I hesitated about posting this because earlier this year I found out my mother has read this blog and ever since, I’ve felt inhibited about posting anything bad about her.
But why? What’s she gonna do? Not talk to me? We don’t talk anyway. Say bad things about me behind my back? She does that too. Why am I still so worried she might “disapprove?” She’s never approved of me and never will, so fuck it, I’m posting this because it’s funny.
My mother was consumed with Martha Stewart-envy, but would rather have laid on a bed of nails than ever admit it.
She was a woman who perceived herself to be the perfect housewife, perfect corporate hostess, perfect chef, perfect decorator, and perfect party-giver. She held herself up as a paragon of upper-middle class feminine virtue. When she was married to my father, she prided herself on her flawless and memorable cocktail parties (no matter that both she and my father spent the entire time drunk and arguing loudly at these events in front of their guests). She crowed to anyone who would listen that she could whip up a gourmet meal worthy of Julia Child’s praise (to be fair, she actually was a good cook but she wasn’t THAT good). She also thought of herself as a world-class interior decorator even though the kitchen in the house we lived in was outdated by about 40 years and never had any modernizations or improvements done to it (the fixtures were all white enameled metal, the floor was cracked multicolor-speckled brown linoleum, and counter space was nonexistent), the ancient floral wallpaper in most of the bedrooms was dingy and yellow with age (this was the original wallpaper in our 1920s Dutch colonial revival house), and every room in the public areas were carpeted with the same boring beige wall-to-wall because the hardwood floors looked like shit.
She did, in fact, have a short lived career as an interior decorator, and to be fair, she was probably reasonably skilled, but you’d never know it looking at our house. Our Christmas tree was always boring too–every year the same white lights and red and silver ornaments went on the tree (no other colors allowed) because anything more colorful was deemed “tacky” even though there was a child in the house.
After my parents divorced, my mother went into public relations and bragged constantly about how successful she was in her field and how everyone wanted to be her client because of her flawless skills, sparkling charisma, and her ability to sell ice to an Eskimo. Although she never achieved fame and riches, she liked to live as if she had both, and looked down on people who had “regular jobs.” But one thing my mother never had much of was creativity, although she liked to brag that she did.
Martha Stewart was everything my mother wished she was: a woman who had parlayed her creative homemaking, decorating, and cooking skills into a huge empire; a woman who appeared on TV talk shows, wrote books, published a glossy magazine, and had countless articles written about her in national publications. My mother hated Martha Stewart. She never passed up an opportunity to rail on about Martha’s terrible taste in decor and table presentations, her weight (to my mother, Martha was “fat”), her “tentlike” clothes, her irritating personality, her flat “peasant-like” facial features, her obsession with fattening desserts rather than healthy salads and lean meats, and her overuse of tacky primary colors and insipid pastels (my mother was the Queen of Beige, an evil color if I ever saw one–is it even a color?). For a normal woman with my mother’s range of interests, someone like Martha Stewart could have been an inspiration, but to a narcissist like my mother, she presented a huge threat; she was someone who had the potential to make my mother’s domestic and entertaining skills look uninspired and pedestrian in comparison.
When the story broke on the news that Martha Stewart got arrested for tax fraud, my mother actually rubbed her hands together with glee and her eyes glittered in a Mean Girls sort of way. She literally squealed in delight when Martha was shown being taken off in handcuffs to the minimum security womens’ prison where she would live for the next five months, to be followed by another five months of house arrest. “Common criminal,” my mother sniffed contemptuously. “She had it coming. What’s she going to do? Sew tacky curtains for the barred windows?”
I’ve never been a big fan of Martha Stewart either but I thought her attitude in prison was classy, refreshing, and even touching. She treated her cellmates–mostly women of far lower social class than she was–with respect and dignity, and from everything I heard, all the women there adored her and they all cried when she was released. One of the girls knit Martha a clunky homemade shawl, which Martha proudly wore in front of the cameras as she was escorted away. I thought Martha handled what could have been an incredibly embarrassing situation with class and good humor. I pointed how nice Martha’s attitude was.
“I think it’s so cool the way she treats all those girls like human beings, and makes them feel valued.”
Always the wet blanket, my mother hissed, “well, you don’t know what she’s like when the camera isn’t on her.”*
That’s what narcissists do. They’re wet blankets. Maybe Martha Stewart can do something creative with those too.
* Martha Stewart’s daughter reports that her mother was anything but ideal, and was probably a narcissist. That may be true but I still thought her attitude toward her cellmates was admirable, even if it was only to make a good impression to the public.