I talked with my Mom while I was baking today. And of course, I didn’t talk to her in the normal way. She’s been dead for 20 years. But we talked, just the same. You might understand.
I asked her about “real” cooking, instead of basically reheating frozen food. A lot of what we ate came from boxes, and tasted like it. A lot was brown.
I said, if you’d practiced more, then cooking wouldn’t have been such a burden to you. It wouldn’t have been so hard.
She pointed out that they didn’t have much money. My Dad was chronically underpaid as an English teacher. He never got his full professorship. He never got tenure. Every semester it was a challenge to see if he had three classes to teach or none. He had started to teach long-distance. This was in the days before the internet. He couldn’t teach at home with everyone Skyping in. He drove. He drove long distances and late in the day, so that he could teach adult students who were juggling college with a career. They met in high schools after hours. Sometimes he taught in prison. He taught wherever he could – in part because he loved to teach, but also in part because we needed the money.
So we didn’t have much.
But it also wasn’t spent well.
I remember that Mom lived rich. She didn’t get much love from Dad. It was a cold marriage, one of duty. They didn’t have to marry, but they had married fast, without much time to get to know each other. She certainly didn’t know that he was mentally ill and not properly medicated. Not like the medications back then were any good. Mostly they turned you into a zombie, a shell of your former self. No wonder the compliance rate was so low.
My Mom stayed with the marriage out of a sense of obligation, and perhaps out of fear. What was a woman with no training supposed to do on her own? How was she supposed to support herself and two children? So she stayed. It wasn’t bad enough to leave. They didn’t yell at each other. They just didn’t speak either.
So she got what she felt she was owed through material things.
There were expensive perfumes. There were jewels. There were nice clothes. There was even a mink stole.
She didn’t feel loved in a non-tangible way, so she demanded it in a tangible way. This is so sad. It was like she was a prostitute in her own marriage.
So we were shortchanged on actual nutrition because my Mom felt slighted. She didn’t feel nourished, so we didn’t get nourished. I know this wasn’t intentional. I know she didn’t think of it like this. She didn’t see the connection at all.
If she’d worked on the real problem, she wouldn’t have had to supplement with things. If they’d gone to marriage counseling, then there might have been something real there.
And then she reminds me that they did go to marriage counseling. It was through their church. It was with the priest, who had taken a vow of celibacy. This man knew nothing about how to live with another person. He’d never been married. They didn’t get the help they needed. So instead of finding a real counselor, they just left the church.
And just existed, together, in a sad way. For years.
Money doesn’t buy happiness, true. And happiness sometimes is hard work. It is hard to fight for yourself. It is hard to stand up for yourself when you feel beaten down. It is hard, and it is tiring.
The more I dig, the more I uncover. The more I uncover, the more compassion I feel for my parents. The more I understand why they made the choices they did. The more I am determined not to make the same mistakes.
I’m sure I will. Not all, but some. Nobody is perfect. That is impossible. But intentional living and mindfulness are showing me things I never saw before. Perhaps things I never wanted to look at before.