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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