Orchid and Dandelion and Finding Words

Betty Goodfellow, 18 years old
THAT I WAS AFRAID OF MY MOTHER is no secret, but I understand what made her so. Her life was fraught with abandonment issues. Unresolved, deeply buried, I seem to have been her lightning rod. It didn't help that she had a temper. So how do I handle this in a memoir? When I don't wish to hurt her? 

She was a 1950's housewife with all the "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Know Best" expectations—while coping with three girls under four, burdened by her own infant trauma, and her only constant guidance Dr. Spock. She did her best, given what she had. I would not have faired so well. But where does this leave me?

One, I have to remember this is my story. I have the right to tell it.

Two, no one is all good or bad and if I had to put my mother on a spectrum she definitely weighs in on the high end of good. I need to keep this in mind.

Three, and more importantly, Mum's a Dandelion, I'm an Orchid. DNA dictated our differences. But I didn't know this until I was sixty-seven and Mum was dead because not until 2019 did Dr. W. Thomas Boyce coin these terms in his book, The Orchid and Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive. I struggled. Finding these words snapped my chaotic life into focus and I finally made sense. Too late for a do-over, but they help in sorting myself. And give me empathy for Mum.

Very quickly, because science can be boring to some of us, Orchids (about 20% of the population) over respond on the molecular and celluar level. We have a knee jerk reaction to stress that spews out stress hormones and all kinds of unpleasant sensations. Our DNA make us more like Chicken Little (the sky is falling!) than Little Red Hen (I will do it myself!). Fate dictated difficult interactions between Mum and I because neither of us had the words or language to understand that fundamentally we perceive and interact within our worlds from biological forces as involuntary as breathing. To be frank, us wilting Orchids can be irritating to Dandelions who sprout up through cracks in concrete. Mum had to have found me trying. Tie in religion? As was the case for me? Dandelions in the pew tend to view the rest of us as particularly sinful. Our anxiety, shyness, and fear goes against primary teachings of "trust in God."

So if I am to write a memoir with any integrity and honesty, I have to begin by further defining these terms without boring anyone. 


In the meantime I miss my mother and wish we'd had words way back when to help us better navigate. Words are everything.