Thursday, May 17, 2012

Let's hear it for the underdog!

Growing up in Bexley, Ohio,(yes, THAT Bexley, the one Bob Greene writes about), was quite difficult at times because of the cliques and snobbery that comes with upper middle class living.  As a result, children learn early to be very discriminating about who they are friends with, which party invitations to accept, whose Bar Mitzvah or First Communion to attend or who to talk to in school.  Snobbery is actually an art form.  An art form that I never mastered and therefore fell to the bottom of the social totem pole early.  One reason for such descent is my mother's insistence that I am friendly to all children, no matter their level of popularity.  I remember when I was in the 2nd grade being invited to a less popular girl's birthday party.  I voiced concern about whether to accept the invitation and my mother said that I would because "you should never turn down friendship since they are hard to come by".  So I went to every party and every religious ceremony I was ever invited to.  Even to the Bar Mitzvah of a boogery 7th grader.  I would talk to anyone and everyone in school.  I had a lot of friends, but by the time we entered high school, the labels had been made.  The geeks, the brains, the jocks, the stoners and the loners.  If you didn't fit in with the first four groups, you were relegated to be a loner because your list of friends included people who didn't socialize with each other.  So as a result, I rarely knew about parties and certainly never received invites to them.  Looking back I am glad I couldn't be pigeon-holed into a category.  The pain of being excluded was worth having a diverse number of friends and learning to appreciate the differences  Which brings me to Mary Beth.
For the last 25 years, I have witnessed a habit of my mother's that seems to intensify with each passing year.  I don't remember when it started, but it was subtle at first.  A comment here, a comment there.  Insults that were masked as mere observations.  I found it difficult to witness because this was my mother, the woman who shaped me into the all-accepting person I am!  One of the first times I can remember this behavior was in the 1980's.  I was telling her about a new friend I had met in the neighborhood.  When I mentioned that the woman's husband was a doctor, my mother's immediate response was, "What doe HE look like?"  I remember feeling as if I had been punched in the stomach.  I could feel my face turning beet red from embarrassment that she could say such a thing..  I could feel my heart racing and my breathing became difficult.  I was struck dumb-founded  and extremely tongue-tied.  I remember stuttering out a response saying, "What difference does it make?  He's a doctor.  He does good things!"  As the years progressed I began to notice the pattern of behavior.  She always wanted to know what someone looked like and along the way, she started commenting on people we would come across in public.  I remember feeling like I wanted to sink into the ground after her comment about how some poor waitress or attendant somewhere was funny-looking or had some weird anomaly about them.  Sometimes, she wasn't very discrete and would say it within earshot of the poor soul.  When my dad was recovering in a rehab in 2004 , we were walking down the hall to leave and as we walked past the nurses' station, she said the nurse looked like a demented rabbit.  All I could think was, "Oh, God, kill me now!"  In an earlier blog, I wrote about Dr. Baby Teeth.  That's a perfect example of this habit.  Attaching a person's worth to their physical appeal.  I guess it makes her feel good about herself.
So imagine my surprise when at 53 years, 10 months and 8 days old, I finally pushed back.  Yep, that's right.  Heidi found her backbone today and stood up for the little guy!  I had to take Mary Beth to get her stitches out of her face from her melanoma removal last week.  We got into the car and before I had exited the parking deck, it happened.  She was remarking that the dermatologist's nurse removed her stitches.  She didn't comment on the fact that she did her job or that she was really careful, no, she said, "She sure was funny-looking!"  And then 25+ years of repression came spilling out.  I lost it.  Before I knew what was happening I turned to her and said, "Why do you do that?"  "Because I'm observant"  "That's not being observant, Mom, that's being judgmental and you do it all the time and I can't stand it because all I can think about is what you say about me!  How would you feel if someone said that about you?"  "They probably do!"  "Well, you would feel awful if you knew about it!" "Well, then I won't do it anymore............around you."   Ah, Mary Beth.  Gotta love her!


Alicia said...

For my mom, Helen, appearances were all that ever mattered. As long as we looked like the proper Bexley family, all was well in her eyes. Never mind that dad was passed out on the couch by 7:30 every night from a day of constant drinking. That extends to us and to everyone to this day. Doesn't matter what's real as long as you keep up appearances. And because they are all that matter to her, my mom has always judged everyone by appearances. She had to point out that my new friend -- when I was 25! -- had a lazy eye. Not that she was smart or funny or kind. She harped about my brother's clothes well into his 20s. Even though he was one of the smartest kids in high school and college, president of the student council, star of the school play, you name it, all she could see and comment on was his too-large flannel shirt. I told her years ago that I would immediately end any conversation where she brought up such things. She still thinks I'm horrible for "censoring" her. Because all she sees is superficial, she's led a lonely, unconnected, unhappy life, but she "looks" fine to almost everyone, and that's all that seems to matter to her. So sad.

Gadget Girl said...

Alicia, you have NO idea how much it means to me that you shared that! I swear growing up in Bexley is another blog in itself!