I saw my parents on July 4th weekend. The build-up is usually the worst part of their annual summer visits. I find it’s best to get the initial visit out of the way early that way I get a better sense of what the rest of the summer holds. Usually she greets me with a comment about my skin: oh, your skin looks great or oh, your skin’s breaking out again. She’d comment on my hair. When it was long she’d ask, you’re wearing it curly? When it’s short, like now, she says, it’s a little short. Why don’t you grow it out? That bob was so cute. Then it was my clothes. I got on the train and got off in 1987. One day she said that she still saw my sister and I as 7 and 4 (respectively). My heart sank a bit. That was probably the last time my mother was happy.
As she has gotten older she has retreated into a world of her own making. A black and white world of moralistic assertions and harsh judgment. She still asserts that we can talk about anything. I just have to steel myself to either icy silence, harsh criticism, or crass cluelessness. It’s a trap into which I fall continuously. I so want to believe I can tell her anything, so I do. I tell her what I see, what I hear, what I experience only to be met with derision.30 years you’ve wanted to be treated like men, no wonder they don’t want commitment. She can’t be that conservative or she wouldn’t have slept with a married man. . If you’re going to sleep with him go ahead, but don’t be surprised when he dumps you. My declaration that I was not getting married again but was looking forward to a full and rich sex life was met with a set jaw and a sigh. It was then that I realised that my mother was not a feminist and modern women were sluts. I would have to watch what I say around yet another person. That I never, ever fit her mold of proper female behaviour. That what I wanted to be more than anything else was a normal woman.
She and my sister met me at the train station. She made a comment about how bright my hair was these days, nothing about the length. We’d had that discussion on the phone two weeks earlier. It had gone like it usually does. She said nothing about my skin or my clothes. She didn’t ask how I was doing. It was all very light and breezy. My father, who has also outgrown his filter, told me about his medication-induced gynecomastia lifted his shirt and showed me what was left of his breasts just as my mother walked into the kitchen. She had a fit and started yelling at him. He bowed his head and shuffled his feel and tried not to laugh. She stormed off in a huff. I could not help but wonder if the elaborate fantasy she created where I became her sexual rival had disappeared completely. Later she told my sister and I that she thought daddy was slipping. She told us how one day he nearly went for his walk wearing two pairs of boxer shorts. That he had become forgetful, argumentative, irritable. Around us she’s called him daddy for as long as I can remember, like we’re still seven and four. Having been on the receiving end of her disapproval for so long, I found it hard to swallow. He’s been getting progressively angrier for the past decade. The world is leaving him behind like it leaves us all. Both of them had become mean and angry and judgmental. He’s getting old, I thought. And so are you, mother.