This post has been bubbling around my mind for the last week or so. I apologize if this comes out as a stream-of-consciousness thing, rather than really clear points. I’m still pretty in the middle of it, so it’s hard to write it out without musing a bit.
I am the daughter of a very strong, well respected lady. My mother, Pat, was small in size, but full of piss and vinegar (as my father would say). People didn’t screw with my Mom. I never really saw her lose it on anyone, but she had a quiet confidence and really clear boundaries that everyone respected.
I remember hearing a story from her time with the RCAF (Royal Canadian Air Force). She only ever got as far as Captain, despite her long career with the military. When asked why, she responded that she loved being a nurse. She loved being in the OR and seeing interesting cases. She loved continuing to learn and marvel at the human body. She did not love, however, paper work. A promotion or a rise in rank would require a desk job, which would have been miserable for her. Despite stepping on many toes and dashing many plans, my mother refused to leave surgery, and when the military couldn’t offer her more, she retired and went to a local hospital instead.
My mother was a spit-fire. She was everyone’s big sister, and somehow brought a family of feuding Sutherlands together during some really hard times. She had a look that shut the loudest of mouths, and a presence that terrified the crap out of all of my guy friends in high school. She didn’t put up with crap from anyone, including my father. An example:
My mother loved her version of camping (which was so far from roughing it, it was laughable. She owned a giant parking trailer, with three queen beds, a full kitchen, a full bathroom and a TV). Growing up, the trailer was parked at a site where I had friends, and where my Dad’s best friend camped. As years went by, we all stopped going up – except for Mum. She decided that she wanted to move the trailer to a site that suited her needs and where she had friends. I didn’t mind, but Dad was pissed. Even though he never went up he liked having the option to see his oldest buddy up at this campsite. Mum explained her side (She went up every weekend during the summer, Dad went maybe one weekend a season, she wanted friends to spend time with, Dad wasn’t as close with his friend anymore, etc…), Dad argued and eventually it came down to an ultimatum – If Mum moved the trailer, Dad would never go up again. So there. He was mighty pleased with himself, thinking that he had put a stop to that nonsense. The next summer, the trailer was moved to a much fancier park (The old one only had a natural lake and a corner store about 30 minutes away by foot. The new one? Man made quarry, a pool, a hot tub, a bingo hall, an icecream parlour and a store…plus, her besties all camped there). Mum loved it. I have never seen her happier then when she spent a summer at the trailer.
My Dad? Not impressed. Eventually, Mum would spend WEEKS at the trailer, always inviting him, but he always turned her down. She never backed down though. She refused to sit at home and mope like my father. She wanted to be out, having fun and spending time with her friends, so she went. Dad got more and more bitter about it, and she tried to convince him to come, but she never backed down (even when there were whispers that he wanted to leave her, because it’s not like she spent any time with him during the summer anyway. Oh Dad, you melodramatic boob). Eventually, I think , he spent maybe 2 weekends with her before he passed away.
So, the point of these stories? Aside from sharing how awesome my Mum was, I wanted to point out that she stood up for herself, knew when to put her foot down and stuck to her guns, even up against my father (who could pout and sulk with the best of them). Why? Because in my 28 years of life, no one ever called her a bitch. Now, this could have been out of fear. She was fierce when she was pissed. I just wonder what I’m doing wrong that I’m being perceived a completely different way.
When my mother died, the Sutherland family fell apart. Maybe it was because she was the glue that held us together. Maybe she brought out the best in everyone and kept us in line. I don’t know. It might be something as simple as grief and greed. No matter the cause, the family was split and with her death, I lost not only the children my father had from his first marriage, but their children, their friends, and, sadly, most of my Mum’s local friends (specifically one who was like an aunt to me, and was there, beside me, when Mum had her stroke in my arms). Why? Well, from what I’ve heard the common belief is that I’m a manipulative, greedy, pathetic, power hungry bitch.
There have been many reasons given about why I’ve been treated the way I have been, and why this is the popular belief held by these people who have known me most of my life. I will certainly admit that I haven’t always been the picture of grace and civility since my mother died, however I don’t know anyone who could be. The issues that I’m dealing with now, however, are a bit tricky. We’re getting near the end, which is a wonderful amazing thing. There are a few things that are a Big Deal and my job as co-executor is to protect my sister and I during this process. That’s why I was chosen. So, I’ve been putting my foot down, and unfortunately, and not unexpectedly, the reaction hasn’t been good. People are PISSED.
Beyond the estate, I’m struggling with this in my daily life as well. I am a definitely a child of both my parents: I have my mother’s fire and stubbornness, but I also have my father’s deep well of emotions and sensitivities. I feel, and I feel strongly. I care very much what people think of me, and I’ve realized that I’ve done a lot and put up with a lot in my life for the sake of being liked. I don’t like causing waves, I don’t like bringing up difficult topics. For me, it seems to make more sense to suffer through, rather than put other people in a difficult position.
In my personal relationships, I have been pushed to the point of putting my foot down and in some cases, the result was the end of a relationship or friendship. In every case, I feel as though I did right by me, and that I’m happier for it today. (In one specific case, I had watched the fiance of a close friend treat her like shit for a long period of time. I told her she deserved better, and when I suspected that he was cheating, I told her. She chose to marry him anyway, and I stood up there with her as her maid of honour, because I supported her right to making her own decisions and her desire for happiness. Within months of the wedding, she was shocked to discover that he wanted an open marriage and that he had been seeing someone else. I provided her support, but told her I wouldn’t be involved in the separation. I could give her comfort, but I would not play spy or pick sides (I had close ties with the husband that I couldn’t break at the time. Didn’t make me happy, but it was complicated). This wasn’t good enough, and I was asked to choose sides on a number of occasions. I refused. I stood my ground and told her I needed space until the situation was resolved. Our friendship ended. In another case, I had a friend who felt that when my parents were sick, she couldn’t handle that kind of heaviness in our relationship, so she asked me to hide that part of my life from her. She also felt that Pat wasn’t attractive enough or good enough for me. She told me this on many occasions and told me to leave him all the time. I refused to be a fair weather friend or listen to someone bash my boyfriend. I ended the friendship. I don’t regret these decisions or the outcomes.
At work, like in many of my past jobs, I have not been treated very well. Pat is beside himself with me and the situation, because he is such a fighter. He can’t stand injustice or bullying. He faces it head on, for others and for himself. I have a really hard time defending or sticking up for myself, and often, I find myself completely miserable and beaten down because I’ve allowed things to get so bad (Often, people will continue to take advantage and stomp on you if they know they can get away with it, and will continue to do so until you break or are forced out). Right now I’m in an especially perilous situation because I’m a part-time contract worker at a college that always has a ton of people looking for work and, of course, because I’m pregnant. So, do I stand up for myself against permanent full time union members? Do I stand up to my manager, who could replace me in a matter of hours? Or do I keep my mouth shut and do my job for the next 4 1/2 months?
So, how do I balance this fine line between doormat and bitch? How do I learn from my mother and remain true to myself, despite immense pressure to be “nice”, “civil” and “easy-going”. I have learned, wrongly, over the years that to be happy I need to be liked. To be liked, I have to be the constant easy-going “Yes” person. I want to be respected. I want to be a person of integrity. I want to be happy, because whatever this is, it isn’t it. I am about to be a mother. I want to someone that my child looks up to. I want to be able to teach them that they are someone worth defending too.