Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mom & Me: An Introduction to Our Troubled Relationship

EAST BRUNSWICK, N.J. - It was only a matter of time before I decided to finally sit down and write this entry, but today gave me a particularly frustrating opportunity to reflect on the great ball of tension that is the relationship between my mother and I.

What happened? Simply put: she called me from work during the day as I was hanging out at home, still without a summer job (other than State Theatre ushering), and somehow the conversation leads yet again to her pet subjects this semester: how I'm an unreasonable asshole towards her, and how she still thinks I'm living in a "dream world," I guess, in which I prefer sitting around the house doing nothing rather than being proactive and making things happen for myself.

Ever since I came back home from Rockoff, this is what I've been getting from her. Not every day, mind you. But enough to get me so angry after she repeated those two words---"dream world"---that, after she ended the call, I slammed the phone down onto the receiver (without breaking it, thankfully), went to my front door and hit it with the palms of both my hands about three times, and started yelling at the top of my lungs to no one in particular. "FUCK YOU," I cried out. "I DON'T LIVE IN A DREAM WORLD!" "GO TO HELL!"


Dear newbie readers, there is something you all have to know about this troubled parental relationship---basically, how it got to this point, at least as I can best figure it. I'm not sure I could explain this in a coherent manner, so bear with me. This might take a while.

Obviously, it didn't used to be this way. Sure, my mother was strict and unreasonable about certain things when I was in elementary and middle school---but back then I took obeying my parents' discipline mad seriously, so I usually put up with it. Guess that's what being a kinda Jehovah's Witness does to you.

It seems to me that things started turning sour all the way in high school. There were the little things: her strictness about my not being allowed to watch much TV or movies during a given day of the week---as if using two hours or less of a 24-hour day to watch some film or TV program ever hurt anyone; I'm pretty confident that I could have balanced both, if allowed. And I guess maybe I still blame her a little bit for how much of a homebody I was in high school---and still am, I suppose.

But the big thing that has had the greatest, most detrimental effect to our relationship: her insistence that I pick up business as a major in college. This will be familiar to longtime readers of my previous blogs, especially my old LiveJournal, which were filled to the gills with emo posts like these.

She had her reasons for doing this, obviously. First of all, she apparently didn't even think she was insisting: she seems to have genuinely believed that she was just suggesting a path for my future that was too solid for any "intelligent" person to pass up. But second and most importantly of all: she figured this was the most secure way for me to make enough money for me to jump into something else that I actually enjoyed in the future. While not denying my passion for liberal arts, she figured---admittedly not unjustifiably---that it was too difficult to try to make a living, say, being a musician or writing film reviews. Better to play it safe and stick it out a few years after college with a job that I could accept and do well than struggling to stay financially and personally afloat with a low-paying reporting job or something.

Sounds reasonable, huh? For the first two years of my stay at Rutgers University as a Livingston College student, I was ready to begrudgingly go along this path, mostly because I guess I was too afraid of how she would react if I went against her, and because I was perhaps too passive to try to actively roughly sketch out an alternate route on my own. (Maybe I still haven't...but more on that later.) I had actually applied, and gotten into, Rutgers School of Business as an accounting major. I had even taken summer business classes at Middlesex County College.

But I guess (boy, aren't I using the word "guess" a lot?) it was a measure of jealousy that partly led me to seriously reconsider. I saw a lot of my friends doing what they say they loved doing, and not thinking too hard yet about how they would be able to make a living doing, say, theater when they got out of college. I wanted to be like them: I wanted to feel like I was studying what I really wanted to study in college. As far as how I'd make a living writing news articles...well, I certainly wouldn't deny that as a serious concern, but I'd take a one-day-at-a-time approach and hope for the best.

My mother isn't much of a one-day-at-a-time person, though: she's a plan-things-in-advance person who constantly toots her figurative horn about how she "thinks far" compared to us impulsive kids. So whenever I tried to let her know how unhappy I felt with doing accounting---a major that I could perhaps do okay, but which nevertheless I felt little passion for compared to what I felt for, say, music or film---she didn't give me much of an indication that she really paid attention to how I felt. When she believes, with absolute conviction, that she is right about something, she will not budge. So she usually thinks it's my attitude that needs changing, not hers. In addition, whenever I told her that I really didn't want to do accounting because "it just doesn't interest me," she usually tried to convince me of how wrong I was to undervalue it, and furthermore would bring up her own personal example of how she dealt with working as a United States Postal Service employee. "Sure, I didn't like my job at first," she would frequently say to me. "But over time, I learned to like it, and now I enjoy going to work." Why couldn't I adopt the same optimistic approach: learn to like accounting and do it well enough to earn enough money so that eventually I could do whatever I wanted, secure that I didn't have to worry a great deal about financial concerns.

If she couldn't even accept my "it doesn't interest me" as reasonable, what else could convince her to lay off the pressure? (Pressure, by the way, is another thing my mother denies ever applying, even though even my father agrees with me that she is sometimes unrelenting with it.)

