The Last Straw
Two days ago, Saturday, I had one of the shittiest afternoons I’ve had for a long time. The post that I had planned for Friday didn’t get written because I spent the day in tensed-up dread of Saturday, and I haven’t been able to write since Saturday itself because my emotions have been all over the place.
My father had asked to meet up for lunch after my weekly dance class, and I knew he would be bringing my mother. Until this week I had always tried to accommodate this because my problems were (as I thought) with my mother and not him. We had always had what I consider a reasonable relationship. He has never been really supportive of me, but neither has he been abusive. The older I got, the better we seemed to communicate, as well. And so, as was typical of such situations, I was hoping for the best while mentally preparing for the worst, and my mother didn’t disappoint.
She began by coming up to the dance studio where we were finishing up for the day, and insisting on “helping” by taking my one-year-old daughter away from me, even though I have told her many times (and asked my dad to help get it into her head many times) that L needs to be within sight of me or E to feel safe and secure. I tried to politely get her back into the studio by telling her she could come in and see our new costumes and watch a choreography that two ladies were doing a final run-through of – it was a Christian piece and since she is always showing off how spiritual she is it seemed like something that would get her attention. I had to stay for a few more minutes so I didn’t want her staying outside, and my daughter was already struggling in her grip and whining.
She declared that my baby was restless and needed a change of scenery, and went downstairs. We could all hear L crying all the way out the door. I quickly went down. L was still crying. My father was trying to placate her, and failing. When she saw me, she reached out to me and the moment I took her back from my mother, she quietened. My mother immediately went into her usual “she is too close to you” spiel which I ignored because F, one of the dance girls and an old school friend who had been one of my bridesmaids, came down. My mother immediately went into her sweetness-and-light act in front of F, who, as it turned out, was happy to head where we were heading, so she rode with us in my father’s car.
L was perfectly happy with F – she’s fine with all my friends, though she is particularly fond of D (I can vanish for some time, e.g. to the toilet, if D is with her). She played with her and next to her and we had a good time catching up.
When we reached the destination mall (chosen by my mother), my untied mei tai got in the way of the car door so my father came round to hold L while I got organised. As he walked round to the back of the car I was still pulling my stuff together, and L started whining. My mother immediately started telling him to walk away quickly, and to make sure that L couldn’t see me. I bolted out of the car with my long straps trailing on the ground. As I was hurriedly getting them straightened out, my father suddenly remarked that he’d forgotten to close his door, and handed L to my mother, who proceeded to walk off.
I controlled my reaction because F was around, and gave my father a look. He knew what I meant, because I have talked to him many times about my issues with my mother’s behaviour and asked him to help speak to her about my directives concerning interaction with L, because she simply will not listen to me. She either ignores me or talks over me when I try to tell her anything she’s not interested in hearing.
Anyway, we caught up quite quickly. L was squirming and crying and looking for me and was immediately quiet when I took her back. My mother decided to start asking F about designer ice creams and persuaded her to take her to a well-known store in the basement, “just to make sure of the location”, even though we were late for L’s lunchtime and we had previously fought over my mother’s ignoring my statements that my baby was hungry. I put my foot down this time and said we didn’t have time for that, and thankfully my father agreed and said we could split up and get food for L first and my mother could join us later.
It was difficult finding seats in the crowded food court and by the time I found something that L could eat, it was way past her lunchtime and creeping into her nap time. Naturally, she was cranky and clingy and my mother showed up just as I was starting to try to feed her. L reacted badly and refused to sit in the baby chair (which my father had placed right next to my mother), which earned me more pointed remarks that L is “spoilt”, “overly attached” and “doesn’t seem to have been socialised properly; does she interact with anyone apart from you”? Then she went off to get her own lunch, and came back announcing that she’d bought a pumpkin dish for L since clearly what I was trying to feed her wasn’t palatable. She then went on to comment on every single morsel that I was offering L:
“It’s too hot, you need to wait for it to cool down.”
“Can’t you see the steam? It’s too hot, blow on it!”
“Are you sure she can eat that?”
“Why give her so little at a time? This is going to take too long. She wants to sleep.”
“She doesn’t want to eat, she’s tired.”
“She doesn’t want to eat that – I bought the pumpkin, aren’t you going to give it to her?”
“Let me mash it up for her since you’re not doing it.”
“She’s tired, she wants to sleep.”
Finally, L and I both gave up on her eating more than about a quarter of the amount she usually eats, and I began to put her in my mei tai. And despite weeks of telling my mother not to “help” with the straps, she insisted on doing it, saying that I couldn’t reach them, that they were dragging on the floor, and that I was taking too long. I gritted my teeth, finished the tie-off and walked out of the food court to calm my by-now screaming baby. She quietened within a couple of minutes and I thought I’d try going back and eating over her head; both E and I have done this several times, and this way, L would stay in the carrier, snug against my chest.
The moment I got back to the table, L started fussing again and – of course – my mother decided to interfere. She came around the table and stood over me and proceeded to tell me that L was uncomfortable, L didn’t want to be in the carrier, L was tired and needed to be put to sleep, I needed help putting L to sleep, there was no way I was going to ever eat anything if I insisted on “giving in” to L’s “demands”, and that she had kept some of her food aside for me since what I had bought wasn’t good enough and I had better let her take over so that I could eat it… and my father, who I had many times spoken to privately about the many problems I have with my mother’s behaviour, just sat there and said nothing.
I gave up. I shouldn’t have, but at that moment I gave up and untied my mei tai and handed L to my mother. Who proceeded to walk out of the food court. I sat there and listened to my daughter screaming until they were out of earshot. Then I exploded at my father.
Well, “exploded” is inaccurate. I spoke very angrily but quietly, and my hands were shaking. I told him this was exactly the behaviour I kept telling him was unacceptable, that there was no logic in my mother’s belief that it is somehow wrong for a child to be close to her parents, and that I didn’t think I was minded to keep excusing it for very much longer. Guess what? He told me to stop making a big deal out of things, that I was working myself up for nothing, and that I should just let it go and eat my lunch. I flat out told him I’d lost my appetite.
After a while he called my mother’s cell phone to find out her location and we went to look for her. L was quiet but leaning as far away from my mother’s body as she could while being held, and the moment she saw me she started squirming and reaching out to me. I took her back, wrapped her in the mei tai, and she was asleep within ten minutes.
The rest of the day was less pointedly unpleasant and in fact there were some laughs – caused by L being cute after she had woken up from her nap – but that lunchtime incident was the last straw for me. My mother is never, ever going to be allowed to be alone with my daughter again. We are already committed to a few other outings in the coming weeks, but once those are over, I am going to cut contact for some time. I may be shit at standing up for myself (I have a pathological inability to oppose my mother directly when I am the victim), but I am so done with her attempting to play games with my daughter. And who better to hold up a shield between her and her narcissistic grandmother, than her mother, who has survived the abuse?
I just wish it didn’t have to be like this.