My Photo
Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Parents, Seen and Unseen

I suppose it's a sign of growing up, of maturity, this ability to allow yourself to be surprised by your parents. To hear what they say even if it doesn't fit your image of them. To see them as their own persons, independent of you and their successes and failures in relation to you.

This happened to me twice last week. First, with my father. He and I were helping my mother study for the admission exam for nursing school; being a nurse is my mother's oldest ambition). While we pored over fractions and the multiple meanings of gondola, he looked up suddenly and said, smiling at my mother, "You know, even if you don't end up going to nursing school, I'm so happy you're studying. I'm so happy to see you learn things." This from my father, the ultimate workaholic, the fiercest, most ambitious overachiever I know. This from a man who insists that the most important thing in life is to be successful -- to be respected and admired by other people because of all the things you have and all the things you can do.

It threw me for a loop, I have to say. It occurred to me, as I was struggling to place what he said in the context of what I knew him to be, that maybe, just maybe, he isn't as disappointed as I believe him to be when he thinks about my life and what I've chosen to do with it. Maybe he isn't mortified. Maybe he isn't ashamed. Maybe my lack of success doesn't hurt him so much. Maybe he is happy that I'm learning, happy that I'm challenging myself intellectually even if the outcome of that isn't fame or great sums of money.

And then, a surprise from my mother. I found out yesterday, during our usual Sunday lunch, that she's been secretly making inquiries about vegan mayonnaise to prepare a vegetable salad I love and haven't been able to eat since I became a vegan. She announced triumphantly as we helped her set the table, "Vegetarian food for everyone today!" She'd made white bean soup with dill, creamed spinach with soy milk, bought Earth Balance to spread on toast. No meat to speak of on the table. I was so moved. So often, all I hear my mother say is how crazy she thinks I am because I'm a vegan now. I hear that even when what she's really saying is that it's okay, it's my body, it's my life. My idea of my mother doesn't include tolerance, doesn't include support for choices I make that she doesn't understand. It doesn't include her buying soy milk and vegan butter.

I feel humbled and a bit awed. It's humbling to have my assumptions about my parents unsettled; it's amazing to realize that my parents are people who can change, who are capable of generosity of mind. They still have a thing or two to teach me. I'm glad that I haven't forgotten how to learn.


Blogger madness rivera said...

Beautiful post!
I love that your mother is going to nursing school. And I love the line, "Vegetarian food for everyone today!"

February 27, 2006  
Blogger Jonathan K. Cohen said...

Finding a way to live in a success-dominated family when one is no longer conventionally successful is difficult. For much of my life, I was a prodigy, and therefore represented currency that my parents could exchange with their other success-oriented friends. Then, three years into graduate school, I fell off the path. It's been more than a decade since I did so, but my father now understands, and loves me no matter how little I am capable of doing. At the same time, my parents are ecstatic at my bringing home any new plaque or award; to them, it means continuity with my previous "successful" identity.

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Green Whale said...

Thanks for commenting. You are truly stalwart readers!

February 28, 2006  
Blogger Rebel Girl said...

It's easy to be stalwart readers of such fine writing!

March 01, 2006  
Blogger Michelle Fry said...

Your mother's meal brought tears to my eyes. That was really big of her to make a non meat meal. And, it's really wonderful of you to be moved by it.

My mom complains about my vegetarianism but has started buying organic produce for meals she makes when I come over. I think this is a good compromise.

March 04, 2006  

Post a Comment

<< Home