In May, I took trip to Vancouver with my mother. Neither of us had been there before and considering she is 76 and retired, she’s healthy and has the time to spare and I could make it happen so off we went. We did all we could in four rainy days and I am glad she is a trooper because we could have easily been sidetracked and stuck indoors with the constant down-pouring. Armed with our umbrellas (like everyone in Vancouver) and raincoats, we got to Stanley Park, to Gastown, to the Art Gallery, the Olympic torch at Canada place, the harbour, The Classical Chinese Gardens … we crammed everything we could into our time together including catching up with my cousin, Natasha, whom we don’t get to see very often.
I live about an hour and 15 minutes away from my mother and sister, so anytime I can spend with them … with her …has to be planned and is very valuable to me. Like anyone with a family, there are many things about our loved ones that make us sigh, or shake our head and roll our eyes but the love we have for each other is fierce and glues together the fragments of our frustrations with each other to keep us whole. My mother is a unique character. She is very much the verbal martyr and tends to be very defensive. She is stubborn, does not always pay attention and talks while you are talking. She over-packs because of the “you never know” and “just in case” scenarios she has in her head and she just does not understand how I travel so light and how nonchalant I am about not having an oversupply of band aids in my purse or sample sizes of Advil, Tylenol, Gravol and Immodium.
“Why put yourself in a situation where you would have to buy these things?” she would ask, astonished.
“Because on every block there is a pharmacy and all these things are like 2 to 3 bucks”, I would reply, casually, sometimes cheekily.
I hate bulk. I hate having excess shit and as annoyed as she is about my empty handbag, I am annoyed by her incredibly overstuffed one that she has to dig into every five minutes. Still, she is my mother and I do have a lot of her in me, although to toot my own horn, with help over the years from being married to Tom, I have it under control. From Lumlin (her Chinese name), I got my sense of organization. Rare are the occasions when I leave something to the last minute. When I travel, I am packed about a week ahead of time because a week before that, I made certain everything that needs to come with us was clean and pressed. I get my need for order from her as well. I like and have to have a clean kitchen. If you want me to cook, the kitchen has got to be clean and tidy and I insist on a clean bathroom and made beds. After a long day at work, or a long day on the road, my eyes need to fall on certain things that are ordered and neat so that my brain does not go into visual overload (hmm…a little Adam-like I suppose). Unlike my mother, I can leave the dishes for later if I want to leave and go do something fun on a nice day. I have never let the traits I have, distract me from having a good time and I am okay leaving things for later when I have something else to do. My mother also passed onto me some very old school lessons in etiquette which I am proud to say I have been able to pass onto my sons. They know which fork to start with first when we are out for a meal; know when they need to wear a tie and dress shoes, shirt and pants and when to dress down. They often remember to stand when a woman joins the table and they open and hold the door in public and are polite with their actions and words. In a world so adamant about not doing things the way our parents did when it comes to raising our children, I am proud to say (while I understand why some people feel their parent’s way is archaic), I raised Adam and Logan pretty much the way my mother and father raised my sister and me and I am not sorry I did.
Like my mother, I adore my children and would kill for them as any parent would but I also believe there is a time and place for them and that they should not always be the centre of attention. I spend a lot of time with my boys to the point where, as they separate themselves from me as they get older, I am not sad to think that one day they will move on with their own lives, on their own path – I am actually proud that they are moving on and I am happy for Tom and me because it means that our uninterrupted time together is approaching. Children are wonderful but they can be draining if we let them be. Like my mother towards us , I have no guilt when it comes to Adam and Logan but respect for the men I am watching them become. I also have bought into her take on marriage, considering she had 43 great years with my father. My mother always made time for Dad. She was his greatest listener, advisor, friend and love. That time when they were sitting together, was their time and unless we were bleeding or near death, we NEVER interrupted them. Neither one of them contradicted the other when it came to the rules and expectations of our family and our home and the other thing that has stuck in my mind about their marriage was trust. When they were together, nothing could phase them – not money, not friends, not mauvais langue, not sickness, not death. I feel that way about my own marriage. I feel that with Tom in my corner, there is nothing that can harm me. We have this saying between us “It’s you and me. It’s always been you and me and we’re still here”.
From Lumlin, I have inherited a strong sense of loyalty. When I am your friend, I am a good one, to the point of being taken for granted sometimes and then if it gets past a certain level of tolerance, I end the friendship. Like her, I may be an ex-pat but I am a “Trini to de bone” because as we say in Trinidad, “one must never damn the bridge they cross”. When you move away from the land of your birth, it is imperative to stay true to your roots to help you meander through the culture you have chosen or rather, have suddenly found yourself. Like her, I feel one of my biggest obligations to my children is to make them confident in themselves and to teach them that they can do anything if they work hard. Like her, I am teaching them to dream and to reach and to know that even if they fall, they won’t fall far and like her, I have learned to give them these skills even on the days when I don’t feel 100% confident in myself. Mom raised me to be accountable for myself and my actions. She trusted me to do the right things and for the most part I did because I could always hear her voice whenever I was in a tricky situation, guiding me to make the right choices. She had a confidence in me that I never wanted to betray or let down and I see that in both my sons. They know that I know I gave them the right tools that they need for society and I know they work very hard to do the right thing. That being said, I have inherited a not so sweet side from my mother as well. Mine I think is a little darker than hers, lol, but it is in check. Let’s face it, my mother, like everyone on the planet has her “bad ways” too. My girl ain’t a perfect angel by any means. She can sting you with words when she’s ready and because I learned by observation, so can I and so can my sister but one discovers how to rein that shit in and release only when necessary – and in this world we live in where selfishness (most times) trumps selflessness and when people are just downright asinine, you might get a little venom from our direction … oops.
