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Slovene mother

Waiting in queue to buy some bread one Saturday morning, an elderly lady in front of me asked the shop assistant to place the loaf into her shopping trolley as she could not lift her arm because “she had ironed 25 of her son’s T-shits the previous day!” I came across her again at the till. The cashier was stacking everything she had bought into the trolley, the lady still pointing at her numb arm with an extra explanation, “you see, I’m in a hurry, my son is going on a family trip and I need to get their sandwiches ready.”

I remembered a large bookshop on the coast in Oregon, last year some time, that an elderly lady kept opened well beyond working hours with the excuse that she had nothing better to do anyway. We got chatting and she told me how happy she was – her children had invited her to lunch the day before. They had not seen each other for a number of years, they had left home at eighteen as annoying adolescents, now they sat at the same table and had grown-up conversations and “I couldn’t take my eyes off them – what wonderful people they had become! The last time I’d seen them, all we did was argue, now they’re independent adults, each with their profession and work, families, what joy.” They arranged to all go on holiday the following year to a country they had never seen and she had left as a child.

Let’s call the first lady a Slovene mother, the second an American one. The former selflessly does everything, irons, slaves away, gets up early so the sandwiches are made when her children and grandchildren wake up, her arm withering away with the effort – 25 T-shirts! The second owns a bookshop, far too big for its location but with an exceptional selection of books, and clearly enjoys her work very much.

It’s scary, isn’t it? The attentive Slovene mother compared to the American one who is getting on with her own life and business whilst her thirty-something children wander around the world alone.

We Slovenes find such neglect of one’s children hurtful! Is it time to call social services or have we struck an important element of Sloveneness? Probably one of the most important ones.

A Pinch of Biology

Let us set aside romanticism for a moment and wear our industrial glasses; a mother is a leading element in the process that ultimately supplies a product.

You might immediately start wandering, what about the fathers, and you are right. For a long time the working title of this piece was Slovene Parents, but I ultimately changed my mind. As a traditionally patriarchal society, men here are functionally little more than drones used in reproduction. They are absent from upbringing and life. Even Slovene literature or films can confirm this – the fathers are not there and have only started appearing in recent years as a romantic wish. Why this is so will soon become clear.

The basic programming of our brain occurs before the age of five. The way a child absorbs their surroundings is fascinating. We have special neurons called mirror neurons that we can, to simplify things, imagine as an incredible imitation aid. “Copy! Copy! Copy!” the child’s brain is filled. Imitation is not learning, it is more than that – it is putting oneself into the situation of another where the role model and the imitator momentarily become one.

As imitation occurs in the early years it cannot be concerned with linguistics but with the body and its language. How naïvely stupid are parents who, cigarette in hand, lecture their children about the hazards of smoking or those who try to force their children to wear a cycling helmet when all they could do is wear one themselves when they go out cycling with their child, without the need to even say anything, and the child’s imitation method would work .

A child imitates most the person they send the greater part of their time with. In this boys differ from girls. An experiment was undertaken where mothers with their one-year-olds were put in a room and the mothers were told that there is a vase on the table that the child should not touch – the mother however, was not allowed to use words to tell the child about the restriction. The situation was recorded with high-speed cameras that later allowed every tiny move and glance to be analyzed. Girls made eye contact with their mothers between ten to twenty times more often and were thus able to sense their mother’s wish and the majority never touched the vase. The boys ran straight to the forbidden object.

This is, once more, the result of biology. Women are precious, producing a single egg per lunar month; sperm is plentiful and if a billion or so die off, their owner included, it makes little difference. We men are less programmable because this way society achieves innovation; women more so because this brings stability.

Mother’s products

Let us now take a look at the products of the American and the Slovene mother. The offspring of the former are independent adults with lives of their own so the mother too can have a life of her own. When their paths cross they, as adults, sit at the table and enjoy each other’s company.

