Most of my panic has subsided into resignation. I’m nervous about my mother coming into to my home and finding fault with everything from my hair to my home furnishings. I’m not sure why I’m doing this. Is it for her or for me? Maybe it’s really a win-win situation. My mother gets to have a relationship with one of her daughters; I get to have a little peace about my mother’s emotional state and allow more acceptance into my life.
For a few years, three decades actually, I was the peacemaker in our family. I was constantly running from one faction to the other, trying to keep the lines of communications open; I worked hard to sidestep difficult situations and avoid unintentional betrayals of confidence. I never felt at ease. I had too many secrets to keep and not enough real connection. Then one day, I simply gave it up. I decided I couldn’t be the fixer any more. I no longer had it in me to put aside my needs and feelings so that I could hold the emotions of my family members. It was the most selfish thing I had ever done. It goes without saying that it stirred the anger of my entire family.
The rigid roles in my family meant that I was breaking tradition and being selfish. As the youngest daughter, I was expected to obey my elders—all of them—and defer to them in all things great and small. The instant feedback resulting from drawing boundaries with my family was that I was punished in cruel and cold ways. Both my sisters, each in her turn, put my possessions out on the street; one giving me a day’s notice to retrieve them; the other sister simply left them out during a move without notice. Did I mention that we didn’t live in the same states at the time? Choosing to live my own life has had huge consequences. It was like pulling a thread out of an old hand-knit sweater. The object has been altered forever. Yet, I don’t regret my choice to live my own self-defined reality.
It’s been about ten years since I first asserted my personhood and drawn that lines that I haven’t cared to cross again. My family is fragmented and dysfunctional; on occasion we circle in at the each other’s lives and draw back from the defenses erected. There is a dissatisfying taste in my mouth, almost bitter, when I remember harsh words and thoughtless deeds. I think I need to let go and practice forgiveness, which is a daily ritual, one that fortifies against pettiness and indifference.
Letting go and forgiveness have a complicated standing in my life. I find it easier to forgive my mother in some ways because she comes from an alien planet, an island in the Caribbean where a dictator and an abusive husband made her life a ruin. Still it does not dampen the anger in me when she alternates between haughty justifications and outright revisions as she denies the brutality she reigned down on us as children. I’m unwilling to let go of my truth. It keeps me sane. Opening my home to her, therefore, is a psycho-emotional journey into the historical trauma and violence of our family and a battle to maintain boundaries with an old woman who still feels that she owns me and is entitled to control my destiny.
This new element, that my mother is undoubtedly seventy-years old, adds a new dimension to dealing with this erstwhile queen of all. She brides, manipulates, scolds, cajoles, dominates and competes. She never asks for or says what she needs or wants. She is always a victim, one who must control everything but that which she actually can. I have learned to step away from the emotional landmines while not denying myself the opportunity to walk in the fields of compassion. During her visit, I had to withdraw from all else to be present for her. I concentrate on the small blessings in each moment. She is smiling despite herself. She is resting and engaging with me in garden work. She is feeding us delicious food from a deep place of wisdom, focus and attention. Paying attention, I know, is a small act, but one that has brought us some peace.
We managed to survive my mother’s visit. Our nerves our frayed; we are battle-worn; we relish in the silence and simplicity of our everyday lives. I am grateful to have had the courage and fortitude to invite her in to our home and to express my love in the ways I find nurturing and healing. I was never able to embrace my mother and connect with her in the manner that my heart knows is authentic; she would never allow it. However, I was able to make room in my life and enjoy the cooking that she is so proud of and that has given us all joy. After all, I’m not trying to change her. I simply want to love her the best way I can.