Seeing your family with adult eyes

I recently came back from a family road trip to Virginia for my cousin’s wedding. It was the first time I was travelling with my mom, brother, and sister on a 10-hour road trip since my father’s death in 2013. Before he died, the last family trip we all took was when I was 19 – it was to NYC, two weeks before I moved out for university.

Travelling with my family to the States was always enjoyable; music, food, games and conversation would keep the 10 or 15 hour trips lively, and were a bonding ritual for us all. We used to take weeks-long road trips to Northern Pakistan when I was a little girl, and I have always enjoyed spending time with my family on such occasions.

However, on this most recent trip, I saw a different side to my family, particularly my mother. It made me realize how little we see as children. When I was a kid, my mom could do no wrong – she was the perfect mother, woman, friend, sister, and wife. Everything she said and did, I admired. She was able to keep a cool head in all situations, and when conflict arose, she knew how to quell the tension.

My mother has had a strained relationship with her sisters for the past few years. If you ask her, she’ll say the blame lies squarely on her sisters and their attitudes. The older of the two sisters is too hung up on the past – at almost 60 years of age, she still talks about the wrong that was done to her when she was in her 20s, and hasn’t been able to move on from certain realizations and truths about her own mother (my grandmother). The other sister, who is also older than my mother, is supposedly “fake”; nothing she says is genuine, and all her actions are driven by some secret, self-serving motivations.

I hardly ever meet my aunts, mainly because they live in the States and I don’t visit very often, nor do they come up to Canada all that much. Whenever we do see them (normally for family get togethers and celebrations), I always enjoy the time I spend with them. My mother, from my observations, also likes seeing her sisters, but when asked about it, flat out denies deriving any sort of pleasure from meeting them.

Now, being 30 years old and understanding more about who my mother is and how she views the world, I’ve come to see that for all the shit she says about her sisters, she’s no different herself. She is as hung up on the past as the sister she accuses, albeit a different past. For my mother, she hasn’t found a way to move on from her complicated marriage with my father, as well as let go of incidents that arose with her sisters more than 20 years ago. She’s out for vengeance, and no matter how much her sisters try to connect with her, she’s not having any of it. In her mind and heart, her sisters are wrong and she’s right, and unless she gets some sort of acknowledgement or agreement on that issue, she’s out to make her sisters pay. I don’t think she’d let go of all this even if she were to receive an apology. She hates for the sake of hating, and wants to maintain her position as a victim of circumstances beyond her control.

My mother might potentially be even more fake than her sister. She wants to project this air of being above things and having this “holier than thou” attitude, projecting as though nothing affects her and she couldn’t be bothered by what anyone thinks, least of all her sisters. But the truth is, she is desperate to prove to her sisters how much better she is than them, how much better her life is, and how much more successful her children are than any of their children. Beneath that cool and composed exterior she projects to the world, my mother is an insecure, vengeful, jealous, and cold-hearted individual, particularly when it comes to her own family.

Seeing this side of my mother made me realize how little I knew of who my mom was, and how the stories she tells about herself are meant to paint a particular picture in the minds of others – one where my mother is the victim, fighting back alone against a cruel world. She never draws attention to her own cruel nature, or how she may have contributed to her relationships going sour.

With that being said, I also saw a different side to my brother, who I’ve been trying to connect with for the past few years. It’s not that we have a strained relationship. It’s more to do with the fact that as we’ve grown older, our lives have taken us in different directions and we don’t have much common ground to connect over now. He’s male, single, has a traditional, corporate 9-5 job, lives alone in an apartment in downtown Toronto, doesn’t travel much and is always around my mother and sister. I, on the other hand, aside from being female, am married, live a traditional homemaker’s life, don’t have any lofty career ambitions, am into gardening, writing, photography and art, and like to limit the amount of time I spend with my mother and sister because interacting with them is emotionally and psychologically draining. Also, I live 500km away from my brother.

On this trip though, I feel my brother and I, after years and years, were able to genuinely connect with each other, and I know he enjoyed the experience as much as I did. Through conversation, shared memories, and a little help from some 90’s music I had downloaded to listen to with him, I finally saw my brother for the amazing and warm-hearted man that he has grown into. I think the last time I felt such loving feelings towards him, we were kids and inseparable from one another when growing up. He was my first friend and constant companion, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without him in my life.

In the end, I gained two things – insight and better awareness of who my mother is, and real connection with my brother. The scenario that exposed the uncomfortable truths about my mother also allowed me to better see and bond with my brother. In my mind, the trade-off was worth it.

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