I live on the west coast; my mother lives in New England. She last visited me in 2010. I went to see her once a year from 2010 to 2014, but I haven’t been in three years. We talk on the phone, but usually not more than once a month. I love her, but we aren’t close. That’s her choice, not mine. And sometimes, that makes me crazy.
Here’s the latest incident, which just exemplifies our relationship. I’m happy, very happy, about my participation in a yoga teacher training program. I am not one of those young, supple dancer types. I am a solidly middle-aged type, weighing somewhat more than I should, not as strong as I once was, and never a dancer except in my own imagination. Or perhaps in my living room, when no one else was home. At any rate, I went into the YTT with some trepidation: I am too old, too stiff, have a crick in my right shoulder, can’t do an unsupported handstand… But I thought I’d take a risk and do it anyway. I could deepen my personal commitment to yoga, at the very least, and maybe, just maybe, I would do some volunteer teaching. More on that another time.
I recently went through my second intensive weekend of YTT; 42 hours over four days. Asana practice, chanting, study of the Bhagavad Gita, listening skills, meditation, how to lead meditation, how to lead a yoga class, word choice, why to choose different types of poses, a little anatomy, a little introduction to the brain and neuroscience. All of it interconnected and beautiful, and all of it shared and discussed and lived together with a group of 19 other people who are similarly moved and enthralled. I feel a sense of spaciousness, of ease and possibility. I make myself vulnerable in the group and am met with compassion and kindness. I float on a cloud of exuberance–“I’ve found my people!”
So I want to share this with my mother, let her know what a meaningful experience it is to me, how I’m discovering important pieces of myself that I didn’t even know I was missing. I’ve called her because it’s been more than a month since we last spoke.
Me: And the yoga teacher training, you know, it’s just amazing. I’m excited about everything I’m learning, but somehow what’s really incredible is the way it all comes together to create something larger, a sense of community with people who are also care about…
Mom: Sorry to cut you off, I am just thinking I should probably think about getting dinner made soon for Leo. He has to leave the house by six for his band practice, to get there on time, and I don’t even know what time it is.
Me: It’s 4:45, your time.
Mom: Okay, so we still have a little time to talk. It’s just that I don’t want him to have to rush to eat too fast. And he needs time to drive up to the rehearsal. It’s at the new high school. Do you know where that is? They built it up… blah blah blah… the school, the rehearsal room, the conductor… blah blah blah…
Because after all, it wouldn’t be interesting to talk about my yoga teacher training for even five fucking minutes now, would it? It wouldn’t be worthwhile hearing about something I say makes me excited and happy and hopeful, after spending several years being depressed a huge amount of the time.
The call ends just a few minutes later, so she’ll have time to make dinner for my stepdad. A timely meal for my stepdad has cut short many a conversation between me and my mother over the years.
I get off the phone and sit still on the bed for a few minutes. I feel so deflated. I feel unimportant, boring, invisible. My mother has no interest in knowing me as a person. She wants to love me–she says she loves me–from a distance, generically, without getting close enough to actually see me.
At one level, I know it’s her, not me.
I know this because when I said something about this to my sister last year, daring for the first time to voice the feelings of rejection that I’ve carried for years, my sister said, “You know, I’m sorry you feel like that, but I’m also not sorry. It kind of makes me feel better, because I have had the feeling for a long time that Mom didn’t really like me all that much.”
I know this because E tells me, in therapy session, that it is my mother, not me. That not everyone is willing to accept the emotional vulnerability that comes with intimacy. That I have intimacy with other people, but my mother does not.
But there is a three-year-old self inside me that is holding up a picture she drew and saying, “Mommy, look, I made you this.” And Mommy is refusing to look.
There is a 14-year-old self inside of me who was raped and feels confused and angry. And Mom makes her spend the weekend in her room for talking back.
There’s sadness in me, and loneliness, longing and anger and outrage. How can a mother be uninterested in her child? I don’t get it. I find my sons endlessly interesting. I love to hear how they see the world and feel privileged when they are willing to share that with me.
I know the solution to this painful soup of emotions. It’s right there in yoga, in of the early teachings in one of our dharma talks: non-attachment, non-judgment. I can decide to accept my mother as she is, guarded and remote. I can free myself of this attachment to a fantasy mother who doesn’t exist. Doing this would be a gift to myself.
And even though I know this, I also watch my mind spinning out its plans: 1) I can call her back and tell her I feel wounded and overlooked because she changed the subject, again, and didn’t want to hear about something that mattered to me. Then she will say, “Oh my gosh, I know, I made a terrible mistake. Really I have been thinking of this non-stop, ever since our call. I’ve wanted to call you back and apologize and ask you about the yoga, but I was too…” [worried/embarrassed/busy? what would she fill in here?] But I get to this point and know this plan will not work. 2) I will not call her ever again, and after a while, she will realize I am shutting her out, and it’s because she has shut me out a million times, and she will see how painful that is and will express her regrets… no, this one probably won’t yield much either. 3) I will write her engaging, funny letters, full of news and things I care about, and she will realize how much she loves knowing about my life, and she will call me up and ask me to tell her more… well, she has letters I’ve been writing to her for more than thirty years. She does keep them, it seems, but she doesn’t mention them.
And still my mind is busy, plotting, looking for some way to get her to notice me.
Let it go, mind. Let it go, little three-year-old girl, lanky fourteen-year old adolescent. Let it go, middle-aged woman. She doesn’t want to be that kind of mother.