The son of the Slovene mother from the introduction is incapable of ironing 25 T-shirts on his own. These T-shirts probably took a while to accumulate but this makes no difference to the attentive mother. My own laundry basket fills up very quickly, especially when I exercise and keep changing my T-shirts. It could be that the son is a sportsman, so physically undoubtedly a healthy and capable person. What’s more, he has probably found a partner and fathered children of his own – he has a family that is also incapable of looking after itself. Yes, they are going on a trip, but without the mother seeing to them they would go hungry and thirsty.

The product of the Slovene mother is thus incapable of surviving on its own. It needs the mother to function and is still a child even at forty and over. We are dealing here with faulty goods, an incomplete product, a failed existence, basically lousy offspring.

Why though would the maternal ideal be to raise an incomplete product?

The Slovene Mother’s Task

An uninformed reader might have visions of some kind of evil witch out to deliberately destroy children. This of course, is not the case.

The majority of mothers try to raise a child who, to the greatest degree possible, succeeds in their given world. They try to program their offspring with the best chance for survival.

Clearly American mothers wish their children to be independent whilst Slovene mother prefer weak ones. Where does this social difference stem from?

Changes in our basic programming are slow. The basis of what we have now was set centuries ago. The American mother then knew that her son would have to get on his horse and set out to conquer new territories, the Slovene mother knew that hers would stay at home. Today the American mother knows that her child will have to compete in the cruel world of capitalism and rely on themselves, the Slovene mother knows that hers will first study for a long time, will then be unemployed, eventually a pensioner, basically that the State will provide for them.

In what surroundings is it safest to program weak offspring? Foreign rule! If you are a nation whose greatest chance of survival is not thinking with your own head, awaiting the decisions of the overlords, when obedience is an advantage, then Slovene upbringing is ideal! The English with their boarding schools were raised to be bosses, the Americans businessmen, Slovenes to be subservient workers and officials.

The Slovene mother breaks in her son so that the overlord won’t have to. The 1948 first Slovene sound feature film On Our Own Land was made as a heroic epic film and is to a large extent still accepted as such. It depicts the final years of the Second World War in the Slovene Littoral, occupied first by the Italians and then by the German Army. The protagonist Drejc does nothing at all for half the film! He knows precisely that he should go and fight the aggressors, that he should do something to win his beloved, that he should go into the forest to join the partisans, but he does nothing.

His mother won’t allow him to. Whenever Drejc sets out towards the enemy, his woman or even work, his mother shakes her head and all the son does is lower his head and mutters a little. When the mother is finally out of the shot, he, in a few seconds, kills five collaborators, grabs his woman and escapes with her to join the partisans. Clearly the mother was right to keep watch over him! Were it not for her watchful eye, partisan Drejc would have been banging on the door of Hitler’s bunker as early as the autumn of 1941.

Were a Slovene son to leave home at eighteen he would be talking back to his boss by twenty, have his own company by twenty-two and sooner or later clash with the occupier. This way the nation of serfs would loose its best sons, so it is better if it quells them itself.

The Slovene son has to stay at home, forever at hand for the mother to exert a little additional programming. His energy is spent in disagreements with parents rather than his own life and career.

The mother-daughter link is biologically more substantial in terms of copying. A daughter is easier to program and once sexually mature can go into the world without any concerns, chances being that she will be a copy of her mother. Boys are not as good at copying so the work of the Slovene mother is never complete. She first has to deal with the basic programming up to the age of about thirty-five when statistically Slovene children leave home. “Leaving home” of course means moving to the top floor or to the building next door, meaning the mother is still around to wash, iron or service the son, basically additionally programming him. When the mother’s health starts to decline or she wishes to start programming grandchildren, she starts looking for a bride for her son – mother ver. 2.0, a person much like herself. If she does find one she can never be entirely happy as she is aware of her own uniqueness, and arguments inevitably follow; if she does not, the wife will not be able to put up with a man like that and the divorced son will be able to return into his mother’s care. When the mother is in an old people’s home or in the grave the son will venture out into new romantic exploits. You can recognize him by what he appreciates most in a woman, ironing and cooking as far as intellectual abilities go, nodding when it comes to looks and passing the beer from the refrigerator in terms of sexual techniques. What is also important, of course, is her residential independence, for he is immediately going to move in with his new mother. He will decide he could rent out the old flat or house to boost the budget. When you come to look at the property in view or renting it and ask whether he could empty it of all the ancient furniture, needlework and other junk, he will give you an appalled look as if he has just seen the devil, “But all this was my mother’s!” In the end he won’t bring himself to actually rent out the place and mother #2 will have to support him as well as maintain his property.

