Everyone has buttons that can be pressed to make them angry, frustrated, or enraged. I’m usually sent into fits of rage whenever my mother says something less-than-flattering about my children. I am probably quite typical that way. You cannot speak ill of my children; not to my face. (I can say what I want.)
My mother, Sunshine, jumps up and down, over and over again, on this button. “Impossible Miracle # 1 is so fat.” “Impossible Miracle # 2 isn’t as bright/funny/talented as [some other kid].” “Your kids are so spoiled, they’re rotten.” She’s said all that and worse. I used to fly into fits when she said these things. But I’ve learned not to respond. That’s how I control my crazy.
I’ve been ignoring and not responding to Sunshine’s comments for more than two years now. I thought by now that she would get the message. She either hasn’t gotten the message or she is determined to keep saying these things without regard for the impact of these words. Or, maybe she doesn’t mean to be hurtful. I’m really not sure. But doesn’t every mother know that it is absolutely verboten to speak ill of another’s child, except when… well, okay, I’m not sure I can think of a time when that’s okay. My instinct is to scratch your eyeballs out if you say the wrong thing. Everybody does that, right?
Sunshine’s logic is that if she doesn’t tell you the hard truth, you will go out into the cold, cruel world and someone will hurt your feelings. It’s better if she hurts her daughters’ feelings first. I guess.
My sister, The Tempest, recently decided to try and control her crazy and have a calm and mature conversation with Sunshine about some hurtful things Sunshine has said. I’m really proud of Tempest because she kept her cool, apologized (4 times!) to Sunshine for any hurts she has caused, and then she asked Sunshine if she could maybe apologize, and please stop saying some of the things that have been painful to Tempest over the years. Sunshine declined.
Sunshine not only refused to say she would stop the hurtful comments, but she also told Tempest that she never said any of these things to her. Sunshine’s version of things is that she’s always supportive, always kind, always helpful. I’ve heard Sunshine say to Tempest, “you’re never going to be successful in that career because you’ve never been able to focus on anything in your life. You’re not as smart as my other daughters.” But Sunshine would deny that she said anything of the kind. I’ve heard her say to Tempest, “No wonder your husband left you; look at you.” I’ve heard more. It’s too much to write. I’m sad writing as much as I have.
But Tempest was controlling her crazy long enough to make an effort with Sunshine. The Tempest earned her name through many years of explosive storms of emotional upheaval that she has unloaded on probably every member of our family. Tempest’s buttons are the easiest to push of all because she’s also the most sensitive of the sisters. So this attempt at conciliation was huge. It took an extreme amount of intestinal fortitude. Tempest had to gird her loins and go into the dangerous territory of Sunshine’s lair. And Tempest did that. She tried. She tried again. She tried again. And then she tried one last time.
I was the recipient of the tearful phone call from Tempest when she knew that she had failed with Sunshine. It was hard because she held such hope for what could be and now she had to mourn what would not come. I offered encouragement and support. And then I sat down at my computer to write. It’s the only therapy I have. It helps me control my own special brand of crazy.