I just watched the episode of the television show Roseanne (while it was still on ABC) titled “No Country for Old Women.” It’s about Roseanne and her sister Jackie arguing over who is going to take their 90-year-old mother, Beverly into their home. Beverly was apparently kicked out of her nursing home for being too amorous with various male residents. She appears at Roseanne’s doorstep looking for a place to stay because she doesn’t want to end up in the “horrible county home”.
After a rapid-fire series of complaints from Bev one morning soon after her arrival, Roseanne turns to Jackie and says “You gotta take her.”
“Not a chance” is Jackie’s reply. “Possession is nine-tenths of the law.”
When they proceed to “rock, paper, scissors” to decide who would take her first for a couple of weeks, I howled.
I guess watching this episode inspires me to begin the process of painting the nuances of our own mother and our relationship with her. She is not vindictive like Roseanne’s fictional mother, there are other issues at play.
I’ve always wondered whether Ginny was never comfortable being a mom? Maybe she didn’t have confidence with it? But that was the groundwork and we felt that distance. She was far away in the same house.
To a degree, times were different. Kids were kicked out of the living room when cocktail hour began. Sometimes we ate as a family, but many nights Hailey and I sat in the kitchen eating our dinner alone together. I played cards with my dad sometimes, but I truly don’t remember a child’s activity shared with mom. She was so closed-off.
I remember about 15-20 years ago, I actually started to say “I love you” at the end of a phone call. I had picked up the habit with my own son Will and thought I should reach out in that way.
It was awkward. I would say it, then she might say it back, but other times she did not. Finally, she actually told me that she was not comfortable saying “I love you” (at any time) because she had not been raised that way. So, I stopped.
And well, she did have a knack for making it about herself. She was beautiful, the apple of her parents eyes; she had led an interesting childhood. She had a great eye for art and design; she truly felt like she was the bomb. THAT was where her confidence lay, and seemingly, her focus.
Ultimately, as we grew up, I think she just didn’t have strong empathic skills at being a mother or a grandmother. She never once cared to babysit either of her grandsons. Commenting to me on her decision not to attend Hailey’s son wedding in Las Vegas last year, she told me she was sorry she couldn’t go because “she had a role to be played.” She has always been a bit of a fantasy-maker and I think she literally lived and continues to live in her head. It’s “role” vs. real life living.
So, Hailey and I adjusted. We created distances of our own. We moved away. We did not seek her guidance with anything. We always remained dutiful daughters, but we packed ourselves away in a safe place emotionally. I shared very little about my life in my phone calls to Ginny, or in person, it was just easier that way. Sometimes, however, the anger and disappointment crept up to the surface.
As an adult, I remember one summer in the late 1990’s, we were headed to Minnesota to celebrate the birthdays of some dear friends of our family. She didn’t get to see my eight-year-old son Will very often and I thought our family could spend that first afternoon together. She preferred to go on an art/architectural tour. And that’s what she did. Well, I basically blew up at her for not wanting to spend time with her own grandson.
Of course, it doesn’t take Freud to connect that I was re-living my own childhood when she made that decision, but I was angry. I was not going to let her ignore my son as I felt she had ignored me. It just pushed old buttons.
I want to say this – there is an important element to the Roseanne show. At a certain point, Bev dramatically steps onto a windowsill announcing “You won’t be happy until I’m gone so this is for you.”
Jackie lobs back that it is a stunt to manipulate her.
Bev shoots in return “I knew you girls didn’t like me, but I didn’t think you hated me so much you would throw me in the garbage at the county home” (she had overheard a conversation) and she proceeds to pretend to get closer to jumping. Jackie rushes towards her, her whole demeanor changing, softening and says “you’re freaking me out, of course I love you mom.”
And that’s where we are. Of course, we love her too. She is our mom and she doesn’t have my dad as a support system; not for a long time. We will always be there for her. I just find it deeply ironic that with Ginny getting older, entering this late stage in life, that she’s finally showing her need for us now. It never felt that way. And with some of that baggage buried, I am cautiously leaving the door open to see where it goes.