The Voices in Your Head: They’re part of you but not you

21 Jan

As part of our ongoing journal project, here is our next question.

Every mother has sayings that are repeated over and over. What did your mom say over and over? As an adult, what do you think of that line or those phrases? What do they say about your mom?

Most people fear growing up and sounding just like their parents. They cringe when they blurt out – “Because I said so, that’s why!” or “I’ll give you something to cry about!” to their own children, the exact same way their parents did.

In a way it’s unavoidable. The child becomes the adult with adult concerns for their children.  But for children of toxic parents those messages, those sayings, can have more meaning than the typical scold not to run at the pool.

My mother, who schemed her way up in life through men and marriage, had a few lines that float through my head despite my best efforts to erase them.

She always said “Because Frank Sinatra might be in the parking lot,” whenever we complained about the length of time she took to put on her make-up. No sweats for my mom. No day complete without red lipstick and eyeliner. The world outside our house was a mysterious place and she had a beautiful part to play. She could park her car next to anyone – even Frank Sinatra. She had to be ready.

With little more than an eighth grade education she wanted to appear sophisticated. She never went to night school or travelled to learn a language and yet she tried to pretend that she could speak Spanish AND French by always saying “Uno momento – s’il vous plaît!” – “Wait a moment, if you please!” like Sophia Loren being manhandled by adoring fans at Cannes.

“Uno momento – s’il vous plaît!” is what I say when I’m in a hurry, stressed, often in the moments before I’m leaving my home for a trip. I have to be flustered to feel it forming in my mouth. But once I do, it trips out naturally, as if I am the very clever person who thought it up. As if I summer in Italy and winter in Mexico City – for the museums. As if I had nannies or tutors or can speak French to girlfriends in crowded cafes so others won’t be able to eavesdrop. (I wish!)

I know what this expression means to me now. It’s part of me through decades of repetition. When I say it, I’m not my mother, I’m me. I view the words spoken by my mother as  a sad attempt by a sad woman to appear sophisticated. I say it as often I say “bull-dinky!” like my dad did instead of swearing in front of us.

Don’t we all have a lot of voices from our childhoods in our head? It doesn’t make us them. These familiar expressions don’t define us. We can take them or leave them. But it is interesting to look back and study them a little bit.

In doing so, I’m reminded of my Aunt Rhea, who used to always say the opposite of what she meant.

“Come ov-ah he-ah you rotten kid!” she’d growl like Eartha Kitt before tucking you into a headlock and kissing you till you squirmed away.

I have a hard time expressing affection. Yet, I’m laughing and feeling happy when I call my husband rotten, my dogs “rotini’s,” even my friends, rotter’s. They know it’s my way of expressing my deep affection for them.

It’s funny that the neighbor we treated like an aunt, the neighbor who was kind enough to take me along with her kids on many weekends up to the country, sparing me from my deteriorating home life, probably also had a problem expressing affection. Half a century later, Rhea’s rough love carries over into my life on nearly a daily basis. She’s a good voice in my head.

I know now that my aunt was in a tough spot trying to help the neglected children of a good friend. She did what she could and I’ll always be grateful. I should probably call her and tell her so.

“What a rotten thing to say!” she’ll say. I know before I even look up her number.

 

 

 

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8 Responses to “The Voices in Your Head: They’re part of you but not you”

  1. Pamela January 21, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    omg….my mother would never leave the house looking bad. Nor would she let me or my sister look bad. We were always told, “People are watching.” I was kind of paranoid as a child because I was told, “Don’t mess your hair. People are watching. Don’t mess your clothes. People are watching. Don’t slouch. People are watching!” Talk about voices in my head. I never leave the house without makeup…even on my sick days! Even tho my hair is the messy style, it has to be perfectly messy. Why…because people are watching!! It drives my husband crazy. If I see someone look at me, I automatically start doing a self-inventory wondering what is wrong with me. These are the words in my head and even with therapy they won’t go away.

