A psychological sandwich

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I am my mother’s daughter. When I was in my early twenties, when I first began to develop a will of my own, when I first discovered the thrill of rebellion and quietly thumbed my nose at my mother’s religiosity and what I then saw as her prudery, and began to favour the company of men – what I have called my ‘promiscuous’ years – my mother took to writing me letters.

My mother writes letters still even though we live less than twenty kilometers apart. She writes to all her children as a means of stating her case.

My mother’s letters to me are ‘psychological sandwiches’. They begin with protests of her love for me. The middle carries the sting. What do you think you are doing? Who do you think you are? Behaving so loosely with men. Where are your morals?

Then she might end the letter with a short vignette: her memory of me as a little girl in a yellow jumper and tartan skirt, after she had come home from hospital with my new baby sister, when I was less than two years old and had been left in the care of my godparents, the Kaandorps, for over a week.

In her letter my mother remembers me then as the little girl who threw herself into her mother’s arms and wept for the sheer joy of being together again. If only, my mother writes, if only she could give to me now the things I needed then. It is as if she wishes that I had never grown up, that I had never entered into the world of adulthood, of conflict and of challenge. If only I had stayed little, then our bond might be secure.

I have been reading Nancy Miller’s Bequest and Betrayal:memoirs of a parent’s death, a book about adult children who write about their parents after death. Are these memoirs eulogies, songs of praise for parents now gone, or are they betrayals of parental secrets?

I suspect I could not write about my father as I do now were he not dead. Now he is dead, I am safe.

Will the way I write about my mother change after her death? My mother in my mind has undergone so many metamorphoses, from the woman I adored as a small child to the woman I became scornful of, though not in adolescence, even in adolescence I felt protective of her and needy, to the frail old woman she has finally become, of whom I feel protective in a different way. It took a long time before I dared to feel critical of my mother in any way.

It was later in my life, in my twenties and thirties when I had embarked on my analysis, only then did my image of my mother start to crack. Only then did I come to feel critical of her, for her religious intolerance, her manipulative tendencies, and her tendency to pretend that all is well when it is not.

I have my mother’s name, all three names, Elisabeth Margaretha Maria. It is a Dutch tradition to name the second daughter after the mother, and the first daughter after the mother’s mother, a tradition that again alerts us to the significance of mothers in a woman’s life.

I did not name my first daughter after my mother or any of my daughters directly after me, but my husband insisted and I agreed to the idea that they should all have my name as a second name. Equality you might say. Their first names however belong entirely to them.

Even now I can imagine my daughters writing in the future about what it means to them to each share their mother’s name between their first and last names.

In my family of origin, we each bear the name Maria, another tradition, religious this time, a means of asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to look over us all. All except the oldest, who again according to Dutch tradition was given his father’s name in its entirety.

When we were little we laughed at the fact that even the boys carried the name Maria in their collection of personal names, Simon Peter Maria, Franciscus Wiro Maria, Michael George Maria and Gregory Paul Maria. Such odd names they seemed to us growing up in Australia in the fifties and sixties when most people’s names were Celtic and Anglo Saxon with the odd immigrant name from the Mediterranean or Europe thrown in for good measure.

Names matter, they are identifying features, they become part of our sense of ourselves and of our identity.

In the days when I fancied I might write a book in which I had hoped each of my siblings might contribute a chapter, I also imagined a paragraph on each of us, suggesting parallels between our first given name and the way in which our name reflects our personalities.

As usual I am running off into too many ideas, too many ideas to follow. One leads into the other and the track becomes unwieldy. It is difficult to back track to where we have come from. Sorry.

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74 Comments on A psychological sandwich

  1. TaraDharma
    January 21, 2011 at 11:50 pm (6 years ago)

    does there exist a more complex relationship than that of mother and daughter? Oh my. My eldest is having a baby this summer, and she'll begin the other side of her mother-daughter experience. At 54, I will become a grandmother, and I'm still working out what my role as a mother has been, is now, and will be in the future.

    I have given it my best, and will continue to do so. But sometimes…I want to run away.

    Reply
  2. Ruth
    January 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm (6 years ago)

    Yes, I am trailing off following the path you have chosen, swaying with you on it. I relate to it, mostly, not about the motherly names, but about the parents. I was not free to do certain things until my parents were gone, for fear of hurting them. Like not going to church.

    Names are important, and especially so if we ascribe importance to them. I think there are beautiful ways to do this, and I am in that happy state of witnessing my daughter contemplating child names as she hopes to start a family soon. There is so much more to naming a child than liking a name!

    Reply
  3. Jane Lancaster
    January 21, 2011 at 11:58 pm (6 years ago)

    I tried to write about my mother yesterday but went blank. It happens everytime. I have no memories of a childhood relationship with her..

