Today marks 11 weeks of pregnancy. I honestly cannot believe I’ve made it this far; I feel like I’ve been saying that with each passing day and week. It’s been an emotional, bumpy, and anxiety-filled road to get here, but somehow, I made it. I can only hope and pray that things will continue to progress.
It’s been known that as gestational age increases (so as your pregnancy progresses), the chances of miscarriage slowly but surely decrease to minuscule numbers. While that is comforting to know, the frustrating thing is that the worry of miscarriage is just replaced by worries of other matters: what kind of mom am I going to be? How can I be supportive without being stifling? How do I create a safe space for my child to share with me? How am I going to juggle work and parenthood? How are my partner and I going to be as parents and partners together, as we’re inevitably going to have different perspectives and opinions on how to approach situations that arise? Am I going to repeat all the same stupid things that I hated that my own parents did with me?
I was talking with my therapist about this during our session this morning, how I feared being exactly what I hated about my parents, and specifically my mother. I think it’s pretty impossible for me to be like my father; he’s emotionally removed, childish, and never really took an active parenting role with my brother and me other than to yell at and criticize us; there’s really no way I could be that way because I’m inherently not built that way. My default is to be loving and affectionate, so my deeper fear is that I’m going to suffocate and stifle the growth and independence of my child the way my mother tried to…. likely without even being aware of it. I’m an adult now and thus have had a lot of time to contemplate my parents’ style of parenting, and while I’m very aware that they probably did the best they knew how and certainly gave my brother and me more than they ever dreamed of having…. it just was not enough.
“Do you feel like you grew up in a safe, supportive environment?” my therapist asked me today.
“That depends on how you define a ‘safe, supportive environment,'” I responded slowly, looking back hard at her.
“Well, that’s an interesting response and says a lot; tell me how you define that,” she suggested.
From the outside, I’m sure it looks like my brother and I had enough. We never worried about having a roof over our heads; we always lived in the same house growing up, in a house our family owned. We always had enough food to eat and beds to sleep in. Our parents always bought us clothes and school supplies when we needed them. Both our parents were married to each other and were there every night; we never worried if our parents were going to come home or not. But that’s really it: we had, what I consider to be, basic necessities of being children growing up in a developed world. If we had to grade that, I’d give that a C: passing. That’s just the basics that are expected for decent parenting. And unfortunately, many parents are not able to provide the basics outlined above to their kids, which puts their kids in danger of many things as they grow up in this cruel, unfair world. So.. a C grade is really where it begins.
But we grew up being brainwashed into thinking we were poor; my parents always said “no” to pretty much everything; we never had any piano or dance lessons, no sports activities, not even Chinese classes. The response was always “we can’t afford that.” Ed never got to go to a single birthday party growing up; we certainly never got real birthday parties where we could invite friends. Ed, as a result, never really made friends throughout school and was extremely lonely. I was never allowed to go to anyone’s home or sleep over anywhere; if I went out with a friend, my mom had to have a 1:1 conversation with the parent to suss out whether they were “good people” that wouldn’t rape and kill their daughter. In other words, our parents tried to instill a deep distrust of the outside world to us and make us feel like we had to be grateful to even have the most basic necessities. “Even dogs know to show appreciation and gratitude,” my mom used to retort to Ed and me when she felt we were acting “spoiled,” which according to my dad, was really often.
When we did things that didn’t please our mother, she would often sit us down for long, useless talks about how we have to be grateful to have what we have and have parents who work as hard as they do because her mother didn’t do “a damn thing for me.” “You should be grateful I am sitting down to have this talk with you; my mother never would sit down to talk to me about anything,” she’d say, bitterly. She was supposed to be the disciplinarian while all my dad did was provide financial support and constant criticism in the background.
Ed’s relationship with our dad was pretty terrible; there’s no sugar coating that. From a young age, Ed felt rejected by our dad. He would always want and seek his attention to constantly be rejected by my dad, too eager to spend time doing repairs at the apartments or talking to himself senselessly as though he had some mental issue. During fights, my mom used to accuse my dad of wanting to spend time at the rental properties more than with his own family; that was likely very true. Occasionally, he’d even shoo us away and say, “can’t you see I’m talking to myself?” We had no idea what was going on. Ed eventually gave up trying to get our father’s attention and started outright ignoring him at a pretty young age; I think he was only 13 or 14. A supportive dad would have recognized his son was retreating and addressed it, but my dad was too immature and instead responded by doing the exact same thing and ignoring HIS SON, not even referring to him by name and instead pointing at him or saying “that guy.” He never acknowledged his birthday from that point onward until after Ed died. When he did interact with Ed, it was to criticize him or yell at him about something.
In addition, home was never a safe space for sharing pretty much anything. In fact, it felt like a constant surveillance zone where any of my belongings could be searched without warning; I literally had no personal space at home, and neither did Ed. Even my computer files were searched! No matter what, Ed and I were always wrong, and they were always right. When Ed was getting hit by his elementary school teacher (clearly a violation…), he didn’t feel safe enough to tell my parents because my mom would yell at him and say “Teacher is always right! you listen to your teacher!” After Ed died, my mom found an essay my brother wrote during college detailing this. “If I knew this had happened, I never would have let him stay in that class,” my mom mumbled. Well, maybe if she had actually created a an emotionally safe space for him to share, maybe, just maybe her son would have told her this.
