mother dearest

The last time I saw my mom was on a trip she took to see me in Ottawa, along with a few other fam­ily mem­bers vis­it­ing from out of the coun­try. I had table ten­nis prac­tice one night, and instead of drop­ping me off, they decided to come watch. So five of us piled into her van, and halfway through the drive, my vision started grow­ing blurry. I’d been work­ing full shifts, then enter­tain­ing the guests every night, and my body decided it didn’t want to con­tinue coop­er­at­ing. With the aches get­ting sharper in my head, I told her I couldn’t play. She sharply asked why. I explained.

My mother has always been an emo­tional dri­ver, and on top of that an “emo­tional” per­son when she doesn’t get her way. With me rid­ing shot­gun, she decided to make a U-turn into oncom­ing traf­fic. It was an attempt to go home in a huff, except there are things to con­sider when doing this in a vehi­cle, like the fact that every­one around you is also mov­ing in their own giant metal sledge­ham­mer. When we crossed over the median, I saw an SUV head­ing towards me at full speed, and in that moment, there was only the dis­tinct real­iza­tion that this is how I died. It was some­thing I’d always won­dered, and the sat­is­fac­tion of my curios­ity was greater than any sense of fear of what was about to hap­pen1.

But we were saved by the grace and reflexes of the per­son dri­ving the SUV, who slammed on his/her brakes, and there was no col­li­sion. My mom con­tin­ued speed­ing back home in her mood, like she hadn’t nearly maimed us all. I knew in that moment she didn’t care about me or my well being; all she cared about was how she couldn’t show off her son in front of the fam­ily, and how that made her look.

I never looked her in the eyes after that. And when she left, I never saw her again. It was already her last chance. Proof that I still didn’t mean any­thing to her as a per­son, that I was just an orna­ment to her my entire life.

Fast for­ward many years later. A phase where I find myself learn­ing about hate and for­give­ness, how to let go of one and prac­tice the other. I decide to con­tact her again, let­ting her know that I’m not ready to for­give her yet, but I’m open to talk­ing. She asked what there was to for­give, as if she had no idea what she did wrong. I thought it was an odd thing to say; after all, how did she explain why we hadn’t spo­ken in years? I made no assump­tions though, and brought up a few things to refresh her mem­ory, the inci­dent above being one example.

All she could say was that she was going through a dif­fi­cult mar­riage, so I should under­stand why she acted the way she did. Then she meekly tried to mask her guilt with excuses about mak­ing sac­ri­fices for me, as if a child’s accep­tance or for­give­ness is some­thing that can be bought and this is why she owes me noth­ing. Through it all, she refused to apol­o­gize, or even acknowl­edge that she ever hurt me. Perhaps say­ing sorry would mean admit­ting to her­self that she’s done these hor­ri­ble things to her only child, her fault things got so bad he cut off all ties, and that real­ity would be too dif­fi­cult for her to deal with. To this day, she’s in com­plete denial about her role in any of my suf­fer­ing, and she doesn’t even care enough about me to feel bad about it.

I’m learn­ing to accept that my mom would rather give up the chance at rec­on­cil­ing than do some­thing as sim­ple as apol­o­gize, cause it means her sense of pride is more impor­tant to her than her only child. This is exactly what makes her a bad par­ent. Separating myself from her so many years later was just as easy as the first time.

If only I wasn’t still deal­ing with the after-effects of her influ­ence; I’m only now learn­ing not to judge myself the way she did the entire time we were in con­tact, how not to hate myself for being less than per­fect, how not to feel worth­less when I don’t have con­stant val­i­da­tion. So many of my demons can be traced back to her. Parents are sup­posed to nur­ture, instill­ing strength and con­fi­dence and sta­bil­ity, while help­ing their chil­dren explore a sense of iden­tity. Instead, she dan­gled love and favour and reward in front of me only if I met some ridicu­lous stan­dard in school or played the piano or did exactly as she bid. Otherwise, I was a bad per­son, the child she didn’t want.

It’s been some­what trau­ma­tiz­ing to re-experience these trig­gers again when try­ing to resolve issues I’m deal­ing with now. Sometimes I hate myself for being so bro­ken, but it’s eas­ier to for­give my mis­takes and accept myself when I real­ize such a toxic per­son has had so much influ­ence on my life.

  1. Although maybe that was also cause I knew it was a sit­u­a­tion com­pletely out of my con­trol. []

6 comments

  1. It’s been some­what trau­ma­tiz­ing to re-experience these trig­gers again when try­ing to resolve issues I’m deal­ing with now. ”

    I totally get this. I like to think that re-experiencing them now is good though, because witht he time between the ini­tial trauma, and thr trig­ger, some grow­ing has taken place and things can be dealt with in new ways.

  2. This reminds me of a Chinese-American friend of mine who had a dis­con­nect with his “Chinese-Chinese” par­ents. A lot of the behav­ior was just bizarre and seem­ingly cruel, but it was some­what help­ful to remem­ber that his par­ents were ALSO the prod­uct of the same par­ent­ing style. It is what they were shaped by, and what they knew, like a hor­ri­ble par­ent­ing chain let­ter from the motherland.

    • Knowing that she was raised in the same envi­ron­ment does help explain and under­stand her behav­iour, as much as the dif­fi­cult mar­riage she was going through at the time. But it doesn’t excuse the fact that she doesn’t feel bad about hurt­ing me. Perhaps I like to think that empa­thy isn’t a cul­tural thing, but a basic human trait.

  3. The car story is … wow, just wow. Hard to believe peo­ple can be so self­ish. But you’re here for them — that’s what they believe in that culture.

    I had occa­sion to study my family’s ances­try recently in more depth, since my Dad just passed away in September. I had always been shocked by his sto­icism, lack of empa­thy, lack of emo­tional avail­abil­ity — and finally found where it came from. In research­ing his own father, I found that my Grandad (known as the tyrant of his fam­ily in his later life) was only edu­cated to 5th grade, and went to work in the mines as soon as he found it phys­i­cally pos­si­ble. He had no child­hood. My own Dad grew up this way as well — not with­out school­ing, but basi­cally like a small man, prob­a­bly over­whelmed by respon­si­bil­ity. It is, really is, a chain let­ter. It just has to be bro­ken. So hard to do when they don’t real­ize the effects they leave behind.

    • But the chain let­ter seems to have been bro­ken by you, and it’s appar­ently not because of upbring­ing in a dif­fer­ent cul­tural envi­ron­ment. So it’s dif­fi­cult to under­stand. Is it nature or nur­ture? For lack of a the­ory that can fully con­vince me, I can only say it’s part nature and part nuture.

    • I’m so sorry for your loss.

      I think the chain has been bro­ken on my end. It hasn’t been an easy process, and while it does help me under­stand where Chinese par­ents are com­ing from, I have to won­der why the chil­dren have to pay the price of such lessons.

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