Welcome to A Life Examined

What is the examined life? A life worth living! As I look at the road ahead, I take all the baggage from the past and use it as experience - the pain and the passion, the sorrow and the joy - allowing it to carve wisdom into my mind and hope into my spirit.
There is no experience that can't be useful to me at some point in my life. There is no lesson learned that cannot make a contribution to the future.
A tiny drop of water is a part of the ocean. A tiny speck in the night sky is a ginormous star in the distance. It all depends on perspective.
So, this examined life is to offer reflections in the hope of discussing things which are of value to myself and to others.
Love, Sarah

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

My "Perfect" Life - Part 3

My mother had issues with pride. Growing up I never realized that her barbs and jibes came from her own need for affirmation. As a kid, I didn't understand her boasting about attending private boarding school was an attempt to cover up for being lonely, or that her insistence on good manners was to raise her middle class status to that of a woman of culture and elegance. I didn't recognize that when she compared her attractive legs to my stubby thighs, she was seeking compensation for her insecurity.

According to my mother, she was a beautiful young woman, an excellent tennis player and golfer, and had a large group of friends with whom there was mutual admiration. A wealthy businessman who owned a formidable department store chain proposed to her, but she turned him down. "Never go with someone whom you like more than he likes you," she advised me. That didn't speak too well of my dad, I remember thinking. I must have been pretty miserable at home because I remember wondering if life might be better if this other man had been my father, not because he was wealthy -- I've never cared much about money -- but because maybe he would have been nicer to me than my dad was. But misery is a funny thing. If it's your normal emotional state you don't really notice it as such, because you've got nothing to compare it to. No, if you've got low self-esteem you don't put it down to the way you are treated but to something unworthy within. And so in this, my mother was quite successful in raising her own status by lowering that of her children.

In my mother's pride, my brainy sister never quite measured up in terms of good manners or poise. I fared better. Though from me my family had to endure frequent emotional outbursts springing from emotional immaturity, the public face I presented seemed to satisfy my mom. But this prideful idiosyncrasy of my mother's badly marred my growth, and probably my sister's, because values were not discussed on the basis of principles which needed to be practiced but on the basis of how others would perceive us. Integrity was a value my mother professed to admire, but her concern for what people thought weighed far more heavily upon her. She was quite the hypocrite.

It seems ironic then, that she valued my father's integrity so much. Or perhaps she didn't see how lacking in that area she was personally. Isn't that the way with most of us? We don't see our own shortcomings nearly as well as we see those of others.

In my case, however, I didn't see any of my mom's shortcomings. She was my mom and weren't all mothers the same? Although for example, she never had much in the way of physical affection for me, I didn't know it was normal to want it, so I just thought she was the norm and my craving was a mismatch to the rest of the family.

I wonder why, when thinking of her, I lapse into self-reflection? It is likely because we were so emotionally intertwined while I was growing up that, when reflecting on those times, it is impossible to separate her from myself. Or perhaps I'm simply an egotistic (or just plain bad) writer!

What is the overwhelming aspect to my mother's personality which best defines her I think, is what I've already alluded to: the fear of what people would think. It was a mantra as we were growing up. What we wore, how we behaved, what we said -- all these things were a reflection on her. It wasn't so much that she was concerned for our welfare as how others would perceive her. Oh, she didn't say it was about her, but looking back, clearly it was. The most poignant memory I have that crystallizes this is the week before my sister's confirmation. My sister didn't think she believed the words one is supposed to profess at confirmation so she really didn't want to go through with it. My mother's first strategy was to make light of my sister's doubts. "Oh, you'll believe it in time," I heard her say. But my sister, light years apart from me in personality style, quietly and with a rare display of tears, stood on her conviction and said she didn't believe it now and so now she couldn't say the words. My mother grew more and more anxious and 'concerned' about how others would perceive my sister if she didn't go through with it. All was arranged. It was expected. It was what should be done....

How my mother managed to get my sister to go through with it is beyond me. I wouldn't have done it. (But I was the difficult one, my sister the older and more cooperative one.) So out of guilt or fear or perhaps just feeling worn down, my sister went through with the ceremony. She cooperated. My mother was proud (irony and insult totally intended). The day passed without incident as far as I know.

But did my mother ever grieve that her eldest daughter didn't believe in God? Did she ever regret insisting my sister claim something she didn't believe? Did she recognize the irony in bragging about her husband of great integrity and pervert my sister to lies?

It must have been hell to be in her shoes. It certainly wasn't heaven living in my own.

But the thing about childhood is that it molds us and shapes us into the adults we become. I had compassion for my sister and really felt she was right. Sadly, I didn't have the vocabulary or emotional equipment, nor a close bond with my sister to say anything to her or to my mother in my sister's defense. But now I firmly hold to what I believe is truth and encourage others to do the same.

Whatever our parents offer us, be it good, bad, right or wrong, shapes our lives. We are woven from the cloth we've lived and experience brings us to the place we are now. The steps and the people that lead us through our childhood help to shape us.

Was my mother selfish and prideful. Indeed, I think she was. Did she act out of spite. I don't think so. I think she was trapped in fear and did the best she could within her cell. It's sad but true. The best thing I can do with that is to overcome and to treat others, my child in particular, very differently. The best any of us can do with what we've experienced, is to overcome and encourage others to do likewise.

That's the purpose behind my writing.

Until next Thursday, I'll say 'bye bye' and wish you a good week ahead.
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