After a convo I had yesterday with an online friend and mentor, I was left wondering about something that has been a question for a long time. Namely, what DO I want out of all this?
For the most part, I have little in common with my siblings, and in general they don’t seem to actually like me as a person any more than I like them. As my husband once pointed out, my sister has never called me in all the time he’s known me (20 years). We have never had occasional chats on the phone, without there being a birthday or some other “reason” to call. Casual emails have historically gone in one direction only. My husband has long been mystified as to why these people, who are so little a part of our day-to-day lives, why they even matter to me. Why does it matter what they think? What am I trying to accomplish? Intellectually I know I will never convince them to hear, let alone validate, my POV. Why isn’t a better understanding of what happened enough for me to have for myself?
Also, going way back, even before I started figuring out my scapegoat role, I have always felt a lack of “the right to be here”. I often feel as though I don’t have an automatic right to even exist, let alone automatically be considered an equal part of the family. I have to be sure I clean up after myself, and not leave any trace of where I’ve been. I’ve generally put that down to the lack of a mother’s real love for me, and probably her irritation whenever I made a mess or caused any kind of housework for her. (SO RIDICULOUS. Who the hell has another kid without realizing that this will entail actual work?)
That attitude continues to this day, mostly through my sister. Once my husband and I were talking about my sister and how she treats me, and I started to say, “It’s like she thinks I have no right to be — ” and I got stuck for what to say next, and he pointed out that the sentence was in fact complete.
So yesterday I was trying to re-locate this quotation that I had seen one of my friends post on Facebook. And in googling what little I could remember of the phrasing, I stumbled across a paper.
“All parents also notice an important change at around 2 years of age when children manifest ‘‘self-consciousness,’’ the so-called secondary emotions such as embarrassment or pride in very specific situations such as mirror exposure or competitive games… Toddlers become typically frozen and sometime behave as if they wanted to hide themselves by tucking their head in their shoulders or hiding their face behind their hands. They show embarrassment. This is a robust phenomenon and one is naturally tempted to ask what it means psychologically for children in their development. The literary quote reproduced below captures this important transition:
There is a thing that happens with children: If no one is watching them, nothing is really happening to them. It is not some philosophical conundrum like the one about the tree falling in the forest and no one hearing it: that is a puzzler for college freshman. No. If you are very small, you actually understand that there is no point in jumping into the swimming pool unless they see you do it. The child crying, ‘‘Watch me, watch me,’’ is not begging for attention; he is pleading for existence itself.
M.R. Montgomery Saying Goodbye: A memoir for Two Fathers.”
I’ve always had a weird sort of conflict between wanting attention, wanting to be noticed, and then being embarrassed when it happens — just like a 2YO. I’ve put this down to a mother who didn’t really like it when I got attention, especially from my father. But what little kid DOESN’T want attention? That’s a normal thing for a little kid. But I think I was taught that it was wrong, that it was being a show-off, and that I should just be quiet and entertain myself and not make a mess and not bother anyone. Meaning Mom.
I think I was about 18 months old when my sister went away to college, and the other two of the Triumvirate went away over the next 3 years. They would probably have been a big chunk of my day-to-day (mostly) positive attention, and they went away. Just when I was becoming aware of myself in relationship to others, more and more the mirror I had to reflect myself back to me, the person I spent all day with, was a mother who basically wanted me not to be there.
Most of my early memories are of playing by myself. When I was alone, I at least didn’t have anyone reflecting back to me their annoyance at me being there. I still feel safest when I am by myself: there is no one to get mad at me.
I have a memory of the time I “ran away from home”. I was not in kindergarten yet, because it was in the afternoon, and I was in pm kindergarten. But I was old enough to run away, so everyone else would have been old enough to be at school, and I was the only kid left at home all day. So I was maybe 4 or at most, 5YO.
I “ran away” by going up the sidewalk until I couldn’t see my house any more. Once I was out of sight of our house, I plonked myself down in front of the second house from ours, maybe 300 feet up the hill.
I don’t know how long I sat out there, but I eventually got tired of being a runaway and went home. I found out much later that the neighbor had seen me sitting on the sidewalk in front of their house and called my mom, WHO JUST LET ME STAY OUT THERE. Where I wasn’t a bother to her.
Her excuse was that well, once the neighbor called, then she knew where I was, so that was OK.
I don’t think normal moms do that. I mean if a neighbor called and said your 4YO kid was sitting out in front of their house — you’d go get them, wouldn’t you? A normal mom might even go out and sit down with their kid and ask them why they wanted to run away, and listen to them and give them a big hug and tell them they didn’t want them to run away because they loved them, and maybe even go home and have some cookies or something.
I got left to sit out there alone, because that was more convenient for my mother.
And my siblings sit there and claim, “well, she wasn’t actually neglectful.”
Maybe the mom they knew wasn’t neglectful.
The mom I knew was.
And they knew it too: on some level, they know they have to make that statement, that excuse, before someone comes right out and says that she was. They were teenagers when I was born, and they had to know about what my father told me: of physical neglect, to the point where I had diaper rash so bad that my butt was bleeding. They know, and they still believe that she should have been granted custody of the younger children. My sister even testified to that effect. My oldest brother refused to testify for either side, preferring to stay out of it, and the third was deliberately wishy-washy when questioned by the lawyers, so they left him out of it.
Interestingly, these are the same behaviors they exhibit in today’s family crisis. My sister defends the narcissist; my oldest brother just wants to stay out of the whole thing. Joe, who would normally be the one considering both sides of the issue, and playing the role of “devil’s advocate” or mediator is married to Susan. No chance that he could be allowed to see the other side of any conflict that involves Susan.
So I know there’s no way anything will change or heal with regards to them. The question is, where do I go now to heal the little girl who got ignored or abandoned by almost everyone she knew, except for one person? The answer might be that one person — my father — if he weren’t gone.
My whole world disintegrated the night he died. And fucking Susan stood there, laughing. And refused to go elsewhere when I asked her to. And she and Joe yelled in my face the next day, when I called her on it. And everyone else either defends her, or refuses to take a stand. Well, Fuck. Those. People.
There was one person whose attention mattered, and he’s gone now. So, watch me — or don’t. I’m still here, I still exist, and I deserve to.
At some point, possibly as a graduation gift, my mother gave me a plaque with Max Ehrmann’s “Desiderata” on it. I read it often, and half-memorized it. I remember that to my mind parts of it sounded like woo-woo bullshit, and I dismissed it.
You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.