My dad, who never did well in school at all, used to criticize anything that wasn’t an A, and would be especially harsh about standardized tests, which I always did just-okay at. In elementary school, I was particularly terrible at them; I still remember in fifth grade, I scored in the 59th percentile for math (I was slow; what can I say? It wasn’t that I didn’t know how to do it; I didn’t do well with limited time, which is clearly a learned skill). When my dad saw the test results, he called me an idiot and asked how I could I be so stupid. I got so upset that I actually cried; remember: I was TEN YEARS OLD when he said this. That wasn’t even the first time he had insulted or name-called me; my first memories of my dad name calling me were as early as 5 years old. Usually, my mom didn’t care if my dad criticized us, but this time, she actually pulled him aside to tell him he screwed up. I was actually shocked. He never quite apologized, but he did say to me later, “I didn’t mean to call you stupid.” And then to make it worse, he suggested I not be so sensitive. Sure, you didn’t mean it. Who sounds like the idiot now?
My mom, instead of talking with me about how classes were going, would not talk to me about school at all. Instead, she would go through my binder, which included homework and test results, and then yell at me whenever she saw anything that was less than an A or a B (B- is basically a C, according to my dad). She also used to go through letters and notes friends would send and give me and question every little thing that people wrote me, exploding if there was ever a mention of her or my dad in there. Once, she even had me call a friend to grill her to ask what she meant by something my friend made a broad-stroked comment on my parents about. I used to tell her that those were private and weren’t meant for her to see; she’d yell and say that she raised me and supports me, and therefore she has a right to do whatever she wants as long as I was under her roof.
When I did have hobbies, like middle and high school journalism or choir, my parents took no interest. My mom would always say she’d be too tired from work to come to the choir concerts. My dad went to one choir concert and fell asleep. When my aunt took an interest in my writing for the newspapers, she followed up with me after the first publication and read my work. She raved to my parents about how gifted I was. This was when I was 13 and in eighth grade. That resulted in an all-out screaming session: my mom was so insulted and said she had “no face” that I didn’t tell her and my dad but told my aunt. I insisted I did tell them both, but they didn’t listen and never asked to read my work. She yelled back and said they were “very busy” and “didn’t have time” to ask me; it was MY responsibility to share the newspapers with them, and by not sharing it when them but sharing with my aunt, I was being a bad daughter and making THEM look like bad parents. She demanded I write an apology letter to the two of them; I refused and never did it. I was young then, but I knew I was absolutely in the right no matter how demented their thinking was. It’s a parent’s job to show interest in their child; it’s not my job as a child to constantly remind my parents to take an interest in ME and MY interests. I was relatively young when I started realizing how wrong my parents were, but this is one of those moments that always sticks out to me.
Given the above, if Ed and I had ever been involved in sports or any regular activity, we all know our parents would have not only NOT supported it, but they would have made zero effort to ever come to games/shows/etc. If it wasn’t directly school related, they wouldn’t support it. They didn’t understand that getting into Stanford wasn’t just about good grades and test scores… but then again, how could they since neither of them had ever really had the opportunity for school (mom), or cared about school (dad)? Whenever I had friends’ events, I always had to ask to catch a ride from another parent because “Your dad works so hard. He works harder than every other father (!!!). How can you expect him to drive you here and there for all these unnecessary things?” Everything, pretty much, was deemed “unnecessary.”
So, it should come as no surprise that I looked forward to getting the hell out of that house as quickly as I could, and not only that, once I left, I had zero intention of ever moving back. It wasn’t that I had no intention of ever coming back to San Francisco; I had zero desire to ever move back into that house, which my subconscious perceived as a mortuary or cemetery (my dreams reflected this): nothing thrives or grows there. The garden my grandma once nurtured that once upon a time, was actually something you’d call a “garden,” sadly evolved into a sea of weeds. The kitchen is peeling with fixtures that are still there from when my grandpa was still around in the 70s. The floors are creaky and there’s a mysterious draft that flows through the second floor of the building. It’s just bad vibes and negative energy all around.
Things only got worse as I got older and started having boyfriends.. and exercising my freedom. The more I showed that I could do what I wanted and she had no control over any of it, the more my mother acted out and screamed, futilely attempting to exert her nonexistent control over me. I repeatedly got told I was a prostitute, a slut, had “no face,” that no one in the family respected me for having a boyfriend. I was repeatedly screamed at in public because of my supposedly promiscuous ways. In retrospect, my parents really had no fucking clue how good they had it with Ed and me; we barely did anything was really “bad” from a teen perspective. My mom also loved to repeatedly make up stories about all my boyfriends and their families… because apparently she knew more about them all than I ever did. She still makes up stories about Chris and his family to this day, likely out of jealousy and just pure hatred for anyone else that’s not “in our immediate family.”
I thought about all this as I watched parts of our wedding video over again last night. Not only does it amaze me that Chris just smiles and nods in my parents’ presence to this day, but it also amazes me that I said such nice, loving things about both my parents at our welcome dinner and our wedding reception. I apparently wanted, very much, to paint a picture of love and mutual respect between my parents and me that didn’t really exist. While I did mean that my life’s privileges are very much due to my parents giving me a better life than they had, I turned into the person I am today very much in spite of them and their constant hate-filled, baseless criticisms and threats.
As a hopeful mom, I hope to never recreate these senseless, stupid moments with my child. I want to create a safe, supportive, emotionally open space with my child. But I also don’t want to let my child run around rule-less. For whatever reason, all these memories have been flooding back into my mind over the last week, and they’ve been pretty anger inducing.
“Just the fact that you are thinking about this and are conscious of it means that you won’t do the same things,” my therapist said to me. “Awareness is key here.”
I hope so.