The matter became especially problematic when Slovenia gained its independence – these feeble individuals now not only had to manage their own lives but began running the entire country.

A person who is not independent within cannot behold in others an independent individual with whom things can be properly discussed. He remains a child and engages in and treats matters in childish ways. When the critical mass of the population is not composed of independent individuals, we cannot expect to have a successful independent state.

We Slovenes are brought up to lean upon every support that comes across our way, from mothers to ideologies, and we are extremely weary of thinking with our own head.

If you go to a library and listen to what people request you will be treated to an endless litany of requests along the lines of, give me something so I don’t have to think. Librarians should have a Colt.45 as standard issue and could thus immediately grant such customers their wish, sending something straight to their brain that would relinquish them of all need to ever think again.

Spoilt Brats

You might say, “Well, come on, Mazzini! You’re out of synch! Things have changed, mutated, children are quite different now, indigo and stuff like that, we now allow them everything and they are no longer programmed!” Firstly, non-programming is also a form of programming, just as not making a decision is a decision in itself. It is true, however, that with the fall in the numbers of children in the western world and the increase in buying power, the attention has shifted to the ideal consumer – child. Childhood was invented (yes, it is only a couple of centuries old) as was pampering (basically an unlimited permission to shop) that has also reached our part of the world and quickly caught on.

Pampering or spoiling a child is nothing but a disguise for the standard Slovene upbringing; if previously the child was incompetent and mother had to iron, wash and work instead of him, when a child is spoilt they are simply too good to have to deal with all these things, so the parents do everything for them. Where then is the difference? We formulate our characters through things we have done, our failures which we learn from. When we are spared all this because of a forced incapability or pampering, we never get to stand on our own two feet and stay the inept child.

If the standard Slovene mother with her every act keeps communicating to her child how incompetent they are, the new mother does the same to her spoilt kid. The child senses this and creates a new, narcissistic self where things he is far from able to take credit for, e.g. father’s new car, the degree his mother has paid for, etc., are inflated of all proportions. The child, however, remains just as non-independent and incompetent, and, being a burden to himself, searching for of support.

The lack of prospects for young people and the excessively high standard of the older ones, have made independent Slovenia fertile ground for the possessive mother who has, beside her psychological and emotional power, also acquired an economic strength. Our children are well aware that they will never reach their parents’ standards, so they faithfully follow the line of least resistance and do not even attempt to establish themselves as independent individuals.

Land of Suffering

Let’s catch up with and follow the lady with ironing-numbed hand, hurrying home. We see her meet three friends on the way and she tells them all about her hand and the T-shirts, about getting up early and making sandwiches. Her friends too open their hearts, a deluge of suffering.

Suffering can be divided into two kinds, 1. necessary and 2. unnecessary. Most Slovene suffering is of the second kind. The lady does not HAVE to iron or get up early. Nor do her friends. But how then would they start a conversation?

I was once at a lecture by a professor of psychology who sent his students out to eavesdrop on conversations on public busses and note how Slovenes go about starting to communicate with someone – 90% of the time it was by moaning.

