The Constant Gardener

My mother is not employed, never was. Her “eccentric special interest” is gardening — her garden is worth 3 times what her house is worth, and she knows the genus of every plant known to mankind. She gardened instead of parenting me and my brother. (My father was alcoholic . . . which didn’t help the situation.) There are currently over 500 plants in her house. She hoards plants and everything else, including food. There is food in her freezer that has been there since I was in high school (I’m now 46 year old). She seemed to have no idea, when I was a child, that I was a separate person. If she had an interest, she couldn’t understand that I might not share it. If I had an interest she didn’t share, she’d either ignore it or insist that I didn’t have it at all (for example, she told me I couldn’t take dance lessons because SHE was not able to dance). She barely noticed I was alive, much less in trouble or in need of help. I had a severe episode of anorexia as a teenager, but she never noticed as my weight dropped to below 90 pounds. I was sick with this for five years, but she has no recollection of it. When the subject of eating disorders comes up, and the fact that I had one, she’s astonished. It’s as if, because it happened to me rather than to her, it didn’t happen at all. Her conversation is bizarre to say the least. Sometimes she holds forth on gardening, but more often, she engages in a sort of stream of consciousness soliloquy apropos of nothing. If others are holding a normal conversation, she will interject meaningless information into it. Sometimes her interjections are offensive, but if you tell her that you’re offended she has no idea what she might have said wrong. Often her interjections are hilarious or mystifying. The other day, in the middle of a conversation about local politics, she interrupted with: “Did you know that you could adopt a manatee? And give it a name?” She has no friends, other than members of her gardening clubs (she belongs to six) with whom she discusses only plants and gardening. I believe that her manner of relating would be offensive or confusing to anyone who doesn’t share this interest. When my family visits her (she lives several hours away), there is no food for us (other than the hoarded food, which actually ceased to be food many years ago). If she cooks, there is never enough–she doesn’t understand that when there are five people at the table, there needs to be more food than when it’s only her. I could go on and on. I have years of memories. I have always suspected that my mother was not normal. However, as a young child, how do you explain this to anyone else? How do you even know that you’re right? In my case, I did attempt to talk to my father about my mother’s differences but he would always tell me I was wrong or crazy. I guess he had a lot invested in keeping up a good front. But . . . I was astute enough to realize that my mother wasn’t showing me any love, which meant that something was wrong with someone, and if there was nothing wrong with my mother, that must mean that something was wrong with ME. I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it stands to reason that if someone grows up thinking that her mother is unable to show her any love because she’s too flawed to warrant maternal affection, that person is going to have some “issues”. And in fact I’ve struggled my whole life with the belief that I am too fundamentally flawed to deserve love or even a modicum of attention. I have had years of therapy and have finally learned to be comfortable with myself, but it has been a hard road. I am hopeful that someone in this group will relate to this. It would be so validating not to be alone.

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12 thoughts on “The Constant Gardener

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. This is just so eye opening. So much of what you’ve described sounds like my Dad.

    This part really hit home: “I’m no psychologist, but I’d say it stands to reason that if someone grows up thinking that her mother is unable to show her any love because she’s too flawed to warrant maternal affection, that person is going to have some “issues”. And in fact I’ve struggled my whole life with the belief that I am too fundamentally flawed to deserve love or even a modicum of attention. ”

    Growing up, I hated myself, and also had an eating disorder. It just very comforting knowing where it stemmed from and that I’m not innately bad, but was unintentionally led to believe so by my father’s lack of affection.

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