Mothers and Daughters and Such
Even though I am both a woman and a psychiatrist, I am no expert on the mother-daughter relationship.
My Mother-Of-Blessed-Memory was a “good” woman by any measure — the faithful and virtuous homemaker. She spent a lot of time thanklessly trying to nurture my Father-Of-Blessed-Memory — a pretty grandiose if creatively powerful music writing and arranging manic with some Asperger traits — and my Brother-Of-Blessed-Memory — a full blown Asperger’s who was also bipolar.
They took so much of her psychic energy it is a wonder she had any left at all for me. But she did, and she told me how she had to fight to get me freedom, the days she would drop me off in the car when I went to the Secondary Science Training program, or even just to walk in downtown Boston.
She had several catch phrases that irked me regularly and predictably. I think each time I said something that I thought was medical and truthful, she would come back with pointing to the palm of her hand, and saying something like “I knew you when your ass was so small that I could fit both parts of it in the palm of my hand. And now I am supposed to listen to what you say?”
She commented once in later years that had I not been her biological daughter, she simply would never have even met a woman like me — head “crammed” with facts and always working so hard.
Double Oy! Mostly because it was probably true. I was nothing like her friends at the synagogue sisterhood.
She desperately wanted me to have babies of my own, something in which I never had any interest. She was always proud of a real or imagined martyrdom she had lived for her husband and children, a martyrdom of reflective glory that seemed like little recompense in a world where I just might be eligible for the direct stuff.
She wanted to teach me to have children and diaper babies. I told her that at least the birthing part and maybe the rest did not seem to require serious skill development, whereas I had developed many harder-to-develop skills.
Then she went “Oy!”
I was only in the sixth grade (but young because I had skipped two grades) when she asked me if I did not want to grow up and have a daughter who was as cute and smart as I was.
Granted, this sounded pretty seductive. But at the age of 10 or so, I was already armed with science.
I told her about genetic recombination. I told her that not only would I probably be unable to come up with a child as wonderful as myself, but with my luck I would breed someone like Aunt Gussie, who was not only extremely ugly but also somehow managed to steal a mass inheritance from the remainder of the family.
My mother not only uttered a muffled “Oy!,” but managed tears on that one, worrying what she had done wrong to make me not want to have children.
I tried to explain to her that she had done nothing wrong really, but that I had managed to make my own decisions on what I had seen.
She wanted me to be more like her, which was not going to happen.
The 6 am Sunday morning lectures from her father (who drove early to miss the traffic in driving from western Massachusetts two hours away) telling me how a woman’s virtuous reputation won her a stable and respected (Jewish) swain were obviously also lost on me.
When my husband and I visited for her funeral, we learned my Mommie-Of-Blessed-Memory had “adopted” other women my approximate age, hung with them, and given them motherly guidance, while I was hundreds or even a couple thousand miles away with my husband. My mother once adopted a toll-taker on the Mystic River (connecting Chelsea and the North Shore of Massachusetts with Boston) Bridge. She was worried that my closeness to my husband in marriage would somehow “disrupt” my close relationship with her, which had been nicely disrupted by both distance and my inevitably independent spirit long before my finger landed a ring.
I did not collect as many surrogate mothers as my mother did surrogate daughters, but I had some. The obvious one was my father’s mother — my grandmother or “Bobie.” She constantly fought with my own mother for kitchen-dominance — or who would be able to cook the better meal for my father. I am especially grateful to her for something surprising. My mother told me to “wear no man’s collar” and could not understand why a woman with a profession and no real interest in children would want to get married. My Bobie-Of-Blessed-Memory told me once she got over the “scared” part, she liked being married and sex was definitely a pleasure that was worth the trouble.