    Reply
  4. steven
    January 22, 2011 at 12:22 am (6 years ago)

    the perceptual attachments that accrue to the weight of names has been a source of fascination to me since i realized that family tradition drove the first three letters of my middle name – "gar" – i hadn't thought of the significance of names until i realized that relatively tiny feature of my life. the burden and the elevation that can come through a name is powerful and lifelong. it is also a connection through to people long flown away or to be becoming. steven

    Reply
  5. Two Tigers
    January 22, 2011 at 12:46 am (6 years ago)

    Much food for thought here, as usual, E. I can sympathize with the changing relationship of mother and daughter. I too feel I have gone from protective to rejecting back to protective again now that my mother is in her 80s. I think too that I have a much more rich and complex idea of who she is now that the clashes of our often unfair mutual expectations of each other no longer define who we are and how we interact. We've become friends, and as friends are more forgiving of each others' failings. Perhaps in youth we turn our parents into ideals of good or evil, and only later allow them to be human. So too, I think my mother has finally stopped placing all her hopes and sense of her own success on whether I turned out well or not, and is just happy I am who I am.

    Reply
  6. Kath Lockett
    January 22, 2011 at 1:14 am (6 years ago)

    Sad sentence this one: 'Now he is dead, I am safe.' The article is about your mother but it's this that resonates with me most.

    Back to mothers. I've only recently kinda sorta put issues I had with my mother to rest inside my head but just as I'd convinced myself that this was so, the same issues arose between her and my daughter…. At least it was a hurt and a bewilderment I could understand and help her with.

    Reply
  7. kbear
    January 22, 2011 at 1:25 am (6 years ago)

    Regardless of name or mothers, we each need our individuality beyond the scopes in which we grew up in. we all grow and change, or should at least, and with that relationships change even if only one person changed. it is a natural process but whether we choose or allow ourselves the change is another question. BE who you are in the moment and as the ebb & flow of life changes, go with or against it as your individual right. Change is hard but always good. Give yourself a new name if need be to expand your expressions. I got Kbear from a friend, short for Karebear. it helped me find my uniqueness separate from family but without losing my love for them. all is not lost, only gained. you are right where you need to be at this moment…..thanks for dropping in on my blog (karen)

    Reply
  8. Kass
    January 22, 2011 at 2:21 am (6 years ago)

    Our naming and the power it suggests is a burden from which we never fully extricate ourselves. We are theirs, they own us for such a long while and how dare we be anything but grateful?

    How interesting your psychological sandwich sounds – a zinger pillowed between such white-breaded niceties.

    To be critical of a frail mother is touchy business. I wonder if like me, you'll reach a day when the sheer weight of her vulnerability, powerlessness and fear take over and all you feel is tenderness.

    Reply
  9. Nancy
    January 22, 2011 at 5:30 am (6 years ago)

    As usual, your words always leave me with a trail of thoughts. This time on motherhood and how I had to piecemeal it together. Not having a mother I could at least say – I'm not doing it HER way – I just sort of made it up as I went along. Not always successfully, I might add.

    Reply
  10. Glenn Ingersoll
    January 22, 2011 at 5:42 am (6 years ago)

    I like the idea of a book with a chapter dedicated to each sibling of one large family. I wonder if there are examples out there?

    I had a vivid dream about my mother last night, or the night before. No, I don't remember the details. Just that we were arguing. We had plenty of disagreements while she was alive, although, thankfully, we disagreed on little of a moral, religious, or political nature. Our fights were more personality based. I think I've never laughed so hard as I did with my mother when we found something hilarious. I miss that.

    Reply
  11. Laoch of Chicago
    January 22, 2011 at 5:58 am (6 years ago)

    Your mother sounds very Machiavellian.

    Reply
  12. just jane
    January 22, 2011 at 6:15 am (6 years ago)

    I am moved by your description of your Mother's letters. I would give anything for just one more guilt trip. I was named Jane, but I always wanted a fancy name, like Elizabeth, or Gwendolyn, or Juliet. My Mother's name was Donna, for her father, who died before she was born. His name was Donald. There was a story there. I think I was named for nothing special, just plain old Jane.

    Reply
  13. Enchanted Oak
    January 22, 2011 at 6:25 am (6 years ago)

    I like your phrase "psychological sandwich" ~ I hear a poem in there. If anything comes of that, I'll send it to you.
    Your name, Elisabeth, with the "s," is the name I chose for my own daughter. I chose it for its meaning: consecrated to God, or an offering to God, or blessed by God. At the time I fiercely believed that we ARE our names. My daughter was a gift and I wanted to acknowledge the spiritual nature of her birth. I laugh a little now at the heavy symbolism in my philosophy as a younger woman. Ordinary life is rich enough to satisfy my needs. But my daughter does have a strong spiritual/intuitive/empathetic streak in her.
    Mothers and daughters are the mother lode of life. (I just took note of that sentence and burst out laughing! I can't take myself seriously anymore this evening.) I
    meant only that the weight, history, dynamic, of mother/daughter relationships make for an endlessly interesting source of discussion and art.

    Reply
  14. Linda Sue
    January 22, 2011 at 7:00 am (6 years ago)

    I could read you into infinity! I LOVE your writing and would love to have you go on for ever! The name tradition in your family is curious to me- At first I thought perhaps they lack imagination and the sir name is not enough to "clan" you all but then I remembered that nearly every male member of my family is Pader or Peter depending in which country they are living.
    My parents are both dead- I am free to write about them though I mostly write about my father- Our relationship was complex- writing about him clarifies it a bit.
    LOVE your blog! Love your writing!

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:21 am (6 years ago)

    Becoming a grandmother is something else again, TaraDharma. I was surprised when it happened to me at 55. Then my mother reminded me she was only forty five when she first became a grandmother, as if our age at certain milestones becomes a boast.

