There is no Hallmark card for those who have strained relationships with their parents.

A concept that boggles my mind is that we’re supposed to accept blood-relations as family under all circumstances. Gaby sent me a great article called “Motherless by Choice” by Katie Naum. Ms. Naum’s mother wasn’t loving or supportive — she inflicted psychological terror and abuse. After years of trying to build up her self-esteem while her mother constantly tore her down, Ms. Naum escaped. She has cut off contact with her mother and has become happier, healthier, and more mentally stable.

I commented on Ms. Naum’s article to congratulate her for working on becoming the great woman she always had the potential to be. I assured her that there are many of us who have toxic relationships with our parents, so ignore the naysayers and people who don’t understand. I couldn’t believe that numerous commenters shamed her for removing her mother from her life. People quoted the Ten Commandments about “honoring your father and mother.” People warned that she would regret not making peace with her mother when her mother died.

My relationship with my mother hasn’t been as toxic as the author’s with her mother. But I related to Ms. Naum’s feelings. For years, I attempted to be the perfect, obedient daughter that she and my father expected me to be. Any time I would disagree with them, they would berate me for being ungrateful and insolent. My father constantly itemized how much supporting me cost. I blindly accepted everything they said as true. I thought my worth was based on their pride in me.

Father’s Day is on Sunday. I’ll be in Alpharetta for the day, as Brie needed someone to watch her while her nanny makes lunch and my parents go to church. I’m looking forward to having sister time without our parents or her nanny. I didn’t attend Mother’s Day, as I took a trip to California with Andrea and Shaina, instead. I don’t regret missing lunch with my mother that day — she was still harassing me because I don’t make spend enough time with “the family.” (Even if for the past several years, I would go there for lunch or dinner once a week. I don’t know any other people in their twenties who make that kind of effort, especially with parents who are the vortex of negativity in their lives.) Raf is in charge of getting our card, but there is no Hallmark card for those who have strained relationships with their parents.

Family’s involvement in your life should be conditional, just as it is with anyone else. Sharing genetics shouldn’t be a free pass to repeatedly tear someone down. Birthing someone doesn’t give you the right to consistently scream that you hope she fails, since her goals don’t aligned with yours. On the surface, I’ll be civil. But I can never be sincere about celebrating the days that praise the two biggest haters in my life.

Advertisements

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

I used to believe that my mother and I were like the Gilmore girls.

As with most kids, puberty wasn’t particularly easy for me. Angst and self-loathing plagued my middle school existence. In order to combat this, my mother and I talked constantly. She gave me formative talks on how to have self-esteem as a chubby kidthe importance of family, why religion is essential to being a good person, and how sex ruins an unmarried girl. I absorbed every word.

At the time, my mother and I were each other’s sounding boards. She discussed fights with my dad; I psychoanalyzed his motivations. I told her about petty drama at school; she insisted that friends came and went, but family was always there. We watched TV shows and movies together. We were best friends. Like Lorelai and Rory, we consulted each other on every decision. We had inside jokes. I idolized her.

When I met Andrea, I found a kindred spirit in someone my age. During high school, I made more friends of my own. My mother lashed out. She couldn’t understand why I would want to spend time with people who weren’t family. She didn’t comprehend why she wasn’t the only friend I needed.

By the time I got to college, I recognized that I had to escape this unhealthy codependency. It wasn’t fair for her to confide in me as a friend (about her and my dad’s marital woes) one moment and in the next moment, snap into mother mode, trying to dictate my every move. She always claimed she was psychic — that she would know when I was being disobedient. College proved that when I didn’t tell her anything, she had nothing to zone in on. She couldn’t interrogate me so that I’d crack and “confess.”

Though I’m the most stable and happiest I’ve ever been, my mother is always angry at me. She belittles every choice I’ve made without her. I’m the biggest disappointment of her life. These days, I’m like Lorelai (the supposed rebel) and she’s like Emily (the bourgeoisie housewife who insists that her daughter should have the best, which is her life).