It came to the point that, by the end of my second year at Rutgers, I was becoming kind of an emotional wreck. I remember one day going into the office of my Assistant Dean/Livingston College Honors Program head and basically breaking down in his office as I tried to reach out to him for some help in this matter. The pressure was just too much; I couldn't take it anymore. He referred me to a counselor at the Livingston College Counseling Center---a counselor I've been with ever since (although, sadly, we had our last session ever just before this recent semester ended; he's moving on to, I guess, bigger and better things).

Cut to a few months later, towards the end of August. Having resolved to drop the business school and focus on my journalism studies, I tried to calmly approach my parents with this decision, only to get predictable resistance from my mother. (My father was considerably more receptive.) Actually, that's not quite true: I originally was thinking about doing something even more "dangerous," becoming an actual film editor---I suppose I was more obsessed with actually working on movies rather than just writing about them. So that's what I suggested as an alternative at the time. It's only after I finally dropped the business school---Mom went crazy for a few days when I did that, bugging me constantly about "so what's your plan now?"---that I agreed, as a concession to my mother, that I would focus on journalism. She felt marginally more comfortable with that, thought that was a more "practical" (keyword for her) alternative than having crazy ambitions of becoming a film editor. (The next Michael Kahn? Well I probably would haved used computer editing software rather than old Moviolas to edit, but I guess we'll never know.)

Here's where I deluded myself: I was hoping that, now that I had pulled the trigger and made the move, that things would be better between us both. But life---as many of the greatest films I've seen should have helped me realize---is never that simple.

The resentment, it seems, still resides inside of me. And, after having put up with all of her annoyingly strict habits and blunt manner of criticism---which, of course, she expects me to accept lying down simply because she "means well"---for many years, that resentment seems to manifest itself in ugly ways in my behavior towards her. For those of you who think I'm quiet and pleasant outside of my home, you should see me inside of my home towards my own mother. I get annoyed at the littlest things she asks of me. I make grumpy faces at her. I address her in an occasionally jagged, abrupt, and usually disrespectful manner. I guess I've been doing this for quite a while now, so she seems to have the impression that if this is the way I act at home, this must be the way I act outside of the home. At some points recently, she has suggested that this unpleasant behavior of mine must be why I'm having trouble securing a job this summer.

She thinks I don't realize how nastily I act towards her sometimes. She's wrong. I know full well, at least after the fact. But when something she says or does triggers an annoyed response in me, I can't seem to control myself. It seems like every time I talk to her these days, when it's about something related to my job search, college, journalism, my future, etc., I just feel like I have to stick it to her every time. And for what? Her being genuinely concerned about me?

Certainly I could attempt to come up with justifications for my appalling behavior. I could try to excuse it on the basis of my resentment over her treatment of my unhappiness about accounting in the past: anyone who takes her son's personal reservations about a major with as much lack of seriousness as I feel like she did doesn't deserve my nicer side. I could try to convince myself that she brought this on herself. But such reasons, I hate to admit it, are basically immature and juvenile. So I must be acting immaturely, out of some childish spite over things that are, really, in the past. Maybe I've just always had a problem with putting certain things behind me.

Maybe the source of my current frustration with my mother simply stems from the feeling that she doesn't understand me. Or that she cares to anymore. She seems to have decided to play my game: now she tells me, flat-out, that she doesn't really want to bother with me anymore. Yesterday she was out sweeping our driveway; she didn't even ask me for help, because she probably figured I'd give her a dirty look and an attitude anyway. (And you know what? Maybe she's right.) It's not uncommon for her to say to my face, "You think I want to talk to you? I don't want to talk to you."

This I have a feeling I mostly brought on myself. Every time we get into an argument, I tend to throw dignity to the wind and go for the sharp (though not profane) verbal jabs: doesn't always matter whether I truly mean it or not, just as long as it hurts her.

But has she ever once really questioned where my unhappiness and anger comes from? She seems to have no understanding, or no desire to understand, of why I feel the cold antipathy I feel toward her. (Honestly, it's a struggle to summon genuine feelings of affection for her every Mother's Day.) Mixed in with her conception of me as this impossibly stubborn, nasty, friendless, unpleasant person, and thus you have her idea of "therapy": basically, once in a while, simply barge in on my business and try to do her "motherly" duty by telling me how to improve myself. And believe me, readers, she never pulls any punches. She's "straightforward"---her word.

What she doesn't understand is the depth of my frustration: how I feel not only frustrated by her manner, but how I feel frustrated by myself. What possess me to do this to her? Could it be stubbornness? Sometimes I get the disturbing feeling that I am so concerned about engendering antagonism towards her that, even if I may half-agree with something she says, I won't admit it to her openly. Her criticisms hurt too much for me to show signs of vulnerability. I simply can't take it when she insists that I'm living in a "dream world" dominated by my laptop computer and my illusions about how things will just come to me. A) I don't believe it; and B) even if it were true, couldn't she come up with a better way of expressing it instead of going for the jugular?

