Yesterday, I came home from taiji and my mom informed me that my brother and the boys (his sons) wouldn’t be able to make it here for dinner. He suggested we go there. I immediately said no, and my mother said she knew I’d say that. She suggested we meet somewhere like Culver’s for dessert, but he decided to come here after dinner. Then, they came over, and my brother and I were discussing something while my mom and the boys were playing ping-pong. One of my nephews came up to say that my mom wanted to talk to my brother about something. He said OK, then we continued talking. I was marveling over that because I would have immediately gone done and probably resented it slightly. My mom can be very persistent when she has her mind on something, and it’s often easier just to give in than to defer. However, she also is more pushy with me than she is with my brother, probably in part because he’s very firm about his limits.
Anyway, after they were done playing ping-pong, they came back up. My brother, my nephews, and I were chatting about something when my mother said to my brother in a faux-whisper, “Can we go to Culver’s for ice cream?” A beat, “Or, we have bananas.” I started laughing, and my brother said with a big smile, “Can we go eat all the ice cream or stay here and have a banana?” He was making it clear that he realized there was really only one answer to that, which is something he wouldn’t have recognized before. We all started laughing and joking about it, and then agreed we would go, but in separate cars so they could go straight home. Then, my mom said, “Minna will have to drive.” She twisted her knee a week ago, and it’s still giving her problems. So, I said in a deadpan voice (because I mentioned it earlier, too), “Minna can drive to the place where she can’t eat anything!”* We all joked about that for several minutes, and then my mom said, “We should go now.” So of course, that got wrapped up into the joke (that my mom was making a suggestion she knew couldn’t be turned down, then adding layers of conditions to it), and it was a fun family moment.
To be clear, I was fine with driving even if I couldn’t eat anything. It was a moment of family teasing and bonding, and it felt great. I can’t help but compare it to how that shit would have gone down a few years ago.
Me getting home from taiji, quietly resenting that I don’t have space to myself.**
Mom (the second I step in the door which I still don’t like, but doesn’t send me up. the. fucking. wall the way it used to): Your brother wants us to go there instead of coming here for dinner.
Me (a bundle of resentment in part because I know that means me driving because my mom doesn’t like to drive at night, never mind that I don’t either, and my brother lives forty minutes away): NO I DON’T WANT TO GO JUST FUCKING GO YOURSELF GET AWAY FROM ME YOU EVIL COW ARRRRGH!
Obviously, I don’t say that, but it’s what I’m feeling. What I would say would be some variant of a huffy, “I’m not going there” in a very aggrieved tone. I would feel I didn’t have a choice, which would make me really resentful, even if I did end up going. Also, my mom doesn’t believe she has the right to ask for anything (for many reasons), so she would never just come out and say, “I would like it if you drive us to your brother’s place.” It would be, “Your brother can’t come, but he said we could go there”, and I’m supposed to infer the rest. It’s actually part of what happened in the amusing family scenario above.
Then, during the actual scene.
Mom (faux-whisper): Is it OK if we go to Culver’s or should we stay here for bananas?
Me (quietly seething), says nothing. Other people talk, it’s agreed upon that we’ll go, but in separate cars.
Mom: Minna will have to drive.
Me (losing my temper): Fine! I’ll drive even if I can’t eat anything! Fine!
It would be said in a tone that indicated it was seriously Not Fine, and I would be the noe who rined the whole experience. I would have been in a foul mood which would have lasted the whole time we were out. I would have had my grouchy face on, and I would have snapped at anything anyone said to me. I want to be clear that I would not have yelled or said anything outright rude, but my tone would have conveyed how Unhappy I Was with the situation. I would have made everyone else miserable so they could feel what I was feeling. I would have been aware of what I was doing the whole time, but I wouldn’t have been able to stop it, even though I would have been embarrassed.
On Captain Awkward’s site, they talk about the silent treatment being abusive. It is. I know it is. But. I also want to say why I have employed it in the past. One, I learned it at the foot of the master–my father. He was champion of directing a silent treatment at you (usually my mother) for hours on end and for erratic reasons. Last year, when they were visiting, my father was in the bathtub for over an hour (he loves baths), and my mother wanted to take a bath before going to bed. She knocked and asked if he was done yet, and that made him so angry! He came out and silent treatment’ed her (and me by extension) for an hour. He’s trained my mother not to bother him when he’s doing something, but it was nearly midnight, and she really wanted to go to bed, so she broke the unspoken rule that Thou Shalt Not Disturb The Father Figure No Matter What.
On the other hand, I was told from a young age that my feelings didn’t matter and what I wanted didn’t matter. The one time I got mad and yelled at my father, ran from him and slammed the door, he chased me, screamed at me for doing that (including telling me that I was not allowed to shut the door like that in his house). I was told and shown over and over how it was unacceptable for me to be unhappy, sad, mad, or depressed, and I internalized that very well. This goes for physical pain, too, so I’m a champ at not feeling pain. I’m getting better at it, but it’s still slow-going. In taiji, when we do chin-na (joint lock) manipulations, in the past, my teacher was the only one allowed to work with me because I didn’t know when/if I was feeling pain (which can be really dangerous in practicing martial arts). Now, my body will react to what’s being done to it even if I don’t feel the pain (such as my knees buckling when my wrist is twisted), which I consider progress.
