Reality Mom: The Weight of Like
The first time it occurred, I was riding in the backseat of a car. My mother was fiddling with the radio while my father drove. He likes to smoke while driving and fails to understand why we protest this behavior. “What?” he asks incredulously, “I opened the window.”
Fortunately for us, it was a warm summer day and the drive to the pool wouldn’t take long. Something about being crammed between my two children in the back seat made me feel like a child myself. A flood of memories of rolling around my parent’s station wagon with my sister came to me and I mourned that my children would never experience this freedom. They are always strapped in and harnessed to molded plastic. Rolling around in a moving car is now deemed precarious, if not downright lethal. We didn’t worry about these things in the seventies. In fact, in many of these memories I can clearly picture my dad’s highball glass in one hand, the steering wheel in the other.
My reverie was interrupted with a touch of a small hand. I looked at my son and he grinned at me while saying, “Mom, I like you.” The silence that followed was palpable. The fiddling of the radio ceased, the window was rolled up, and I held the gift my son just gave me as if it was a precious treasure. Because it is.
At eight years old, I could still be confident that my son loved me. But that he liked me, was not a given. It can be an age when kids need to pull away from their parents, defy them, and rebel against them. Although I accept this, I do not look forward to it. I have been blessed that neither of my kids have ever told me they hate me, nor that they don’t like me. They rarely show anger towards me, both being more prone to tears than yelling. And when feeling frustrated or sad, their mama’s embrace is the salve they ask for.
They frequently tell me they love me, but to say “I like you” holds even more magnitude. Love can feel obligatory, whereas like only occurs with free will. I love my children because they are part of me. But I like them, because they are funny, compassionate, fascinating individuals who readily share their feelings and love with others.
Several weeks after our visit to the swimming pool, I was riding once again in a car. No cigarette smoke, fiddling of the radio, or backseat was present this time, just my friend and I driving to the Herbalist. We were chatting about writing, our upcoming readings, and life in general when she said, “My mother never liked me. I believe she loved me, but she didn’t like me.” Again, the weight of those words was worthy of a pause. I needed to let them have a life in the car before we killed them with apologies or excuses.
I touched my friend’s arm as she continued. “I’ve always known this, but it was very apparent when she was dying. People can’t hide things on their deathbed. It’s part of letting go.” Her story crescendoed here, as the immensity of truth often does.
Liking someone is a truthful act. There is no room for dishonesty. It only makes the unliked person feel worse. As goes my friend’s story. Years of knowing the truth, yet having her family rebuttal it was an even greater affliction than being the“non-liked” daughter. The only way we can release ourselves from these secretive wounds is to speak them outloud over and over again. My mother didn’t like me. My mother didn’t like me.
My son, and daughter, have gifted me with “I like you” a few more times since our summer swim. It is not something they say daily, or even monthly, for that would cheapen the gift. It is only said while I am connecting deeply with them in a way they enjoy. It is not something they ponder before saying or strategize about or even say for my benefit. It is a feeling in their heart that erupts out of their mouth. It is pure. It is raw. It is honest.
Even if the words change to “I don’t like you,” as they surely will at some point, my only hope is that they too come from this pure and honest place. Not said out of vexation or merely because I won’t purchase something for them, but because they are truly feeling it. Although I am sure this will hurt my feelings, having them not say it, but feeling it, would hurt all of us so much more.
Corbin Lewars is a writing mentor and author of Creating a Life: The memoir of a writer and mom in the making, which has been nominated for the 2011 PNBA book award. Her essays have been featured in over twenty five publications including, The Seattle PI, Mothering, and Hip Mama. She teaches memoir and personal essay writing classes in Ballard. Contact her for details.