I was just twenty-two when I met my children’s father. With one failed marriage behind me, I was grateful for this man that considered me worthy of sharing a house and raising his family, so when he took me home for the first time, as a new wife and mother, I wanted to make a good impression.
Stewart’s mother had passed away the year before we met, and his father had been to visit prior to us making our vows, but his siblings were a mystery. We arrived unannounced, having flown eight hours with our four-month-old daughter. His father greeted us with open arms, thrilled that we made the trip. We had barely settled in when his first sister and husband arrived. I waited, out of sight, giving Stewart a chance to say hello.
Squeals of delight accompanied the greetings, and I gathered that the couple had just returned from a vacation in a sunny locale. In response to a question about their trip, Stewart’s sister responded: “It was lovely, except for those bloody northerners.”
I felt my face begin to flush. My father’s family came from the north of England. I had no time to compose myself before they were ushered into the kitchen to make my acquaintance. Thrusting out my hand, I declared: “Hi, I’m your new sister-in-law – one of those bloody northerners.” It was not a good start.
The day progressed in much the same way. When my husband’s older brother arrived, I noticed that his loafers were missing one of their tassels. Trying to inject some humour into an uncomfortably stuffy situation, I blurted: “Nice tassel.” All eyes were immediately upon me.
“Pardon me?” the tone was incredulous.
“You are missing a tassel. I was just trying to be funny.”
My new brother-in-law looked at me with a glint in his eye. “Do you know what the word ‘tassel’ means to us?”
I didn’t know, but I was certain it wasn’t good.
“It means penis” his wife chirped in. “You’ve just admired his personals.”
If I hadn’t felt so close to tears, I might have found it funny.
Stewart’s youngest sister just came right out and said what she was thinking. “We don’t honestly know what to think of you – we never thought Stewart would marry, and now here you are and with a baby as well.”
After a night’s sleep, I was ready to try anew. Having settled the baby, I busied myself in the kitchen, making a hearty breakfast for the others. The smell of bacon and sausages lured them in with murmurs of appreciation. Freshly brewed tea was sipped in anticipation of the feast to follow. I heaped the food onto plates, added fresh toast, and watched as my new family happily consumed my offerings. Brushing aside yesterday’s disappointment, I felt renewed hope. When the food was all gone, and everyone was sated, Stewart’s youngest sister offered to clean up. I went to retrieve the now waking baby.
“You’ve ruined a perfectly good pan,’ my sister-in-law confronted me when I returned. “What kind of an idiot are you that you would use a steel spatula on a non-stick pan?”
I didn’t know, was what I wanted to say, but I couldn’t risk responding – the tears were threatening. I had never used a non-stick pan before. At home, we had cast iron. “Sorry” was all I could blurt out.
“I should think so!”
I knew in that moment that I would never be good enough for this family, and I felt and all the guilt and shame that had shadowed me all my life, as the daughter of dysfunctional parents.
* * *
“You must look back and forgive that young woman,” my therapist advises. “See it from a new perspective.”
Let go of some of your clutter, Derek Lin writes in today’s reflection. Let go of something everyday.
The clutter I need to clear out is emotional and psychological. Every time I cook eggs, I am reminded of that day and how I was such a disappointment to that family. We are divorced now, and they are no longer a part of my life, but the guilt and shame obviously live on.
Today, I will let go of the guilt that serves no purpose. I will recognize that making mistakes does not make me a bad person, and let go of the shame.
Today, I will let go of those emotions that stop me from enjoying life, and make room for self-acceptance instead.