    Certainly for my mother the numbers of her children, her grandchildren and more recently, her great grandchildren are her greatest claims to fame.

    She will tell you herself: nine children, twenty three grand children and at the moment she waits on her seventh and eight great grandchildren, yet to be born in May and July this year. My oldest daughter is pregnant for a second time and one of my nieces for the first time.

    Talk about a population explosion and my mother loves it.

    I have more mixed feelings. But it offers a sense of the cycle of life, a great comfort as Nancy Miller implies in her book, a comfort that she and many others cannot share.

    I like to think that life offers many comforts, including the having of children.

    There are many ways to be creative. I do not want to lay claim to my children as my greatest achievement. I think they are their own achievement. My husband and I have helped along the way, but I have long felt I am merely a statistic in my mother's list of babies and I don't want to inflict the sense of being one of many onto my own children and grandchildren.

    Thanks Taradharma and congratulations to you, grandmother to be.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:26 am (6 years ago)

    Well, my comment to TaraDharma above could equally apply to you, Ruth, grandmother again, I imagine, or is it your first?

    Choosing names is such a joy. I remember it well when I was pregnant, trillion out a new name, rolling it around on my tongue, trying to fit it to the baby to come, discussing it with my husband and then for us, as soon as each of our daughters appeared, so too did the name.

    It was as if the names we had considered crystallised at that moment of birth and we knew for each of them, which name to choose.

    Thanks, Ruth.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:31 am (6 years ago)

    That is so sad, Jane L, not to have any memories of your mother to write about.

    Maybe you might write into the emptiness. You will find something there I suspect, but your words here now are filled with a certain poignancy.

    I cannot imagine not remembering my mother, for all my criticisms of her, she is a force in my life, for both good and ill.

    Yours, too, I suspect, but it's her absence it seems rather than her presence that becomes the driving force.

    I'm reading into this, of course. There may be other factors, of which you may or may not be aware.

    Thanks Jane Lancaster.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:34 am (6 years ago)

    Names and naming, Steven, are so very important. As you say, they connect us to others. They can also be abused.

    When I was young my class mates chose to shorten my second name into 'Schooney'.

    I can't tell you how much I hated it. But I never protested, too timid then, I suppose.

    Other girls had pleasant sounding nick names. Mine to me was just plain ugly. I still smart at the memory.

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:39 am (6 years ago)

    I agree, Two Tigers, the expectations that children have of their parents can often be reciprocal, and parents can also place 'great expectations' for good or evil on their children.

    It takes time then for parents and children to separate. It's only in the separating I suspect that we can relinquish some of the impossible expectations we have of one another.

    Maybe that's why relationships between parents and children often improve with time, though not always.

    Thanks, Two Tigers.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:43 am (6 years ago)

    You picked it, Kath. I have more 'unresolved' issues with my father than with my mother, but my relationship with my mother is more complex because it was and is better than the one I had with my father.

    As for your experience with your mother, it's intriguing that these difficulties have trickled through to the next generation. More unresolved issues, presumably in your mother that she should pass it on to your daughter.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:49 am (6 years ago)

    It's great to see you here, KBear.

    There are lots of reasons why I choose not re-name myself here, for the purposes of my blog or in my writing generally.

    That said, I agree with you about the importance of being yourself, the only trouble for me is 'which self?'

    I find I have different perspectives on so many issues.

    I like to think I am a fairly consistent sort of person in my so-called 'real' life but in my writing identity things are never quite so clear cut.

    Thanks KBear.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:54 am (6 years ago)

    To be critical of a grail mother, is indeed a touchy business, Kass. I'm careful with my mother. I keep my criticisms to myself. I watch her keeps hers to herself, too.

    Some among my siblings find it harder to be tolerant, but by and large we are all fairly careful with our mother now. Now she is a 'little old lady' we put up with so much more.

    Maybe in time i will cross into the area you describe with your mother, where fond feelings and love predominate. I'm not there yet, but maybe soon.

    Thanks, Kass.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 7:56 am (6 years ago)

    Nancy, it must have been very hard without a mother. It still is I imagine, even when, as you can say, you're not doing it her way.

    Maybe in your head there might an imaginary mother, one whom you can emulate or rebel against as needs be.

    Thanks Nancy.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 9:08 am (6 years ago)

    I don't know of any books like the one I'd imagined Glenn. I wish it could happen, but my siblings and I are too diverse and strong minded, I suspect t pull it off. Such a book requires cooperation and maybe an outsider to co-ordinate and edit.

    Your dream sounds promising. A pity you don't remember it.

    I don't dream of my mother as often as I remember dreaming of my father, but you never know. We dream but all too soon forget our dreams. It must have been good to be able to laugh so heartily with your mother. I'm not sure my mother and I could. We tend to the more serious.

    Thanks, Glenn.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 9:14 am (6 years ago)

    I have never thought of my mother as Machiavellian, Laoch. If she is, and by this I assume you refer to what I experience as her manipulative tendencies, I doubt that she's aware of it.

    I think it's more a feature of women of her generation, women who were so thoroughly dis empowered that they could only get what they wanted by stealth and subterfuge. They could never ask outright for what they might want. They had to trick others into giving it to them so as not to offend.

