18 August, 2009

Mothers and daughters and perception

I finished reading Yasmin Crowther’s, The Saffron Kitchen, about an hour ago. The imagery and comparison of pre-Revolution Iran to modern day Iran, with bits and pieces of modern day London, made me feel like I could walk the dirt roads in Mazareh myself, or navigate the Underground. From the moment I closed the back cover of the small, hardcover novel, I felt the tears building, but they wouldn’t quite come. A little over an hour later, the tears fell in large drops, onto the kitchen floor, my shoulders heaving in long, silent sobs. My poor husband just stood there, not quite sure what to do, other than hold me and let me cry.

The story of a mother and daughter, and two worlds, so different and misunderstood, striving to occupy the same space.

Dancing through the pages, I saw myself, my mother, and my daughters, of which I have three. Being misunderstood and striving for acceptance are emotions which are very close to the surface lately. I don’t think I was ever a mama’s girl, but if I was, it was long enough ago that I don’t remember. Even on our best days, there is always tension brewing just underneath the surface, an argument waiting to happen. I wish I was closer to her, but we have this problem of not really understanding one another. I feel like I disappoint her somehow, and sometimes, I’m disappointed in her. Even within that seemingly mutual disappointment, life goes on.

To me, she’s an anachronism. Small and almost frail, not in the greatest of health, she’s quick to judge, and doesn’t tolerate weakness in anyone, especially her grandsons. She wants free reign to speak her mind, and usually does, but can’t/doesn’t/won’t understand how doing so can hurt people. It’s as though the gentile filter is slipping the older she gets, and she has quite often, been angry with me when something she has said doesn’t sit well with me.

Frequently, she tells me as though she feels like she can’t say anything to me without my getting upset. And she may be right. With her, I’m a little thin-skinned and quick to temper. I know it, but I seem at a loss to stop it from happening. At the root of it, I know I don’t understand her or where her emotions come from. I don’t know what’s going on in her heart, her soul, and her thoughts.

A woman’s heart is a deep ocean of secrets. I don’t know my mother’s secrets or how they color her reaction and response to life.

Just within the last 6 months, my eldest daughter and I have been at stiff odds. She’s nearly 15 and therefore, a veritable genius. I, of course, am a functional moron in her eyes, but she tolerates me because I’m her mother, doddering old fool, such as I am. Within the last two weeks, though, things have really come to a head with her, and myself, and actually, my mother.
My eldest had to carry the burden of the children when their dad and I divorced and it took a heavy toll on her. Honestly, we never really talked about the divorce, heavily, until two weeks ago. My mother was here visiting, and in 15 year old stroke of genius, she was rude to her grandmother. Not overtly, but there was a definite, and purposeful slight. Needless to say, Grandma did not handle it well. But, it did lead to opening up a conversation between my eldest and I that was 3 years in the making.

We were up until 2 am, both of us talking and crying, trying to understand one another. There was a point several months ago, wherein she told me she was more comfortable at her father’s house. Until that night of soul sharing with her, I couldn’t understand why. I had been replaying countless nights of staying up late with her, watching sappy movies and having popcorn fights, laughing and talking and wondering how she could possibly be more comfortable with him.

“You’re different than you used to be.” She said.

For a while I didn’t say anything. She was right. To her, I was different. To me, I was the old me, the me of my youth. The me that her father fell in love with. I had reclaimed that part of me that for so long had been lost in soccer games and PTA and crock pot suppers. I had never looked at the last several years from that particular perspective for the kids. I never realized how different I seemed to them, post-separation and divorce. I never realized how NOT being the soccer mom, PTA, crock pot cooking mom that I was before could possibly be hard for them to deal with, because I had been in such abject misery trying to fill that role. I just assumed, I suppose a subconscious supposition, that if I was happy, that they would be happy. Dad was comfortable because, to her, he had not changed.

Don’t get me wrong, by and large they are, but her revelation stopped me in my tracks and made me realize she looks at me the way I look at my mother. I don’t think my daughter and I are as harsh with each other as my mother and I are, far from it. But I do think that if it’s not carefully managed, it could reach that point.

