Learning to Listen to My Mother
On Monday, my parents, two aunts, and an uncle arrive for a nearly two-week long vacation. I am jumping out my skin with excitement. My parents are the only ones in the group who've been to our big sham church wedding.) I am looking forward to showing them around my new life in the Middle of Nowhere. The flowers and trees are blooming, the fields are full of young calves. I'd say it's my favourite time of year, except I say that about all the seasons except winter.
I love my family and the single best thing I ever did for our relationship was move 3,500 miles away. The space has allowed me to mellow, to learn to value our relationships, to understand them all better. It's given me a valuable perspective that I wouldn't have been able to see if I were still living in my old bedroom. Sure, I don't get to see them that often, but when I do, it's special and we're able to enjoy each others' company without getting wrapped up in petty arguments.
During the weekly phone call, I've learned to listen to my mother. Not just to her motherly advice (Stay with the group....Be nice.....No speeding!), but to what she actually means.
Middle Brother, my mother and I are wired exactly the same way - we react to what we think we hear. Youngest Brother and my dad have the ability to step back and calmly consider a response, or to automatically reach for a measured, situation-defusing response. MB and I are two years apart, so our teenage years were sort of tumultuous at times. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being a Leave It to Beaver/Father Knows Best sort of situation and 10 being Cops/Supernanny/Jerry Springer territory, I'd say we probably evened out at about 5, but I can remember a couple of incidents that would probably rate at least a 7.
It's not that my parents were horrible ogres or that MB and I were wild hell-raisers. It was more the misunderstandings that could derail perfectly nice days. My mother worked in a nursing home for 25 years, so she spent her whole day talking very loudly to the near-deaf. Something like that's hard to turn off when you get home. If you're wired to react to what you think you hear, and you think you hear someone shouting at you, it's easy to react to what you perceive to be an unprovoked attack. If the other person wasn't intending malice or anger, then, guess what, it's easy for that person to react to a perceived unprovoked attack. I realise now that so many of our arguments were vicious circles of overreaction.
It wasn't just volume either. My mother has this thing she says, which I heard quite badly for the longest time. The conversation would go something like this:
Me: I'm going to drive 200 miles at night to go do some weird and interesting thing.
My Mother (in an incredulous tone): Can you do that?
What I heard: Are you capable of doing that? I don't believe that you are.
What I now realise my mother meant: Wow. That's really something. I don't think I could do that.
It took me about 20 years to realise that my mother wasn't continually accusing me of being incompetent, that in her own way, she really meant it as a sort of compliment. I regret not being able to figure this out sooner, but I'm glad that I figured it out at all and hope I have at least the next 20 years to listen to my mother.
Stay tuned tomorrow for a post about listening and my father.