Sunday, January 22, 2012

Flannery Meltdown

It's been a week since I had my Flannery Meltdown. I had always heard that her stuff gets to the heart of you but I never believed it. Maybe it was because I had only ever read Good Country People, which, to my limited and shallow literary mind, was a humorous story of a brooding girl who thinks she's going to get lucky with the Bible salesman only to have him run off with her prosthetic leg. A sad but embarrassingly funny little essay, I thought.

So, the other night I hijacked Su's literature book and ambled through the pages, stumbled upon another Flannery O'Connor, and set to reading. The story is the relationship between a befuddled and quirky woman with her traditional views of society and her brooding, self-centered, progressive son. I was reduced to sobs.

I remember so well trying to divorce myself from everything my mother stood for. I remember my need to establish myself as a separate person. I remember the irritation with every little thing in her. And even after I should have known better and should have related better and should have loved better, how I still kept her at a stiff arm's length. I didn't know how to get close without getting smothered. Instead of navigating the whirlpool of her unrealistic expectations and emotional needs, I opted to sit on the sidelines. I kept my safe distance. I didn't risk anything to love her.

But there, in the story, Everything That Rises Must Converge, I see this selfish and haughty son behaving as badly as I did. Or rather I see that I behaved as badly as he. And I want to shake him out of his contempt and replace it with compassion before it is too late. As the mother drops to the pavement of a likely stroke, O'Connor penned:
The tide of darkness seemed to sweep him back to her, postponing from moment to moment his entry into the world of guilt and sorrow.
There is nothing like the regret that seizes you when the person you have failed to love adequately is swept from this earth. In the case of my dad's death, my regret came immediately. "Why didn't I go visit him before he died?" "Why didn't I call him more?" "Why didn't I push as hard as I could to have a relationship with him after my parents divorced?" Some of those questions are likely a normal response to a death. I was unfamiliar with death at that point. And losing a father, even one I had hardly known, was a blow.

After my mother died it was different. Perhaps God knew that, after the trauma of her last weeks, I couldn't deal with the regret/guilt nuclear meltdown. He gave me a total peace that even though she may have doubted my love for her while on this earth, now she knew better. Now she knew that I had loved her, I just wasn't able to do it in the language she understood.

But something has happened in the past 2.5 years since her death. I have gone from being the cold, heartless, arrogant son to the quirky, clueless, irritating mother. It is a harsh realization. I guess I had it coming.

Up until recently my experience with motherhood was dimensional, I guess. I was never a "good mother" type: the Supermom, complete with cape and freshly ground wheat berries and chore charts and precious Bible times with each child. I knew I could never be that kind of mom. But I could be the kind that talked about anything and was open about my own failures and had fun and majored on the important things and let the little stuff go.

Maybe it's a rite of passage, but I seem to have morphed into someone whose very presence on the planet is an irritation to my offspring. Whether it is from hormonal teenagers with their explosive emotions or young adults struggling with far more serious and sinister and heart wrenching issues, I have now been on the receiving end of eye rolls and sarcastic comments and stiff, stiff arms and, on occasion, the emotional (but not actually physical) big middle finger. I didn't think it would happen to me and if it did, I didn't think it would hurt so much.

On my worst days I feel that this is my due, that God is getting me back for how I treated my own mother and blamed her for every pain and weakness in my own life. On other days I know better... that God doesn't exact revenge in those ways. That my sins are removed as far as the East is from the West. Either way, I now see how easy it is to dish it out and yet so hard to take.

It really does beg me to ask the question: Was I really so arrogant to think that I could do a better job than my mother? I am humbled beyond recognition.

Like a small child with a broken toy, I bring my heart to Jesus. I bring my family to Jesus. "Fix it", I plead. "Fix it, please."

I'm thankful, so thankful, that he can redeem even my pathetic attempts at motherhood and turn them into something good.



  1. I love you! We ALL have regrets! I surely do. This is beautiful!

  2. Ginny, you have such wisdom. I will be reading your blog from now on. Kathaleen Scott Hughes

  3. Ginny, I wrote my Master's thesis on Flannery O'Connor, and Anne Vance Bright and I visited her home four years ago. Received an email today that contained a link you might enjoy. Check it out!
    Kathaleen (your new BFF!)

  4. Thank, Kathaleen, for your encouragement!

  5. I read this yesterday, Ginny (long after you wrote it): I can so relate to your sentiments on transforming from the scornful child to the "irritating" parent--and I strongly suspect that this phase of parenthood is just beginning.