Just as I don’t know the secrets of my mother’s heart, my daughters don’t know mine. All growing up in the city, they don’t completely understand the comfort the country gives to me. My husband is a soft spoken, old-fashioned country boy, in sharp contrast to their father, and that is tough for my daughter to understand as well. I’m much more laid back than I used to be, and good deal more spontaneous, and again for her, that is a lot to which she must adjust.

The mother and daughter in this book face the same struggles in not understanding one another. In making the attempt to learn more about one another, a small bridge to understanding is built. Concessions can be made here and there. However, the more important lesson is that each person’s life is sacrosanct, inviolable, belonging wholly unto that individual.

My life did not become forfeit the day my daughter was born, just like my mother’s life didn’t, and her mother’s and on and on and on. As women, as mothers, we often sacrifice so much of ourselves to be wives and mothers forgetting who we really are, negating years of self development in our own childhood. Knowing how hard I’ve had to fight to get back to my own center, the years and tears and pain that it’s taken, I know that I do not want my own girls to go through that, if I can at all help it, even if that means learning the lessons and sharing my experiences, my secrets with them. Opening that bridge to understanding that my life, my mother’s life, like theirs, is my own, is her own, is their own.

Things with my eldest are better. She is nearly 15, so Goddess only knows how many more tempestuous days we have ahead of us, but in opening up my trove of secrets, maybe she can understand me, and I her, a little better. My younger daughters are 8 and 5, and while they somewhat remember the ‘old’ me, they are growing up more with the ‘older’ me and won’t have such a shock to which they must adjust. I can only try, however, to make my mother see that even though she is most definitely entitled to her opinion and her right to speak her mind, that doesn’t negate the fact that others may very well not like it and not respond in a positive fashion to what she’s said or done. I don’t want to have a negative relationship with her, or even a tense one.

I just have to remember that I don’t know the secrets of her heart anymore than she knows mine. And maybe, just maybe, that’s ok.

“Far away, the stone woman sighed out across the land, a flute, a drum, a song, a whisper, and Maryam walked alone into the foothills beyond Mazareh. She looked up at the sky where clouds tore apart in a slipstream of wind. Soon the seasons would change and coarse grass would grow again through the melting snow. Then there would be new knots for her to tie in the desert straw strands, and fresh wishes to be made, along with other stories to be told of the dead and gone, and of lives just begun.”
~The Saffron Kitchen


  1. Wow!!! Loved this!!

  2. Fifteen was a hard age even for me, and my mom said that I was an easy teenager. (I think it was because I grew up mostly around adults, so I didn't know what a typical teenager would have been like. I went through that boy-crazy-talking-on-the-phone-for-3-hours-a-night face when I was 10. So, I was pretty much "normal", or so I thought, by 15. But, high school is hard. I never really considered myself a mama's girl or a daddy's girl- I've been blessed with great relationships with both parents. But, I've had the worst arguments with my dad. In some ways, my personality is completely my mom's- but my temper is my dad's, and I know exactly how to push his buttons, because it's the same way that my buttons get pushed. Things didn't really settle down with my dad and I (meaning, I didn't get over myself and grow up), until I went off to college. (Not trying to depress you here by saying that it takes years, it just took that long for me.) I'm laid-back and easy-going, but I also have that whole depression-funky hormone thing that makes me nearly manic sometimes. So, if you're not used to it, living with me is personality whiplash. It sounds like you're already on the right track with fostering a more constructive relationship with your daughter than you have (at the moment) with your mother. Here's to keeping that line of communication friendly and open. :)

  3. I'm new to your blog and this post completely won me over. My parents are in an ambiguous state of separation and my mom has definitely changed. Your words gave me some insight into what it might look like from her perspective. Thank you for sharing! I look forward to reading more.

  4. Who would have ever thought that the emotions/memories of being a teenager could come crushing back so violently over our own children? My 14 year old daughter chooses not to live with me, and although I try to pretend like it doesn't break my heart, it rips my soul to pieces. Before I had children I always swore I would do "so much better" than my own parents. Wow, did I ever kid myself there. As selfish as it sounds, I am glad to know I am not the only person who has had to endear this situation. In other words, it's comforting to know I'm not alone. The tears are flowing so hard I can't hardly see the screen, and I know it's because I have been keeping everything inside. BUT, I have no choice but to be strong and hold my head up for my other 3 children, and hope that one day I am able to mend my relationship with my first born baby girl. I think I need her more than she needs me!


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