Ho-ho-holy crap I’m glad that’s over! I am still dealing with what I like to call “the ghost of the Xmas present.” And as it becomes the ghost of Xmas past, I’d like to figure out how to keep this spectre from haunting me in future.
For many reasons, it was not a great holiday this year. I had hurt my foot, so there
would be no skiing or tobogganning to look forward to; I had a long drive to get to my
family and my girlfriend and then too few days to squeeze in good gf time; also my
kid came down with a sweaty fever on Xmas day. The illness meant quarantine away
from precariously-healthed older family members. Xmas dinner was tuna sandwiches
scrounged from bare cupboards in my parents’ house, while the rest of the family
gorged on big bird at my family’s cottage.
Over the next few days, disappointment piled on disappointment as I tried to juggle
changing plans. When it finally became clear that the young’un and I would not make
it up to the family, they came down to us. (Although I have to say, it was kind of nice to spend a couple of days snuggled up with my kid watching hours of Invader Zim.)
They came bearing gifts. Books, gadgets, clothing. Clothing. I had forgotten about the
prospect of this until I saw the large, wrapped box coming toward me. I felt a prickling in my armpits and my entire body flushed hot and cold as small waves of anxiety began to buffet me.
Clothes. My mother had bought me clothes. I was not prepared. If I had thought about it, I might have rehearsed some pleasant reaction noises, “Oh, nice color!” or “These go together perfectly!” But I froze…
If you’ve been following my posts, you’ll know I’m making some personal discoveries
about identity and authenticity and how integral the clothing I wear is to all of that. I have uncovered some raw emotions while digging around in the closet of my own psyche, and I’m feeling very sensitive. By getting me clothes, my mother brushed up against this sore spot and ripped the barely-formed scab right off. (Too graphic? Sorry.) She didn’t know. I haven’t exactly been sharing these posts with her. I’m not there yet. (When I get there, I’ll let you know. I promise.)
I am also, finally, finding my voice. Finding the words to say the things I have always
felt. Something about turning 40. However, it is a struggle. The words are often blocked by great boulders of concern about what will happen when I set them free. But I’ve been practicing. And it is getting easier. I speak my mind more confidently and I think I do it tactfully, without attacking or wounding.
There is another side to learning to speak the truth, though, and that is learning to hear the truth.
Learning to hear someone say something counter to what you expected or hoped to
hear, and not feeling it as an attack. Hearing, simply, their truth. That takes practice too.
I knew that the clothing I was about to receive would be all wrong and it would feel like a vilification of my identity, my choices, my life. I knew before I unwrapped the box. And I was right. The clothes were from a women’s clothing store. And as I saw the color of the shirt (lavender), I froze. No prevaricating words came to mind. I told the truth.
And that is not something we do in my family. Not straight out like that without couching it somehow. Softening it. I opened Pandora’s box and out came the truth. I said with tact (I think), but said too quickly. I couldn’t stop myself. And so instead of an appreciative face, I made a rather apologetic one as I explained that these just weren’t my style and “I’m sorry that I am so difficult to buy clothes for.” And my mother was furious. (In a quietly simmering way. That’s how furious looks in my family.)
The next day she was still angry so I confronted her about it. It was a very, very difficult conversation that began with the present and went deep into the past. At the end of it, we were left with many open cans of worms. And I left for home.
And the day after that she called me to talk some more because she had thought about
some of the things I had said. I had done the same. It was another hard talk, but what
seemed clear was that she was willing to work through this impasse.
Having had a couple of weeks to meditate on this debacle (I make myself sound so
peaceful. There has been a lot of ranting to friends), I have acknowledged a few things.
- The outfit my mother picked out for me was not extremely feminine. It was probably the least feminine thing she could find in the store. She was not trying to change me, she was trying to find something I would like. So my mother must have felt the rejection of the gift keenly, and I am sorry for that.
- My mother doesn’t understand the clothing I choose to wear and what it signifies, but neither have I taken the time to explain it to her. I am just beginning to explore and understand these things myself. (Stay tuned!)
- If my mother and I had had these arguments when I was a teenager, we might not be having them now. But I chose to avoid conflict. I toed the line when I lived at home, then flew the coop early so I could spread my wings unencumbered by parents. I thought I had done us all a favor.
Now that my mother and I are airing these grievances, I think she is realizing how little
she knows me. The challenge now is to figure out how much we want to get to know
each other and I think we are both a little scared. We may discover that, although we
love each other, we do not like each other very much. And that is the most haunting
prospect of all.
My girlfriend says that this is a very bleak ending to this post, and I suppose it is. But it is not the end of the story. And remember what was left in the bottom of Pandora’s box when all the evils escaped? Hope.
Image via Jonas N.’s Flickr account