A few months back, my family nearly fell apart. Here’s how it all went down from my mom’s perspective. In this post, mom describes our war of words.
Note: last week, my dad took over my blog with poems. This week, my mom takes over my blog with an in-depth discussion of how our family imploded and came back together. These are some of the toughest posts I’ve ever published. Except for minor stylistic changes, these are unedited. Love you mom, dad, and sis. P.S. I’m moving out March 1st…cause I’m all growned up now!
Circumstances Leading up to the Despair and Darkness in our Family
We live in Toronto. Josh and Sabrina both left for university many years ago: Sabrina to Waterloo, Josh to Vancouver. Naturally, being closer, Sabrina would come back home often, even after she began working in Ottawa. We felt that those visits went very well.
ME: It’s cold outside, sweetie. Maybe you’d like to put on a little scarf.
SABRINA: (Lips tightening.)
Josh finished UBC, then stayed to work in Van. We saw him rarely. When we did things were stiff and uncomfortable. Should we have insisted that he talk to us about how his life had gone, instead of just taking his word for it that things were fine, just fine. Okay, he didn’t open any communication doors but then neither did we. We knew there’d been difficult times but then it’s university, right? It’s always a shock to the system, especially when it’s your first time living away from home. For everybody. Right?
Josh came home for the summers and lived with us. It always went very badly. You know the drill. The parent starts acting like a parent, leading the adult child who’s been living totally independently to act like a child, leading to…well, more of the same only worse. Josh was miserable living with us; and we weren’t too crazy about it either. Communication, already pretty bad, became tattered.
He went to New York to work for a while, came home even unhappier. Stayed with us for a very tense, stressful time, then got a place of his own. But hey, our boy was finally back in Toronto to stay. We’d get to see a lot more of him. Yaaaay! Everything would be just wonderful. Yeah? Right? Am I right?
I mean, what are the odds of anything going wrong in that scenario?
Over the next 2 years, things between him and us became more strained and distant. I began to seriously worry that I was losing him. When we did see him, conversations went like this:
ME: Hey, how’s the basketball going?
-How’s the job, okay?
-So this Improv comedy stuff you’re involved with. Do you, like, actually improvise the whole thing? I mean no one does that eh, hah hah.
JOSH: Yes they do.
One notable time we had an emotional breakthrough and it seemed as if we were going to be okay. But it was short-lived and things between us became ever more strained. I worried all the time. All the time. This amazing son with whom I’d felt so connected, whom I loved and admired beyond belief was going…going…would ‘gone’ be next?
I thought of ways to get him alone so we could talk but by then the constriction between us was so thick that it felt like a trying to make my way through a wall of marshmallow.
In the meantime another huge change. A year prior, Sabrina had dropped everything in Ottawa to go down to San Francisco and intern with a famous fundraiser whose methods she esteemed enormously. That year became absolutely life-altering for her. Our kids had always basically made the correct decisions about their own lives but even so, Kent and I worried about Sabrina’s sudden (and quite out of character) decision. But we realized quickly that she’d done the right thing and were really happy for her.
ME: What, you’re living in an apartment with how many people? Six? In Haight Ashbury? And you’re bicycling to work every day? To the Presidio?? Which is up hills all the way? Oy I’m having a panic attack.
Meantime Josh had talked about seeing his sister in SF. We’d previously gone down to California every year to visit Kent’s really great family. California had always been restorative when we were there as a family unit. Being away from Toronto, I figured, would relax Josh, we’d have a truly great visit, everything would be sooo perfect.
Easy-peasey. Problem solved. Right? Am I right? What are the odds of…yeah, I know.
In SF, Sabrina took us walking all over her city, which was wonderful. She and Josh spent a lot of time together, connecting, talking. And that was great. But when Kent and I joined the equation, Josh’s hostility towards us was palpable.
He didn’t say a word to us all the way back to Toronto, except to tell us he would find his own transportation from the airport to downtown.