  2. collectingjourneys January 21, 2012 at 7:29 am #

    Thanks Pam for making me laugh. You know people ARE watching and people AREN’T watching. MY mother also often said “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” which will make a girl nervous too. It’s normal for moms to plant stuff in our heads. My first thought when I broke my shoulder as I was being put in the ambulance was “cute underwear? check!” The more you think about this topic you realize that there are a lot of voices in our heads: parents, sibs, teachers, friends, etc. It’s good to think about which comments to embrace and which to put in the same category as an involuntary hiccup. Oh, and it’s also good to talk about it and laugh about it, too. – Rayne

  3. Anna January 21, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    For a long time, maybe a few years, my mom pretty much wore only 2 dresses; Izods, cotton knit with little placket collars, there’s a name for the style in menswear, but I can’t think of it. One was blue, the other green. They were easy to put on, comfortable I imagine, and she’d bought them second-hand with the tags still on. She wore “tennies” and cotton anklets with them, and never left home without either bright red or pink lipstick but no other makeup. Her black hair was cut in a page-boy look. If she was chilly she’d wear her white lace sweater. Her glasses always seemed to be two-three years behind the current style. She didn’t care. It seems she was just grateful not to be in the little mining camp where she grew up.

    Other moms were quite the spectacle. My friend’s mom was the wife of a well known graphic designer. She took her role seriously. Frosted lipstick, false eyelashes, orange/pink minidresses, wigs, black knee boots and her ride was a black Mercedes. She seemed ready for something to happen, though we never quite figured out just what that something was. My poor friend would turn away whenever her mom showed up.

    Other moms fit into the neighborhood so well I’d never notice them. I learned not to flinch when I saw other moms wearing little white tennis dresses in the grocery store.

    Mom said quite often; “We took a vote and you lost.” when things didn’t work in my favor at home.

    Or; “What your eyes don’t see, your heart won’t grieve.” said when we were near upscale boutiques.

    “Grab your gillindy” meant it was close to the time to leave and I’d better be ready.

    All these things I’ve been known to say, but only when I was trying to be a smart-ass.

    • collectingjourneys January 21, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

      “We took a vote and you lost.”

      Wow! That just really floors me. WE took a vote and YOU lost. Man.

      Anna, thanks for posting such an amazing slice of your history. Maybe you’re so nice because of what you rose above.

    • collectingjourneys January 21, 2012 at 2:23 pm #

      polo shirts!

  4. d.m.o. March 5, 2012 at 4:10 am #

    Haha. Oh, mothers are nuts. Well, at least OUR mothers are/were. My mother’s favorite responses to everything regarding me were: “Because I said so!!!!” and the ever popular “Just grit your teeth and make up your mind you’re going to do it anyway!!!” Again, this demonstrated her obsessive need to dominate and control.

    These stories remind me of my mother looking out the window at the school kids walking by and clicking her tongue at them saying: “Tsk, tsk. What must the teachers think of these mothers who let their kids out of the house looking like that!!!” During one of my brave moments, I responded “They probably admired the kids’ mothers for allowing them to demonstrate their individuality and creativity.” I received the patented tight-lipped, icy-glare for that. I always had to wear what mother wanted me to wear, whether I objected or not. I recall having to wear an ugly sweater-top (pink with embroidered flowers that look old-ladyish) that I hated, so I kept my jacket on at school but the teacher made me take it off. I felt defeated and humiliated. That was 2nd grade. When I told my husband this story he asked me why I complied with the teacher and that I should have stood my ground and refused to take the jacket off. It never occurred to me to stand up for myself because it had terrible repercussions. I would have been sent to the principal’s office and he would have called home and then I’d have to face the Wrath of Mom and it just wasn’t worth it. I guess he could have gotten away with it because he grew up in a different era than I, plus his mother was more passive.

    You mentioned how hard it is for you to express affection. I’m the same way. There was no cuddling or hugs from mother while I was growing up. I’m not a touchy-feely, huggy type person at all and feel very uncomfortable around others who are. However, I cuddle, hug and kiss my pets all the time! Odd.

    I get so bogged down, depressed and angry over my mother’s behavior, but it’s nice to have a chance to laugh at the ridiculousness of it.

    Anna – That “We took a vote and you lost!” line hit me in the gut. What an awful thing for your mother to say. Arghhh. Even though my mother never came out and said that, that was the consensus in our household since I was at the bottom of the hierarchy in the family and my vote never counted.

  5. K April 30, 2012 at 5:30 am #

    Well, my mom once said to me while I was either looking at a fashion magazine or talking about make-up, “I don’t know why you care about the outside because you’re ugly on the inside!”

    • collectingjourneys May 24, 2012 at 7:20 am #

      Are you sure she wasn’t really talking about herself? What a retched thing to say. Who would say that? So glad you found Toxic Mom Toolkit!

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