Monday, August 22, 2011

What we think we know

I read The Joy Luck Club in one sitting on a flight from New York to London.

Doesn't that sound romantic?

Truth is, I was in college, and I was helping a friend's mom "chaperone" her high school English students on one of those 10-day guided tours of London and Paris. It was a fun experience.

But back to the book.

I was hooked from the start by the story of the goose and the feather and the mom wanting to use it to tell her daughter all her stories.

Then Amy Tan goes immediately to the days after the mom's death, and her daughter casually remarks that she doesn't know anything about her mother.

That sets off her mother's friends who instantly begin regaling her with "Remember this?" and "Remember that?" They insisted that she did know her mother, and the implication is they fear their own daughters don't really know them.

I remember when I read this book in college, I related completely with the daughter. I felt like I didn't know anything about my mother--at least not as an actual person who'd had real life experiences.

In a way, I still feel like that sometimes. Just a little.

Now we're here, and I see my little daughters struggling with the stress of the biggest move in their lives (so far). My youngest daughter, the one who broke down crying at the news we were moving 850 miles due north of the only home she'd ever known announced today that she's having a wonderful time!

She loves it here!!!

My oldest, the one who was so excited to return to the city where she was born, who couldn't wait to see snow, and who told her little sister not to be afraid, "it's going to be an adventure," announced yesterday at breakfast she wants to go home.

I feel all torn up inside.

On the one hand, I understand exactly how my eldest feels. She wants familiarity. She wants to know that today when she goes to school, she's going to see the same faces, sites, and sounds she's been seeing since she was old enough to remember.

I get that.

But I keep telling her to hang on. The longer we're here, the longer we'll have been here. The more familiar it'll be, the more faces she'll recognize. Just hang in there.

I want to tell her my story of coming here for the first time ten years ago. Back then she was my little feather, a secret in my womb, and I held onto her as I willingly gave up everything I'd ever known and my life quietly began to change.

I planned to wait until she was old enough to understand, but now I fear that day will never come. That as time passes, feelings change. And memories sound different out loud, in the present than they do in one's heart, in the past.

This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions...

Do we ever know people the way they want us to know them? Do people ever know us the way we want them to?

It's a thought that's buzzing in my head now that I'm out of the cave. Maybe it's time for a new opening paragraph.

Til Thursday~ <3


Laura Pauling said...

Sometimes it happens. The more open and honest we are I'd say the more people really know us. Hope your kids adjust soon!

Creepy Query Girl said...

the truth? I didn't see my parents as people in and of themselves until I was a junior in college. That was when they had this big mid life crisis and my mom wanted to leave my father and as their own emotion esculated, their sensors about who they were talking to went down completely and I learned who both of them really were as people. Lemme tell you, it's a hard thing to come to terms with. Because we realize our parents aren't perfect. not at all. Their human. But now that I'm getting older and my own kids are growing up- I made a promise to myself to always be 'real' with them. They shouldn't have to learn who I really am when they're 20 years old. They see my temper. They see my sense of humor. They know how I laugh and love and they know I'll always give it to them straight and be there for them to talk to when they're worried or upset until their world makes sense again.

Old Kitty said...

I'm still discovering stuff about my mum - even at my grand ol age! I tend to think the feeling's mutual. I doubt we will ever actually know each other - not really, not profoundly - but I hope we know enough to have a strong - if a little strained at times! - bond!

Take care

Jessica Bell said...

Very thought-provoking ... I'm not sure anybody sees who we really are. I think we all keep so much of ourselves behind a wall. And I think that happens the older we get. We get hurt and we protect ourselves, or protect others from feeling the same thing by not letting them in. As for children knowing their parents, I think children know less about their parents than their friends or acquaintences. I think parents do too much protecting in general, meaning they try too hard to be strong for their kids and therefore sacrifice showing their true emotions. I think that's sad. But I also think that's just life. :o)

Unknown said...

I've been thinking of that questions a lot lately. I recently picked up a small black notebook and have been keeping little sayings and advice that I live by so that if something happens to me he can try and understand who I was.

Summer Ross said...