    Also there's the advantage: if you don't ask, you won't be disappointed if you don't get what you want, and if you happen to get what you want, via manipulation, then there's no real need to be grateful because you did not ask for it in the first place.

    Thanks, Laoch.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 9:20 am (6 years ago)

    Oh dear, plain Jane, that sounds so sad.

    I have a friend who calls herself Janey. It has a completely different ring to the simple name, Jane. More character perhaps.

    Even so I've always liked the name 'Jane'. Perhaps because when I was young one of my best friends was a Jane. She had a double barreled surname because her parents were killed at a train crossing when she was small and she was adopted by an aunt.

    She was such an interesting person, my friend, Jane, and her name seemed to match her personality.

    So, please Jane, don't underestimate the rich colour of your name. It's lovely.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 9:24 am (6 years ago)

    I'm honoured to share my name with your daughter, Enchanted Oak and to also be 'promised to God', not that I have ever felt that way. My name is so confused in my mind with my mother's that I sometimes 'cannot see the wood for the trees'.

    Please let me know when the poem about 'psychological sandwiches' comes to you. I shall enjoy it.

    Thanks, Enchanted Oak.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 9:27 am (6 years ago)

    I blush at your compliments, Linda Sue. Thank you.

    We share a common interest in complex father daughter relationships it seems.

    Writing has always helped me to untangle the web of my emotions and experience of my father, and yours too, by the sound of things.

    Thanks, Linda Sue.

    Reply
  29. Wind
    January 22, 2011 at 10:05 am (6 years ago)

    Hey, Elisabeth!
    I am glad that you find me!
    My english is not so good, but I read a lot in english! I am trying to improve that! I have a lot of friends in this world (and our commun language is english)!
    So, say hello to Alberto, I feel sorry I cannot help him with his problems!
    I will back come here to your place, to read!
    I wish you a great weekend!
    Thank you!

    Reply
  30. Elisabeth
    January 22, 2011 at 11:03 am (6 years ago)

    How lovely to meet you here, Wind. I admire your efforts to write in English. It takes so much courage.

    You, who can speak in more than one language, are so much braver than the rest of us who can only manage to speak in one.

    Thank you.

    Reply
  31. R.H.
    January 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm (6 years ago)

    I know fashionista chickies tinker with their names thinking it will turn them into something they're not. My dopey social worker niece even changed the pronunciaion of her dead Grandmother's name from Clara ("Claira")into "Clarhrah". What an idiot.
    There's jealousy between mothers and daughters, mainly coming from the mother, and especially when the daughter is sexually attractive. Some mothers even get fixated on it. A woman I knew had a 'talking pillow' which said to her at night: "You're old, haggard, horrible; but your daughter is beautiful!"
    It got so bad she needed psychiatric help.
    I miss the years when my daughter was very young and dependant on me, before she grew up and I had to let her go, entering a world that to a large extent wiped out illusions we both had. I miss the make-believe, the fantasy.
    When someone dies you feel sorry about it, even if they were bastards alive. I never feel that way about my daddy. I didn't find out he'd died until about ten years afterward. Or I'd have been glad to kick him into his hole and cover it over: buried rubbish.

    Reply
  32. Rachel Cotterill
    January 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm (6 years ago)

    It sounds like your mother has been reading those "feedback techniques" essays which suggest starting with something good, then saying the bad stuff in the middle, and finishing on a happier note again…

    Reply
  33. Woman in a Window
    January 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm (6 years ago)

    I am ripe with loving your honesty of losing your way in this post. If you pick up once again on the sandwich, I would love to read it meandering off in a different direction. Imagine one day of clarity in which the first part of this post can be laid down again, and you will write an entirely different middle and end. This in itself is so interesting.

    And too, just now in reading this, I am having a strange moment of seeing. Maybe because I am just up, it is deathly cold here, and I am in great need of coffee, but somehow it is like hands coming between me and a shadow me about to fight, like motherly hands, and I am seperated from myself, and for a moment I se mothering, parenting, as such an unusual construct, and really, rather a lie. Here we are, such imperfect and fallible beings, thrust into these roles because of biology, when we are on our own journeys of growth. At what point are we qualified to be parents, the leaders of our children? Never, really, but we live inside of a myth, both as the children of parents, and then as parents, as well. We are all blundering along.

    Yes, one day my children will dissect my role, my motivations, my failures and successes, and even now I know they will get so much of it wrong. We do not see one another as people entirely, but we see the role and the connection between our roles. It is all rather curious. I feel as though I have fallen down the rabbit hole.

    thank you for this post
    what a wonderful place to arrive at, or rather, get lost to.

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  34. Dave King
    January 22, 2011 at 2:29 pm (6 years ago)

    The concept you had of the book was a great one, I think. The fascinating part for me was to hear how your mother had metamorphosed several times and your musing as to whether your view of her might therefore change after her death. My guess is that it will not – but then, what do I know? Only that it made a fascinating post.

    Reply
  35. The Weaver of Grass
    January 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm (6 years ago)

    I do so agree about names. If we are lucky and like our name then it fits uslike asecond skin. I feel sorry for anyone who hates their name.