We used to be like Lorelai and Rory, but I’m thankful that we haven’t been for years. It’s impossible to be friends (much less best friends) with your mother when she refuses to acknowledge you’ve grown up. It’s unlikely to get better until she realizes that we can have a relationship as adults. One day, I hope she understands that trying to control your daughter’s life isn’t the same as wanting what’s best for her.

Knowing how stubborn my mother is, though, I’m not holding my breath.

In the South, college football is a religion.

In the South, college football is a religion.

Prior to going to UGA, I never followed sports. The sport I knew most about was basketball (in that I could watch a game and was generally aware of what was happening). But something happens when you’re a student and there’s a home football game.

Saturdays in Athens are sacred.

Before each game, 90,000 fans file into Sanford Stadium. After the Dawgs warm up, the crowd is silent. A solo trumpeter from the Redcoats marching band plays “The Battle Hymn of the Bulldog Nation.” As the trumpeter holds the last note, the crowd roars and the game begins.

On Saturday mornings during senior year, we pitched our Young Dems tailgating tent on north campus next to Sanford Stadium. We usually arrived around 8AM, when fellow fans were already firing up their grills and drinking beers. Guys wore red or black polos and slacks. Girls wore red, black, and white game day dresses. Students, alumni, and random fans who never went to UGA united to cheer on the Dawgs.

Andrea didn’t get to experience living in a college town, as she went to NYU. Still, she visited us several times a semester. Some people were surprised that she didn’t actually go to school with us, since she was always there for our biggest parties. That year, she was in town for the LSU game. The Dawgs lost that game, but we had one of our best tailgates — booze, food, and a vodka spiked watermelon. Andrea borrowed one of my dresses and we spent the morning drinking and dancing with Ames and our other friends.

Big sunglasses helped shield our eyes from the glaring sun and also hide the drunken progression.

Andrea, me, & Ames. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

Andrea, me, & Ames. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

“Party in the USA” was our theme song that fall, so Andrea made sure to play it on loop.

Andrea blasting "Party in the USA" with a Dems blue party cup. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

Andrea blasting “Party in the USA” with a Dems blue party cup. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

Southern girls wear dresses to football games. Some people think it’s impractical. We call them haters.

Kate, Ames, Andrea, & me. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

Me, Kate, Ames, & Andrea. Athens, Georgia. 10.03.09.

Hopefully, the Dawgs will prevail against the Gamecocks today, in spite of the fact we aren’t going to be there for the game. Go Dawgs!

Patron saint of hypocrisy

How can I subscribe to
(your version of) religion
when you only ask God for what you want
and ignore the fundamental principle
“love your neighbor as yourself.”

You’re a vessel of hatred
while praying the rosary
(so my happiness disappears)
but the Holy Spirit won’t force me to
“honor my mother.”

When you implore me to go to Mass
and (in the same breath) deliver a diatribe
about things you don’t understand,
I hold my tongue and think,
“You need Jesus.”

Three deadly sins

I. Wrath

When Brie was diagnosed with autism, I became her defender. I was an aggressive crusader against people who said “retarded” or “retard” in a derogatory way (or ever, really).

Tenth grade was the height of my belligerence. On a bus ride after a marching band competition, an obnoxious drummer was impersonating a boy with Downs Syndrome from a rival band.

“I’m a reeetaaaard.” He kept repeating as he intentionally tripped down the bus aisle.

I tapped him on the shoulder and slapped him across the face as he turned around.

“What gives you the right to make fun of that boy?! You’re pathetic — making fun of a kid who can’t defend himself.”

“Damn — I was just joking, Sam.”

“Did it ever occur to you that he’s someone’s brother? Or maybe, that I’ve got a sister who’s in special ed? Or that other people do, too?”

“No it didn’t. Shit. I’m sorry.”

II. Envy

When you’re a former chubby girl, it’s hard to overcome body image issues even after you’ve lost weight. Most days, I believed what I saw in the mirror and in photos. Every once in awhile, old insecurities crept into the back of my mind.