Whenever I look at my two girls I think about how they know me. Ultimately, I have to be a mother more than I can be their friend. A friend can share the bad and the good with them, a mother has to be supportive and protective. I have to question if I really want my girls to "know" me the way I want them to. I think I'll ponder on it a few more years before deciding. For now I'm just mom and everything happens magically.
Great Post!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Sounds like your little ones are doing just what they should - adjusting. And it's hard, but the best thing we can do is to help our kids endure hard things, because that is how they grow strong. Someday, they will both look back and think "Well, we moved across the country, and I survived that. I can survive this too."

Hang in there, sweets!

PK HREZO said...

Oh! I really get you here. I wonder this all the times about my parents. Am I really getting to know them like I should?? My free time is almost nil these days... will I regret not getting to know more about them someday??? It's so easy to forget they had full lives before we came along.
And as for my own kids (who start school tomorrow in first grade and kindy) they will never understand what it means until grandma and grandpa are gone.
I'm sure it's tough right now with a new school and all for your daughter. Just keep telling yourself she'll be ok. These are the things that make strong, independent women. Understanding you will survive and get thru.
*sending them and you lots of good vibes and hugs for an excellent new year*
BTW saw The Help this weekend... it was so GREAT!! :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Leigh .. I think some people have that lucky connection with parents and child .. and are open with each other .. as open as can be.

Sadly I didn't - and of course now wish I did .. but such is life.

Good luck with yours .. change is good for all of us - lots of learning curves there. All will be well - cheers Hilary

Jennie Bailey said...

Isn't it interesting how your daughters actually changed their minds? What an unexpected turn! I'm sure by this time next year, oldest daughter won't even remember making that comment. She'll be settled in and loving it as well. Kids are so very resilient.

I'm a completely open book. To a fault sometimes, I think. Not everyone truly wants to know the real you. I have a friend who is the exact opposite of me. She's closed tight. Has been since high school. We make an odd pair of friends. I think we play well of each other though. I just have to remember to respect her boundaries.

M Pax said...

The eldest will adjust in time. It's still all so new and she has to start at a new school. That can be daunting if you don't know anybody.

Tell the stories. Let them know you. I don't think anybody sees us entirely as we see ourselves. It can be interesting, but annoying. Folks make a lot of snap assumptions.

LTM said...

@Laura--thanks. And you're right about the openness. It's just hard I think as a parent to know when~ :o)

@Summer--right. Friend v. parent is the age-old problem. And I remember that magical time~ :D

@PK--I'm sure to the first part, the answer is always yes. There are regrets. To the second part, Thanks. I know this is right, and I know it'll ultimately be a good thing. It's just hard now... Yay for The Help. Hope to see it soon! :o) <3

@Hil--I know you're right, because I've seen it. I think... But I'm sorry you had less satisfaction, and I do hope you're right. Thanks for this~ :o)

Theresa Milstein said...

I love reading about mother-daughter and sister relationships. Like you, the character I've empathized with has sometimes changed with age.

I'm so happy to hear your daughter has adjusted. We're trying to stay in Cambridge. My kids hate the idea of leaving.

DEZMOND said...

you've been both to London and to New York ... /sighs/
Next station - Paris :)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I should read The Joy Luck Club. It's one of those books that's been on my list forever, and this post makes me want to. I hope things settle down for all of you in your new location. Moving is tough for kids.

Kelly Polark said...

Good luck to your kids. And you are right. Each week, things will feel even more comfortable for them. It does take time.
And I think it's impossible to know everything about any person. It's fun learning though!

Talli Roland said...

This is a wonderful post, and rings so true. Gosh, I'm not even sure I know myself, and I'm so surprised when people tell my I seem so confident because inside, I don't feel that way at all. I don't have children, but if I don't even know what I'm projecting, goodness knows they probably won't see the real me, either!

Mary@GigglesandGuns said...

My own parents let me know them in different ways. I'm so glad I caught their messages before it was to late. We had a chance to "know"
each. We were blessed.
Now if I think of something I write it down in case there's not a chance to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This question has me all in knots. I was pretty close to my mom and thought I knew everything. Then she got Alzheimers and I started to realize that there was even more that I wanted to know but it became too late for more long conversations. It may sound cliche but enjoy every minute together.

