I loved the story of Matilda as a child. I think all children feel misunderstood to some extent. I never knew any of my peers to feel completely secure in themselves and the way in which their friends and family treated them. But there was something extra pertinent about it for me that I could never pinpoint. I didn’t want to run away with my teacher as my new mom. I wasn’t forced to do insane amounts of physical labor or anything crazy. I just felt…misunderstood.
I know…cue the world’s smallest violin.
It took me until my 29th year and estimated 1,107th hour of therapy to understand my connection to Matilda.
I know that my parents love me and are proud of me. They support me and would take a bullet for me. But they do not understand me. Don’t get me wrong–there are points at which we connect on an individual level. My mom and I like a lot of the same music. My dad and I can talk politics and current events. But when I start talking about not feeling fulfilled with something or wanting more or things that make me happy intellectually, I get a blank stare that usually results in them turning their attention elsewhere.
Case in point: Last week the nonprofit that I’ve been working with on organization and fundraising for almost two years won a $100k grant. My work directly helped the group get to this point and my brother’s roommate and best friend brings it up at dinner with my parents. At first my parents asked about it–my dad even saying that he heard about it on the radio–and as I start to explain it and answer their questions, they blatantly stop listening and start talking among themselves. I’m so used to this that I didn’t even notice and just mutter to myself “well, I guess I’ll just stop talking then.” Mr. Peace, the relative outsider to the group chuckles and mentions it the next day via social media. It took him mentioning it for it to really hit home to me. Had he not said anything, I would have totally blown it off not because it wasn’t important but because it’s so frequent.
My parents understood me graduating from college. My parents understood me graduating law school and passing the bar exam. They most certainly didn’t understand what these took both physically and mentally. But it was something they could talk about easily to their friends and family and something that they could wrap their heads around.
But my parents never understood my involvement in theater in high school. They’d come to one showing of each production, maybe my mom would come to two. They’d wish me well on my youth ministry retreats and events, but never volunteered to go on any of them. This has been a running chorus throughout my life. They know that I’ve accomplished things and they’re proud of me but they have no true appreciation for these things. My brother, on the other hand, played sports and they got that so much so that they coached his teams, volunteered for his outings and ran the basketball boosters.
To this day they don’t get how this made me feel. I’ve brought it up only to be told “well, we didn’t really like plays.” As if that were the point…
They support me. They love me. But they do not understand me.
My therapist has been telling me this for years. It’s not a slight to them. It’s too late to fix that broken down train. But she’s mentioned it so that I can learn to move past it. And every single time she says it, I’ve acknowledged it and given platitudes about realizing it.
I’m here to say that I was full of shit.
I don’t realize it. I haven’t worked through it. I want to not care about it and appreciate the relationship I have with my parents without constantly feeling like that oddball that doesn’t fit. I just have never explored the issue deeply enough to really do that. Exploration of that issue requires revealing certain amounts of hurt that I’ve joked about over the years but never truly gotten over. I should. It’s not like I was overtly abused or neglected. But there’s a part of me that is still that teenager hoping her parents would send her flowers during her last production in high school theater or would read a book she lent them in the hopes of having a good discussion about something she found important.
I need to let this go.
It’s not going to be easy. Hitting publish on this blog post won’t solve it. I think that I’m just now grasping the girth of this issue in a way that will require some soul searching. And honestly, at this point in my life, talking to my parents about it isn’t going to do any good. It’s my feelings that I need to work through and not their reaction to me as a person. I need to do this so that I can appreciate them as individuals, so that I can have some peace and so that I am confident that I don’t repeat this cycle.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to point out those things that hurt us the most. We’ve placed bandages over scars and layers of clothing over bandages to move on, never truly cleaning out the wounds underneath. I can choose to ignore the infection this has caused or I can go in, clean it up and look at the scar anew with the promise that I’ve learned from it instead of constantly feeling the pain and pushing it aside.
I just hope I’m up to the challenge.