A taste of normal – whatever that is
I’ve made some references to my not ideal upbringing, but have also not been dwelling as much on all of that since I have stumbled across this forgiveness phase I seem to be in with Mom. Maybe forgiveness isn’t quite right – I am just not thinking about the past as much because my present and future with Mom are so stark and right here, and are enough to think about. I am focused on that for now.
But I do think about my upbringing with some regularity whenever my husband’s parents visit or host us. They are coming to visit this weekend. They represent what I imagine to be the classic, normal family. They call us on a weekly basis. They eat every meal at the table. They say “I love you” upon most departures and even some arrivals. They keep a tidy house, garage, basement, you name it. They hug and kiss. And both their actions and words convey so clearly that their three sons and their families are really the most important people in their lives. So I get lots of parental attention and affection from them, and especially from my mother-in-law, of the sort I simply didn’t experience with my own mother. My dad and I kiss hello and goodbye and I feel close to him, but my parents divorced when I was 5 or 6 so I don’t have the kind of relationship with him that I think I would had I lived with him while I was growing up.
My childhood home was comparatively chaotic. There was no such thing as a family meal. Mom did cook, but we didn’t sit together at a table, at least as far as I can remember, except maybe on a holiday. Instead, the kitchen and dining room tables were covered with stuff. So we ate in front of the TV in the living room. I might be watching TV, the sound turned up, while my brother practiced piano around the corner in the dining room. The house was a wreck year-round, except on Thanksgiving day, when we hosted my mom’s sister and her family. The basement was a bigger wreck. For the occasional tidying up, we might take something that creates clutter, go to the bottom of the basement steps, and just toss the offending item into the mass of junk that covered the basement floor – keeping somewhat clear the path to the washer and dryer. Depending on what night it was, Mom may or may not have been home. Depending on what morning it was, Mom may or may not have been home.
So I treasure these in-laws I have, their love and affection, and the taste of normalcy that they provide. But they also remind me of some things about Mom that have stuck with me and had a positive influence on me. She was a union chairwoman and a big liberal. I imagine I would be similarly left-leaning anyway, but her union fight for dental benefits definitely introduced me to elements of working life that I otherwise might not have appreciated. I can probably count the times she said she loved me on one hand (and those were provoked by me or my husband), but on the other hand, she did not criticize me. She didn’t get on my case about my weight, my thumb-sucking, my weird clothes, anything about my appearance. Though she wasn’t full of praise, I always had the feeling with her that I was an OK kid to have around. She was imperfect in many ways, but now that I am in my mid-40s, I am better able to recognize that she had her own struggles to deal with while raising three kids alone.
I don’t know what has the greater impact, my own growth or Mom’s disease, but I feel a need to just decide to be at peace with my past, and with hers.