Monday, November 1, 2010

What about Mom?

In the piece below, Billy Malanga writes about his experience of managing an adult child-aging mother relationship. He acknowledges how the complicated present is composed of layers of past experiences as well as present expectations and even disappointments.

It has been said that our inner consciousness is cognizant of its own will. [Schopenhauer]. But that will does not arise in a vacuum. It is born in our earliest communions. These relationships lay a foundation for the adults we will become. Yet, as good as our first relationships may be, separation is inevitable. And this is not without a high cost. Our own mothers walk ahead of us, walk too fast, and forget us from time to time. They have lives to lead, right? The only mystery is that we expect it to be different. [Marilynne Robinson].

Essentially, we begin our lives with a loss according to Judith Viorst, the loss of the warmth and comfort and protection of the womb. Once outside their bodies, our mothers still interposes themselves between us and the surrounding world. In this early vulnerable period, there will be no greater need than that of our mother.

Given this early connection, why do I feel a void, a dark ocean swirling with the waves in the present? Don't misunderstand me, I know my mother, feel her love and appreciate the imposition of her structural order [i.e., she excels as Suzy homemaker] however; there is a disconnect, a lack of understanding, and very little communion. Why? I have asked myself this question on numerous occasions.

In spite of questions, time continues to pass us by, moving, like a car passing on the highway, the orange glow of taillights slowly disappearing in the dark. When I was an infant, my mother would rub my sweaty forehead at night when I had a fever or bad cold. It was sweet, loving. Those times are long gone, those feelings are numb. George Santayana once said, "Waking life is a dream controlled." The dream is jumbled now, the memories dim and faltering.

Do we always grow out of this attachment and let go? We gain wisdom and experience that can help us understand and accept the different chapters of our life, each with their imperfections. Sigmund Freud wrote of the Oedipus complex as a universal and inborn struggle. I remember looking at my mother when I was a boy but any feelings of jealousy or internal drama have been long repressed. No one was in the way, so I did not have to compete for her attention in that way, but it was always at a distance. She was attentive to her motherly duties but never really accessible for deep emotional connection. This may explain to a certain extent the distance we experience to date. I suspect that the loss I experienced was not the normative loss Judith Viorst explained but a deeper chasm.

In his novel Pincher Martin, William Golding writes "Eternity, inseparable from pain was there to be examined and experienced.” The pain of this loss is there, it is part of my day, but I must keep moving, breathing, loving, and working. It is there, rearing its head when things are quiet. I see others close to their mothers, and I wonder what it would be like to experience that kind of connection, without the mask.

But in the reality of the present, I accept the nothingness that stares at me. I do not know the answer yet- perhaps I never will. As I peer inward now and then, pictures of my mother materialize as though shrouded in mist. This is part of life. Time continues to pass us by; that car has moved on down this highway … orange taillights strangely comforting.

Malanga struggles with a topic familiar to most adults, from those just making their way into adult independence to middle-aged boomers fully engaged in their parents’ transition to dependence. In a 2009 article in the journal Psychology of Aging, researchers Birditt, Miller, Fingerman, and Lefkowitz report that tensions between adult-children and their parents are common. They also replicate past work that has noted adult- children often report higher tensions with mothers compared to fathers. Other research has reported closer relationships between mothers and their adult children, leading to more contact and the possibility of more tension and conflict. Clearly, Malanga is not alone as he makes sense of the past and moves into the future.

The relationship between his mother and him may not be all that he wants, but Malanga’s acceptance of ambivalence is one that portends continued exploration and growth.

This entry submitted by guest blogger,Billy Malanga with commentary by Angela Wiley