This trip has been quite the whirlwind, and I’m just over the halfway mark. The first two weeks I spent in California visiting my mom, whom I hadn’t seen in seven years. The whole time I felt like I was walking on eggshells. I got to reconnect with my siblings, aunts, uncles and grandparents as well, though, and that made my time in California easier to handle.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know that one of the biggest issues between my mom and me is the fact that I sleep with men and don’t go to church. I can’t even tell her that I’m bi for fear that she would once again start haranguing me to get me to go to church.
This time, though, I think we finally made some headway. She pulled me outside and wanted me to explain to her why I liked guys. A conversation we’ve tried to have a couple times before, the first time when I was 17 and came out to her. This time, rather than allowing myself to get pulled into a conversation about my “choice”, I simply put my foot down and said she didn’t have to like it, but she had to accept it and move on if we were to have any sort of relationship. For awhile she kept trying to draw me into a conversation about choices and whys, but eventually she gave in and said she would at least try to accept the things she cannot change. A baby step that was a long time coming, but a step forward nonetheless.
I even agreed to go to church with her for an hour of sacrament, with all of my siblings in tow–two of whom also don’t ever attend, and two of whom aren’t old enough to really make that decision for themselves. The three of us who separated ourselves from the Mormon church didn’t see the point of her dragging us to church, but if it made her feel nice, then we were willing to sacrifice an hour of our lives.
But still, my mom’s personality makes it hard to talk with her about pretty much anything. In truth, she’s the sort of person I wouldn’t spend time with normally. Too caught up in her own opinion to try to see other people’s perspectives, too sure of her correctness to take any sort of constructive criticism without feeling attacked.
But then there is the other part of my family who actually aren’t technically family anymore–the family of the man who raised me, my mom’s first husband and my stepdad. Since he and my mom divorced, neither he nor his family are technically part of mine, and yet I felt so much more like myself reconnecting with them than I did with the woman who birthed me.
I hadn’t seen my stepdad’s brother, sister and mom – or more correctly, my uncle, aunt and grandma – in probably 13 years, but it was as if I had just seen then yesterday. I felt so safe being myself and had so many meaningful conversations that it was always tough leaving them to go back to the eggshells at my mom’s house.
It pained me to find out how much it hurt them that I lost contact with them when I left for uni and Europe. But they also could understand my reasons. At first I pulled away because I was so heartbroken by my mom’s reaction when I came out that I couldn’t bear facing that sort of rejection from everyone else. But as time went on, I stayed distant because I didn’t want to hurt my mom’s feelings by being closer to them than to her, and because I would have had to go through her to contact anyone since I didn’t have any of their contact info when I left for uni.
Now I realize that that decision was a mistake; I should have kept in touch with them regardless of how close I was rather than letting my relationship to her impact my relationships with everyone else. But rather than my family getting pissed at me for it, we just talked about things and were happy to spend time together. I wish it could be like that with my mom, who feels like the furthest thing from family.
After two weeks in California I headed to Washington, D.C. for a week to visit my stepdad and his new wife and kids. And even though they, like my mom, are Mormons, it was such a laid back week full of fun times and much laughter. I refer to him here as my stepdad to keep things simple in case I ever refer to my father, but he is the guy who raised me (until he and my mom divorced) and will always be my dad. And his wife is also tons of fun. Rather than walking on eggshells, I spent the week feeling completely relaxed, laughing about how it was raising a little shit like me and anything else that occurred to us.
After that I headed to Toronto for a week for my first Jewish wedding with a bunch of my friends from Vienna—a good number of the ones I consider family. It was a blast, and I was definitely still in recovery mode yesterday as I sat on the bus to New York City, where ill spend the next part of my trip.
There are people who are in your life because you share blood, but I don’t think that is the strongest bond there is—not by a long shot—and not necessarily a reason to keep people in your life. I think true family are the people who best understand you, who can accept you for who you are, who can see your flaws and see past them as well. Love is not a given; it’s earned, as are trust and respect, and all three are prerequisites for me to see someone as family.
I wish that it were different with my mom, but I also refuse to force a relationship that just isn’t there. Now that she’s taken a baby step, maybe things will eventually change, and I’m definitely open to things changing for the better. But for now, I am more than content with the family that was technically lost in the divorce and the family I’ve gained along the way.