    Reply
  36. Teresa Stenson
    January 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm (6 years ago)

    Really interesting. I'm fascinated by names and naming. I lost my Mum last year, when I was 28. I know this will affect me in ways I don't even have a grasp of yet. And just today, I've been thinking about what I'd call a daughter if I have one, and if I'd use my Mum's name at all, before I even read this post. Odd.

    As someone who feels like I don't have a family (not in a traditional sense) I'm always looking for connections, and it's very attractive, the idea of calling my daughter something that is representative of my Mum, as if it could link all three of us together.

    Reply
  37. Jim Murdoch
    January 22, 2011 at 5:11 pm (6 years ago)

    I think I may only have received one letter from my mother – ever. I still have it. It’s in a shoebox on top of the wardrobe in my office. At least I thought that’s where it was. I’ve just checked but it wasn’t with all the other letters I’ve kept. I wanted to check but I think I have the subject right in my head: she sent it just after Carrie and I moved in together telling me not to bring her to see her because we weren’t married and hence living in sin and the fact is that she never did meet Carrie until after we were married some five months later; she did not attend the wedding. She had nothing against Carrie. In fact it was only Carrie and I who were there when she died and my mum called her “my angel” for looking after her so well.

    I have my father’s name and had I had a son he would also have been named James but there was no way I was calling my daughter Florrie which was my mother’s name, not Florence – she was named after the singer Florrie Forde, the Australian singer would you believe.

    When I first started writing my new book, Left, I had imagined that I would draw on my own relationship with my father but reading the finished manuscript a couple of days ago (at least as finished as it will be till Carrie comes back from the States and can let me have her input) I see little of him there at all and the same goes for my mother. The book began life as an exploration of the grieving process but since I have no grief to draw on I’ve had to modify it. That doesn’t mean I didn’t miss my parents but I’ve never felt bereft.

    Like the protagonist says in the book:

             Loss is when you miss something you once had. What I found myself missing was something else. I missed what we would never have the opportunity to have even though I knew full well neither of us would have made any real effort to move towards it.
             It. The word we use when using the right one would make reality that bit too real. Words are so inadequate. Maybe that’s why we have so many of them and we insist on inventing new words.
             How can you miss what you never had?
             I’d lost my dad. Big deal! People lose things every day. I didn’t do it deliberately. Grow up woman.

    My mother was an idealist – all religious people are – but she never idealised me. From my youngest days she was always aware that I was not a conformist by nature and so, although my life choices have frequently disappointed her I don’t think any have especially surprised her. She made no great effort to get me to return to the fold but she was never shy about pointing out what she saw as my failings although, as I have said, only once did she ever put them in writing.

    Reply
  38. slouchy
    January 22, 2011 at 6:11 pm (6 years ago)

    Erin brought me here, and I'm glad she did. Sounds as if we have certain similarities in our pasts, most notably in our complicated relationships with our mothers…

    Reply
  39. Ellen
    January 22, 2011 at 6:53 pm (6 years ago)

    With my mother no longer able to do any of her manipulative games with me, it has given be the ability to be free. Free! I am no longer in fear of her or the strings she loved to attach to everything. Pleasing mother's who have no idea what it means to ask such demands on a child, a young girl and then a woman, only makes that girl run away…physically or in their mind.

    Names…yes..I have my mother's middle name and I did pass that name onto my middle daughter. My niece by marriage uses it as well for her daughter but changed the spelling.

    Thank you for the book suggestion…I may look it up.

    Reply
  40. SY
    January 22, 2011 at 8:10 pm (6 years ago)

    Mother and daughter relationships have to be the most complicated of all. Your mother seems like she knows how to pull at the heart strings.
    Great read, Elisabeth
    I look forward to more!
    – Sy

    Reply
  41. Ms. Moon
    January 23, 2011 at 3:20 am (6 years ago)

    The stories of our mothers is the story of our blood and thus- we cannot separate ourselves from it no matter what we are named or how much we want to.
    This is just the truth and it's a hard truth.

    Reply
  42. rauf
    January 23, 2011 at 4:57 am (6 years ago)

    are Maria and Mario same ? Maria for girls and Mario for Boys ?

    out of 100 books on parents 90 are about mothers. Any insult to father is taken with a pinch of salt but insult to a mother is never tolerated, we fight back, anywhere in the world, in all cultures, though fathers get more prominence in Islamic culture.

    Now i see the difference between the children of a non working mother and a working mother, who couldn't spend much time with their children. The bond gets thinner.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:24 am (6 years ago)

    It sounds as though your relationship with your dad was not so good Robert, given your wish to 'kick him into his grave' in a manner of speaking.

    You don't mention your mother here but offer some interesting generalities about relationships between mothers and daughters.

    Have you heard of the so-called Electra complex. It's supposedly the female version of the boy's so-called Oedipus complex. I use these terms warily as they're very easily misunderstood.

    I think they have their links with fairy takes, too. You know the stuff – wicked step mothers, absent mothers and wonderful fairy godmothers and heroic or monster fathers.

    Mother's come in for some tough descriptions in most people's imaginations, that is if they're not idealised.

    It's usually mum's fault. Isn't that the way it goes. But for you RH who's to say?

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:26 am (6 years ago)

    Is that how those feedback techniques come across to you, Rachel?

    Come to think of it, you may be right – psychological sandwiches are everywhere.

