My Life as the Black Sheep
I have a very complicated relationship with my mother, a person that people have always believed is my sister. She was just 15 when she became pregnant with me, so she doesn’t look old enough to have a 34-year-old daughter. Following conception, after she turned 16, my grandparents drove her and my dad (he was 18) to Tennessee so they could get married – Tennessee’s laws at that time were different from those in Ohio. Needless to say, the marriage didn’t last. My parents divorced within two years, primarily because they were too young to raise a family and make a relationship work.
In many ways, having a child at 16 stripped my mother of her youth. You might even say she was robbed of the most formidable years of her life, those when most young women prepare for dates, Friday night football games, and high school graduation. She didn’t have the chance to participate in any of these normal activities because she was too busy changing diapers, preparing formula, and generally caring for a baby.
When my dad left, he walked out of my life for good. Meanwhile, Mom remarried when she was around 19 and gave birth to my sister a year later. I tell you this to compare the relationship between my mother and my sister with my own relationship with Mom.
Growing up, I was expected to be the golden child. I got all "A's" in school, played three sports a year, was inducted into the National Honor Society, and served on student council. I remember bringing home an "A-" on a report card as a freshman, and my mom grounded me on the basis that, “An 'A-' can fall to a 'B' at any time.” As punishment, I wasn’t allowed to attend a school dance.
"B" grades were not permissible because, at a very early age, Mom decided I would graduate as Valedictorian of my class. And I managed to do just that before heading to the University of Michigan on academic scholarships. I ultimately didn’t know what I wanted to study, and I didn’t have a lot of support from my parents while attending college. They wouldn’t give me money, so I had to work around 30 hours a week just to survive. To make matters even harder, I remember one night, as I sat on the computer at home researching a horrific political science report, my mom said, “Wouldn’t you like to just get a job and wear nice clothes every day?”
Making My Own Way
So I left college in the spring of my freshman year to the great dismay of my Ann Arbor friends. I found a job working for a local newspaper and have worked ever since. Following my brief time spent at U of M, I realized how differently Mom treated my sister. She was given no expectations, no pressures, no demands. My sis breezed through high school with an embarrassingly low GPA, but Mom didn’t mind. She was proud of her sister for graduating, and then the two went to work together at a retail store. My sister’s boyfriend later joined them, and they, along with my step-dad, often went to dinners and movies together. I wasn’t invited to join them.
My escape from this foursome of fun was my own boyfriend, who my parents strongly disliked. We rented an apartment together when I was 21, an act that bred a great deal of resentment from my mom. We didn’t speak for about six months, and, during that time, she grew still closer to my sister. Because of these circumstances, I had no choice but to create a life for myself that distanced me from my family. I worked, bought a house, and eventually got married. When my sister moved in with her boyfriend, my parents couldn’t have cared less and completely reserved judgment. Unlike me, she was not ripped from their good graces based on her adult decisions.
Night and Day
Fast forward 13 years to the present day, and the relationship I have with my mom has become even more difficult. After two failed marriages, she thinks I am completely lacking the ability to judge others character with any degree of accuracy. She tells me that I’m not family-oriented, and that I've turned my back on the values with which I was raised. Moreover, she doesn’t understand my career choice; I gave up the corporate world, along with the struggle to climb that elusive ladder, in order to write and publish. I don’t make a lot of money, which is just another black mark against me, and I don’t lead a conventional 9-5 life - especially when compared to my sister, who gets paid vacation and sick time and is very well-off financially.
In other words, she’s usurped my position as the golden child. I don’t mind this as much as I mind being so easily dismissed for following my dreams. I literally cannot compete with my sister. She works as an assistant vice president at a mortgage company, just purchased a huge four-bedroom, four-bathroom home and is engaged to a man who makes tons of money. In addition to her beautiful diamond ring, my sister herself is beautiful; she is physically my exact opposite, with a willowy frame, long hair that always looks perfect, and immaculate fashion sense.
My mom never hesitates to enumerate these attributes at any given time. She says my sister’s boyfriend is lucky he landed her because she’s so young, beautiful, and successful. She says my sister’s car (she leases and gets a new one every two years) and home are gorgeous, and that my sister deserves her great job because she's so driven and works so hard.
"A Hot Mess"
Basically, I’m the black sheep. I live in an apartment, my car is seven years old, I’m not thin, and my hair is curly and unruly. Any admirable personal traits I might have are buried too deeply beneath these negative facts for Mom to see. She only gives notice to what’s on the surface, and from that vantage point, I’m a hot mess.
Still, I’m actually very close to my mom, which is where the complexities of our relationship come into play. She’s the first person I call when I’m in trouble or need advice. (Most of the time she comes through, although she is also quick to say, “I told you so.”) Mom is judgmental, opinionated, and generally pessimistic, which occasionally serves to bring me down when I need built up. But she always lends her ear, whether she likes what I’m saying or not, and she never completely turns her back on me.
The problem is that she isn’t proud of me, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted. Certainly she’s proud of my sister and never hesitates to say so, but I get the distinct feeling she’s disappointed in the way I’ve turned out. I’m overweight, a little odd, and not without some emotional baggage because of my past relationships.
Am I redeemable? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make the situation with my mom any easier. I think it would take a miracle to unravel the complex mysteries of this mother-daughter relationship.