The Mother Ship

August 28, 2008

If 93% of communication is nonverbal with 55% of that percentage being facial expressions, how can I successfully communicate with my relatives who live thousands of miles away? My father lives in Louisiana. My mother lives in Texas, and my brother lives in Washington State. But there is a deeper issue at play. When I talk with my dad and brother, we seamlessly connect, whether it’s been a week or a month since we last spoke. They speak, then I speak, then they speak. There’s a natural, enjoyable flow to the conversation. Chuckles leak out at the appropriate moments, and everyone gets their point across. My mother is another story. Talking with her is usually a painful experience, depending on her mood.

My mother suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder, along with other long-term issues, for which she takes what seems a million daily pills. She loves to talk and has many points to make; however, she endlessly bounces from topic to topic, sometimes without the appropriate transition words. She honestly can’t help it. I need to ask her questions to help direct her, and verify my understanding but she doesn’t like interruptions. She becomes quite angry, saying that it throws her thought process off track. I am at fault every time, and so we find ourselves right back where we started. There exists a vicious cycle in our communication and in our relationship. Like most mothers and daughters, it’s filled with love, but for us, it’s also overflowing with frustration, pain, and need. She needs constant validation. I need her. We both seem to need a mother.

Like me, my mother is highly creative, yet we’re different. I’m stuck inside myself most of the time, learning to reach out, yearning to understand and express the hidden pieces of myself in ways that are all my own. My mother is forever outside herself, trying to get in, desperate to define herself through the eyes of others. She wants those she loves to acknowledge all the positives in her so that she can finally embrace them. All I ever wanted was for her to be happy with herself, to leave that crippling need for validation behind.

We all need validation to a certain extent. We all want to be heard, to be accepted, and loved. My mother’s need for this has been so strong through the years, that she was unable to give it to me. We all develop coping mechanisms and I have certainly done so. I don’t require too much validation. I validate myself. I listen to myself. I learned the hard way to love myself, and I’m still learning to accept myself. Through the situation that was my life, I developed a strong philosophy that I am the captain of the ship. I sail a vessel that flies across the night sky, tunnels beneath the earth, and sits at bay when necessary. My ship can go anywhere because it’s mine. Although it may sound so, this is not a selfish journey. Anyone can ride along. We can even discuss the route and choose the next road together.

My mother doesn’t understand my chosen method of transportation. She doesn’t see that it ultimately saved me from a lonely childhood, a difficult adolescence, and from living in the world of depression, blame, and heartache that seems to be hers. She lives in a world devoid of self-creation, a world where well-meaning self-pity, superstition, and the will of God explains everything. She survives through blind faith, whereas I forge ahead through pure gumption and a side of prayer.

From a young age, I’ve tried to be an excellent listener because I know what it feels like to be ignored; to be dismissed and not heard. My mother’s need for validation caused her to dominate nearly every conversation I have ever witnessed her participate in. She has a boatload of interesting and intelligent things to say. She is an intriguing woman; people are happy to listen. She has many great friends who support her. She wants me to be one of them, but she has never understood that I was not intended to be the best friend she wanted of me when I was five and six and seven. Now I’m an adult. I could have become her friend but without having a mother first, it’s difficult to overcome that need, to skip it completely, and give her, once again, what she needs. She doesn’t understand the powerful grip of those early developmental years, and that, biologically, it’s not easy to reprogram, even when forgiveness is complete.

Now we’re coasting into those years when it’s appropriate for the mother to lean on the daughter. I need to help ensure that she’ll be okay in her elderly years. She needs advice on all kinds of financial and medical issues. When she sees my struggle to help, when it isn’t effortless, she yells at me that I’m insensitive, that I don’t care what happens to her, that any pain I’ve faced cannot compare to hers, and that I owe her so much. I should be willing to jump out of my ship of safety to save her. She doesn’t understand that if I jump ship, we’ll both drown. I’m reaching over the edge, trying to grasp her hand that is desperately reaching for me. I am hanging onto the self-constructed support that saved me from the very life she showed me. My ship looks solid and safe to her, and she wants in, but she doesn’t realize that her crushing weight can sink it like a stone.

As we endlessly dance through this tricky, circular communication, we cannot break our bonds. We not only share the mother-child bond, we also share the bond of survival. I desperately love the ship she inadvertently gave me, my life. I believe that somehow I will find a way to meet her halfway, to take care of her and of myself, to be the daughter she wants while keeping the beautiful mother ship sustaining me afloat.

I’ll never give up. I hope she won’t.

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