Underneath my yellow skin

The maternal blues

My mom called me last night to talk about things. It was fine until she brought up my brother. It was his birthday yesterday, which is probably why she called me (after calling him). I’ve explained that my brother is not an emotions guy. Nor is he a talk with no purpose guy (unless an idea comes into his head that he wants to ruminate over). My mother wants something from him that he is not able to give, and she doesn’t help by pushing it.

For example. Her birthday is ten days before his. She called him on her birthday and said, “What day is it?” I cringed as she told me this (she was laughing as she did, which is her way of indicating she knows she’s out of line, but is going to do what she wants, anyway) because I knew what she wanted, and I knew she wasn’t going to get it. My brother said he didn’t know and she told him it was August 5th. Which, I think he knows is her birthday? I’m not sure. But he certainly doesn’t care. For whatever reason, my parents have taken to pestering him about my birthday as well, and I really hate that. I don’t celebrate my birthday, and I certainly don’t need him to be guilted into doing something for it.

But this is a big part of my mother–she has a rigid idea of what should and shouldn’t be in a FAMILY, and fifty years of being in our family hasn’t shaken her beliefs one whit. They are very traditional with the mother being the homemaker and the father being the money earner (though, weirdly, my father insisted that my mother work fulltime their whole marriage). My mother claimed she wanted to stay home with my brother and me, but here’s the thing. She doesn’t like either of us. As people, I mean. My brother is not emotional enough, and three kids is too much. He was being reckless by becoming a realtor, and he never got an advanced degree (he mentioned he felt that made him lesser in our family). Me, well, everything about me. I’m not feminine in any way except my long hair and big boobs (which isn’t something I have control over), being queer, fat, not married, no kids, not religious, ad nauseam. This was really hammered home during my medical crisis. She may love me as her child, but she doesn’t like me, the person. She thinks Taiji is of the devil, and she thinks me doing weapon forms is ‘cute’.

She has said that my brother and I are first in her heart, but that’s not what her actions says. That’s not what her actual words say. First is my father. Always has been. Always will be. She has made that crystal clear, especially as I was recovering from my medical crisis. After I literally died (twice), she put my father before me, and wanted me to do so as well. Yes, I died, but my father’s back hurts! That’s clearly more important and I need to show him a Taiji stretch to alleviate his pain. As I’m in a drugged out haze and not even a week-and-a-half from dying. Twice. That was when my eyes were fully open to the dysfunction in the family and how little I as a person actually meant to my mother. I already knew I meant nothing to my father (no one means anything to him, not even him, really), but I thought I at least counted a little bit to my mother.

Something my last therapist said to me about my father has stuck with me for decades. I was recounting a hurtful encounter whereas my father was demanding gratitude for providing money to me. He wasn’t wrong, but the way he was going about it really grated. He finally exploded and said, “If you’re not grateful, why should I love you?” My heart shattered as I said, “Because you’re my father. You’re supposed to love me.” But that’s him in a nutshell. Why should he dole out any affection unless he gets something in return for it?

This was as he was leaving to go back to Taiwan. He called me from San Francisco (layover) to make small talk. He said he loved me at the end of the conversation, but I was too numb to care. I told my therapist about this and how little it meant to me, especially since he had to be prodded to say it. And, I didn’t actually believe him. She said, “It’s something that was huge to him and too little to you. Both of these things are simultaneously true.” It sounds trite, but it really stuck with me. That’s the first time I can remember him actually saying he loved me. It was a huge thing for him to say, but it was too late and too little for me. Just because the former is true, it doesn’t negate the latter.

It’s the same with my mother. She can mean well and think she loves me. That doesn’t mean I have to accept what she says and does as proof of her love for me or that it’s not actively harmful. The song I’ve included is interesting. Most people think it’s Eminem apologizing to his mother and forgiving her. It is, but there’s more to it than that–and I never see it getting discussed. He’s cutting her off because having her present in his life (and in his daughters’ lives) is too toxic. He can let go of the past, but that doesn’t mean he wants it to continue into the present. I found that a much more powerful statement than just ‘oh, he forgives his mom now’. But that’s what most people want to hear and are uncomfortable with continual familial strife. Americans give such lip service to family (but the society does not amply support families in any way), that just the mere suggestion that there are dysfunctional families is verboten.

So yesterday, after my mom and I chat about things, she says she wants to bring up one more thing. She gets that tone in her voice that indicates I’m not going to like what she says, and she’s well aware of it. But she’s going to say it, anyway, because it’s just so goddamn important for her to say (spoiler, it’s never that important). She started by saying she was concerned about my brother. Which is already a problem because why is she bringing it up with me and not him? I know why. She probably tried to bring it up with him, but he shut her down. So of course she’s going to take it to the patsy–me.

She told me that he was so busy and that he had hired someone to work for him. I already knew this and waited. She said that I should help him by cleaning his house and cooking for him because his wife was no longer there. Even as I’m typing that, I’m filled with disbelief, incredulity, anger, and a bitter sense of ironic snarkiness. Yes, because I’m a female-shaped person, I should be the stereotypical helpmeet of my male-shaped sibling. You can fucking bet that gender is of utmost importance here. I don’t fucking clean or cook for myself, so why the fuck would I do it for my brother? Because I have a pussy and tits! That really is all it comes down to. Neither of which affects my ability to do household cho0res.

I actually said to my mother that I didn’t cook or clean for myself,  so why would I do it for my brother? She was not happy with that, and I said I supported him in other ways. She snapped, “In what ways?” as if it were any of her business. I should have shut her down, but I was pissed myself, so I told her that I was his emotional support. Which is true, but what I was tempted to tell her was that I was his dating coach. Which, I’m sure, would have gone over supremely well, given how horribly she took it when he told her he was getting divorced. She made disapproving noises and I said, “Believe me, he does not want me to cook or clean for him. I’m playing to my strengths this way.”

But I  should have said nothing! It’s none of her fucking business what I do for my brother. And, her idea that she would help him if she were here is laughable. She’s my father’s personal servant 24/7, and that would not change. At least she tangentially recognized that by saying he takes up so much of her time. I know this is her way of trying to control things she can’t control, but I really should just disengage and extract myself from the whole mess. Instead, I allowed her to pull me into the dysfunctional web she’s weaving, just as I often do. I need to get better at setting boundaries. That’s all I can do in this situation.


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