Here’s hoping my mother never reads this.
While writing my paper on the animosity between mothers and daughters in Tillie Olsen’s story “I Stand Here Ironing” in her collection of short stories “Tell Me A Riddle” I can’t help but think of my own relationship with my mother in comparison. There is little similarity between the circumstances of the two women in the story with my own mother and myself. In fact, in many ways, my experiences with my mother were in complete opposition to the story. Yet the feelings between mother and daughter are loudly echoed in my own life.
While Tillie Olsen’s first person narrator places her young daughter Emily in daycare and later boarding school, only rarely seeing her as a child, I was rarely out of my mother’s sight. Home-schooled from the beginning, I never spent a single day in a public school until college. I have no recollection of even being left at a baby-sitter’s for long. Sleep overs were done at our house, with the single exception of when another mother was of the same caliber as my own. While being away from her mother for such extended periods of time wedged a gap between Emily and her mother, spending so much time together only contributed to my own relationship with my mother becoming less and less amiable. I longed to be sent away to some boarding school for gifted children. Conceited of me to admit, perhaps, but it was discussed by my parents, only for them to conclude that they could never afford it. By the time I was seven, I wasn’t allowed to continue my schooling until my older sisters could get further in their own so I did not pass them up and potentially damage their self esteem. While most children might find being banned from school work thrilling, it was one of my great pleasure and being kept from it only increased my animosity towards my mother.
Olsen continually tells her daughter that she was a beautiful baby, which Emily takes as a lie and begins to distrust her mother’s perception of her. My own mother said I was a cute, but very fat baby, giving me the nickname Jabba the Hut, or Mighty Jabba. A name that stuck until I was eight and finally saw Star Wars. I can still remember running into the kitchen in hysterics asking my mother if the giant slug on the television was the basis of my nickname. Believing I couldn’t have possibly been so ugly and disgusting, I too, began to distrust my mother’s own opinion of me.
Olsen tried to love on her daughter by holding her and hugging her, but Emily resisted the physical contact. I was desperate for any physical touch that didn’t involve being punished. Yet when my mother would hug me, she would comment on my weight and say I looked pregnant, until I became like Emily and detested the contact, preferring to never be hugged or touched again.
Perhaps these similarities of emotions but opposition of circumstances means that it doesn’t really matter how a mother raises her daughter. Sometimes the relationship is just never meant to be there. Or maybe it just serves to show that for a healthy relationship to develop between mother and daughter a certain balance between space, perception, and contact needs to be maintained.
As a child my mother would always tell me that it was her job to my mother and not my friend. That she would never be my friend. A few years back my mother asked me why she and I weren’t friends, admitting that she wanted to be one of those best friends who just happened to be mother and daughter. Ignoring the fact that my mother and I cannot occupy the same living space for very long without an argument arising over some perceived injustice, I reiterated those words to her. When she responded with the admittance that I hadn’t needed her as a mother for a long while, I confessed that I didn’t think it possible to be friends with her now. Like Emily and Tillie Olsen the lines of mother and daughter are very clearly drawn and are not breached.