    I know enough now in writing workshops after the first flush of praise to wait for the genuine criticism.

    Thanks, Rachel.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:33 am (6 years ago)

    The notion of the psychological sandwich can take us in many and varying directions, Erin, as you suggest.

    Strange as it may seem, most writing roads for me lead me back to childhood.

    Maybe it's because I am essentially a non-fiction writer, though one of my writing friends says I should take my fiction writing more seriously, but writing fiction never gives the thrill that non- fiction offers.

    Maybe I'm more like Helen Garner, a well known Australian writer, who writes fiction she says that is close to her experience, so close that sometimes as readers we find it hard to tell one apart from the other.

    To me the difference between fiction writing and non-fiction might have parallels with the separation between mothers and daughters. We never quite manage it. One always informs the other no mater how distant or close.

    Thanks Erin.

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  46. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:38 am (6 years ago)

    There are many who would argue that our perceptions of our parents alter after death, Dave

    Do you remember your own experience of your parents before and after?

    I wonder how it will be for me. People often change their perspective on people generally after death.

    As soon as they die, the idealising, the eulogising begins or maybe its opposite occasionally, the vilifying. It's hard to keep a balanced perspective. Once someone's dead they can't speak up for themselves and alter our views on them.

    Thanks, Dave.

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:41 am (6 years ago)

    I too would feel a great deal of empathy for the person who dislikes, even hates their own name, Pat the Weaver.

    How'd it be to despise the entrance to your identity as it were? We usually say our names by way of introduction.

    And changing your name to one you prefer is usually something you can only do in adulthood. To endure the helplessness of an entire child hood saddled with a horrible label would be truly painful.

    Thanks, Pat.

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  48. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:45 am (6 years ago)

    To lose your mother at twenty eight years of age seems far to young these days, Teresa, though one hundred years ago I imagine it was commonplace.

    I can understand your fantasy of naming a daughter by your mother's name to keep the link.

    People have done it for centuries. I think it can work well when the link to the name is positive, but is probably more problematic if the link to the name is not.

    Thanks, Teresa

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  49. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 5:57 am (6 years ago)

    I'm sorry you couldn't find your mother's letter, Jim. Keep looking, please. I for one, think it's important.

    Janet Malcolm describes letters as traces from the past, like relics. I see them that way, too. I love old letters. They have an authenticity that our memories cannot otherwise maintain.

    As for names, well… It was probably just as well we never had a son, because I would have wanted to have named him after his father, who is a William, one of the most popular names around.

    Had I done so, I would repeated history and saddled up our son with his father's name, just as I was loaded with my mother's, and just as you've been loaded with your dad's.

    To me to be directly named after a parent is a bit like being the favourite child. On the surface it looks good, like the coveted position, but underneath it becomes a terrible burden.

    You feel – at least I did – obliged to look after your namesake.

    I'm glad to hear you've finished that full draft of your manuscript Jim. Lucky you. Now you've got the task of revision I suspect. I'm into that thesis wise and I find oftentimes, I'd rather blog.

    It's so hard tying things together. At least it is for me. I'd rather be writing something fresh.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  50. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:02 am (6 years ago)

    Hey Jim, another thought, the sadness in your quote here is gut wrenching, coming from the hardheaded cynic that is your character.

    You can miss something you never had, I suspect, when you see others with it. You miss it in your imagination. A bit like my husband's colour blindness. He's never known otherwise and to that extent doesn't miss colour, but he knows others have more. He misses that.

    For me it's powerful writing, Jim, to evoke such a response.

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  51. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:04 am (6 years ago)

    Hi Slouchy, it's great to see you here.

    I'm curious now about those things we have in common. I'll check out your blog and look for signs.

    Thanks, Slouchy.

    Reply
  52. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:08 am (6 years ago)

    I'm glad you found the book suggestion, helpful, Ellen. It's a terrific book.

    And it's great that you are now able to feel free from your mother's manipulations.

    To some extent I think I have managed to do so, too, but it goes up and down. My mother's needy gestures can still hook into my guilt. And that's the worst of it. Guilt does not make for a sense of freedom.

    Thanks, Ellen

    Reply
  53. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:12 am (6 years ago)

    And it's good to meet you here, too, Sy.

    I agree relationships between mothers and daughters are complicated, seemingly more so than relationships between fathers and their sons, but not I suspect compared to cross gender parent/child relationships. Of course, all this is a case of serious generalising, but don't we love to do that in blogdom?

    Thanks, Sy.

    Reply
  54. Marja
    January 23, 2011 at 6:12 am (6 years ago)

    Ah my first name is maria as well and the second indeed after my mothers mother. Hendrina and the third Elisabeth. I never thought much about the names as they only appeared on my pasport and that was it. My kids haven't got birthnames for just that reason.
    I have had a complicated relationship with my mother for a while but she mellowed a lot as she got older and me probably as well. She is a darling now.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:13 am (6 years ago)

    It's a hard truth, Ms Moon, that bond of blood, of love and hate, between mothers and their daughters.

    I can rail against it but I'm also very glad for it. Attachments to me are the stuff of life.

    Thanks, Ms Moon.

