When I was a kid, it really felt like the world was going out of its way to rub my nose in what felt like abandonment.
I’d watch TV and cringe at a Pillsbury commercial with some mother lovingly wiping the dough off the corner of her child’s mouth. Flipping the channel, I’d see a Hallmark commercial with a mother and daughter happily crying in each other’s arms over a Mother’s Day card.
The alienating images from the television screen projected into my everyday environment. I was surrounded by the picturesque picket fences and rolling farmland of western Massachusetts. Happy homes filled with white families and their children.
Meanwhile, my mother had a hard time even waking up and getting out of bed in the morning. We lived in the same house, but it had been at least six weeks since we had spoken to each other. I’d come home and go to my room in silence; this was routine.
Many of the things associated with mothering, I did for myself.
I did my own laundry.
I looked out for my brother.
I cleaned a house where three adults—my mother, father, and uncle—were too lost in their own downward spirals of mental health and substance abuse to realize what was happening to the children around them.
It was difficult for me to engage in positive conversations about either of my parents, especially my mother. She had told me that I “ruined her childhood” because I wasn’t planned. She was 21 when I was born; her childhood was intact. But when her friends were out partying, she couldn't join them. What she really meant was that I ruined her life.
Years later, things began to change. My parents split up, and I watched as both of them evolved, finally free of a toxic, codependent relationship. Following the split, my mother moved to Puerto Rico with her side of the family, and ironically, it took her moving far away for us to become closer.
I was a student at UMass Amherst, and the first time she flew up for a visit, the plan was to stay with me for a few nights. She texted, “We can brainstorm things to do together!” I laughed at my phone because she was reading my mind: I couldn’t imagine what we would do together for one uninterrupted day, let alone several. But there was relief and wonder at how easily we were able to talk. I couldn’t get over it. Was this me? With my mother?
Having had distance from her traumatic lifestyle, she could see the damage done to our relationship, and she reached out. We were talking. We were apologizing. It took a few years of patience, trust, and therapy, but eventually it felt like I was in my own Hallmark commercial.
This time, I wasn’t going to change the channel.
Now when I think of my mother, I feel lucky. So many people don’t own up to their mistakes the way she did. Most people hold a grudge like I could have. But we both knew it was worthwhile to put in the work and have the difficult conversations. When we see each other, she tells me she loves me “to the moon and back.” I say “I love you” back, and my heart flutters because I know it's real. We went from living in the same house and never speaking to living in different countries and talking every week. Perhaps this is bittersweet, but I am truly blessed.
Any time I get to visit her, my abuela, my titi, and my abuelo in Puerto Rico, it feels like a safe haven. When I’m away from them in the states, there is nothing like a good plate of tostones to make me feel like I’m right back in Puerto Rico with them.
Jordan Reed is a theater and performance artist. She can be found at https://www.jxexr7.wixsite.com/website.
Tostones (Fried Plantains)
1 green plantain
1 c. cooking oil
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
pinch of adobo
2 T. ketchup
2 T. mayonnaise
Bring a pot of water to a boil.
Place the green plantain, whole, in the pot and boil for 2 - 3 minutes, or until the skin has softened a little.
Remove from the water, peel off the skin, and cut into 1-inch chunks.
Put oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
When the oil just begins to stir, fry the plantain chunks, about 3 minutes on both sides.
Remove from pan and flatten with a tostonera (or a plate will do).
Return to the pan and fry for another minute on each side.
Drain on paper towels, and season with salt, pepper, and adobo to taste.
Stir the ketchup and mayo together and use as a dipping sauce.