(by Alexandra Roth)
There are almost no photos of me with my mother.
My early childhood memories in Switzerland are mostly happy ones—time spent with my parents and sometimes my grandparents. Sadly, the entire family seldom came together as everybody lived in different places, and some of my mother’s siblings didn’t get along with each other. I often envied my classmates for having good relationships with their families; knowing that there was (and still is) this extended family without having contact still makes me sad. When we did gather together, nothing expensive was served, as we were a lower working-class family. I think my mother saw it as her duty to bring something to eat to the table. It was more or less always the same meals, even on Sundays or special holidays.
When I was barely 15 years old, my parents separated. From one day to another, I became my mother’s new partner—boyfriend, best friend, psychologist, doctor, and daughter. The good times were over. My personal problems and interests weren’t important anymore; I just had to do what was expected of me. How I felt about it was irrelevant to my mother. I wanted to resist but was too scared of my mother and her reactions if she was opposed. Instead, I closed myself off to her and fled into my own imaginary world to protect myself. We had dinner together or watched TV, but I often retreated into my room, not interested in hearing my mother’s complaints over and over again. It only was better when my grandparents came to visit. Then my grandmother stood in between my mother and me, and I was able to breathe a little.
(with my grandmother)
I had a side hustle to earn some money and got a state scholarship to university, but I didn’t finish my education. Instead I started a professional apprenticeship in an insurance company, and moved into my own apartment. I was happy and relieved not to live anymore under the same rooftop as my mother, especially when she found a new boyfriend. I thought he was a big idiot, and I guess he didn’t like me either. I went home for dinner occasionally but never stayed for long as the atmosphere was rather toxic.
When I met the man who would become my husband, I was introduced to a new kind of family gathering. The get-togethers were merry—lots of laughter and singing. But the longer I was married, the worse my relationship with my mother became. She liked my husband a lot—she saw him as her son. But when we moved into a bigger apartment outside of the city, she felt abandoned. She started calling several times every day, and my husband declared that if she didn’t stop, he would leave. She declared that we didn’t love her and didn’t want her around. Time spent with her was more and more of a duty, and the atmosphere every year grew more tense. She constantly sees herself as a victim, and eventually we only saw her on holidays.
After 16 years, my marriage ended. Our personalities developed in completely opposite directions, and so did our interests. We would start to discuss our different tastes in music, or problems with each other’s friends, and just end up being mad at each other. My mother reacted angrily to our breakup, putting the responsibility on me, blaming me for moving on with my life. Our relationship became so unpleasant that I only saw her on rare occasions.
In October, 2019, I talked to my mother for the last time. My grandparents had died, and I went to pick up a clock that was very dear to me but which my mother wanted to throw away. It symbolized to me that my only real family lived on in that clock. I confronted my mother with how her actions had made me feel—being forbidden to stay over at a classmate’s house for the night or invite my classmates home, not being allowed to go to birthday parties or to give a birthday party, not being allowed to have a boyfriend, always being required to come home immediately after school (even as a teen) and feeling that my mother wanted to have me for herself alone. She said that these things didn’t interest her any more, and she threw me out of her apartment, slamming the door in my face.
And that was it. That day she showed me her true feelings about me. I felt that I had been a nuisance to her all my life and that she had never wanted me really. A couple of days later she put some pictures of me into my mailbox, pictures that had been hanging on her wall. It showed me that she has no interest in getting me back into her life.
In 2019, I spent Christmas completely alone for the first time. My friends were with their families, and I had none anymore. But I had a peaceful evening and could do whatever I wanted. I tried a new recipe: a Christmas glazed ham. The recipe was meant to serve six, and I ate from it for an entire week. It was a special dish that became my Christmas present to myself again in 2020. This year I am beginning a new relationship, and I will be preparing this meal for our Christmas dinner. This year, I won’t be spending the holiday alone.
Alexandra Roth is an actor, singer, and artist who lives in Switzerland. She can be found on Instagram.
8 oz. tomato passata or canned tomatoes put through a food mill
5 T. honey
2 T. Dijon mustard
2 T. apple cider vinegar
2 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 1/4 lb. bone-in, fully cooked ham
1 1/2 lb. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1 T. olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
2 bunches of broccolini, trimmed
1/2 lb. asparagus, trimmed and halved
Preheat oven to 350 F. and line a baking tray with parchment paper.
Place passata or canned tomatoes, honey, mustard, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic in a small saucepan over medium heat.
Bring to a simmer and cook for 2 minutes, stirring, until well combined.
Remove from heat.
Score ham lightly in a diamond pattern with a sharp knife, and transfer to a shallow roasting dish.
Pour 1/2 c. water into the dish, and brush the ham with glaze.
Roast for 40 minutes, basting with glaze every 10 minutes, until caramelized.
At the same time, place sweet potatoes on baking tray, and toss with half the oil. Season with salt and pepper, and roast for 35 minutes.
About 10 minutes before ham is done, cook broccolini and asparagus in a large saucepan of salted boiling water for 2 - 3 minutes until crisp tender.
Drain, toss with remaining olive oil, and season to taste.
Slice ham and serve with vegetables.