Andrea is lovely. She has long eyelashes and brown hair. Her favorite food groups are cheese and bacon, but she’s naturally slim. She’s also one of the smartest and quirkiest people I know. We’ve been The Ridiculous for over a decade, so it’s uncertain whether we react to things similarly because we’ve been best friends so long, or if that’s why we became friends in the first place.

In college, there were times when guys (acquaintances, not friends or romantic prospects) would say,

“Your friend’s hot. Hook me up?”

I would laugh. “You wouldn’t stand a chance.”

Yet self-loathing mantras of days past persisted.

Your best friend is hot. You’re the funny, sassy one. Why would someone ever think you’re pretty?

III. Pride

When I was in middle school, there was no one more insufferable to have as a classmate than me. I went to a small Catholic school in Birmingham with less than fifty kids per grade (from preschool to eighth grade). I was the Filipino Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and due to the size of the school, most people knew it.

In eighth grade, my group of friends was constantly getting dragged into the guidance counselor’s office because of another group of girls. Our group was comprised of overachievers. We won the spelling and geography bees. We had the highest test scores. We genuinely liked and got along with our teachers.

The other group was comprised of the girls who were wearing full makeup in sixth grade. By eighth grade, they either were or knew people who were partying with their older siblings who went to the Catholic high school. The situation was a Taylor Swift song personified.

The other group’s queen bee and I would get into emailing wars. We accused each other of talking shit. Finally, our homeroom teachers staged an intervention, Mean Girls style. We gathered in a circle and each girl aired her grievances. Tears were shed. Everyone got along (for the moment).

Still, I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself because the queen bee claimed that our group was put on a podium, not a pedestal.

The Golden Rule

Holy Saturday, 2011

“We’re going to hell, bro.”

“Let’s toast to that, sis.”

I tapped my glass with Raf’s — bourbon & Diet Coke and rum & regular Coke respectively — and drank. We delivered the tithing envelope to St. Benedict’s earlier that evening. Rather than staying for Mass, we went to TJ’s, a sports bar, instead.

Our parents were never the wiser after these excursions. Raf always picked up a weekly bulletin from the vestibule and I kept Febreze in my car to neutralize the lingering stench of bar smoke. Reasoning with our parents about our lack of connection to the church resulted in the same monotonous lecture about faith and tradition.

“A toast — to our tradition –”

“– of having fun, instead of sitting through Mass.”

A random Sunday, summer 2012

Starbucks was surprisingly empty for a Sunday morning.

“How about a table on the patio?”

“Will we be able to hear anything?”

“You brought your earbuds, didn’t you?”

“Yeah — plus, we don’t wanna be those people watching a show while people are trying to do work in peace.”

“Watching and reacting to the show, you mean.”

Initially, I was skeptical. Game of Thrones sounded nerdy as hell. However, once we started watching the day before, we only stopped the marathon to eat and sleep. Somehow, we were more compelled by these fictional storylines than by any sermons we had heard.

Easter Sunday, 2013

“What is this — you guys get drunk so you don’t have to go to Mass?!”

We shrugged at our mother, wine glasses in hand.

“Too bad, you’ll just have to sober up. We’re going together as a family.”

An hour later while driving to church, we ignored our parents’ typical pre-church conversation.

“Stupid asshole just cut me off, Ting!”

“He’s probably a Korean. You know they can’t drive, Fran.”

“I hope it’s not Father Charles today. His sermons are so boring.”

“His Nigerian accent is hard to understand.”

I finally cut in. “You always fall asleep during his sermons. So what’s the point of going to Mass, when you get nothing out of it?”

“It’s important to go to Mass, anak.”

We exchanged exasperated looks. Our dad’s Filipino accent suddenly materialized, as it did whenever he was trying to impart wisdom. We tuned out the rest of the lecture. Today was no different from any other Sunday.

Still, we had hope. Treating others the way you wanted to be treated was the message we internalized from years of being dragged to church. Perhaps one day, our parents would realize the same.