In France, there was the indefatigable Mme. Mareschal, who lived in the apartment above me and ran the cafe on the street level. “Cafe les Arcades” was a sort of living-room extension for the people of the Amiens marketplace, the people of the “Beffroi,” the ancient bell tower in the middle of the marketplace that dated from when the whole city had been an estate in the tradition of the feudalism of the Middle Ages. She was my French mother, teaching me enough cooking to survive, secretly appalled that my biological mother had not done a better job of preparing me.
I went so far as getting Mme. Mareschal to visit my parents in Massachusetts with me. About all I remember was fighting with her, how badly she seemed to dominate my thoughts and decisions even though deep down I had felt that her life really was not mine to dominate. My mother did teach her to say “I love you” in English phonetically, thus making her sound kind of like the Minnie Mouse “squeeze-my-hand-and I-talk” doll on my desk. My father had a typical “cute” academic reaction. He said it was an amazement to him that my French language acumen was so great that I could get angry in that language.
It was typical mother separation stuff, from someone who really was not exactly my mother, anyway. Mme. Mareschal and my mother were in an amazing amount of agreement on the topic of what a rotten and ungrateful child I was. By the time I was settling back in America I was not really in search of a mother as much as I was looking for other kinds of social entities — like boy-friends. I met Mother Rocky on a plane that landed in St. Louis, where she lived and where I was checking out a couple of neurosurgical residencies.
We exchanged addresses and contact info as we landed. She was very elegant and obviously very wealthy.
She was Jewish, and even spoke some Yiddish (Judaeo-German) but she was “pedigreed,” and had been, if memory serves, an American History specialists at one of the “seven sisters” — the colleges which had been taken, at least in my father’s day, as the female academic equivalents of the Ivy League. I remember she was a specialist in the Lewis and Clark expeditions, something that had always interested me. The idea of doing a scientific survey of the New World just gave me goose bumps on my goose bumps. When she introduced me to her friends — of apparently similar age and social status — upon my return to St. Louis, I realized that knowing a young woman neurosurgeon was some kind of social currency for her, but I didn’t mind that at all since I knew I could always depend on her to pick up the bill. My overwhelming memory of her was luncheon with “the girls” at an exceedingly ritzy all-Jewish Country Club. They were talking something that sounded like “Shidachs,” marriage-fix ups, like my grandmother of blessed memory had told me about in the old “Schtetl” — the old village she had lived at in the Ukraine. The only difference here in 20th century St. Louis, seemed to be the dollar figure,. I remember telling Mother Rocky (short for “Rochelle” or “Rachel” or something) about how I had been gently informed my medical degree counted as dowry so they would not even have to phone my folks in the states if I wanted a match.
My disdain of such carryings-on must have shown, for Mother Rocky touched my forearm and told me that in her world, marriage arrangements — where the family of the male came up with the money and the female came up mostly with physical attraction (which at that point I certainly had not got) — involve more money than I had ever seen, or could ever dream of. A license to practice medicine would never be more than the smallest part. Mother Rocky and her friends laughed at me gently, but with condescension, as I told them I did not see life that way. I always figured that with my hard work and credentials, I had, at the very least, bought the opportunity to marry for love and love alone. I have come to understand at least a little about mothers’ disappointment with daughters. It is simply not possible for any woman to seek immortality by giving birth to a miniature version of herself. The DNA is different, for one, and has to include at least a schnitzel of the DNA that belonged to Dear old Dad. Moreover, the era of life of a female offspring is significantly different from mother’s era, so there will be a LOT of differences in exposure to social influences.
Love dyad is far more important to life quality, I think.
I did not know it then, but I would, and did. I did not know it then, but satisfaction, let alone joy, within a marital dyad is the consummate determining factor of life happiness. I guess I never really hit pay-dirt in the surrogate daughtering business, but by the time I had any useful kind of skills in that department, I was focusing on a relationship more commensurate with my maturity. I do not complain, for I have hit the jackpot in the True Love department, frequently referring to the process as the best piece of science I ever perpetrated. It became “How to Locate and Marry your Lifetime Love,” the book and seminar of the same name.
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