At My Mother’s Knee: Unlearning The Lessons Of Childhood

In the ongoing pursuit of a better life and spiritual growth, I sat down to watch Oprah’s Life Class today. I have been recording them on my DVR since things have been too hectic to watch them as they air. The one I chose featured Toni Morrison and James Cameron. They were discussing validation and how it is especially important for a child’s self-esteem. It broadens and strengthens your relationships. Oprah said that in all her years of interviewing, the one thing common to all beings is the need to be seen.

Funny, because I just wrote a similar line saying the very same thing for my novel. “Everywhere I go, I draw looks but only you have ever really seen me..” Damn thing woke me up out of my sleep. Right.

I watched the first few minutes and nodded my head in agreement. They flashed back to 2000 and Toni Morrison said that she makes a conscious effort to always greet and acknowledge her children with a loving face. She had an aha moment when she realized that she tended to greet them and look them over to see if they were mussed or messy. At some point in time, she realized that was not what they needed. She came to understand that she had unconsciously presented them with the “face” of criticism erroneously believing that they knew the deep love she felt for them in her heart. Wrong.

It was then that the leaking began.

I’m used getting teary when watching Oprah as she always manages to touch me but the more I watched the more uncomfortable I became until I was full out crying.

I did not want to think about why it affected me so but I am too old not to know that it is precisely those things that we don’t want to think about that require our most intense focus.

They were reminding me of my childhood and wounds that I always like to think are healed but every so often, no matter how old I get, I realize that they lie dormant woven into the fabric of my existence. No matter how I try to shirk them off or outrun them, they always manage to rear their head at unexpected moments.

The rush of thoughts running through my brain sounded like this:

“Do parents really do that? Validate their children by greeting them with a loving demeanor and focus?”

“Bullshit.”

“Wouldn’t that be nice though? Imagine what that would have meant to you.”

“How often have you been guilty of barely acknowledging your SO’s presence because you’re working on something? Pretty often. He understands… Does he?”

“That critical face…you do that too.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You know you do and you know where you learned it from…”

My mother had me at 19. My father took no responsibility for me and went off into the service to do his thing. My mother was devastated and quite honestly, ill equipped. From her, I inherited my complexion, my eyes, my hands and feet, my quick wit, temper, silliness and sharp intelligence. At her knee, I learned what it is to be mostly angry at life because most of the people who love you will disappoint you and just how unfair the world is. I learned to be strong because it is necessary, to despise my emotionalism because it was a sign of weakness in her eyes and to criticize.

As I peeled back the layers of this onion, I heard at least two men from past say that I have a tendency to nag. Imagine that? lol I dismissed that at the time because most men say that about women and it is mostly a cop out for their failures or a refusal to examine themselves. Yet, at this moment I finally understood what they meant and it went deeper than what they said.

Like Toni Morrison, I am prone to hone in on whatever is wrong or needs fixing. I am completely comfortable breaking it down for you if you don’t understand as most Sisters are. I turn this harsh critical light on myself as well. I am absolutely comfortable expressing my love in the written word but like my mother, emotional displays from loved ones often make me uncomfortable and I find it incredibly hard to lean on people because I am terrified that they will disappoint me and so, the voice of the harridan comes easily because it is my first line of defense. I will have to work on stopping that voice or at least minimizing it and make a more concerted effort to be loving.

It disturbs me that it took me all this time to recognize and understand this chain of behavior and motivation. It disturbs me even more because I understand that need for validation very well since I was often ridiculed or ignored. Self-awareness…..How could I not sift through the threads of what people said about my behavior to get at the true meaning? I can only say that I wasn’t ready.

Damn it, I was minding my own business and along comes another flaw.

I am angry for the little girl who will always live inside me. I am still trying to teach her how to run and overlook the scars on her knees… Another day, another lesson.

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14 thoughts on “At My Mother’s Knee: Unlearning The Lessons Of Childhood”

  1. Ah Somer,

    I love your whole comment but the first paragraph struck me to my core. Exactement, my friend.

    You would think after a year of blogging that I would be used to that “oh shit” feeling I get when I write a revealing post. Nope! I still feel like the Empress with her new clothes (no pun intended). There is another feeling though, one which is much more important, that light feeling one gets after releasing a burden and the lessening of isolation. Thank you for listening 🙂

    Naked is good!

  2. Coco,
    The little girl that lives inside you still LIVES, though now more remarkably and more fully. It is important to keep her close, as I’m sure she is also vibrant, joyful, playful, brave, precocious, and curious. Those qualities make her an even more interesting adult. 🙂 I’m not sure the goal is ever to disconnect from our younger selves, but to find that intersection where they find harmony, and celebrate the magic that they create together.

    We are most authentic when we can tap into our truth, and release those stories. It is then that we find true freedom. Those experiences will always be a part of us, but our telling and sharing them allows us to break through, heal, and inspire others with similar stories.

    The mother-daughter dynamic will forever intrigue me, as I cut through some of the clutter of my own conditioning. I don’t expect that the journey will ever end, but the realizations sometimes jar me to my core. Though difficult, I am always better once they are released.