    Reply
  56. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 6:19 am (6 years ago)

    Rauf, I checked this out: Mario is a name that derives from Marius meaning 'manly' and although there's some suggestion that Mary is the female version of Mario, Mary and with it Maria, both mean 'star of the sea'. To me the names are very different.

    I agree with you about your notion that large numbers of children, and the chronic unavailability of mothers who must work too many hours, can thin the bond between mothers and their children. What a wonderful way of putting it.

    It's great to see you here, Rauf.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  57. who
    January 23, 2011 at 7:21 am (6 years ago)

    I am constantly amazed at the quality or writing I read online, I wouldn't let myself see it at first (how talented you are with written words) because it seems many of your topics are not the easiest ones to examine in each of our lives.

    Thank you for having the courage to examine them, and for being such a skilled writer that I continue reading them.

    Many days I feel the greatest tragedies in this world is when somebody believes it is not OK to be who they truly are. I know in my heart that such a flawed belief is not an inherent emotion nor is it the result of any natural progression.

    The saddest part is some person go their entire life, never understanding it IS OK TO BE WHOEVER THEY TRULY ARE. And that if I am not thoughtful with my words I can very easily implant such destructive, negative, horribly wrong thoughts into young peoples' minds, doing it with good intentions.

    Only persons who are hurting in the worst kind of ways, get lost enough to commit acts of evil against others.

    Inadvertently influencing a person's beliefs, that lead them to hate who they are, is the most destructive thing anyone can do while having good intentions.

    It may very well also be the most destructive thing anyone can do with bad intentions.

    I hope everyone gives some serious thought on how we may directly or indirectly influence others beliefs.

    again, thank you Elisabeth for facing what I often would rather not.

    Reply
  58. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 9:58 am (6 years ago)

    Yours is a lovely full name, Marja. I particularly like your first name and Hendrina, a variation on Henrietta or Henry, I suppose. I say that because I have a cousin named Hendricus, a good old Dutch name. His mother called him Drikkus. I'm not sure of the spelling.

    Again you are fortunate that your relationship with your mother is now at peace, as it were.

    Thanks, Marja

    Reply
  59. Elisabeth
    January 23, 2011 at 10:16 am (6 years ago)

    Thanks, Who.

    Your kind words make me wonder more about you. Your posts are cryptic and lead me into strange places.

    I always imagine my writing is self evident, but perhaps it is not. I try to write into my own truths as you do, but we are worlds apart, most likely on other sides of the world, and perhaps generations apart, too.

    Still I'm very very pleased to meet you here and I shall try to decipher your communications, Who. And I thank you for trying to decipher mine, too.

    Reply
  60. Kirk Jusko
    January 23, 2011 at 9:49 pm (6 years ago)

    Though I'm not much of a letter writer, I see the advantages, even if you live close by the person you're writing to. The advantages are those that you get with any type of writing. No one interrupts you. You're not distracted by whatever expression (anger, boredom, etc.) that's on the other person's face. And finally, you can write and re-write a letter, until you think you've got it right, whereas verbal communication is always a first draft.

    You wonder if you'll write differently about your mother after you're gone. I'm assuming you're currently holding something back so as not to hurt her feeling. But once your mother's gone, you'll still have all those brothers and sisters. Might you not hold back anyway to avoid friction with them? Just a thought.

    I was named after a once-famous movie star. When I asked my mother if she was a fan of this particular actor, she said no, she didn't particularly like his movies, she just liked his name, which she had never heard of before he became well known.

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  61. LimesNow
    January 24, 2011 at 4:53 am (6 years ago)

    Dear Lis, as you know, my relationship with my mother is a very complicated matter. This tiny woman still fills the room from wall-to-wall, roaring or such is my take on her. I've talked much with Kass about her mother's dying and death last year, and I've read much of what you have written about your mother. You each seem to have landed or are aimed for a place of peace and resolution about mothers and the shadows they cast upon us.I am not as hopeful for myself. I don't know that I'll ever sort it out and I'm not entirely certain that to do so is one of my deepest needs. You used the sandwich analogy. My mother and I would be macaroni and cheese. One fears plunging a spoon in for fear of breaking the delicate pasta shells or causing a string of the cheese to be pulled apart.

    I was given a small part of my mother's name for my middle name, which I detest. When my daughter was born, I gave her the newest, free-est, breeziest, most meaningful name I could think of – she loves her name as I have always disliked both of mine.

    Reply
  62. River
    January 24, 2011 at 7:44 am (6 years ago)

    My first name is my own, but my middle names belong to my grandmothers. A glance through my family tree shows many generations of Emma's and Maria's, Bernhard's and Josef's. I broke tradition with my children.

    Reply
  63. Elisabeth
    January 24, 2011 at 9:25 am (6 years ago)

    That's my take on letter writing, too, Kirk. No one answers back, no one interrupts you. You can say everything you want to say without taking a breath.

    Conversations are not like that, and as you say they're usually first drafts, but conversations can take you to places that you least expect sometimes more so than even in letter writing because there are two of you in conversation, not one.

    Letter writing is aways a tad one sided, but still I love it.

    And yes, you're right, even after my mother's gone, I have my sisters and brothers to contend woth.

    To me Kirk is a lovely name, filled with character and strength. I'm assuming Kirk is your real name.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  64. Elisabeth
    January 24, 2011 at 9:29 am (6 years ago)

    Mother and daughter as macaroni and cheese, Les, that's a powerful analogy. So tasty but also by the sounds of things so delicate.

