The middle child of middle-aged parents, I find myself in a unique position. I can see history as it happened and as it is happening. I’m old enough that my parents and big sister feel comfortable explaining how the pieces of their past and present fit together in (what I call internally) their life-story.
I think, years ago, I asked my mother whether she considered me a friend and her answer was No, that I’m her daughter, not her friend. Just this December, as I watched my mother bake her annual Christmas rum cakes, I asked again, only because I wasn’t sure whether I had imagined it the first time. She considered the question for a few seconds and said Yes.
It has occurred to me recently that, despite what I would like to believe, my parents are mortal beings. There is much I don’t know about them and, if my parents do not share these things with me, their vital and not-so-vital memories will die with them. So, I’ve come to a more patient place when I talk with them, believing myself to be (perhaps narcissistically) The Receiver. I try to hold on to every detail.
My mom tells me about the mistakes she’s made, the errors that she is afraid cannot be corrected: My brother misbehaving in school heedless of her disciplinary threats and pleading, she once asked me whether she had failed as a mother. It was a humbling moment for us both. I replied as honestly and soberly as I could.
Oftentimes I forget that my mother–such a resilient, hardworking woman with endless reserves of savoir faire–is made of flesh and bone and not stainless steel. Though she offers me tales of her younger years, it still baffles me that she had not come into this life as whole-in-herself and world-wise as she has always appeared to be. Even a woman who knows her mind can make a mistake? What a novel concept. And what a vantage point I have, to see the well-meaning but ultimately misguided actions of my parents as the consequences ripple back in time.
My big sister struggles to forgive my parents for their unintentional emotional neglect. Full grown, she feeds into patterns of one-sided affection and blames everyone and everything for the disagreeable moment in which she continually finds herself. As she explains these things to me, I can’t help but worry about her. She lives so much In The Now that she doesn’t seem cognizant of how much time is passing her by, how necessarily we end up speaking of Now in the Past Tense.
All these road maps for the beginning of things, I hold somewhere inside of me for when my life-story decides to rev the engine.