On most Mother’s Day, my grandparents come over from Brooklyn to celebrate. My siblings and I usually buy flowers for our mother and grandmother, while my mother buys our grandmother, her mother, some Godiva chocolates. For the day we’ve indulged in an unhealthy, gluttonous amount of Chinese food for as long as I could remember, enough Chinese food, in fact, to leave us with a week’s worth of leftovers. The point of take out is so that nobody has to cook or clean, making it a convenient cleanup for everyone all around. But despite my mother not wanting to cook or clean, she still bakes cupcakes or cookies, her way of saying thank you for the day.
Accompanying the seemingly endless plates of Chinese food scattered across our dining room table is always a bottle or two of white zinfandel. As I’ve gotten older and acquired a palette for fancier, tastier, and classier drinks other than the excessive energy amounts of vodka shots at a college pregame, I’ve shared a glass or five of white Zinfandel with my Grandma. My family usually says the bottle is for everyone, but Grandma and I know it’s just for us to share. We giggle and belly laugh at stupid things, trying to say stupid things like “Grandma, Stephanie (my sister) called me a whore.” My grandmother is, at times, a sharp, quick witted, and harsh woman. But in her older years she’s mellowed out, and also gets a little giggly after a few glasses of wine. It has given me the opportunity to get to know her more than just the expected relationship you might have with your grandparents simply because you’re their grandchild.
But I can’t help but come to terms with the fact that this year we won’t overindulge in plates and plates of Chinese food, or drink one too many glasses of wine together, and chuckle and giggle at the dumb silly things, like when my siblings slap the Brita filter’s top cap, and watching the cap bob up and down nor reminisce over the strange things we did as kids, or perhaps even the times where my grandmother’s sharp tongue has gotten her into a bit of verbal trouble with a stranger.
Now, I know an over indulgent dinner should be the least of my worries during a pandemic. Believe me, I’ve spent many days paralyzed with anger and frustration at our government’s lack of ability to do, well… anything really, and the realization that no one really is going to come out of this pandemic wholly safe.
But you see, this is the first year where I’m out to my grandparents. They’ve even met my boyfriend before. Though they’ve met him a year ago before at my birthday dinner, I don’t think I ever really introduced my boyfriend as my boyfriend. First meeting was just “this is Tommy” and that was kind of it. And as the months went on and they saw through social media my appreciative posts with my boyfriend (and yes, my grandparents dabble in social media), I couldn’t help but wonder whether they were hurt at my dishonesty in who I am, especially since my family keeps it real and honest 99% of the time.
Now, before you think, “well, you don’t owe them an explanation of your sexuality,” I want to explain to you a little something. While I know I don’t owe them any explanation of my sexuality, that feeling of hiding a part of yourself from the people you love--the guilt of feeling like you’re being dishonest--pervades any gay person’s familial relationships, no matter how confident one may be with your sexuality. And, even if you don’t realize it, you retract yourself, your true self, and all the things that make you you. You begin to put up walls and you assume your loved one might hate you for coming out, no matter how loving or open minded they may be, or that you might be seen in a different light. You begin to think you’re better off not letting them in, even before you have any meaningful or heart-to-heart conversation. On the surface it’s a form of self-sabotage. Yet every person who identifies as LGBT would tell you it’s more of a defense mechanism; a way of preparing you for the chance you may be cast away just because of who you love.
But you see, just before the pandemic happened and lockdown went into effect, I had attended my cousin’s child’s birthday party, a function I had the privilege of inviting my boyfriend to where my grandparents attended. And when they greeted me and my boyfriend, they greeted him with the normality they would as if greeting my brother’s girlfriend or my sister’s boyfriend. They even remembered his name, something that shocked me a bit considering they only had the chance to meet him once in person.
The next day we went over to their house in celebration of my sister’s birthday, where we ordered in Chinese food. Again, I got to invite my boyfriend. For the first time I was able to invite someone whom I loved and am very happy with to my grandparents’ house, a place I grew up in. My boyfriend and grandparents spoke and they welcomed him into the family like they would any of their grandchildren’s significant others, like it was no big deal. It was a moment I’ve wanted for a long time because I no longer felt that sense of fear, that slight possibility of rejection.
No longer would I feel myself bearing a sense of anxiety at retracting myself, nor would I need to engage in forced awkward conversation like I was dancing around a secret I was ashamed of. Because, in the end, there was nothing to be ashamed of. I could get to know my grandparents, no walls or guard put up. I could be me.
But now the pandemic has robbed me of that normality, robbed me of that sense of genuinely connecting with my grandparents without feeling the need to retract bits and pieces of me to hide some sense of shame that I was wrong in some way. I can’t help but feel a foreboding sense of time running out as time passes; as if I’m making up for lost time for putting those walls up, hiding pieces me away in shame.
After all, the world has come to a stand but time continues on marching forward and there’s only so much time to use to play catch up. This is not at all a pessimistic take on Mother’s Day nor some philosophical inquiry and step-by-step what to do if you’re in a situation very much like my own. Quite honestly, I don’t have an answer as the pandemic has robbed me of much of what I could control in my life.
But I know what I can control. I can take the time to appreciate the small details of my memories, collect them and remember them as I have in this moment in time and say that I cherished these moments before they went away. And it’s also given me hope. Hope that despite this quarantine kicking some of our asses and our routines, we are a stubborn species and we can adapt because we’re fighting for those collected memories so that we can live them again as the present, some day.
But for now, we must hold on to the moments now, cherish the mothers in our lives who are with us now. And, if they are not with us, cherishing the traditions they’ve passed on to us. Afterall, no one’s every really gone. Not exactly.
Happy Mother’s Day.