I have a family wedding coming up. This means that I will travel a known distance, sit and speak to an untold number of relatives and try to remember why it was I decided to sign up for the torture. And it is absolute torture for me to see my family. The ironic part about this is I have an absolutely, and truly incredible family. Loving, normal, and altogether imperfect they are the sisters that I count on and lean towards. Yet, one day out of a thousands, I have to lower my pedestal and deal with them face to face.
It is so much easier to accept, even understand, family from a far distance. When we see them through the memories as we talk to them on a phone, or when we simply are able to edit all that we say to them through an email or letter, our feelings toward those members are easier to control. We can pretend that the perfection of our family is real, when we aren’t bothered with the day-to-day reality of their lives. When we can hide the reality of our own lives, the relationships that we count on, that we depend on, can survive. Put the test of daily life to them and things easily change. Stress, frustration, anger and even disappointment come to light so much easier through a wall of air instead of the reflection of a screen. Distance makes us remember not only fondly but with the opaque glasses of the past.
I have an incredible family and always have. Truthfully, I have moments of absolute bliss surrounded by my family. The time they all got together to pay for me to get a musical instrument, the times that they have sent me the perfect gift, or written the perfect words to me. The times when they have opened their doors, their hearts, and their patience to a girl who has struggled her whole life. They have flown, they have driven, they have dropped everything to be there at the exact moment that I needed them.
They profess to love me just as I am. I don’t know if this is actually the truth, I think that perhaps in any relationship there is an exception. I think that is just human nature. And what I remember and often what they tell me, is vastly different. Not just the memories but the feelings experienced. We all go into the same situation differently. And we are all changed by that same situation differently. The experiences of a child, and the experiences of the adult are vastly different. Life made this possible to protect those who needed it the most.
There are many members of my family, both now living and those that have passed along in my life. There are grandmothers and grandfathers, greats, and firsts. There are aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces. There are powerful woman, and supportive men. There are teenagers without a clue, and the older generation simply nodding their head and not even pretending to understand. There is love. There is anger. There is disappointment. And there is the absolute imperfections of being human.
As I have gotten older, I have come to realized all of them are imperfect. Not always a comfortable realization, there comes a time in all our lives when we have to realize that our parents, those that supported us all these years, are in fact simply human. They have flaws, they have imperfections, and they have the stubborn desire to be exactly who and what they are, despite the fact who and what they are is never what you actually needed them to be. Understanding they are human, is heartbreaking. For the lost child, and the growing adult. It breaks your heart.
For instance, my mother is no longer just my mother. Now that I no longer her need her for my everyday survival, she has begun to take other roles. Those roles include taking care of her aging parent, and being a grandmother. Both vastly different roles that define her today. She is no longer focused on me, or completely prepared to drop everything for me. She is not worried about the day-to-day survival of her oldest daughter, she is now worried by a great number of different things. Therefore, at this wedding, it won’t be me that she sits beside or necessarily focuses her attention on. It will be my grandmother, it will be her sister, it will be the father of the bride, her brother. I will be there, and while she will always love me as only a mother can, it will be through the prism of adulthood.
Maybe that is where my expectations come from; a desire for her to see me. Or maybe it is my way of staying in the background and not being forced to tell my loved ones that I am not perfect. Maybe it is my hiding spot, those expectations. Maybe it is simply my excuse.
Every time I am going to see a member of my family there are certain things that I do, that I simply am too lazy or don’t care enough to do in my daily life. I get my eyebrows waxed, I shave my knees and upper legs; I will often get my hair cut and wear my nicest clothes. I will wear jewelry, and nicer shoes. I won’t necessarily change myself, but rather put on armour to cover myself. I will wear a beautiful and concealing image, so that my family can’t see the truth deep down inside of me. And then I will spend hours, long after the visit is over, mourning the fact that no one in my family saw anything than exactly what I wanted them to see. Like a two year-old, I will silently weep that my mother couldn’t see past the armour, that my father liked the covering I put on, and that no one asked if that was really me.
The single problem with families is that we expect things from them, based on our rose-colored memories that wasn’t true then and isn’t true now. I have learned this simple truth now that I have children, and have watched the image I put on for them, that in no way reflects the truth of what I am doing or what I am feeling. I give them the illusion in the same way that my mother gave me illusions for years. That is the role of a mother, and as much as it is painful for all those who are involved, it is instinctive. We do it. And we don’t even know we are.
Will my mother look at me different if I am not put together for this wedding? Will she question me, will she give me the focus that even as a thirty year old woman I crave? Will my expectations for my family ever lower enough that I can find that safe and peaceful resting place that I am so desperately trying to find in life? Will I ever be able to look my mother in the eye and receive the very thing that I need, rather than the thing I think I am getting? Will I ever be able to simply smile at all the love that I am given, freely. Will I ever be happy with the mirage that every family functions so faithfully in? Will I ever lower my own expectations in order to find the truth I want to see, rather than the truth that is really there? Can the illusion of family, and family love, be strong enough to build a life on? Can I be the child my mother adored again? Or am I destined to forever see life through the eyes of an adult? Will I forever be forced to see my mother through the eyes of a mother, and never again as a child?