[Due to an obnoxiously long word count, I decided to make this a two-parter]
When I started this job almost 10 years ago, I was extremely unprepared for mothering.
I’d like you talk about my own mother for a moment, who was, for better or for worse, the most significant template I had for what mothering looked like. My mother was always a force to be reckoned with. My mother never went to college, but she somehow picked up very shrewd business skills. Maybe it was because she learned a lot by watching my grandfather, who was a probate lawyer, a general contractor, and very strict patriarch of our family.
My mother, now 69, is probably a gifted woman, despite never having gone to college. She is gifted with a strong sense of 1) entitlement 2) pride and 3) persuasion and a weak sense of 1) respect for others, 2) boundaries and 3) compassion and some sort of intelligence to make it all work for her.
I respect my mother, but only after a long painful road of learning to make peace with her abusive ways. I believe my mother thought she was doing the right thing by strong-arming her daughters. I believe my mother was a feminist to the nth degree. NOT because she believe in equality for women, but because it suited her diabolical plan – which was to have whatever it is she wanted in life, even at the expense of other people.
“Men are assholes” was her constant mantra, though she has conveniently forgotten all the myriad ways she was a bitch to the men who loved her and how she connived to get what she wanted.
The funny thing is, her way of being has worked for her. She has reaped a lot of rewards from being the dominating way she was. She always managed to get what she wanted, eventually.
My mother used to work in home sales for clothing companies. In the 70s and 80s, two companies she worked at were Queens Way to Fashion and Beeline. These were the Tupperware and Mary Kay of fashion. It used to be you didn’t HAVE to go to a department store to buy clothes, reps from these companies could host parties right in your home.
My mother was a top seller. It was something she thrived at. She got free clothes, free houseware items and free trips to places like Florida and Hawaii. She was THAT good. THAT determined to be an alpha female.
Of course, I remember many nights eating TV dinners (the precursor to microwave dinners) with my oldest sister babysitting us (and finding diabolical ways to torture me) while mom galavanted off to her bookings.
After some number of years doing that, she switched careers. It is rumored that my Italian step-father taught my mother how to cook. Apparently she frequently used tomato soup as a good substitute for spaghetti sauce. He must have done something right because she ended up learning a LOT about how to cook, and she did enjoy it so much that she made homemade Polish and Italian sausage and Italian beef that was so good she ended up seeing an opportunity to set up food booths at local festivals. Her homemade foods were so appealing that she ended up with standing orders to local restaurants, and soon her little mom and pop business expanded enough that she was catering out of her home.
Not long after, her reputation as a caterer grew, and she eventually opened up her own delicatessen and catering business. But being the cheapskate that she was, saw in her own oldest three daughters cheap labor. She demanded we work for the family business. We had no choice. Sometimes she paid us on time, most times she did not.
It was an alright job. I made sandwiches, I cleaned up the bathrooms, I never was asked to cook anything but I always served the catered parties with a smile and I had a short stint at cashiering. I was terrible as a cashier. I had such bad math anxiety that if I had to make change because I didn’t key it in right, I couldn’t do it on the spot. My brain simply froze and I stood there while the customer looked at me funny. Some customers were kind and helped me, others were a little impatient. Pretty soon I was taken off cashiering duties, but not without snottiness from my oldest sister, who of course was perfect in Every Way, including making change. Humiliated but relieved too, I conceded my cashiering days were over.
I think one of the most difficult aspects of working with my mother was the extra enmeshment it created. I worked my fanny off, and maybe I got paid at the end of the time period. Usually it was given at her whim. Any time I was dating anyone, my boyfriends were the hot topic du jour, and if there were any arguments to be had about whomever I was seeing, my mother would castigate them to me in between customers. Anytime I needed to talk to my mother about something, my sisters were always listening. My oldest sister was looking for ammunition to use against me in future battles. At home I got to listen to their diatribes about me or my boyfriends and the arguments would continue when I got to work.
My mother forbade me from getting a job outside the family business. The ONLY way I was able to do so, was by moving out of my house when I was 21. No, I hadn’t even finished college yet. Things had gotten so bad that I couldn’t wait. I went on strike one day when my mother was yelling at me at how much my boyfriend was a twit and how she couldn’t stand him and didn’t want me dating him.
I got so angry, I walked out of the deli and made the decision to move out. I went to the bank to retrieve my $1100 that I earned, only to find out there was only $50 left. I went back to the deli and by some miracle, was able to demand that she return my money. She actually wrote me a check, which I immediately took and deposited into a new account in my own name. I moved out within 24 hours, to my boyfriends parents house. He was away in the Marines, but they took me in and I stayed there two months, and managed to not only stay in school, but procure my first laboratory job on my own.
After two months, lots of hostile phone calls and one letter disowning me from the family, I decided to go home. Not because of the psychological pressure they put on me, but because my boyfriends father got laid off and began drinking in the middle of the night, which scared me worse. I felt the devil I knew was better than the devil I didn’t know.
The long story made even longer, my mother was NOT a good example of unconditional love. My mother was NOT a good example of cooperative love. My mother was NOT a good example of how to help your gifted daughter navigate life’s challenges. Though, I do wholeheartedly believe the obstacles she placed in my way forced my own resourcefulness to surface.
I am resourceful, that is for sure.
(continued in the next post)