I used to think that there was no feeling less satisfying than recognizing a fallen hero, but recently, my perspective changed. It is actually kind of satisfying, maybe even freeing, to see the world — our micro-realities — for what they are.
My dad always used to tell me that I’d never be disappointed by other people if I never expected anything from them and this made a lot of sense intellectually but never quite hit home because platitudes rarely do until they happen to you. Of course, when he said it, I never thought the platitude would literally hit home but last week, even though I already learned my mom is not invincible — that just like the rest of us, she is human — she stopped being a hero and became, I don’t know, a contemporary? I say this because for as long as she’s known me (a literal lifetime), and for as much as she loves me (so much it is sometimes suffocating), I just learned that she doesn’t get me. Or that she doesn’t get how to deal with me.
Context: Last Friday night, I showed up at her apartment acting like a fire-breathing dragon. For this, I credit recent hormonal changes that have effectively turned me upside down. She knew that I was going through something, and as such I’d have expected that she would go easy on me, perhaps even do what I hoped she would: ignore me and act normal until I came around to acting like myself again (which I always do). Instead, though, she made passive aggressive comments about me around me. On Saturday night, she started a group text with my entire family and deliberately left me out. She was acting like a petty friend I may have had in high school as opposed to my mother, and that pissed me off so much.
Of course, I am selfish as hell. Why should I expect that I can act like an asshole and receive no punishment back? But she is my mom, and my expectations are aggressive.
Sunday morning is when it occurred to me that she doesn’t know how to deal with me. But instead of getting more angry, I felt kind of relieved, or liberated. Maybe now I would stop expecting a response that I wasn’t going to get. But here’s the problem — I’m still angry. Resentful. We’re talking about a woman who loves me more than I will ever be able to metabolize. I know this to be true because of how much pressure I feel radiate from her love. A woman who supported me in her uterus. Who held me in her arms after she let me out of there until I could physically support myself. Emotional support transcended physical support after I started to navigate the primordial inklings of My Own Life, then at some point in the last five years, probably as a reaction to my growing up and unwittingly asking for it, she let her guard down, took the mom mask off, and became a person.
This makes perfect sense and really shouldn’t break my heart if you think about the way traditional family plots unfold; child grows up, gets married, pursues family of her own and parent feels as though he or she is worth less. Not worthless, but worth less. This feeling spirals. Parent becomes insecure, sometimes acting out (starts petty group chats). Insecurity forces mom mask off. Child either does or does not process this, but if said child is emotionally intelligent enough to recognize what’s happening (parent is hurt), he or she responds. If said child is mature enough to respond appropriately (“Look mom, I’m sorry for how I treated you on Friday night, it was uncalled for, and you made a delicious dinner, I needed it”), the parent’s feeling of insecurity is suspended. Child casts aside his or her own feelings (“Fuck you devil woman!!!!”) to ensure that parent is doing okay. Mom mask stays on, but child recognizes, perhaps even appreciates, that it is a mask and that even parents are human.
I hate myself because in spite of my own sense of emotional awareness (parent is no doubt hurt), I so deeply lack the maturity to be there for my mom even though I so know she needs me (middle aged, empty nesting orphan). So what do you do when you’re at this complex inflection point? When your mom needs you, but obviously, given your incapacity to support, you, too, still very much need her?
If you’re me and my mom, you act like assholes. She excludes you, you tell her you hope you can be a better mom than she is. (Pro tip: never do this.) You don’t call her, not once, for weeks. Maybe you get a little teary-eyed when you are reflecting on all of the ways you could have avoided conflict with her. Maybe you don’t because you’re still so resentful, but fundamentally, you understand that one day (and this day will come faster than you believe it will), you will regret the turmoil.
So why can’t I just give my mom what I know she wants and accept that she is who she is? If I know I’ll regret, what’s holding me back? Every therapist will tell me the same thing. I tell it to myself. You can’t change your mom, but you can change yourself. So why won’t I just change myself? Why can’t I set my feelings aside and just be who my mom needs me to be?
You know, as we enter this really important time of year — one that is often relegated to the status of superficial because of the marketing engine that is Black Friday/Cyber Monday/Christmas Gift Guides — I don’t want to be so mad at my mom all the time. I want to think rationally and reasonably about priorities. What’s more important? Feeling like I’m still her baby or feeling her love, no matter how I’m perceived? I want to resolve to let go. To assume a new role. I want to recognize and come to peace with who I am to my mom now: a friend, an ear, maybe a support system, and stop trying to wallow in the puddle of my own fear to grow up.
I want to stop expecting stuff. And to encourage that you do the same wherever feels applicable in your narrative. This has been a month wrought with emotional insecurity. It’s been exhausting — physically, emotionally, intellectually. But with the imminent holidays demanding that we connect interpersonally, we have a chance to put the wallowing behind us and to remember both our strength and what it — this — is all about. At the crux of what makes this period so special is how natural, I think, it feels to prioritize each other over our work, to do things for people who don’t expect anything from us, to focus on making our partners and friends and families happy as hell and to be the most primal versions of ourselves, relying on love and connection — the crux of what it means to be human!
We need each other to survive, November 8th reminded us of that. Over Thanksgiving and into Christmas, let’s reinforce that power.
So take a good look in the mirror! Really see who’s looking at you. And then, I don’t know, call your mom, call your sister, call your friend, call your neighbor and resolve to let go, to stop expecting.
Feature photo by J. A. Hampton/Topical Press Agency via Getty Images.