That’s how I remember it, this tearful phone call I made to my mother when I told her I was failing calculus and wasn’t so sure if I would get through the semester. I told her I didn’t want to study business anymore and that I wanted to pursue an undergraduate degree in something I could be great at.
When I tell people this anecdote, I end it with my mom securing a very cute math tutor for me and with me emerging with a C at the end of the term. I went on to graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in management. It’s a story about tough love and finding ways to endure and succeed.
Yet I also look at this moment in my life that illustrates one of the many ways my mother and I struggle to get on the same wavelength.
She’s a CPA—all numbers and logic. She is deeply religious. She goes to Mass every day. Her politics are conservative. She’s not big on pop culture. She struggles to keep up with technology and the zeitgeist of young people.
They’re all endearing to me now but growing up, these traits of hers always got us into conflicts. I’m the total opposite of all of them.
Both of us are loudly opinionated and strong-willed though that I don’t even have the energy to revisit all the fights that had us yelling into the wind. Most of the big fights came to head while I was in college.
She was worried about the kind of adult I was growing (or not growing) into. I never once doubted her intentions or her concerns, but when we kept fighting the way we did about viable careers, the boys I dated, violating curfew, etc., I started feeling like an exhausting investment that wasn’t yielding the gains she was expecting.
It’s the same metaphor I flung at her, when I had to listen for the nth time that I was beholden to the education she was subsidizing for me. Probably because of the nth time I didn’t adhere to her vision of what a good daughter looked like. So I started behaving like an asset, not a daughter. My mother didn’t have the bandwidth to examine my passions, rebellions, and fears. I didn’t have it in me either to step into hers.
I had it in my head that all I needed to do was get through college and get financially independent, get all debts squared off. I didn’t want to disappoint her anymore and that plan kept me motivated to chug along through accounting, finance, and operations management. The plan was to suck it up no matter how unhappy and stressed my classes were making me.
Then my senior year came along and hurled something I wish could say I didn’t see coming—my boyfriend broke up with me.
At age 21, fueled by passion, rebellion, and fear, this boyfriend was my entire world. The breakup was the precise event that tipped the scales and sent me spiraling into a depression. Depression and I are familiar with each other. This particular one had me retreating into my room to sleep whole weekends and forgetting to shower or eat.
I didn’t lose sight of my plan though. I still did my school work and I showed up to my classes, but I went off the rails and was on self-sabotage mode with everything else. I felt worthless and wanted nothing but to crawl into a hole. Everything felt apocalyptic and I felt like no one could see or hear me.
But my mother did.
She saw everything that was happening. She sat me down and asked me if I wanted to go into therapy. It was in that moment that I didn’t realize how much I wanted her to recognize how much pain I was in. When she did acknowledge it, I started feeling my feet on the ground again. That gesture was the impetus that set me towards picking myself up.
We started spending time in a way we hadn’t done in a long time. Every Saturday of the week, she’d drive me to see my doctor. She would wait outside the clinic while I cried and tried to make sense of my emotions and impulses.
She didn’t back down when my issues got even more complicated. When my alcohol consumption started teetering on the edge of addiction, she also brought me to the hospital when my body started turning against me.
It took years to pull myself completely out of it, but the minute my mother chose to be there for me unconditionally, I started recognizing all the other forces in my life that can help keep me whole.
It was the first time I understood what a parent’s heart looks like.
To me, it was witnessing how my mother took my mental health seriously even when she had no clue what we were all getting into. It’s recognizing this instinct that transcends all the nightmares we subject each other to, in order to kindle the lights that are in danger of dying out.
It paved the way for us to finally have a relationship with each other. When given an idea of how bad a situation can get for us, we slowly started letting go of all the unrealistic expectations we had of each other.
It’s not the perfect relationship, what I have with her. We still fight, we still don’t really let each other all the way in, but we’re friends.
Now that I have my own daughter, it’s all I can hope to do, that I’ll be able to see her even when I do not understand.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in her private capacity and do not in any way represent the views of Preen.ph, or any other entity of the Inquirer Group of Companies.