Another thing she criticizes me about is not showing even a glimmer of concern about what happens to the family. I have to admit that I don't always show sufficient concern about what's going on in the lives of my parents or brothers, and perhaps that is reprehensible of me to be so seemingly self-absorbed---but I have my own future to think about too. Somehow I don't think it's entirely my fault if my mind seems to occasionally obsess over how unprepared I feel about my future. I do the best I can: write as much as possible, look for a job or internship, etc.

But this is the one that bites the most: her palpable frustration at the fact that I don't communicate with her and the rest of the family. Instead, so far this summer I've mostly either been watching TV or sitting in front of my laptop computer. The epitome of alienation. (Maybe Wong Kar-Wai should use me as a film subject.) I don't tell her a lot of things: I don't even always show her my published work in the Targum, even if I'm proud of it. I just tell her about that stuff after the fact.

This criticism stings because there's a kernel of harsh truth in it. Why am I so reluctant to talk to her about anything? I'd like to think that it's simply based on past experience of sharing things with her: I'd often hide test or quiz grades just to avoid her disapproval. And I guess I never have been very open about telling her about my days at school, etc. Instead, I'd come up, eat something, and then just go upstairs and study. Too much work to be done.

I like to think that it's because I just hate being criticized and judged by my mother for things that I do. It seems like I read some deep disapproval into everything she does or says to me these days. (I mean, she's never really thrown 100% support to my college-education path.)

But maybe I should go out on a limb her and suggest something even wilder: what if I have some perverse masochistic desire to deliberately withhold things from her, just so she can get the wrong impressions about me, and just so I could have the pleasure---yes, believe it or not, pleasure---of hating her. Maybe I'm twisted enough to like this pain, like the pain of feeling passive and defenseless against her baiting. Certainly it's come to the point where I just can't deal with her on a daily basis without feeling my heart harden toward her. And now it seems as if she's not even trying to garner my love and affection anymore. And ultimately this frustrated feeling that I feel as I write this has something to do with guilt: that, although she's not totally in the clear, I've had a big hand in allowing this to happen, allowing my resentment to fester to the point that it's poisoned our relationship forever. Maybe I am stubborn: can't give her the satisfaction of seeing me assent to something she says ever again, can't give her the impression that she has any influence on me, even if sometimes I feel it may be a welcome influence.


In short...it's complicated. So complicated that today I resolved to continue on with my counseling at Rutgers during the summer. After she uttered "dream world" again today and left me lonely and fuming, I felt like I couldn't go a day longer without finding someone to talk to to possibly get me through three more months of this emo shit.

I thought this would all go away when I finally changed my major. Guess I expected way too much. But, even if Mom is right that I really need to change my ways, for some reason the motivation just isn't there. And maybe, deep down, that scares me. I actually enjoy feeling this way?

So obviously no real progress has been made in writing this emo whining post. I'm trying to make less of a habit of dwelling on the past, and trying to always move forward. It's not easy: this kind of wallowing in self-pity has been such a bad habit in the past that these days I have to remind myself that it's really not worth it. But it seems to me that it's going to take much more than that to set me straight. Honestly---and, after a year since dealing with this same exact problem---I'm not sure I know where to begin.

I guess what this all boils down to is: I wish I could say "sorry" to my mother and mean it. I wish I could share these complex feelings with her without feeling like I'm being judged. At the same time, I, perhaps unrealistically, wish she was...well, different.


Depressed enough, readers? I'll certainly try to limit these kinds of posts in the future, but newbie readers, I think you all had to experience me getting all of this off my chest, because it seems like a big deal in my life, especially now that I'm at home and this kind of stuff gets magnified to life-or-death proportions.

But I'll end with something to reinforce the depressed feeling. (Indulge me just a little more, pretty please?)

Got my first flat-out rejection from an employer I talked to recently. Most employers probably wouldn't even bother to call if he/she decided to reject you. The fat lady who I talked to about selling Simon gift cards at the Brunswick Square Mall did call, and actually told me why she rejected me, even though I didn't even ask. "I'm looking for someone more outgoing," she told me. "You seemed kinda quiet and shy."

It must have been something I said, because I definitely didn't feel like I came off like that at all! I think I put near my best game face on for that interview; if an employer still got the impression I was "quiet and shy"---which I suppose I am, in some ways---then should I even bother to hope for success in this summer job hunt?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

1. Seeing a counselor to talk to and vent over the summer will be a good idea. So is the writing you are doing. You have pent up anger that needs an appropriate release.

2. Your mother will always be your mother. It seems she is not going to change, so you need to just adapt, period. You will fail if you try to change her and be miserable in the process.

3. Keep looking for a summer job at a store or office. Don't let any rejections get you down. Its inevitable that you will not be hired EVERYWHERE you apply; but surely someone will hire you. So keep trying and do not give up or give in.

4. Keep busy and get out of the house. Don't wallow in self-pity. You have alot going for you.

5. Your mother should be in counseling too; but you can't make her go. Also, if she could somehow see your blog, it might open her eyes a bit. Maybe she is unaware of the depth of your feelings?

6. Remember, all this is temporary. Time will change things; people get in trouble when they let the little things get them down; don't let that happen to you. Resolve to not let your mother's stubborness mess with your head. You are your own person.