Every time I speak to my mother there has to be a conversation about weight. It’s almost like an essential part of life for her and I have no wonder that it has always been an issue for me.
A roll call of the family and what they are doing takes place and instead of revolving around what they are doing in their professional lives or how their kids are getting on although that gets slotted in later it ALWAYS starts with “[insert name of brother or sister and increasingly nephew or great nephew – I was the blessed with one of only two female offspring and the other she doesn’t see] has put on weight/put on loads of weight/lost weight”.
Then she will tell me how she has lost weight herself, now if she has actually lost the amount of weight she’s been telling me she has for the past 2 years she must be a skeleton by now for sure and without the marrow… but she’s 83 what does she care anymore? She should be glad just to be alive, her size or lack of it has no bearing on anything now surely? Who cares if she is slim or not now? I have asked her repeatedly when we speak for her to not mention my siblings or their offspring, I’m not interested in anything any of them do or don’t do and certainly not interested in what size they are even though having been tortured by them my whole life for being overweight and willed to fail at everything I ever did and that then passing on to my children too (of course I raised perfect beautiful children, I just had to be best at being a parent too didn’t I?) I do find a certain nasty tickle of satisfaction to hear that they are all suffering with extra poundage and are powerless to shift it – not having had the years of dieting experience that I have enjoyed and not being immune to years of conditioned sibling rivalry.
But she still feels the need to relate to me the ins and outs and then when I tell her about my achievements and those of my children she brushes over them and I can hear the disbelief in her voice that my children could possibly be doing anything good… or at least better than or comparable to those of my siblings. When my daughter passed her degree as the first grandchild actually raised by one of my mother’s children to do so it was not as good an achievement as someone else’s even though my mother has no concept of degree classifications or of the whole HE award system and another nephew who is in his first year at uni is obviously doing so much better… so much better in spite of the fact that my daughter has finished which kind of trumps a good first year.
Not that it matters because I hate being brought into this competition I’ve had a lifetime of it and I always won, probably because I was so bloody determined to, but even though I did win in that I became the most educated of her children and the only one to actually bring my own children up single handedly, the only one to get married before I had kids it still doesn’t matter because the others will always be better than me no matter what I do. I don’t want my children in it and shield them from it so much so that one of them can’t bare to visit my mother and the other does so under duress and always comes away depressed. Boy do I know that feeling.
If I can get my mother away from the weight thing and away from the sibling rivalry thing I get on OK with her, I enjoy her history, her stories of the past, even her humour but why has she always had to pit us against each other and why has our weight always been the most important measure of our success in life? It makes me want to cry and I know at times that I do what she does, I spot someone I’ve not seen for a while and I’ll say to my kids “I saw [insert name of anyone I know] today and she’s looking a bit heftier than last I saw her” and I kick myself so hard because I hate that I do it. My grandma was the same, she used to do it all of the time and until her dying day at 91 she was obsessed with her own quest to remain slender and that of everyone else to do the same. She also pitted her kids against one another however she chose the most accomplished as her favourite and worked her way down, using her own messed up measure of what was an achievement worthy of elevation to a loftier status… I think ultimately it depended on distance travelled and with my mum only ever making it as far as Italy and the rest of her siblings having at least been to Egypt and most to the far East she was without a doubt at the bottom of the list.
How sad… how very sad. I know that my sisters perpetuated this within her own kids, one has adult sons locked in a fierce four way battle to be the favourite or to be acknowledged as worthy of her attentions as each other but fail dismally in the wake of one who wasn’t even brought up by her who has outshone the rest by far in terms of material gain – her measure of how much love her children deserve. There is no cohesion in her offspring, they don’t have an easy relationship with one another and she has perpetuated my mothers ills. The other is on a similar track but is perhaps more concerned with pitting her children against mine rather than each other. I find it bothersome and wearying and I really stay away from it but it is difficult when one of them is in the same class as one of mine. I tire of hearing from my mother how poorly my son is doing at school – he’s the highest achiever in all subjects in his year, I have documentary evidence, yet when I tell her this it falls on deaf ears because my sister has told her differently for some godforsaken reason. It’s exhausting and ridiculous. Her elder son goes to a better university than my daughter went to but that is tempered by the fact that my child has a personality which is quite handy when trying to find employment, hers doesn’t having been raised to sit and study at the expense of all else so he can out do my daughter academically rather than having a balanced life. He is obnoxious and rude and ridiculously and groundlessly superior to the extent that nobody can stand the poor kid, but he’s at a Russell group uni so that’s OK even though that is funded by his absent father who was only ever in a relationship with his mother for 3 months and only found out about his status change to father when the guy she tried to con into thinking was the father figured out how to use a calendar. I’m not bitter… just aware of facts that other people seem oblivious to 😛
I have made a point of loving my children equally yet differently, I interact with them on individual levels, I embrace their uniqueness and I rejoice in their differences, I don’t care how big or small they are, I don’t care how well they do in life as long as they feel they did their best and they are happy with themselves and as long as they are kind, thoughtful people and most importantly as long as they love each other, support each other, uphold each other, communicate with each other and are in every sense aware of the fact that they are the only people on Earth who are two parts of me and their father who feel that closest of connections. When I’m gone they are the two halves of me that they still have to cleave to, to guide, advise and care unconditionally for each other. I would hate to think that my kids didn’t love each other totally or that they couldn’t call on each other for support and guidance in a moment of need or that they had to hide things from one another or feel that they had to compete for my love.
I’m pretty sure I’ve managed to let both of them feel as loved by me as the other and more importantly to make sure they love each other as I love them. I love that I overhear them chatting and that my son is planning to visit his sister and to have her show him around her new home and the city she will be living in, I love that they are planning out times when they will Skype each other at least a few times a week, I love that she is passing on some of her prized possessions to him as she sorts out her room, I love that he is looking forward to her going and having his share of ‘only child’ time at last and how honest they can be about that, I love that she has set up a standing order to pay him an allowance as long as he’s being good and working hard from her first grown up salary. I love that they don’t need me to be involved in any of that. Thank God I broke the chain, now if I can just stop obsessing about weight…
I’m not the perfect mum by a long shot, who is? As my daughter comes around to leaving I have found myself analysing my efforts quite a lot, her life is flashing before my eyes and I’m thinking of all of the things I wanted to but never quite accomplished for her… she never did get that slide in her bedroom, that’s the big one that stands out but I think I did the best I could in what were sometimes difficult circumstances and I’m confident that I taught her how to love herself and how to love other people. What greater thing can we teach our children right? The slide doesn’t really matter so much after all.