The Elephant in the Room

Today’s Guest Post is from my friend, SW Chica. When I read her first draft, she had included a line from her mother that seared straight into my soul. “I love you, but I don’t like you.”

I didn’t realize just how damaging a statement like that could be to a child and I am ashamed to say that I may have told Gamera the same exact words before. I’m not sure if I said it out loud, but I certainly have thought it. 
SW Chica’s piece made me think of Gamera in a kinder light. The last thing I would want is to make her feel the way my friend feels now. It would break my cold, dark heart. 
Because of SW Chica’s post, I hope to be a better mother to my sensitive little girl. I thank her for sharing and trusting me with her heart. 

I told my Mom last January I didn’t walk to talk to her or my father anymore.  It was hard, but it was the right thing to do. That doesn’t mean I don’t think about it obsessively and want it to be different. I do. It just means that right now, looking at how my family treats me, I don’t want to be treated like that by anyone, much less the group of people who are supposed to be there for you.

This being a good decision on my part became more clear when my mother emailed my husband that she was sorry, “They didn’t address the elephant in the room sooner.” She apologized to him, not me. In her eyes, he is the one hurt in this scenario, not me.

I told her that I don’t feel I get respect from them at 40 years old. Her reply to me was, “If you feel you have not received it in 40 years, I feel you have never given it to us in 38.”

It took me a few weeks of being away from her and my family to have a little epiphany about what the elephant was. The elephant was respect. She wanted respect from a 2 year old. I was 8 and 10 years younger than my siblings. But so was my dad. And so was his dad. I wonder how each of their parents treated them growing up.

I imagine it was similar experience. Being thrust into being more mature than I was. I didn’t really feel like I was treated like a kid when I was one. I was left home alone at 8 years old so my parents could go golf on Sundays. My sister was at college; my brother had his friends and did not want to always have to watch after his little sister.

My parents wanted a break by that time. They were 40, more successful than they had been in years past. They wanted to enjoy their life, not always be saddled with a young kid who talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain. Or whatever other adjective my mom and family used to describe me.

Who they would just treat as a disappointment.

I get that now; I was a disappointment. At age 2 I didn’t behave like a proper 8 year old. I don’t remember how I behaved, but having seen my friends’ 2 year olds, I can’t imagine I was much different. I’m sure I wandered around the house, pulling plugs out of the wall or pushing my plate of food away.

I bet I was actually better behaved than most two year olds, not because I was awesome at 2, but because I had a Mom and Dad correcting me for misbehaving, and a brother and sister telling me to stop it as well.

So if at 2, the elephant was that I was expected to behave as though I was 8, then at 8 I was expected to behave as though I was 15. I was left at home a lot as an elementary school age kid. I didn’t really enjoy being left alone at home on the weekends. My parents would play golf all day on Sundays and come home and want to go out to dinner. Which meant more alone time as I was told to be quiet and colored on my placemat.

At 12, when I was bullied and picked on at school. I tried to talk to my parents about about it, but, if it was happening, it had to be my fault. I had to have done something other than exist for this to be happening. I talked too much. Or was overdramatic. Or a pill, or a pain.

News flash, it wasn’t my fault.

The bully wanted my seat during a movie shown in class. She demanded it from me and I said, “No.” It’s entirely possible I said words around the word, “No.” Extra wording aside, I was not wrong in this scenario. So when the bully beat me up over it and I fought back, I got in trouble at school and at home.

I got beat up and I got in trouble at home.

I stood up for myself and I got no comfort from my family.

At 14, the elephant was I had my own way home from work or a friends house. My mom was tired of being chauffeur and if I couldn’t fit my activities around her schedule, then I had to figure it out for myself. So I’d take the bus or ask for rides from older kids instead of my parents coming to pick me up. I knew how to get to Berkeley on my own from the East Bay as a freshman in High School and would often go to Telegraph Ave to buy cheap jewelry from the street vendors. I would also hang out at Rasputin’s Record store and get lunch at Blondie’s Pizza. At 14.

As an adult the elephant is that I don’t want to be their friend. I don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars a month on drinks and dinner with people who treat me poorly.

Once I moved out I really never invited them over to my home or host a holiday for my family as an adult. No one asked me why, they just felt I was rude.

The reality was that I never felt my homes were good enough. I worked full time jobs since I was 19 and I would just live in my home, happy that I had one. I would ask my Mom to help me with cleaning or rearranging a room and would be met with all the things she had to complain about my homes. Dog toys on the floor, my coffee cup in the sink. God forbid if I didn’t make my bed that day.

She has been a stay at home mother and wife all my and my siblings’ lives. When she would criticize my home and my cars, she turned the shame I felt as a child for being a disappointment into to resentment.

I resented those comments. They would play on a loop in my head until I drank them away. And when I stopped doing that, then I just began to not care.

The elephant became just dealing with them as best I could. I tried to let them go. I tried to not let the resentment build, but it did. I didn’t handle it properly. I didn’t do yoga or pray. I just tried to be polite and respectful.

I still didn’t invite them over to my home. I dogged every other invite to go to my parents’ home so they would not be suspicious that I didn’t want to spend time with them anymore.

It didn’t work.

The resentment I felt was still there and was not being dealt with properly. I had no outlet to share what I was feeling. No place that felt safe – just like when I was a kid.

