Martha Randolph Carr Martha Randolph Carr, 10/13/2011 [Archive]

Martha's Big Adventure - Conversations with Mom

Martha's Big Adventure — Conversations with Mom

By Martha Randolph Carr

Over the past year, I've been having weekly conversations by phone with my mother, Tina Carr, who's now 85 and living the good life in Florida. Before that we spoke about four or five times a year on birthdays and major holidays. That was it.

My part of the tale is that I was waiting for my mother to call me more often and I took what I saw as her lack of effort as proof of something deeper. I had an entire backstory why it was okay that I wasn't dialing the phone either.

Fortunately, someone pointed out that my self-righteous indignation wasn't serving anyone and I could just pick up the phone and keep it simple. A few bouts of cancer that were supposed to be terminal for me also helped to knock me out of my need to be right.

At first we talked more about what was on TV or the weather. Hot in Florida and cold in Chicago. But over time it occurred to me to ask her to tell me stories about her childhood. Suddenly, my mother was transported and a sound of delight came into her voice.

One of her grandfathers had owned a lot of stores in town, including a candy store where she was allowed to pick out whatever she wanted. Mom described the different jars and candies as she stood on a stepstool, trying to decide which one to pick.

I finally started to realize what my misplaced anger had been costing me. It really hit home after the blizzard last February when my mother called, anxious to hear if I was all right. Maybe my low current of hostility was more detectable than I thought and I was making it difficult for my mother to reach out in my direction but the desire was there.

Anger has its place in our long list of emotions. It's our inner Geiger counter that lets us know when our boundaries have been breached and attention needs to be paid. However, polite society became intent on breeding it out of all of us for a while. We were told to calm down, get over it or risk looking bad.

The last thing I ever wanted as a teenager was to look bad. I was willing to wear painful shoes, ridiculous hairdos and endure uncomfortable conversations if it only meant that I was liked by a wider margin of people. I was an emotional chameleon.

But there's still a part of ourselves that always knows when we don't like what's going on in front of us. Mine shows up as slow heartburn or I change the subject and start talking. It's like I think I can distract myself into a better frame of mind.

It never worked.

Instead, I grew up as a quietly angry teenager and turned into a quietly angry adult. I wouldn't have described myself that way but there it is. It wasn't the only element of my character but a smoldering rage way down deep was always there.

My soul had this thick layer of emotional tar that I processed everything through till my trust in anything had eroded down to a nub. An unforeseen consequence of wanting to be liked so much was that I had no real skills at communicating at all.

Sure, I could say when I liked something but when I was uncomfortable, even a little, I found it easier to say nothing at all. That meant I couldn't negotiate for a compromise. It was all or nothing and my life reflected that mentality.

It's taken a lot of practice but I've finally gotten to a place where I can pause when I'm uncomfortable and gather more information before coming back for a longer conversation. I even have a few close friends I can turn to who won't listen to any whining, gossip or complaints and instead offer a few simple actions I could take to remedy a situation.

That doesn't mean things end up going my way. But instead of feeling angry and helpless over everything, I feel calm and powerless over others and outcomes. Life becomes manageable and I can dial a phone and get to know my mother a lot better. More adventures to follow. Tweet me @martharandolph and tell me how Mom or Dad is doing. Email Martha at

© 2011 Martha Randolph Carr. Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate. This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author. For info call Sales at (805) 969-2829 or email Download Martha Randolph Carr's black and white mug shot photo.

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