    I applaud your courage, Coco, and respect your vulnerability. Naked is good, pure…necessary.

  3. I’m apologizing to myself for not reading this incredible piece earlier.
    Coco, you’ve hit the nail on the head in so many ways and doing it well at the same time.
    Touching on the sensitive subject of checking ones self in the mirror is often times difficult for black women to do with all of the overwhelming “stuff” that they have to deal with just from life in general… jobs, male employers, glass ceilings, equality as it relates to being black AND being a woman… and let us not forget – dealing with “black men”.

    It is truly “Validation” that makes the world go ’round, the external, but especially the internal.
    I think that the greatest gift that can be given is to give validation for doing something that eliminates the need for external validation… that the recipient has validated themselves first!
    Bravo!!!

    1. Thanks, Mutuo. It was difficult to grapple but a necessary part of the journey. I love this statement which mirrors Bella, “The greatest gift that can be given is to give validation for doing something that eliminates the need for external validation… that the recipient has validated themselves first!”

  4. blessings…
    Interesting entry…I think we are all guilty of not greeting the ones we love with validation. The thing is parents are flawed because they are human. What makes their mistakes forgiveable is if they are open to acknowledging those flaws and taking steps toward a different engagement in the future for while we cannot erase the past we can certainly ensure that how we present and represent ourselves in the future is different, more enlightened and open to learning and growing.

    peace.
    Rhapsody
    http://twitter.com/rhapsodyphoenix

    1. Just because we are all guilty doesn’t make it right, in my opinion. You are responsible for the energy you bring to others and vice versa. Many people I know, don’t display the fullness of their love until their is death, departure or illness. We can and should do better than that.

      What you describe is the thing that many of us strive for, acknowledgement, enlightenment and growth. That’s why there will always be self-help books, self-medication, priests and psychologists lol.

      I remember he day when I forgave my mother for some of her shortcomings as I was forced to acknowledge the fullness of her life experience and person, outside motherhood. It took maturity to attain the fullness of that understanding and by then the subconscious psychological damage was already done. I have forgiven my mother and love her deeply. After all, many of these behaviors, she also learned at her mother’s knee. And so it goes. My goal for as long as I can remember has been to unlearn some of the things that were passed to me and I believe that is a worthy goal.

  5. I’ve also been looking inward to discover what more I need to do to improve myself as a human being, and it’s hard to accept our own faults. There’s always that voice of rationalization that says, “Yeah but I am this way because…” Becoming aware of the flaw is the first step. Learning to change behavior is the next. We are all works in progress, and as always, I admire you for your willingness to grow and learn from your own flaws.

    1. Thanks, Alex. I felt kind of naked, truth to be told, after I hit the Publish button but I remembered what you said “This is a great outlet.” I needed that outlet yesterday and I am glad you guys empathized and didn’t think I was ummm crazier than I am lol. 🙂

      You broke that down succinctly and you are correct. “We are all works in progress.” I try.

  6. “It disturbs me that it took me all this time to recognize and understand this chain of behavior and motivation.” Coco, many people never recognize the emotional terrain of their lives. Some move along spreading the discomfort and pain, never seeing what they do or trying to understand how and why they learned it.

    We’ve all internalized some of what we experienced with our caregivers, and if we’re lucky, we come to a point where we can analyze those things and use the knowledge to make better choices.

    I feel way too old to be having the realizations/breakthroughs/anger/tears/depression about the trajectory of my own life due to things that still hurt about my relationship with my own mother. But what can we do but go through it when we can see it better, and then do our best to get better and do better in the present?

    I’m angry for the little girl who will always live inside you too, and the one inside me who needs to talk about all the mess. With time, I think we can help them feel better.

    1. “Many people never recognize the emotional terrain of their lives.” Ha! Never a truer word was spoken. I have met some of these folks and I never wanted to be one of them. Seriously. It’s amazing isn’t it how we humans bumble through life and still in our pain manage to create equally splendid moments of beauty.

      It doesn’t do to dwell too long and the act of writing it out forced me to focus so my feelings became more manageable. Thanks for the encouragement and support, Re.

  7. Coco, a big hug from me to you. Undeniably, the little girl who lives inside of you is part of who you are. I believe our lives are like tapestries–the good and bad experiences serve to make paint strokes that decorate the canvas that is our life. One stroke overlaps with another to form the big picture. Our experiences grant us the ability to learn from our mistakes, to appreciate what we have, and to see how far we’ve come. Something tells me you’ve come a long way and there is still much road ahead of you, sister. validation doesn’t have to come from an external source, nor should we depend on the validation of others to keep moving forward in life. I say, hang in there. You’re going to be okay. I know it.

    1. Hi Bella,

      Thank you for that beautiful comment. I’m fine. Bad day. Have filed it away for things to be worked on. You are correct, in terms of my interior landscape, I have come along way and intend to go further still, baggage and all ;).

      Hugz,

      C.

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