    I'm not sure I'm as worked out about these things as is Kass. Perhaps you and I can form a group for those who need help to separate from their mothers. There'd most likely be pleanty of takers.

    It's good to hear from you here again. Thanks, Les.

    Reply
  65. Elisabeth
    January 24, 2011 at 9:33 am (6 years ago)

    I broke from tradition with my children, too, River, apart from the recurring Elisabeth.

    There are so many Elisabeths in my family tree on both sides, but then again it's not such an unusual name. I tried to get original with my daughters' names without being over the top. You, too by the sound of things.

    Thanks, River.

    Reply
  66. Robert the Skeptic
    January 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm (6 years ago)

    I like the idea that your mother wrote letters to you; as you say, it was the way which she most likely thought she could compose and present her case.

    But my mother as well had the tendency to pretend that things were well when they were not. I believe that is a product of their generation. I recall my mother lecturing me on how faithful my father had been to her. Later my father admitting to me that he had visited prostitutes. Between them the illusion that "all is well" seemed paramount.

    I love your blog and would never venture to offer anything that would smack of criticism, but really, you need never end a blog with an apology.

    Reply
  67. Eryl
    January 24, 2011 at 11:46 pm (6 years ago)

    Psychological sandwich is a great term, my mother did something similar, though orally. I never knew if she did it to sugar the pill or to protect herself from the anger she thought her criticism might cause. In my teens and twenties I was driven insane by her, but by my thirties I just thought she was bonkers and let whatever she said slide. Luckily as I neared forty some kind of shift took place in our relationship, I don't know why but we both started to listen to each other, and she began to see the value of other perspectives. Anyway, by the time she died, two days after my forty-fifth birthday, we were back to the friends we'd been when I was a child.

    My brother's middle name is Hilary, which always made me laugh when I was little.

    Reply
  68. Kat_RN
    January 25, 2011 at 10:42 pm (6 years ago)

    Your post brings up an interesting question. My father died when I was fourteen, before I started to battle with his old fashioned strictness. I am the youngest and for a very long time I idealized him. Since he died when I was a child, I kept my child's view.
    It took decades to see him as a whole flawed but basically good human being.
    My Mother and I are another very long story, let's just say that now that she has been gone for a decade too, I am coming to terms. She was a strong and interesting woman, but she did not really know how to be a mother.
    Thanks for getting the old thoughts rolling.
    Kat

    Reply
  69. Elisabeth
    January 26, 2011 at 6:02 am (6 years ago)

    The illusion that all is well, is a powerful one, Robert and I agree with you it might well be a feature of our parent's generation, a way of keeping things going, in spite of their awfulness in days when divorce and the like were not so acceptable as today.

    I'd almost like to say sorry for the 'sorry'. It's a bit of a joke in our household, this tendency to say sorry almost by default. In some ways it's not so much an apology as an offer of regret.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  70. Elisabeth
    January 26, 2011 at 6:07 am (6 years ago)

    So who's the Hilary for, Eryl. It seems a very odd choice for a boy, unless it is a family surname.

    It's good you and your mother were able to get on again before her death. It seems so important. One of my brothers was warring with my father before our father's death and I don't think it has helped this brother in later years – too many regrets.

    Thanks, Eryl.

    Reply
  71. Elisabeth
    January 26, 2011 at 6:11 am (6 years ago)

    Perhaps your need to idealise your father, Kat, might have had something to do with your relationship with your mother.

    I don't know, but it seems to me people sometimes show a preference for one parent over the other, as if it's a way of compensating for the defects of one over the other, and it can shift around.

    Thanks, Kat.

    Reply
  72. Snowbrush
    January 27, 2011 at 2:21 pm (6 years ago)

    The death of my most recent parent was nearly 20 years ago, so I rarely have an interest in writing about either of them. Maybe that's how it is with most people, although I did read a couple of books recently (the author only wrote three) by Moritz Thomsen. His last one was entitled "My Two Wars," and it was about World War II and about his relationship with his father who had been long since dead. I must confess that I couldn't see how his relationship with his father was on a par with WWII, although to him it was probably harder to live with, even in his old age. I find not having parents to be somewhat of a relief, although I do miss them. After all, it's my turn to die now.

    Reply
  73. KleinsteMotte
    February 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm (6 years ago)

    My mother used to write letters to me while we were living under one roof. She wrote in the same style as your mom. Maybe it was what they were taught? Even as she was on her death bed she still found word to scold me, a mom myself! But I forgave her. The yardstick she used to measure my shortcomings was the same she used on herself. She came from a very strict Prussian background and never allowed herself to become very tender and affectionate except with her cat. Still I loved her. But I am different with my own daughters. Times have changed and I'm glad that we can be close, frank and still very affectionate.

    Reply
  74. Elisabeth
    February 17, 2011 at 9:48 pm (6 years ago)

    You're right I suspect, Kleinstemotte, your mother and her Prussian background, mine with her Dutch Catholic upbringing, though my mother was able to be more demonstrably loving than yours by the sound of things.

    Even so it's good we can change as parents over the generations otherwise life would get terribly stuck.

    Reply

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