These skills (hopefully only the good ones, right? lol) my mother gave to me, are the skills I am giving to Adam and Logan because they need to be strong to face every single day in this world. They need to be strong to handle the dark times life will throw their way and I know that because I have lived through some dark days and I’m still here, in one piece, dependent on nothing more than my own will power because I was not raised to be weak or give up but rather raised to keep getting up and keep trying and keep moving on to the next day, next thing, next opportunity … just like my mom.
This trip gave me a chance to see Mummy. To see what makes her, her now and what has changed about her as she has gotten older. Her tech confidence isn’t what it used to be since she stopped working and she likes to lean on us for the simplest things regarding the computer and her phone, but we remain patient and we teach her and she comes around as we know she can. I think she has just decided there are some things she does not want to give too much of her attention to anymore and that is okay. She is still a busy body around the house, always cooking something (you never leave her home without a container of something tasty) or she is always cleaning something and though she does not have to, I understand the need to feel useful, so we let her (within reason – moving things in our house to suit her short stature does not work when the shortest person living here is 5’7″ and the tallest is 6’2″).
Mummy and I are extremely different. We are not besties. We are mother and daughter. I call her to chat and occasionally for advice or just a listening ear (as long as she does not talk over top of me lol) and we go places together. We cook together when we can, drive around together when we can and it’s nice. It’s comfortable. There are times I feel sorry that her all time love has passed away and I get frustrated when we talk about things Dad might have done that made me shake my head, and she jumps all over me defending him – but then I know it is her grief that’s talking. As an adult, I lost a father but she lost the man she loved and I have no idea how she feels, so now, we only reminisce about good things and that is fine because that is what she needs. There are things I prefer not to discuss with Mom because a) sometimes I don’t want her to worry about my stuff at her stage in life, and b) there is a strong generational difference of opinion regarding some things but I respect where she is coming from although I don’t think she respects where I’m coming from sometimes – oh well – old dogs, new tricks. She speaks like a 76 year old and is often politically incorrect – again – old dog, new tricks – and those are the times when she talks like she knows all about the topic and is right as right can be – so I take her comments with a pinch of salt, right? But the bottom line is, she is my mother and she has her moments of wisdom when she speaks to me from her heart. I admire the strong faith she has that buttresses my wavering one and when I am in doubt, when I need support; a confidence boost; when I worry about something; when I am faced with a tough decision, when I need prayer, she is there. I can count on her to always be there and I hope when she is gone, I can close my eyes and hear her voice and hear what she would have said to me so that I can right myself. She gave me the strength that so many admire and some, deep down inside themselves hate about me all at once. She told me from the moment I could understand words, that I was beautiful on the outside and exquisite on the inside. She is the reason I have so much compassion and the reason I have no fear of the stuff of life. There are things that make me scared but nothing that scares me enough to quit. She is me. I am her, I am Dad. I already see myself in my children. I know like me, their mother frustrates the hell out of them and I see them roll their eyes and I notice when my opinions bounce off of them because they are too strong. I might see myself as a watered down version of my 5 foot maybe 2 inch powerhouse mother but to my children, I am her.
I can do a better job of being a daughter – we can all be better adult children to our adult parents. If you think you are a perfect adult child, you are a hypocrite. If your adult parent does not make you sigh and shake your head, you are a hypocrite. If you think you are drastically different from your parents, you are in denial – wake up. And if you think you do things better as a parent than your own parents did because you have read some new age bull-shit parenting books, you’re a damn fool. If you are lucky to have one or both of your folks around, put your arms around them and be thankful for them and in some way show them how much you appreciate them and all they did for you. If your folks were a disaster and they messed you up royally, find a way to forgive them, if you can, for your own salvation and sanity. Forgive and free your soul. Remember, you are going to be an adult parent to adult children before you know it. What treatment would you want from your adult son or daughter?
So … thank you Mom, for irritating me, harping on me from the time I could talk, showing me how to do everything from run a house, mix a drink for your guests from the time I was 4, to holding a job, and being amazing at the best job, in a cynical world that views being a good wife, mother and life partner as an underachievement, even though we all know that the problem with the world is that work takes way too much precedence over family and many people have no choice but to let it. Thank you, Mom for banning me, for vexing me; punishing me; kissing me and hugging me; thank you for telling me when I was being an ass and telling me when I was wonderful. Thanks for the confidence and bravery you instilled in me and the pride I see in your eyes when you look at me and mine. Thank you for what you still are able to do for me. You drive me crazy and you make me laugh. Thanks for coming on this trip with me and being so game to do whatever came up next. That was very cool of you and I will never forget that. Thank you for still ever so subtly showing me the way. I am you in so many ways and you know what? Nothin’ wrong with that at all.
~ For my mother, Angela – Thank you. Love you. ~