We’re coming down to crunch time with my parents’ visit being roughly twenty-seven hours away and me being in a panic because I am not ready. Cleaning-wise because I always leave it to the last moment, but I’m mostly at peace with that because it’ll never be clean enough*. I mean it more mentally and emotionally. I’ve had a better relationship with my parents in the past few years since, well, ever. I’ve been able to roll with much of the bullshit, and arguments went from daily to maybe once every other week.
I was on the phone with my mom the other night, and she was talking about my father as she normally does. 90+% of our conversations revolve around him (partly my fault because I get pulled into it), and she mentioned something that instantly triggered my, “That’s fucked up” response that is specifically tuned to my family bullshit. Now, I knew mentioning it wouldn’t make things better. I knew, in fact, that it probably would make things worse. I *knew* it. My brain was like:
I even said internally, “Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.” Then it was as if the pod people had taken over my brain and I heard myself saying, as if from outside of me, “You know, that’s wrong.” I didn’t say it in exactly those words, but I was crossing that family boundary of saying the truth when a lie would do just as well. Even as I was saying it, I was yelling inside my brain to shut up, but something inside me compelled me to say my bit.
I was right. It didn’t make one whit of difference except to make things worse as I knew it would. I tweeted afterwards:
Sometimes, I just need to remember to drink a big cup of shut the fuck up when I’m about to say isn’t going to make one whit of difference–or might even make things worse.
— Minna Hong (@asiangrrlMN) July 2, 2018
I was made to feel as a kid that my opinion wasn’t important (it wasn’t). I had to work to overcome that and to feel unapologetic about saying what I think. I’m not all the way there as I still tend to be a people-person, but I’m working on it. However, there’s a corollary that I don’t always need to express my opinion. Not only is it wearying to be around that person who has an opinion on absolutely everything, it’s not helpful to me in certain situations.
Despite the better relationship I have with my parents now, I’m aware of how tenuous it is. I know it can revert on a dime if something goes wrong or if I lose my sense of equilibrium around them. And, since I’m not sure how I’ve managed to reach this calm state around them, I’m wary that it’ll revert. The phone call with my mom did not fill me with confidence.
Let me tell you a family story that indicates the dynamics within said family. My father has been having a lot of physical problems lately (the last two years or so), and he and my mom’s time has been mostly filled with them visiting the doctor to see what’s wrong with him. Part of the problem is that he’s done very little to take care of himself (poor diet, no exercise, no water), which is not easy to remedy now that he’s having physical ailments. More specifically, he’s having spinal issues that makes it hard for him to walk. He’s tried taiji, but he didn’t like it. My mom made him take classes for months, even though I said she shouldn’t make him do it. He’s also taking swimming lessons, and my mom was raving about how he loves swimming. LOVES it, she says. So, a few months ago, I mentioned it to him, saying it’s good that he loves swimming. He laughed and said, “Well, love is a strong word for it.” I probed a bit deeper, and I intuited that he didn’t actually enjoy it that much, that he was just doing it to shut my mother up.
I can’t say I blame him. My mother, well, once she gets an idea in her head, it can’t be dislodged. New information is disregarded or ignored. For example, I asked what kind of food she wanted for their visit. Milk? Yes. I asked if she wanted fat-free or 2%, and she said whatever I drank. Um, I’ve been dairy-free for two-and-a-half years, and it’s come up on their visits. We talked about bread, and I asked wheat or white? She said whatever I wanted, and, yeah, I’ve been gluten-free for the same amount of time as well. I’m not evangelical about my diet, but it does come up when we go out to eat. If it’s not important to her, then it doesn’t exist. Anyway, I know how this probably went down. They went to swimming classes, and my mother was saying how great it was (she loves swimming), and my father noncommittally agreed. She took it to mean he loved it as much as she did, and a new narrative was born.
Now, in her mind, my father loves swimming as nothing will change that. I knew that, and still, when she said he loved swimming, I felt obliged to say, “That’s not what he told me.” I let it drop, however, because I knew it was futile.
My father lets my mother believe he loves swimming because it’s easier than arguing when she nags him. My mother tells my father lies about money and ‘face-saving’ gestures because it makes him feel good. I’m privy to these secrets because–well, actually, I don’t know why. On my mom’s side, it’s because she designated me her confidante when I was eleven. On my dad’s side, maybe it’s because he knows I won’t judge him for it.
All this to say, I don’t like being the keeper of the secrets. I don’t like being their mediator when they have fights. I don’t like the unwitting alliances I feel forced to make. I just need to go back to my happy place of not expecting them to be anything other than what they are and not getting drawn into arguments/discussions that are futile.
I think part of the reason I’m balking this time is because I’ve been dealing with a low-grade depression for the past few months (sometimes not so low-grade), and it’s hard for me to be rational and detached with my parents when I’m depressed. In addition, I really like my alone time. And, this is a first-world problem, but I don’t really like traveling. I like being in different countries and such, but the actual traveling is stressful to me. I got my passport, thankfully, but I’m not looking forward to the airplane rides. Plus, while I like visiting other countries, changing my routine is stressful to me as well.
Anyway. I don’t know how to deal with this other than to soldier through. I’m hoping that my taiji instincts will kick in, and I’ll be able to let things ride. I’m not sanguine, though, which, of course, feeds into a vicious cycle.
*My mom has a fear of germs. We are Oscar and Felix when it comes to our cleaning styles. She’s obsessed with it, and I actively avoid it any cost.