Then, a major life change came.

I took an opportunity for a big career change. I was excited about it. I felt it was a good opportunity. As I went over to their home to excitedly share my news, I was greeted with, “Why would you ever leave the job you have now?”

It hurt.

They took all the wind out of my sails. The elephant this time was they couldn’t even fake being happy for me.

When I failed miserably at the new opportunity, I resented them even more. I blamed them. I felt like I was cursed by them, which I know is not right.

It’s not their fault I failed at this job. I accept it. I was bullied and squeezed out. It’s not right, but again, I needed support and it wasn’t there. When it was all said and done, I still got blamed for not being grateful that my family was there.

Really, they just think they were there for me. But I got no comfort from them when I was hurting. The elephant was them feeling taken advantage of because I didn’t process my hurt the way they wanted me to. And in the end, being alone was the best way for me to overcome my hurt.

My husband said to me, “If you are trying to be a better Christian, then you need to forgive them.”

I said, “I do forgive them, but that doesn’t mean I am willing to be hurt by them again.” I can be a good Christian and forgive them and still decide the relationship is not healthy and stop forcing it just because we are related.

If the elephant all along was respect that I feel I have never gotten, and they feel they have never received, then what am I really missing out on?

Show Me How Big Your Brave Is

A lot of people seem to think that just because I’m a chronic over-sharer and have few problems speaking my mind that I am brave. As much as I’d like it to be so, it’s not true. I am a constant TMI person because I have very little shame in areas that many people are self-conscious about. I don’t really care about modesty, bodily functions, or even outrageous opinions.

In fact, this extreme extrovert persona is just that – a persona. I’m not really like this In Real Life. (Or at least, I try not to be. It would get old real fast.) I’m actually a really wounded little girl inside. Please love me. LOVE ME NOW! (Only kinda kidding.) All this bravado and shit-talking, well, that’s my “idealized self.” I mean, it’s easy to be full of sass when no one is actually in front of me and giving me guff. Who doesn’t want to be like the heroes and heroines on TV and in movies who always have a wise-crack at the ready?

Truthfully, it’s not hard for me to be outspoken because that is my natural tendency. It might seem brave to be broadcasting my thoughts to the world in this forum (you know, due to my million readers and all), but I’ve never been prone to stage fright and am often an attention whore. Perhaps for an introvert or someone less self-centered, the things that come out of my mouth are hard to say. But because my internal censor is often broken (usually to my detriment), it really has never been a problem. (Hapa Papa often says that my mouth writes checks my body can’t cash.)

In reality, I am quite the coward. It took me four years to realize that I hated being a Microbiology major in college – and by then, I only had one quarter left so I might as well finish my degree. What a waste of four years of education that was completely paid for by my parents. It took me nine years to tell my mother I hated being a financial advisor. That’s almost a DECADE of living a life that I hated and made me miserable.

One of my biggest regrets in life was how I ended the relationship I was in before Hapa Papa. I basically forced this poor man’s hand to give me an ultimatum because I didn’t have the balls to end it properly. I dragged him along, making him hope that I would stop my quarter life crisis and go back to loving him when I had already given my heart to another. I was too chicken shit to break up with him because I didn’t want to leave a sure thing (we were thinking very seriously of getting married) for something that was a gamble (Hapa Papa).

Even now, with this blog, I am constantly weighing what I have no problem sharing and things that are important to me but am afraid to write. A lot of times, I tell myself it is because I don’t want to risk publicly exposing the rest of my family (such as my mother) because even though it’s part my story, other people that I love are also involved and it may be even MORE of their story.

It took me more than twenty years to finally tell my mother that her asking my brother and I to pretend and ignore all my father’s problems actually contributed to him never experiencing any consequences of his actions. TWENTY YEARS. Twenty years of lying and willful ignorance, of pretending to be someone that I am not just to protect a man who is not worth protecting. Two decades wasted on a man who never cared about anyone other than himself, who carelessly broke the lives of my mother, my brother, and myself (not to mention others in his family).

After thinking it over, my mother told me I was right and said my brother and I no longer had to pretend. I waited five days before I told my father he was dead to me. My mother was livid. I was finally free.

Twenty years. Two decades. That’s almost two thirds of my life!

How much more of my life am I going to waste being afraid or hiding my true self because I am fearful of disappointing or hurting my mother? (That’s usually the primary reason.) How can I teach my kids to be brave and courageous if I, myself, am constantly hiding? Do I really want my children to give me a false version of themselves because they are afraid to disappoint me? Their mother? Who will love them no matter what?

That thought makes me unbearably sad.

I’ve decided that I want to be brave. To be someone who is not afraid of disappointing my mother. (And it turns out she doesn’t mind me not wanting to be a financial advisor. Just like she didn’t mind me not wanting to be a doctor. She is made of sterner stuff than I thought.) I want to be someone who consistently chooses things that I want or think is good for my family versus what I think other people expect me to choose (in which case, I am frequently incorrect).

I think that’s why Sara Bareilles’s new song, Brave, almost always brings a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. According to wikipedia, Bareilles wrote the song for a friend to encourage him to come out to his family. The song may have been written about a specific situation, but I think it is so true for life in general.

The part that resonates the most with me is the bridge:

And since your history of silence
Won’t do you any good,
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

How true is that? Truth with a capital T.

You can find the full lyrics here.