One of the biggest adjustments I had to make since moving to London has been keeping track of Mother’s and Father’s Day. While it’s hard to miss them in the respective countries, when shops become full of cards and presents, it isn’t helpful with the dates being wildly different where my parents are. In the past, it seemed just another chore in an endlessly consumerist society trying to sell you cards, but at a distance it becomes a little way to honour my parents and let them know I do care, even when our relationship is historically a difficult one.
I guess getting older, seeing friends losing parents and friends becoming parents, puts things into a different perspective.
I’m not naive enough to think all relationships are possible to save without some miracle that often never happens, but otherwise most are somewhat possible to keep with some openness and forgiveness on both sides. Aside from the Holy Family, all families are a mess in one way or another.
I used to think that, since my parents were good people who had liberal ideas about parenting, did everything for us and never hit us, we didn’t qualify as a dysfunctional family. And yet I have a lot of baggage that I carry around when I relate to other people.
I believe I became a Mother Hen because that’s the only way I know how to relate to people: I’ll open my home, and put food on the hob at midnight because you travelled and you’re hungry, and I’ll take you home when you’re drunk. While my love language is words of affirmation, I bet my family loves in acts of service and, over the years, I have been able to stop feeling unloved and move from the premise that I was loved without the proper means to express it. It has made a huge difference. I realise I’m one of the lucky ones, but it has made me very conscious about what family means to me, and what awaits on my painful road to make it happen.
One of the hardest parts of adapting to being in a relationship has been adapting to being the one loved. So used I was to a) taking care of others and b) taking care of myself, that letting someone in has been a slow, painful process. It’s not just the person you’re with: when things get serious, I have had to begin to contend to letting other people love me as a daughter. And as for most of my life I have been as successful at being a daughter as Lorelai Gilmore, I was starting behind everyone else. I recognise I’m also a difficult person to love: words hurt way too fast, and as a picky ethical buyer I’m difficult to buy gifts for, if that’s how you express love. It’s been a steep learning curve.
For the past couple of weeks I have been re-watching Gilmore Girls. I used to watch it with my mother, which is quite ironic. People think of us as having the kind of relationship Rory and Lorelai had, but the reality is that if you dug a little deeper than the surface, we had a lot of issues that were closer to being Lorelai and Emily instead. Seeing their dynamics, especially Rory failing to let go of home on her first day at Yale, when I traveled on my own to a whole different country, made it quite clear: my mother and I are two head-strong women who are more similar to each other than we’d like to admit.
My father was present, and still is, but in the strong matriarchal family we have he’s a bit of a background character, with work to think about, but no bow tie. Even though it was his father who’d hand me the newspaper to keep me quiet, and my grandparents’ dynamic was very much like Rory and hers. I guess everyone in my family boils down to Richard and Emily Gilmore, except my aunt, Lorelai the first. My brother fits in there somewhere, but I’m still not sure how. It’s somewhat really cathartic to see their lives unfold on screen, with Amy Sherman-Palladino’s fine humour. It doesn’t make me exactly nostalgic about my lot, but it makes me appreciate them in their imperfection a little more.
Not long ago I have watched Disney’s Coco, and cried my eyes out for a long while after. It was also a beautiful portrayal of family, with the mess that goes along with it, and how important it is to remember our loved ones. It doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with the fictional Connecticut community at the heart of this classic series, but it came to mind as I wrote and so I think it really made an impression on me. In a way, the themes it touches upon are the same.
Despite my state of life, and the many brilliant Catholic families living the liturgical life with children of all ages, when I think of family I don’t think of one of my own. Maybe, in a way, that’s because if I had one of my own it would fit neatly into the clan, with the blood relatives and the people who are family through choice instead, in the beautiful tapestry of life, just like in the little quaint town of Stars Hollow.
This post is part of the LoveBlog Challenge on the topic of Family.