Digging up the dirt to plant flowers

One of the weirdest things I've ever had to do was something I did while I was writing this book on creating mother/stepmother harmony last year. As some of you may or may not know, Carol's an artist (a very busy, successful one). We collaborated on the outline and topics for the book. And I was going to be able to call her or show her drafts on a regular basis to get her input, but basically it would be me writing the majority of it (with stories in her own words at the beginning of each chapter). It was one thing to be able to weave my own experiences into each section, especially in terms of the juicier stuff: former problems we'd had, assumptions I used to have about her, internal shifts I'd made as our relationship improved... but what about her?

We'd certainly talked through enough of the bad stuff, so I had a pretty good idea about what she might want to say, but that wasn't the same thing as her actually saying it.

So I asked her. "Would you be willing to give me a list of all the shit that used to exist between us, the judgments and resentments, the problems you used to have with me, the annoyances?"

"Unnnnhhh... sure," was her weak reply. What a trooper! (said with a Midwestern accent). She worried that such a list might damage our friendship and set us back, undo all the progress we'd made. And of course, giving someone a list like that is just plain scary.

But she did.

And as she sent it off to me through the ethers, she confessed to feeling ill while she wrote it, and even worse after she pressed "send."

So I printed it out.

All two and a half pages of it, single-spaced, no paragraph breaks.


Most of this stuff I already knew, thank god. Maybe about 20% I hadn't quite heard in that particular vein. And maybe only about 5% of it really felt like a (temporary) kick in the stomach, which, if you think about it, is pretty remarkable. When was the last time you got a letter from someone listing everything they used to hate about you? Probably never....

It was only fair if I did the same, so she could see what I would be writing about (yes, I can hear the vengeful snickers, ha). I think I probably felt just as exposed as she had, laying out all my grievances in one place like that. I felt sick too. And more than a little puny and petty, ashamed.

I sent it off with profuse apologies and my own set of fears about setting off minefields that might do irreparable damage.

She graciously replied, "No problem. I mean, I figured.... And yes, it was hard to read, but it's all okay...."

Whew. Still, took me a few days to feel right again.

Oddly enough, all that stuff only made us closer. And ironically, actually feel safer. I actually *know* the shit of the shit in our relationship -- and so does she. If that's the worst she can come up with, then hey, no problem!

So... what do you think the mom or stepmom might write about YOU? And what would you have to say about HER?

Perhaps most importantly, who bears responsibility for that long list of grievances?

I would venture to say, it's you....

© 2009 Jennifer Newcomb Marine     All Rights Reserved

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