Let me set the scene for you. It's the early eighties, New York City. It is filthy, lawless, violent, and basically an outdoor insane asylum, since all the state run mental institutions had recently opened their doors and emptied their contents onto the city streets. I am a small blonde white girl. It's not good. Pretty much every time I leave the apartment I am accosted by people who hate me because I'm white, female, or just exist at all. I am pinched, chased, spat at, have bottles thrown at my head, entire bags of white flour dumped on me, and the filthiest things whispered in my ear on buses and subways. I am ten. When my mother observes any of this, she screams and yells and throws a fit towards the perpetrator(s), which you would think would make me feel proud and protected. But somehow all this ever did was make me feel even worse. I remember one incident where we were on our way to have head shots done for me and some crazy homeless guy almost pinched the skin off my arm. My mother screamed and yelled at him and everyone stared. Then we had to go do the shoot, in which I had to be "bubbly" and "outgoing", neither of which I was on even my best days, and certainly not on a day like that. I remember her being disappointed in me that I didn't "perform" better during the shoot. I have the contact sheets from that day and I can see the trauma in my eyes. It's just awful. So, again, why when my mother defended me so ferociously, did it not make me feel better, closer to her? It had the exact opposite effect.
Years later I brought this up with a therapist. Having established that my mother has NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder), we came to the conclusion that, my being essentially her property and a reflection of her with no personality or feelings of my own, her defense of me was really defense of herself. It's kind of like the macho guy who beats up the guy who insulted his wife - he's really defending his own honor; it's really about his own ego. That's always how I felt about my mother. It was never about me, that I'd been hurt; it was always "how dare you touch MY daughter," and then my feelings about it were completely crushed and ignored. Or maybe I just can't ever give her a break.
Well, today I found myself once again defending my kid against someone else's horrible little brat. I was at a pool party, and decided to play with B in the shallow, non-operative hot tub away from the hyper older kids. Well, of course immediately all these little girls jump in with us and start splashing around, sticking their tongue out at him and making faces at him (to try to make him laugh, I'm sure, but it was really annoying), and then this one little girl thought he had splashed her and got mad and started sending waves of water into his face, over and over, until I looked her dead in the eye and said in my scariest voice possible, "HEY. You STOP that RIGHT NOW." The look of terror on her face told me I'd gotten my message across. Then I took us out and away because I just couldn't deal with these out of control unsupervised kids anymore.
The intense rage I felt in that moment made me think about my mother and wonder how she felt when she caught someone hurting me, which as I said was pretty much a daily occurrence in 1980s New York. Did she want to rip their heads off, like I did? Were her instincts just normal mama bear behavior, or like my therapist posited, just an extension of her personality disorder? And if so, when I defend my son, is it all just about my ego?
I really don't think so. But it does make me wonder.