buffet dish whose ingredients I am questioning, so she can deliver something more provocative. She does not want me to look too close at the  fog screen she is creating.  She wants me around long enough to get in a sucker punch, and then make it look like I am the bad person.

Sure enough, her next move is to tell me, "Now, don't hang up  on me!"  Is she saying this in front of my dad, to make it look like I am the bad guy? Who knows?

But when I say to her, again very gently,  "What do you mean, it is you who has said you need to go," she accuses me of grandstanding. I'm quiet but I wonder, "Grandstanding? I am in my kitchen by myself."  Who exactly is grandstanding? 

I just listen. And soon enough, I begin to hear the old familiar, "You."  "You blah blah blah..." and I know the guns are set on rapid shot.  That is when I say firmly, "We  are  not going there today, Mom. This is not Bash-Smitty day." I use the version of my name I have used since I was a young adult of 20. She prefers the short version. Let's say my name were  Michael, and she'd changed it to "Mikey." 

Since that is not the name I go by, I know that this is the beginning of a slippery slope of disrespect. Quietly, sadly, I say, "Shall we just agree to both hang up at the same time? One... two... three..."

Then I hear her saying, "You you you..." all over again, and now she really is taking character shots.

 I don't really want to hang up on her. I just don't want the you messages right in my ear, so, I quickly put her on speakerphone. Once I have the phone perched on my cutting board, I repeat myself,  "Mom, this is not bash-Smitty day."

Again the sting. The spray of insults. Likely I could have done or said something to take charge of the situation. But I only want a no-fire zone where she won't be goading me. I am powerless over my emotional responses.

And so, as the ODAT reading shares, "I extract the sting, just before the sting  can hurt me," by getting off the phone. I tell mom that it is time for me to go. 

It is failure.  I know only too well, that the next time we talk, she will act as if I am the person who is to blame for our "issues." I'll be to blame in her mind, because I was ready to hang up when I answered the phone. She will take no responsibility for her part in creating the fracture line between us. 

"God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..."  The reassuring mantra does not mean I have to be happy about what has happened. 

"... the courage to change the things I can..."    I don't think it took courage for me to hang up the phone. For me, hanging up was my admission of powerlessness.   By hanging up, I simply acknowledged the obvious--  that I don't know what to do to effect positive change. That admission is the only power I have right now.

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