I called my mom the other day. I’m a good son (not a great son, but a good one) so I do that from time to time. I called this particular time with a great sense of purpose. You see, I was driving home after having spent some time with a friend of mine. This friend, though both she and my mom would probably resent the comparison, reminds me a lot of my mother. Situationally, at least. She’s going through many of the same kinds of issues that I watched my mom go through years ago. Watching the situation from a new perspective I’ve gained a new appreciation for the overwhelming shit my mother went through and I realized that I’d never really thanked her, never told her how proud I was of her for simply having survived. So, I called.
For whatever reason, I’ve been strangely emotional lately. Other than an incident a year ago when I was watching Spider-Man 2 on DVD, I don’t really remember the last time I cried. But for the past week or so I’ve been ready to crumple at the drop of a hat. You know that feeling where something terrible has happened but you’re in a place where you can’t let yourself fall apart so you buck up and as long as everything is normal, you’ll be fine, but if anyone so much as puts a hand on your shoulder as a sign of affection you’ll be reduced to a sobbing wreck? I’m finding myself in that place more and more these days and I’m not really sure why. Maybe its menopause. *
Anyway, it was in one of these deeply, unpleasantly emotional states that I tried to call my mom. I wanted to tell her that I loved her, that I was sorry for not saying it more often and for never letting her know how proud I was of her, how much she meant to me and what a wonderful mother she was. I imagined trying to choke back my emotions as I talked, and ultimately failing like a hurricane wracked levy as she too started to cry. It was a mother/son moment worthy of the sappiest, crappiest Hallmark movie and I wanted it for us.
As is typical of our relationship, I couldn’t actually get a hold of her right then. We usually play a pretty good round of phone tag before catching each other—usually when I’m at work and she’s about to go to bed.
The next night, we caught each other. By this point I was feeling momentarily less emotional and kind of embarrassed by the touching family moment that hadn’t happened. We talked for a while about this and that, how Grandpa and Grandma were doing, her job, my job search etc. Then I saw my opening. I started by telling her about my friend, the things she’s going through and how eerily similar they were to our experiences years ago. She was moved, expressed empathy and offered to help.
It was then that I told her why I had really called. How I wanted to thank her and apologize to her for not being appreciative enough in the past. “Thank you,” she said, “but you don’t have to do that.” This wasn’t just humility: she was trying to cut me off. And it’s not out of coldness that she wanted to cut me off before I got all weepy, it was out of discomfort.
My family, as a rule, does not express positive emotions to each other. Anger? Irritation? Pain? Frustration? No problem! But when it comes to saying something nice we are woefully ill equipped. We say “I love you” through shared derision and sarcasm. I know my family is really unhappy with me when they’re not making fun of me, my hair, my clothes, my diet or my beard. We never, ever hug. Both my twin sister and I are working on introducing hugs into familial gatherings, but it’s still pretty awkward for everyone involved.**
By calling my mother to offer sincere, straightforward thanks I had broken a cardinal rule, a fact which she illustrated in a story. “A few months back,” she said, “I did something like this [expressing emotions] and I wrote a letter to my mom and dad just to say . . . y’know. I didn’t need or want them to respond, I just wanted to say some things in writing so they would know. I talked to my dad a few times after I knew he had gotten the letter and he didn’t say anything about it, of course. Then a few days later he said ‘We got your letter. You didn’t need to do that.’ I could tell it made him uncomfortable but I’m sure he appreciated it.”
The more I think about it, the more it amazes me just how much that story and her telling of it says about my family. There is such a level of discomfort with positive emotional expressions that she had to use a parable to tell me that. I guess in a weird way I really respect that.
And yet, flying in the face of all that, I will here and now proclaim that I love and appreciate my mother. Hopefully she’ll never actually read this, because that’d be really awkward . . . ***
*Menopause, Menopause the Musical!
**Because I work in theatre I’ve been thrust into the world of hugging. Initially that was terrifying to me, but now I’ve really come to (pardon the pun) embrace it and have become a big hug advocate. It’s actually one of my favorite things, even with strangers.
And for the record, I give good hug. This is largely thanks to two unique physically attributes of mine: A) my incredibly long arms that allow me to wrap Reed Richards-like around even the largest of hugees and 2) my soft, uncooked dinner roll of a torso is crafted for ideal cuddling.
***Though less awkward than the conversations that would ensue if she read anything else in my blog.