No Excuse; I'm Just Me by Spiritual Echo
Non-Fiction Writing Contest contest entry
Being the youngest daughter of three, and the only child born in North America to immigrant parents, I think the pillars of my personality were influenced by my birth circumstances. I had no way of knowing how hard my parents struggled to adjust to a new country and culture. There is no doubt that rebellion was seeded entirely due to my parents trying to maintain some continuity of the life they left behind.
Many immigrants escaping from communist countries had no idea where they would wind up. They only knew they didn't want to continue to live under oppression and fled, not towards a country of choice, but away from what they hated. I'm a Canadian by circumstance. But being a Canadian is a very strong facet of my personality.
As a child, the frontier of my maturity did not include the memories of a Baltic country or the sacrifices that freedom cost. I felt a clear entitlement to the birthright of being Canadian. Had my parents celebrated their freedom, praising the country that accepted them, my patriotism would have not been questioned, but they were grieving their birth country. They expected me to pledge my allegiance to a place I'd never seen. It wasn't obvious. It was always a critical reprimand, admonishing me for an allegiance to Canada.
Had I celebrated Latvia in the same breath, my distinctly North American attitude might have slipped under the horizon, but I had no use for Latvia or its aborted clan of displaced loyalists. I was a Canadian, regardless of whose womb served as the portal of my birth.
Geography had nothing to do with my early rebellion. Culture had everything to do with my childhood, my struggle to unite parental approval with the uniqueness of being a 'Latvian' in North America. When I spoke about Latvia, later in life, people would get this blank stare on their face, not relating to a country that no longer existed. Locked behind the Soviet Union's iron curtain, Latvia had morphed into a small republic, gobbled up by communist tyrants.
My mother's moments of approval occurred when I was dressed in a national costume, navy blue with ribbons sewn into the hem, attending Latvian school in a downtown church that divided its right to space with Estonians. I gave up trying at some point, recognizing that I could never please my mother's need to parent based on her own childhood recollections. She lost control. She tried hard to whip me into her confused expectations.
Somehow, I always knew I didn't deserve it. I was punished for 'normal' behaviour--offering a neighbourhood friend a Latvian candy or a 'bumbulins'--a deep-fried donut-style pastry. At the time of my punishment, I thought it was because we were poorer than I imagined, thinking my mother's anger was based on my ignorant largesse. Then I surmised that she simply didn't want anyone to interfere with our world or put our European family under a microscope. I was already asking for Wonder bread instead of the dark rye served in our house. Birthday cakes were slathered in chocolate and had coins baked into the batter, but the seven-layer tortes in my house had preserves and whipped cream fillings. They were an embarrassment to me.
Ironically, by the time I hit my early teens, my mother had ceded--given up the war. I just didn't know our battles had unique qualities. Her only defense in her parenting arsenal was a gracious way to extract me from her influence. Instead of encouraging me to expand my wing span, and get higher education that might sustain my flight, her only known touchstone was to marry me off to a man who might blindly accept her burden.
Without knowing she was pandering to my teenage hormones, she encouraged me to seek out a mate. It was her hope that her years of 'Latvianization,' would lead me to a Baltic man, but by that point, her primary goal was to abdicate responsibility for a head-strong daughter.
Wouldn't you know it? I complied, caught between my mother's suspect intentions and my own continued anxiety of being a dependent. My fiance came with some old-world credentials. His family consisted of a mother that not only didn't work, the matriarch accepting the gauntlet, had her own car and went to the hairdresser's once a week. My future father-in-law was a professional, a white-collar worker who was a chartered accountant. None of the parents looked very closely at the generational differences or the assets and flaws of their children; they focused on lineage. My mother thought Bob was a good catch--based entirely on family history. The Thomson clan, in turn, thought I was nothing more than the daughter of a peasant. They eyed my high cheek bones and six-foot frame with suspect. I simply was not a good match for their son.
The Thomson parents were right. I too evaluated the potential mating through narrow eyes, believing, but not understanding the marriage vows, 'until death do you part.' There came a point in my marriage when eternity was unquestionably too big a price to pay for escape from my mother. I simply tired of dominating a man without a spine.
Since then and now, a few decades have elapsed. I've dealt with anxiety and depression at a clinical level, never questioning why I behave in certain ways, but refusing to allow some psychological technician to blame it one person.
It wasn't all mother's fault. It was the band of indifference that separated our touchstones that caused conflict. It was the conflict, the never-ending struggle to maintain my identity against her fossilized expectations that created the problem.
She traded independence for a right hook. She had little tolerance for my emotional struggles while she endured physical scars and bruises. When she told me, "Any man is better than no man," my compassion for her choices evaporated. Her endurance level allowed for physical violence--mine did not.
Her 'break-it' clause was adultery. He could smash her around, beat her, physically and sexually abuse their children, but God forbid he fooled around outside the shroud of family secrecy. I could have told her that he had no conscience and wasn't following her agenda, but she wouldn't have listened. There came a point when I dismissed my mother and began to flirt with theatrics in order to cope with the mixed messages and the confusion of my relationships.
As I evaluated my history and paid attention to the birth of my attitudes, I became fully aware that my mother's history, her childhood disappointments and fears had no relevance in the world of a Canadian girl born in 1950, but they've followed me into the twenty-first century.
By most standards I'm a character, a weird and aging lady who is a non-conformist, but trust me, in my own self-evaluation, caught right there in the middle, I don't think I ever grew up.
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