Dear Lily June,
In creating this blog and writing these letters to you, I promised myself I would be honest. I promised myself that I would talk to you, despite your only being a baby at this point, like an adult because, one day, that’s exactly who you will be. I promised myself I wouldn’t hold anything back, in part because I still, to this day, don’t understand much behind the actions and motivations of my parents. I want you to know me for the good, the bad, and the ugly behind my personality, as well as my personality disorder. I gave you life. I owe you enough to explain to you mine.
Things got ugly yesterday at home. I come by this quotation, not from its original source, but from blogger MommyNeedsAGlass:
“I see myself as an intelligent, sensitive human, with the soul of a clown which forces me to blow it at the most important moments.” -Jim Morrison
I wish it didn’t so accurately describe me, but lately, it does. You see, the other night, I attacked your father. I was stressed about how work’s been going, stressed about the disaster area our apartment’s become, and stressed, most of all, because my own father, who has the power to stress me out like no other, is coming for a visit.
I should have come straight home from work and gotten to, as they say in Pittsburgh, “read’ing the place up” (meaning to “ready” a home by tidying it for company. To spot clean as necessary. To sweep all crumbs under the rug and major appliances into the cabinets. To hide the sh*t).
And I started to in earnest. But then, after feeding you, I had your baby food container to throw out. And so, I went to the garbage can, which was already, in the living room, in the “wrong place.” And then, it didn’t have a bag in it. And then, like a Medusa whose hair has grown serpents that spew their venom into the face of any unsuspecting victim, I lost myself.
I found your dad who, after nursing a sleep apnea related migraine all day while watching you in one of your fussiest moods, was just trying to function, let alone relax, on the couch. And like he was just another one of the couch cushions, I tore into him.
He didn’t think of me, I claimed. He never replaces the trash bags in the bin or the diapers on the changing table, I said. He brings his socks to the basket but drops them on the floor instead of in it, I complained. He brings his dishes to the dishwasher but puts them on the counter instead of loading it, I nagged. He couldn’t, in my warped mindset, do anything right or anything selfless.
Of course, the fact that I was spitting knives at a good husband, a good father, a man who had, just that morning, not only made me breakfast but cleaned up after my dishes, was apparently lost on me. I had a gift-wrapped package of stress on my heart, and I was going to deliver it into his hands to watch it explode in his face. Send in the shrew, the nag, the terrifying clown, Lily. No wait, don’t bother. It was me.
I feel hangdog today, distraught over my temper tantrum and the meaningless accusations I flung at him and can’t take back. “You have to tell me when I’m becoming my father,” I told your dad only days ago. That he had the enormous kindness not to fling those words back at me yesterday is proof that your dad’s heart, unlike the Grinch that Stole Christmas’s, is ten sizes too big.
Why does cleaning stress me out so much? In part, because it used to be the action we took to hide in an abusive home. My mother’s bruises remained as hidden under clothes as dust remained hidden in the dust rags. The wooden banisters were polished to a crystalline shine, but we may as well have been polishing the brass on the Titanic, Lily. That marriage between my parents was doomed to sink.
Why does my father stress me out so much today? The older I get, the less I know. When I was a child, I was scared of him. His coffee cups of vodka. His disapproving glares. The way his voice could be soft and philosophical or harsh and monstrous, and how I could never predict which actions could flick that switch in his mood and his vocal cords. But those are just the vague details, the background noise to my issues with him.
I think, at its core, I’m most stressed out because I wish for him to see me like he could spot a fleck of dust on a banister, a misplaced comma in a legal memo. I’m waiting for him to size me up and not find me wanting. I’m waiting for him to truly, earnestly apologize for that past without suddenly and not-so-subtly claiming my mother was behind most of his moods, instigating the fires that would rage behind his pupils.
I’m waiting for the approval of a man who doesn’t even, deep down, love himself. And in the meantime, I’m, in moments like last night, missing out on showing love to the man who has always shown love to me. And for that, Lily, I am truly sorry, not just to your dad who deserves to hear that from my lips, not just from my letters, but also to you.
That is not the example I want to set. I am not, yet, the woman or wife or mother I want to be.
The greatest gift I could give to your father this year might be forgiving my own. It might be giving myself permission to be imperfect, permission to let the cracks show through to everyone I love like the ones I can’t hide in my teeth that make me look, more and more as I get older, like my father looks.
I am not my dad, any more than you will be me and all my shortcomings someday, Lily. I am no more his ires than you’ll be my anxieties. But I have the potential to enact the scenarios of my youth. I have the potential to create a tension in the air so thick, you can’t cut it; you have to gnaw your way through. I have the potential to take my flaws, and my fears, and project them into the ones I love most, truly convincing myself at the time that it’s them, not me, who are the problem.
But I say this with all humility and shame: Last night, I was the problem. I was upset about one small thing–the garbage bag–and I made that one thing grow into a list. You cannot inflate your pet peeves like a balloon, Lily, lest they grow large enough to carry you away with them. If you are upset about a thing, try to see it as part of a bigger picture, and in light of that picture, it’s likely the “injury” will become no more than a pebble in your shoe that you can–and should–remove on your own.
I should have just replaced the stupid garbage bag. I should have sat down to evaluate why such a small thing threw me into such a tizzy. I should have shared with your dad my anxieties about my own dad coming in. That I didn’t proves how much your mother still has to grow. To mature. To learn. I hope to be, someday, the kind of woman you won’t fear becoming. And I hope to see you–really see you–become so much better than me.
- “WLANL – MicheleLovesArt – Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – Eva na de zondeval, Rodin” by MicheleLovesArt – Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen – Eva na de zondeval, Rodin. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WLANL_-_MicheleLovesArt_-_Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen_-_Eva_na_de_zondeval,_Rodin.jpg#/media/File:WLANL_-_MicheleLovesArt_-_Museum_Boijmans_Van_Beuningen_-_Eva_na_de_zondeval,_Rodin.jpg