My mother is a psychologist, and when I was a teen/in my early twenties, she had a habit of using psych lingo to turn everything on me. “You’re projecting” was a favorite, and even though I have a psych background myself, it’s hard to out-psych an actual psychologist. (And, yes, she was projecting my projection. The irony.) When I get flustered, I have a hard time explaining why in part because of the gaslighting I’ve experienced. Being constantly told you’re not feeling what you’re feeling made it hard for me to talk about my feelings because they would be immediately invalidated. The invitation to talk felt like a trap, and it often was. Not maliciously, but still a trap. So I developed the ability to stay silent as a form of self-defense. I could sit there and take whatever was being thrown at me and disappear into myself. I went someplace else, and what was left was a shell.
One time, I was at a body worker, and near the end of the session, I was floating away. There were warm entities who were reaching out to me, and I started walking towards them. They were soothing and light-filled, and my place was to be with them. Just as I was about to reach them, my body worker brought me back, and I broke down in tears. I remember sobbing, “Why didn’t you let me go with them?” I wanted to be with them so badly, and it physically hurt to return.
I say that to emphasize that I was in a bad way. Another reason is that my mother is an unreliable narrator. She looks at everything with rose-colored glasses (and, yes, I know why this is as well. Still sucks) and will flat-out deny things she’s said or done to me. Small example: I graduated magna cum laude from college. My mom said to me after, “If you had gotten a better grade in (whatever class), you could have graduated summa cum laude.” I was crushed because all my life, whatever I did was never good enough. Years later, when I asked her about it, she said she never said it. When I pushed her on it because I could remember it so clearly, she said, “Well, if I did say it, I probably meant it as a way to comfort you in case you were feeling bad about only being magna cum laude.” Which I wasn’t–until that very moment.
My mom also has this habit of talking to me as if we’ve been conversing for some time when in reality, the conversation has been in her head. I do this, too, and I’m sure it’s from her. It can be extremely disconcerting, though. Yesterday, my brother and I were talking about something, and I said, “Oh, chicks, too?” Meaning, women. My mom only heard that line and without missing a beat, she said, “It’s not mold; it’s mildew.” My brain screeched to a halt, and I said, “What?” She was saying this so matter-of-factly, I felt I must have missed something. I went back through the conversation, but there was no way this would fit. Turns out, she thought I had said ‘check’, and she had just asked my brother to check something (about fifteen minutes earlier), thus, her response. First of all, I had also said it wasn’t mold, but she didn’t trust me. My brother says it, and it’s FACT. That’s another gripe for another post. When we finally untangled what was happening, she could have just said, “Oh, sorry. I misunderstood, and I intruded in your conversation.” Nope. She doubled down on, “Well, (my brother) and I were just talking about this and I didn’t know ‘chicks’ was used to mean women (valid. English is her third language) so of course I thought you were talking about this thing (brother) and I were talking about fifteen minutes ago. It’s maddening. I finally said, “That’s a you conversation, Mom.” It didn’t help her accept what I was saying, but it helped me realize it was her problem, not mine. Just because in her mind every conversation is about her or should be about her in some way, it doesn’t mean it’s true.
It’s extremely disconcerting for me, though, which is probably one reason I get stuck on details sometimes. “You said X, so you have to mean X!” I can’t distinguish between important details and unimportant details, and it makes me very dogmatic. In addition, her habit of dropping me into the middle of a conversation and acting like it’s totally normal really fucks with my time/space continuum perception.
But, I digress. My point of this post is that it’s a million times better now than it was even a year ago. Why? My mom has changed. My brother has changed. Even my father has changed. Most importantly, though, I’ve changed. I don’t have knots in my stomach as I’m dealing with my parents. I am not Resentful around them (though resentful, yes) any longer, and I don’t think they’re out to get me. If you’ve made it this far, you might be thinking, “How, Minna? How did this marvelous change come about?” You know what? If I had a formula for how this came about, I could make a million dollars selling it. I don’t have a list of ten life hacks that will make you magically get along with your family, nor do I think you should believe me if I said I did. I can only tell you what’s worked for me.
Warning. This is when I proselytize about taiji for the bajillionth time. Why am I able to be less defensive, more confident, more relaxed, and just more chill in general? Taiji. Why am I able to listen to my mother worry out loud about whether she should do X right now, in five minutes, or later tonight or maybe tomorrow morning or, or, or without running from the room with my hands clamped over my ears? Taiji. How can I know certain things about my father and not want to throw them in his face? Taiji. I know I say it often and emphatically, but it’s changed my life. This is getting long, so I’ll delve more into it in a future post.
*Lactose-intolerant. Turns out they have coolers, which are smoothies with a ton of sugar, but no dairy, but I didn’t know that at the time.
**Still hard, but not resentful.