Hart Johnson said...

I think you should tell her. I think maybe feeling like she helped you cope with moving there will give her a feeling of importance related to Indie.

You know me and my TMI policy... my daughter, in particular, gets my stories and theories. i come from secretive stock, so there are things I never share--but those are FEELINGS things... selfishness I'm ashamed of... dark stuff I should channel through the writing instead of risking that it hurt people I love. But the EVENTS, the reflections after the darkness fades? I try to share where it fits. I know my kids know me better than I know my parents.

walk2write said...

This post really tugged at my heart. We have moved a lot as a family, and it's never easy adjusting to a new scene, making new friends, etc. Lots of silliness and sharing special times together helped us through. We have so many memories to sort through with those moves. On reflection, they're all good, even the sad ones.

I think maybe you should share your thoughts with your daughter. Let her know that you're feeling a little topsy-turvy too but that you know everything will be okay because you all love each other.

Anonymous said...

Definitely going to read that book. My dad has alzheimers and I feel I didn't know him as much as I would have liked, but I probably know him more than I realise as well, as you post says. I think like everything we pay attention to certain things in our lives but we can't take in everything so we must accept that and move on. I love the film 'Truly Madly Deeply' because it shows how we are with our loved when when they are there and how much we miss them when they are not, but when we get a second chance the old irritations resurface.Great post and thanks for your lovely comment about my poem. :O)

LTM said...

@Liz--good advice. And I'm so sad to hear that about your mom. I bet there are times when you feel like you could talk to her... and you can't. :o\ ((BIG hugs))

Ella said...

Yes, I have had these feelings and worried about my children, not knowing their grandparents and the lack of connections. It worked out fine, for the most part.
I have an idea; what about the idea of an invisible string and how when we meet people we aren't connected, but as time marches on. We get to know them and they us and we find ways to connect and grow and these people become part of our invisible string. Our string of memories and moments that connect, to our heart. Even though we can't always be with these people we are still intertwined. Then I would take her and buy postcards of your new area and help her get them ready, to mail to her old friends. There might be some that will continue this long distant relationship and some not, but it may help until the transition gets easier. Email if not postcards or phone calls. I think snail mail is great, who doesn't like receiving a surprise in the mail! xXx 555 <3

Carolyn Abiad said...

Beautiful thoughts!

The girls will adjust sooner than you think. This is just a hiccup in the grand scheme of things.

As far as showing people my inner feelings? Are you kidding? Why would I do that? LOL!

Actually, I have a hard time figuring myself out, what with all the chameleon required of me. Be a mom, be a writer, be an expat, be an ex-expat/transplant/trailing spouse, be a real estate broker. They don't say "switch hats" for nothing.

I guess my point is that people show us the side they think we expect to see, more often than not. And if that side is what we want to see, we tend not to look further.

Michelle Merrill said...

Wow! Very thought provoking. I think it wasn't until I saw my parents get through their personal struggles that I realized they were people too. And it wasn't until I hurt their feelings that I realized they even had them. It's too bad we can't figure these things out earlier.

And I'm sorry the move is so hard on the eldest. I can't imagine. I lived in the same house my whole life. I've moved quite a few times since going to college but it's always a new experience. And sometimes change is so hard. Good luck!


Angela said...

I've had the most meaningful bonding moments with my kids when I've opened up about my life as a kid in relation to their own struggles.

I think it builds empathy, so they know they aren't in all this alone. Also, moving is hard. Sometimes kids don't adjust to a move like they expected. The best thing you can do is listen to your daughter so she knows you're there for her.

I'm sure you're a great mom.

grins said...

I was bounced around as a child a lot. I'm old now. Recently found I had a brother somewhere. Didn't look him up. I read people very fast, but I've been married 25 years and just getting to know my wife. I think if you don't know someone it's because you don't want to know them and if they want to be remembered a certain way that's not who they are. That gave me a head ache.

LTM said...

@Curmudg--because it was a true, deep thought. You only see what you're allowed to see, and why is it with parents we're so much more protective? Look up your bro! Siblings can be a good thing~ :o)