Boxing day 2009 - I think I've finally achieved this elusive state. In order to get here, I had to spend nearly 30 years in the dark cave of Vancouver, going with low photon levels in exchange for useful tools and skill sets that are coming in very handy as I navigate life with mom, life in a small city where boundaries are very different than what I became used to, yet eerily familiar at the same time. Who said you can't go back home? I did, and feel much better for it.
Yesterday, I went to my mother's condo at her invitation for a Christmas dinner and present exchange. I gave her, she who loves Christmas bling, a Christmas floral arrangement, professionally produced and delivered locally, way last Monday, on Solstice day. This was my way of spreading the festivity out a bit more so that something important to me (solstice, photons etc.) would be symbolically included in a gift extended by me to her; so that the connection, the buried verb lying within my reach outward to her through a present, could be meaningful to both of us. It was a low montage of cedar and other coniferous greenery, red and white carnations, with a tall red candle sticking up out of the center. She thought it was beautiful and was glad to have it come a few days before Christmas so that she could enjoy it as part of her anticipation of the whole event. Win win.
We ate turkey breast cooked in the oven in a casserole dish, nestled in a bed of stove-top stuffing, to which she had added mushrooms (real, not from a can, she pointed out), onions, butter (not margarine like they put in the stuffing at the Wheatland, she pointed out); it was tasty for sure. Baked potato, half an acorn squash. Ice cream and apple-pear crisp for dessert. Some chokecherry wine. A lovely meal. Over the meal she reminisced about trips she had taken, funerals she had attended, music she liked, a cremation ceremony she'd been to recently. I noticed something in my brain not just nodding along dutifully, politely, but actually listening for subtext from her. "Do you want to be cremated?" I asked. "Yes," she said unhesitatingly, and laughed. "The church lets people do that now. None of this cold six-feet-deep needed if you're just ashes. At the graveyard the undertaker and the daughter together lowered a little square box into a shallow hole in the ground and put a piece of turf over the top." This led into a long side-topic about how dad used to tease her about how she parked. "He used to say, "You always like to leave a way out for yourself, don't you?"" And then she laughed again at the memory. Her way of parking is to leave a huge space beside her and whatever big four-by-four she has to park beside, even if her car sticks out a foot into a laneway, over-riding, or even parked squarely on top of, do-not-obstruct yellow hatch marks in the parking lot. She simply ignores yellow hatch. When it comes to parking, she appears to be yellow-hatch blind. And ticket-proof! The woman takes her space. Always has. I think she feels a touch claustrophobic at the thought of being in a coffin, buried...
Her boundaries have always been thick and tough. My experience as her only child (for the first 3.5 years at least), with her as my mom, was that approaching her was like approaching a large invisible deflector shield, one I bounced off almost every single time I ever tried to get close. After awhile I didn't bother trying anymore. She was never as approachable as she tried to portray herself as being. She wanted contact only whenever she wanted contact, and I was forced to accommodate myself to her. I was treated as her project, part of her bling collection, something she could dress up and curl the hair of and take out and show off. The rest of the time I was to be quiet and unobtrusive. I learned nothing of how to be a truly social human from her, not really. Anyone reading this will be relieved to learn that I did my therapy time and that this is all "water under the bridge," a phrase she likes to use, and that I won't bore readers with too many details.... long ago I asked for, and received in writing, an apology for her physical abuse dished during my childhood, but to try to explain any maternal emotional dearth she might have also dished is something she would find totally incomprehensible. She is confident that she did just fine, thank you very much. I turned out OK, didn't I? Is that not proof? So we go on.
What can I say, except that I need photons, especially in winter? I did not really need to be around my mother. At least huge parts of me did not. However, that having been said, I'm not one to pass up any last chance to understand, maybe, in retrospect, how life came to feel so pointy and sharp my whole way through it. While I'm here enjoying the feeling of having my personal brain photon tank slowly filling up again, I am cautiously exploring this old, painful, resurrected relationship with the one person in the world to whom I owe everything and nothing, depending upon which side of myself perceives her.
Anyway, so far, so good. Exercising psychic integration could feel worse. Whether my mind frames it as dragon-slaying or merely as sedate familial adjustment, I'm sure it will all be of personal benefit at some point. Something in there is feeling successful about something, and just now that's all that matters.
I opened up a gift from her, a huge box, inside which was packed a slow-cooker. Perfect, because I usually get distracted and burn things when I cook, which is irregularly. Thanks mom. Also, she gave me a set of 24 Sharpies with fine tips. She had seen me admiring them in Walmart. I make a lot of doodle drawings. I go through a lot of Sharpies. So this was a great present.
I gave her a big shiny green gift bag full of edible things - a Christmas pudding, a box of Christmas cake, some candied ginger, some halva (which I remember her enjoying from when I was a child), some boxed truffles, and a set of one-handed salt and pepper grinders I have had for absolute ages, complete with little bags of extra salt chunks and pepper corns for refill. She thought this was all too much. Maybe it was. I've given her nothing but a card for years and years and years, and for a long time before that, nothing, not even a card. So it didn't seem extravagant to me, not for a first Christmas spent together in decades, and just her and me to boot. But I may have over-compensated. Maybe there is still a pocket or two of buried, unearthed guilt to deal with. I'll find and deal with it consciously, rather than continue to buy her too many Christmas presents after buying her nothing for decades.
She was anxious to open a large box from my sister that had arrived addressed to both of us. We opened it up, and it contained a necklace for her, a framed photo for her of my sister and her husband, and for me a large plastic recycle bin and some home-made chutney. On the card attached to the recycle bin, she had written my name and that it was one of the "plunge buckets" she had used to help her foot feel better, after fracturing a few bones in it last summer, at my urging to do contrast foot soaks. Mom called her, and we each talked to her for awhile. It had a nice connecty family feel to it.
About 9:30PM, the evening wound down, and I packed up my things for the walk home just up the block.