Josh had been writing a blog which I’d avidly followed because damn it he’s a terrific writer. Yeah, there were things in it that were a bit, y’know, uncomfortable for even the most doting of mummies to read, but to be fair, Josh had asked us not to read it. Okay, well I’m from the dark ages. I kept a locked diary with pieces of brilliance like “Steve Levy accidentally walked beside me in fire drill!!! Does that mean he’s going to ask me out??!! Omigod what if he kisses me? What if he.. opens his mouth??”
But Josh was putting his thoughts, feelings out for the world to see. And doing it with style and intelligence. Well I’m in that world. I like great writing. So I read it.
However, after the California trip I couldn’t bring myself to read anything he wrote for a couple of weeks. One day I turned to it hoping that it might cheer me up. His topic was ‘traveling to California with family’. Ooh, great, I smiled, perking up. He’ll talk about what a great time he had. Anyone care to take odds on how right I was? No? Thought not.
The piece was a (warning: my opinions here) a screed about how perfectly disastrous his parents were. Always arguing, bumbling around, embarrassing him. The California trip was the worst time of his life. And on. And on.
I was hurt. And finally – finally – really, really angry. But mostly hurt. As it turned out, I didn’t at that time know the meaning of the word hurt.
I wrote him a short note basically calling the blog puerile and immature and not even particularly well-written. That I still loved him and respected him though. I sat on it for a week debating whether or not to send it; I finally did.
I should mention that up ‘til this point I had not included Kent in the discourse because this was just me to Josh. Also, Kent had actually respected Josh’s request to not read his blog. Imagine that.
Josh fired back with a very long letter full of recriminations. A letter that was…kinda…awful. Deeply hurtful to me and Kent but more importantly, full of deep lingering hurts in Josh, going back many years. Oh, and, he copied the whole discourse to Kent and Sabrina.
Hurt, everywhere. From Josh, from us. Kent totally totally stunned, shaken. We spent that whole day worrying, deconstructing every sentence, every word Josh had written.
KENT: I’m not like that, am I? That bad?
ME: No, of course not.
SABRINA: (writing from SF where her job was a total immersion.) I’m getting on a plane! I’m coming home. I need to be there!
ME: No no, sweetie. I have broad shoulders. (as my shoulders slumped.) We love you, we’ll keep you in the loop.
What we realized was that Josh’s incendiary letter to us was – you should pardon the metaphor – like a pimple bursting and pus spurting out all over the place. I wrote to Josh. Please, I begged, please can we talk? Maybe you with me, and you with dad. Separately. Please do this. Please talk to me.
Secretly I was convinced it was too late, that I had indeed lost my son whom I loved beyond belief. I cannot remember ever feeling so bereft.
But – mirabile dictu! -he wrote back right away. Yes, he wanted very much to talk with each of us. Yes, he would take a walk with dad, then me. We’d talk. He wanted to. My first reaction was, oh, how wonderful, I’m so happy. My immediate second reaction was oh, I’m terrified.
Kent got the first walk/talk. I watched Josh and Kent come home from their walk, both talking gesturing and animatedly, happily. So far, so great!
My turn. Breathe.
For me, the stuff I’d wanted to say came out. I’d spent a lot of time trying to control my interactions with him so it was a bit hard to finally speak out. But there were no recriminations from either of us, just positive stuff. I’d known that Josh’s life contained some major traumas but it wasn’t until he revealed them – or at least the ones he chose to reveal – that I knew the extent of them. So much pain of which we’d been totally unaware.
(EVERY ADULT CHILD: Mum you were never there for me during that terrible painful time when I (FILL IN THE BLANK.)!!!
EVERYMUM: (ALL TOGETHER NOW, SHOUT IT OUT!!) But I didn’t know!!!!!)
Over frozen yogurt we talked about where to go from here. Josh suggested phoning each other every day. We must talk, he says, we must begin to be honest with each other.
Honesty? Me? Lying has always got me by in the past but I’m willing to give this honesty thing a try.
Will that work? Both ways? Have there been too many lumpy bits through the years, too much left unsaid? Honestly? I wasn’t ready to trust it yet.
Image courtesy of Katie Beahan.
Find out the crazy thing that happened next in Part Three, tomorrow…