Let us imagine that our lady would instead pride herself on her son being a complete and independent person. I don’t iron or wash, I just play with my grandchildren when I want to, and I feel great! Her friends would look at each other, their eyes narrowing, clearly thinking ‘What a lazy egoistic cow, leaving your forty-year-old son to have to fend for himself!’

Why is it that Slovenes have to suffer so much? If you are under foreign rule you need to complain, otherwise the overlord will think you are doing fine and burden you with more work. The louder you moan, the less you will work.

A Cup of Coffee

Regarded as the greatest modernist writer in Slovenia, it was Ivan Cankar who introduced most Slovene archetypes in the early 20th century and it is his figure of the mother that is still considered the ideal. Her silent suffering, not however confined to sobbing in her room but instead taking place outside Ivan’s door, lest her son just might overlook her, is the measuring rod against which we measure everything.

Dear female reader, can you possibly be a woman in Slovenia with an adult child and not suffer unnecessarily?

Can you become one of the 10% of non-moaners and, in the eyes of those around you, still be a good mother?

On an even more personal level, even if you manage to resist and raise your children to become independent people, do those around you not continuously pound you with a feeling of guilt that you could be doing more for them, including making them a coffee?

Are you not constantly reminded in hundreds of ways which your mind overlooks but which are being impressed into your subconscious? For example, the sugar packet you get with a coffee at a any ordinary coffee shop;

A Slovene version of Jansenism, the darkest branch of Christianity, is well and thriving, fresh as if it has just emerged and is not over two centuries old. “We are all sons of Cankar’s mother,” says another Slovene author, Pavle Zidar. “Jansenism is the only system that has succeeded here, moreover it has outdone itself and has become and institution. You see, the system always wins, not the person.”

The independent state brought no change. We will need self-awareness and a few more centuries of unnecessary effort. I would say that the outlook for the former is grim. Especially if I think about our education and culture, both nests that produce new Ivan’s mothers over and over again.

Education is one of the foundations of any state or society and must therefore by definition be most resistant to novelty. The core of our educators have a kind of combination of mid-nineteenth century mentality with the worst possible modern mask of sugar-coated American New Ageism. It creates a terrible mix. The complete feminization of the profession just makes the situation even worse. People are made to compete in groups – if your staff room is filled with thirty Cankar’s mothers they will immediately start competing to see which one better fits the role.

Praised contemporary Slovene literature is not contemporary to us but to Cankar and competes with him in assuaging female readers. I have written about Slovene literary protagonists, mostly passive, never-at-fault, yet always suffering heroines, and their target readership, women who can tearfully put down the book and think, “I too have suffered this way as I ironed my son’s 25 T-shirts!”

I have met a few people, women mostly, who play a determining role on the Slovene literary scene and am always shocked at their deeply embedded Jansenist mentality. If there is one thing can I pride myself on with my literature, it is the aversion it provokes in such people. They react much in the manner a necrophiliac is apprehensive of all contact with life and anything non-dogmatic.

The Emptiness Within

Let us conduct a thought experiment and plant upon the Slovene mother from the introduction an adult child who is an independent person. She will go home, iron her own clothes, make herself breakfast. Then what? The American mother has her work, her joy – the Slovene one is burning herself out for her child and continuously tells them as much. Now that child is independent!

The Slovene mother will be left alone which is her greatest fear. Suddenly there is nothing else for her to do. She takes a look at herself and where she should be seeing her own life there is nothing. Emptiness, horror vacui, a life spent regulating others, influencing the surroundings, things that have not built her but hollowed her out. She will set out, in panic, to find other people whose lives she can put in order, not through example, for she is incapable of providing one, but by moaning, moralizing and nagging. In their own emptiness such haughty words sound comforting.

Translated by Gregor Timothy Čeh

From the book If You Don’t Like It Here, Move Out! – essays about the Slovenian customs, culture and way of living, written for between May 2010 and June 2011.
Published by Goga, 2011, ISBN: 978-961-277-016-7.