The Frog

25 Jun

About two years ago, on one of my dad’s visits, I took him to a wonderful imports store called Equal Exchange, on Hawthorne Boulevard in Portland, Oregon. Sadly, it has closed since then, another victim of the economy. At Equal Exchange, my dad came across an elegant, dark, wooden, hand-carved frog from the Philippines. It’s long, low, and sturdy, and it looks like it might be meant as a footstool.

My mother collects frogs, so my dad has a tradition of giving her frogs as presents. They are mostly kitschy objects and stuffed toy animals that I hope to not inherit; in contrast, this elegant wooden frog is tasteful and pretty. After some thought, my dad decided to get my mother the wooden frog; he spent eighty dollars on it.

On his next visit, my dad said he gave my mother the frog as a Xmas present, but she didn’t seem to appreciate it. She didn’t say anything about it, and she ignores it, letting it collect dust in the living room. Now that I’m at my parents’ house, I found the frog—indeed covered in dust in the living room—and I wiped it down with a damp cloth and set it in front of a chair. I’ve been using it as a footstool ever since.

This morning my dad asked me, “Does that frog make a good footstool?”

I said, “Yes, it’s fine.”

My mother curled up her lip and in her usual sneering, snarky manner said to me, “Well, at least it’s good for something.” Stunned, I looked at her in silence.

My dad said to me, “Remember, I got that at one of those stores on…not Belmont, the other street. In the southeast neighborhood…”

“Hawthorne Boulevard,” I said, smiling. “The shop was Equal Exchange.”

My mother snapped, “I just know you gave it to me for Christmas.”

My dad and I looked at her, and even he became silent. Wow. It figures that she hates the highest quality and most expensive frog that my dad has ever given her. She hates the most beautiful frog my dad has ever given her. She hates the one frog of hers that I actually admire. And since she’s a malignant narcissist, she expects my dad to telepathically know exactly what present she really wants and to give her that rather than tasteful and elegant presents. She has additionally shown scathing contempt rather than any semblance of gratitude, appreciation, or respect. Give her a bright green stuffed toy frog, and she’ll hug it like she’s a little kid; give her a high-quality frog meant for adults, and she’ll act like it’s the ugliest and most worthless piece of crap.

Some years ago, I became conscious that my mother’s tastes and my tastes are drastically different—actually, they’re polar opposites. She has always been disdainful toward my tastes in clothing, no matter what those tastes were (yes, my style has changed drastically since I was a teenager). And it’s significant that she has repeatedly shown that she’s a soulless barbarian who doesn’t appreciate or understand art.

When I was a teenager, she accused me of being vain; I was flabbergasted with shock, and it wasn’t until years later that I remembered that and reflected on how as a teen I didn’t wear make-up, I didn’t have piercings (not even pierced ears like all the other girls in school) or tattoos, I didn’t go to a beauty parlor and get my hair done, and I didn’t wear much jewelry. So many years later, I realized that this fool had accused me of being vain just because I made my own clothing, setting my own fashions, and she didn’t have any understanding of clothing as an art form.

When I was about thirty years old, I began redecorating the Federal-style, three-story dollhouse I’ve had ever since I was ten years old, when Uncle Buddy gave us each a one hundred dollar bill for Xmas. While she visited me in St. Louis, I took my mother to a small miniatures museum, run by people who were passionate about dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures and made them and displayed them in the museum. When we reached the front counter, my mother said to the woman behind the counter, “My daughter has a dollhouse. She’s a female version of Peter Pan; she’ll never grow up.”

The woman behind the counter didn’t smile or indeed seem impressed with that patronizing remark, and it didn’t sit well with me, either. My mother was too much of a soulless barbarian to know the blatantly obvious fact that dollhouses and dollhouse miniatures are art, not toys, and that I was redecorating a dollhouse, not playing with it like a little kid. I recently told a friend about this incident, and the friend pointed out that my mother not only insulted me in public, but also insulted the woman to whom she was speaking.

Several times, my mother has boasted to me, “You got your artistic streak from me.” She then goes on to remind me that when she was a little kid, she took an art class on the campus of Washburn University. One time I asked her why she doesn’t continue creating art, and she said that she had a disagreement with a teacher. She didn’t get into much more details than that. I was assertive enough  to risk getting my head bitten off by pointing out that if a teacher was disdainful toward my art, I’d strive all the more as an artist. She didn’t bite my head off but instead acknowledged that my approach would have been different. I don’t recall saying to her, “For me, creating art is like breathing.”

Recently my dad told me that my grandmother—as in his mother—studied art at Yale University. Far from giving it up because of a disagreement with a dismissive teacher, my grandmother was a portrait painter all her life. Um, yeah, I know from whom I truly inherited my artistic creativity: the side of the family that my destructive narcissist mother and her sociopathic siblings have demonized. No doubt if my mother knew that I know about my “other” grandparents studying at Yale, she’d get extremely angry and make snide remarks about how she dislikes status symbols, and she might (not for the first time) accuse me of being a snob. Fortunately, unlike during my childhood, I now see through her psychotic delusions and bizarre, deranged opinions.

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