August 24, 2012

The Devil's in the Details

It's all in the details. Or is it?

Of course, it was helpful to look at specifics so I could see my part in the conversation with my mom. 

Reflecting back,  I most notice the one-upmanships. (Mom started it!)  I notice how eager I was to show her I was an equal.

I see both of our attempts at story telling, and each of us taking turns, not hearing, then not being heard.  

The time I listened best was when Mom  was telling story, even free-associating from her experience. But as soon as she made conclusions about people different than her, my gut tightened.

I normally exercise caution in talking religion and politics when people are too different from me. Despite arguable differences, in many ways my mom and I are the same.  We look the same. Our emotional make up is terrifically similar. We both use anger as a drug, to deal with our anxiety.

My mom brought up religion. I respect hers and I keep quiet about my own.  I could do this conversation!  Then, she was teaching me European history and brought up the Scots and my dad in the same sentence. Never heard that before, so I asked her if dad was Scottish.  My dad does not share much of himself with me,  so she started by saying he had been raised Presbyterian  (he switched and we kids were raised in her tradition). I told her, gently, that I knew this.  But she retorted that I could not have known this about my (still-living) dad! Not know my father's religion? This was absurd.

I told her my father had taken me to the denomination of his childhood, when I was a girl of nine.  She told me, I must have imagined this. 

We did not resolve that issue, and my gasoline can was in hand. In hindsight I see my fist on the can handle.

It took me awhile to untangle my angry reaction, and understand why I felt so threatened by the concept that I would not know my dad's religion. 

My mom has always stood right in the way of dad and I.  She has always felt he is hers and hers alone, and that we really should only know his story with her consent.

Mom now wanted to ask me questions about my husband. I immediately heard the bias in her words. She began by taking on an old assumption she will never change:  isn't he involved in research that threatens the small farmer?  Well, actually DH's work can be used either way. I chose common ground, eager to explain that the fields where DH used to work, were a model for building healthy soils in the smaller scale farm setting of the SE. Mom's fighting point, of finding something wrong with MY husband and sharing her expertise about something she has no personal training in, was sidestepped.

Now it was me who turned the wandering conversation into a place where political differences would arise. 

Whenever I am educating someone with an opposite stance on politics, I am on thin ice, so I exercise caution.  Alas, before we knew it, we were not sharing story and explaining our understandings of the world, we were arguing.

In the light of that crescent moon two nights ago,   I tried to create a ledge for us to stand on, before we both made a bonfire with heated words.  I tried to share that I too made a major values choice at age nine. She denied, derisively,  that I would have known enough to make any legitimate choice. 

My gasoline can was getting heavy.  I held on tight, trying to get us away from the breaking ledge beneath us. The heat was getting intense beneath our feet.

Two months earlier I listened to her repeatedly say she was  a conservative republican back in Russia, when she was all of eight years old. WTF?  I chose not to stand very still and wait until she was spent.  Did I joke, very gently? And ask a few questions of her? Likely so, but I mostly remember carefully not reacting , just listening to see if I might find understanding. Mostly, sadly, I saw Mom being very misguided and rewriting history.  I saw that hers was a fragile self-definition, so I did not challenge it. She was however, stepping right up to an important boundary between us. Our vastly different political perspectives.

After that conversation, I realized that I myself had chosen my political inclinations at the same age as a girl, and that made me wonder if this was a milestone year for development into our adult selves.

I stopped walking, the moon behind a copse of pines. I interrupted her angry putdowns,  to try to bring us back to cool common ground, sharing earnestly that my story dovetailed with hers.   I so want us to have room for us to accept our differences that I say again, how I too knew my political bent as early as nine years old. With a positive tone in my voice, I draw her story from weeks back as a parallel.    I tell her she too had come to a political consciousness at nine,  she'd made me aware of that when she'd told me that she'd been a Conservative Republican all the way back  in Russia.   

But she denies that she ever would have said such words.  My hand is shaking. This is a trigger.  The cap is now off the gasolineI will not allow her to be queen over my experiences and my memories of my self. And now to hear her telling me something I  vividly remembered  was something she'd never said, and never would say, just weeks later?

I tell her precisely how disturbing and unacceptable this is. No more soft gloves.

I won't tell you what words ended the conversation, but I will say they brought no one happiness.

I wished I had more than that white crescent in the dark sky as my eye-witness. 

Today I can admit that maybe Mom forgot her words, wasn't being literal, or even that she simply is losing her short term memory. 

So technically, it does not matter that my mom denied something she had repeated several times in a prior conversation, does it?  The details were besides the point.  Something else was going on under the argument. I may never be able to grasp and hold what that something was.

For whatever reason, my mom is stuck in the past and cannot kick the habit of putting me in my place as if I were a teen.  She is most comfortable there.  Am I?

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