Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Dishwasher was Infallible, I was Not

I mentioned in the post Rage, Yelling, and Tears that the dishes were a special area of concern with my NM. Some of her most terrifying rages were about the dishes, sometimes she would rage and sometimes she would cry and rage. Two overlapping areas in particular were dishes that didn't come out clean (and sometimes got put away dirty), and her precious copper pots and pans.

A dish that didn't get clean was never the dishwasher's fault, it was always the fault of the person who had last loaded the dishwasher. Of course that person wither either my sister, me, or both of us together. Sometimes she would check the dishes before running the dishwasher, and we would either be summoned to again clean a dish she didn't think was clean enough for the dishwasher, or she would angrily redo it herself. If a dish was put away dirty, there would be yelling about it when it was found. Or we hadn't loaded it "right" she would redo it herself and there would be lots of banging of dishes around while she went at it in anger.

By far though, the most common rages involved her precious copper pots and pans. Even when we got them clean she criticized us for using too much of her pot polish, she could get it done with far less, after all. Heaven forbid she find a one of those put away "dirty"! In fact I realize now what she often thought of as not clean enough was really water spots, or that it wasn't polished shiny enough... Anyway, she would start slamming things around and yelling and sometimes she would make my sister or me stand their and wash it again, criticizing us for using too much polish all the while.

The most loud slamming and banging of things typically occurred the pots and their lids were put away "dirty" or weren't put away "right", whichever way that was. Hell if I know. All I know is the smaller pans stacked inside the larger ones, but she had so many pots and different large ones and there was so little space where she stored them that it was difficult to do it "right"! Things would be clanging angrily as she rearranged them, she'd slam the cabinets shut, and yell or cry or both. This is where I feel the word "terrifying" is truly an appropriate description of my experience as a child with this. Her reaction was so out of proportion to the problem it was insane. And of course I felt it was my fault she was so mad, which then made me feel both terrified and like a horrible person. I just can't seem to convey the experience and how terrifying she was to me clearly in writing...

So I learned to hate doing dishes, although when I was a teenager I got better at doing them and when the dishwasher broke and we switched to hand washing them I usually got them clean. The truth is it wasn't the dishes I hated, but the association of them with my NM and her rages. I dislike folding laundry too, for similar reasons. How angry she would get when little five year old Adela was found to have shoved her clean clothes in her drawers instead of folding them! But of course my NM couldn't be bothered to help and make sure I did it. Ugh. Ridiculous to expect a five year old to learn to clean and fold laundry on their own, unsupervised, out of intrinsic motivation, but I digress, see Spanking and Learned Helplessness for more on my NM, cleaning, and developmentally inappropriate expectations of children.

Anyway, I realize I don't like loud noises not just because I have sensitive hearing, but also for the same reason I don't like angry voices and yelling. It triggers emotional flashbacks to when I was a child suffering my NM's rages. And I still don't like doing dirty dishes. Often I let the dishes build up and get overwhelmed by them, but I'm getting a little better and my DH is a huge help. Also we own nice non-stick pots and pans with tempered glass lids. And since I can't stack them inside each other, I hang them from a pot rack on the ceiling. The glass lids make less racket than metal ones. No clanging and banging and no need to polish them. I greatly prefer this.

I used to get irritated with DH when a dish came out of our dishwasher (once we got one) and it was dirty but have since realized I'm repeating my NM's irrational behavior and learned that a stupid dirty dish is nothing to get worked up about. Who cares if or why a dish comes out of the dishwasher dirty, it'll get clean the next time around!

Next time, more on dishes. Specifically my old phobia, kitchen knives, and my NM.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Recommended Reading: The Words To Say It

The Words To Say It is the autobiographical account of Marie Cardinal, a French woman who was born in 1928 in Algiers, the capital of Algeria, which was under French rule at the time. Her journey, although in a different time and place than many of us today, parallels are own.

When we met Marie, she is a 27 year old mother of three suffering from an illness, constant menstrual bleeding, that no physician has been able to treat. She feels herself going mad, in a constant battle with the "Thing". So unable to function, she is taken to her maternal uncle's sanatorium. The drugs make her sleep, but cannot relieve her from her suffering, they cannot stop the "Thing" from consuming her. As a desperate, last resort, she pulls herself together enough to be allowed to walk the grounds and promptly escapes with the help of a friend. Desperate not be locked away again, she takes up the recommendation to see a  psychoanalyst as a last resort, as they are known for being highly against institutionalizing their patients.

But we do not spend countless pages reading her interactions with the doctor. No, this is not a book about psychoanalysis, but what Marie learns about herself and her family, through her memories and actions over the seven years she is in analysis. It is beautifully written (and translated). One of the most important things she comes to understand is the influence of her mother, both unconscious and conscious. Her mother, who never wanted her. Her mother, who tried to abort her and told her as much, her mother, whose love belonged to a dead daughter, her mother, for whom she was never good enough. This is a story we all know very well, and it is Marie's story of coming to terms with and moving beyond it.

And that is why I recommend it. Marie's journey is fascinating and insightful, you won't be disappointed. But do yourself a favor and buy it used, because it's published as material for psychology students and thus as a textbook it costs a small fortune.

Here is an excerpt, Marie's memories of being pregnant with her first child and recalling with disgust all the things her very devout Catholic mother had tried to do to induce a miscarriage:

But to my mother, these signs of life meant only that she had not yet been able to kill me. Ah! What a nuisance! And it goes on for so long: minutes, hours, days, weeks, months. There is so much time to get to know the little one who lives inside you. Is there any greater intimacy or promiscuity? Did each of my movements inside the womb remind her of the odious coupling of which I was the issue?

So she swing onto her rusty bike and rode off into the wasteland of refuse. I hope you're having a ball in there, my girl, my little fish, you'll see how I am going to snap your spine! Get out. Take a look. See if I'm up to it!

She mounted her old nag, and giddap! Do you feel the battering ram against your hideous body? Darling! This'll work up a fine storm to shatter a little submarine! No? This'll make some some fine waves to drown the little diver! Well? Go away, you little shit, get the hell out of here!

Still moving? Here's something to calm you down. Quinine, aspirin! Sleep, little darling, sleep, little baby, let me rock you; drink, my beauty, drink the lovely poisoned brew. You'll see what fun you're going to have in the toboggan of my ass when you're well and truly rotted by drugs, drowned like a sewer rat. Death to you! Death to you!

At last, powerless, resigned, defeated, disappointed, she let me slip out alive into life, the way you let slip a turd. And what about the little girl/turd coming slow, face forward, towards the light she saw down there at the end of the narrow, moist passage, at the end of the tunnel? What was going to happen to her on the outside where already she had been so mistreated? Tell me, Mother, did you know that you were pushing her into madness? Did you question it?

What I have referred to as the beastliness in my mother is not because she wanted an abortion (there are times when a woman is not capable of having children, not capable of loving enough); on the contrary, her beastliness consisted in not having followed through on her desire to have an abortion. Then, in having continued to project her hatred onto me when I was inside her, and, finally, in having chosen to speak of her wretched crime, her weak attempts to murder me. It was as if, having bungled it, she were starting up again, fourteen years later, without risking her own skin, in comparative safety.