Toronto
3 min

An unexpected offering

What my mother really needed

I am feeling grateful today as I sit at work, bleary-eyed and tired, wading through a grant application, drinking lukewarm coffee and listening to people fighting outside the bar across the street. I am feeling grateful although I just got my period, ran out of cheese nips and stabbed my finger on a Keith Haring baby button. It will be our first wedding anniversary in just two days, but that’s not why I feel grateful. It isn’t an occasion I would normally be sentimental enough to celebrate.

I don’t do anniversaries, birthdays, Valentine’s Day or Christmas. The only thing I “celebrate,” sort of, on an annual basis is Pride, because Pride is the only “holiday” I feel I have any sort of claim to (although when I’m sitting on a mailbox watching a corporate truck and a man in Hawaiian shorts asks to take my picture, I have to wonder).

I think that’s why so many queer people have so much riding on Pride every year, and why no matter how good it gets it will never be good enough. Pride is my Everything Holiday and I use it to make up for every Nothing holiday I ever squirmed through. Pride reminds me of when I first came out, back when my only mission was to be loud and proud (and isn’t nostalgia the key to holidays?). Being queer has become much more complicated now that it’s not all about me.

My life is quite void of date-oriented rituals. True, it’s been a year since I used the word “wife.” But it’s also been a year since I discovered chocolate-covered sesame snaps and learned to navigate Toronto on a three-wheel bike (it’s not as easy as it looks). Andrea and I buy flowers together on random grey days, we eat dinners out when the dishes look menacing, we buy toys on joint excursions and we make it a rule not to wrap anything unless it’s in comics. A wedding anniversary is nothing much to celebrate — it’s not like anyone had the two of us in mind when they invented the institution of marriage. That’s what I figured, until I got home today.

I barely even look at the mail anymore. It feels like decades ago that I was rushing the mailbox for French pen-pal letters, World Wildlife Fund stickers and Free Stuff For Kids. But today I looked. There was a letter on the counter for me from my mother. I thought it was a birthday card (my birthday is tomorrow), but it wasn’t. It said, “It’s been a year since you pledged your commitment to each other. Wishing you continued happiness, Mom & Dad.” And “xxxooo.”

Now, I don’t know if you heard the story of my wedding day. To summarize, my mother cried, a lot, and they weren’t tears of joy I can assure you. So what would possess her to send a card as (corporate and stiff, maybe) thoughtful as that? What did I do to deserve that?

Or maybe the question is, what didn’t I do?

I believe most of the time that my family forgets about my queerness when I don’t bring it up. I believe that my life partner gets taken for my roommate unless I’m there to introduce her. I take responsibility, I guess, for the education of my family. I can’t seem to trust their independent evolution. Then this unprompted thing happens and I am thrown into an entirely new, and necessary, world view.

I used to think that “live and let live” meant being passive and giving in without a fight. I used to think that “time heals all wounds” was a cop-out for real, courageous action. I’ve been pushing my mother for a long time, demanding acceptance, demanding awareness, demanding the kind of love I felt I deserved. Do I have regrets? Not really. But did it work? It could be argued that her steps forward were coincidental, and that her steps back were in some part my fault. It could be argued that her “steps” either way were entirely my perception and not to be trusted.

Sometimes it feels like the minute I stop pushing, something gives. I’ve eased up on my family in the last year, avoided fights, avoided attending functions where I felt unwelcome. It wasn’t at all a strategic shift. I’ve been feeling betrayed in my own skin, using “stressed” and “busy” as excuses for inaction. I’ve been worried, in all honesty, about “abandoning the issue.”

But I’ve found something to celebrate this week and it isn’t our anniversary. Instead it’s the day my mother acknowledged my queerness, my relationship and my life choices without the prompting I usually engage in. Whenever we talk about her discomfort she always says, “I need time.” I’ve given her books and papers and an earful of assertions, but the one thing I’ve never really allowed her is time, on her own terms, and I’m realizing I’ve missed out on something. I am grateful today for the amazing discovery of unsolicited love.