Are you trying not to be like your mother? I used to, now I am no longer so sure…

I am in Prague for my mother’s 88th birthday. I have a rather tense relationship with my mum.

(” They fuck you up, your mum an dad”- remember?)

But lately, I wonder if my mother has been kidnapped and replaced by a friendly alien. She is being nice and friendly, stopped trying to manipulate me into things, and that in turn makes me relax, and be nicer to her. I no longer watch her like you watch a dangerous dog. “ Is she going to bite?” She has changed. Of course, I worked on it.

To quote that brilliant psychologist and author Harriet Lerner “ I changed the dance”. So now, when my mother is no longer a semi-enemy, but somebody I can love back, after all those years, I re-read the following chapter in my book.

To remind myself how much better things are now. The chapter describes my “ changing of the dance”.

You do not need to read the chapter, of course, but I thought you might… might make you curious about what came before and after. It is one of the last chapters of “

Here it is :

Am I Like My Mother?

This morning, I listened to an elegant elderly Jewish woman talking on the BBC. It was a programme about various wars and soldiers, preparation for the Remembrance Sunday next weekend. The woman talked about her childhood in Poland, the change in her life when the Germans came, the Star of David, the camps, and how she married a British soldier who liberated her in Bergen Belsen. They would have celebrated their golden wedding anniversary recently, but he died. Despite that, a happy ending to a horrible story. That woman made me think of my mum. She was talking about bread, how she loves bread, because of the lack of it in the ghetto. My mum always carries a small loaf of bread with her, wherever she goes. She almost never eats it. But I am sure she has the same reason. I am trying to be nice to my mother, but I find it hard. She is tenacious, manipulative, and self-centred. I spent my life worrying that I am like her. I do not want to be like my mother. Yet, I respect and admire her. She is tough and competent, she never gives up, and she is resourceful. She believes that everything is possible if you want. After the war, just back from the concentration camp, a skinny eighteen year old, she managed to jump five classes and graduate from secondary school with her Czech friends, learning all those things she missed when she was not allowed to go to school and later went to the camps. When my father left her, she studied to become a doctor and married again; when my stepfather died, and I emigrated, she built herself an independent existence. For years, my mother used to make me cry. When she gets angry, she says nasty things. Things that are meant to hurt me. Once when she was annoyed with me because I persuaded her to buy new skiing boots that she found difficult to ski in (she did manage eventually), she shouted at me on the slopes: “You spoiled my skiing forever. And you are ugly, bespectacled and nobody will ever marry you!” That was too ridiculous to make me cry, and we often laugh about this outburst. But my life was peppered with nasty remarks by my mum. She still tries occasionally, but thanks to Tom, I learnt to cope. Recently I chatted online with Tom about a discussion we were going to have when we meet. I still hope he would start loving me again if we met. I wrote: “Don’t worry, Tom, I am not going to make a scene. I know you wouldn’t, and neither would I let you, but I know you wouldn’t.” He replied. I never make scenes, but I typed: “ How do you not let somebody make a scene? “ “You leave. “He wrote,.That was when I remembered the year I stopped crying because of the things my mother says. She was visiting me in London and she was angry with me. I do not even remember why. I had already read The Dance of Anger and I was determined to use it. It was like a scene from a comedy. My mother said something nasty, I left the room. Five minutes later, I came back talking normally, in a friendly way. She said something nasty – I left the room. That evening, I left the room nine times. My mother is not a stupid woman, she learnt. She is still occasionally trying. Recently, thanking me for having her visiting, when I was driving her to the airport, she said, “Thank you so much, I had a wonderful time. I know I get on your nerves, but that is because everybody gets on your nerves – you are the least tolerant person I have ever seen.” In the past, that would make me argue or cry. This time, I said, “You do not get on my nerves,” (she does), “but sentences like this do.” I took her luggage out, gave her a cold kiss and drove off. I am invincible, I have my weapon – no arguments, silence. It works. My long suffering friend Kate has a manipulative old stepmother. At the moment, Kate is trying my weapon too. It works. The problem is that my mother loves me dearly. She just can’t do any better. Maybe she is damaged from her war experience. I should be nicer, kinder. I probably love my mother, but I do not like her. I used to feel so guilty but I don’t feel guilty any more. The more confident person I have become after Adrienne tries to follow Tom’s mantra: I now also ‘don’t do things I don’t want to do’. So I see my mother and make her show acceptable behaviour. She is always active. Pushing the boundaries, and extremely annoying … I suppose I am annoying, too. I try not to be. Now we have that uncertain limbo with Tom when I am not sure if he still loves me, or if he switched over to be ‘just my friend’, I wonder if crossing that invisible line with George was the only reason for our problems. Am I ‘too much’? I probably am; too chatty, writing too many emails, too enthusiastic, I do a lot of things in excess … Can I change? Not sure, I am not sure I want to go back into my shell, do what other people expect me to do … I learnt from Tom not to do it. But was he right? Is he now tired of exactly the changes he helped me to make as a catalyst? Maybe I should do what Tom wants me to do … if I knew what it was. I am not sure. Maybe I am like my mum. People always like my mum to start with, and then she gets too much … Damn. I do not want to be like my mother. I want to like her more and be nicer to her. But I do not want to be like her. Honza tells me I am like my mother whenever he wants to hurt me. Tom says I am nothing like my mother. But maybe he changed his mind. I just don’t know … I feel insecure. ……

The book continues,but you’d need to read it to know more.

But seeing my mother now, all her strengths, maybe being like my mother would not be such a bad thing.


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