“Why aren’t you picking up the phone when I call you?” screams my mother Phoebe this morning.
“Mom, I ran 11 miles, I just stepped out of the shower…”
“ELEVEN MILES?!?!! Why are you doing this to yourself? Why can’t you be like all the other normal people? I pray for the day you get injured, that will teach you a lesson!”
I’ve nearly had it. The garbage just keeps on piling up.
As I wrote previously, a number of my relatives are coming forward with marriage proposals from Sri Lanka and stateside and even more disturbing is the constant shrill noise in the form of asking about marriage and children to the point of absurdity. To be more specific, it’s one thing to discuss such matters singularly at a wedding as those are common themes across the board; to do so at every family gathering makes gathering with family a lot less pleasant and a lot more anxiety-filled than it has to be.
But lo and behold, it gets even better than that now.
“So what is this running business that you have taken up now?” my mother Phoebe quipped recently when I’d visited the family then.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“You’re spending all this money on racing [entry fees] and racing clothes, that money needs to go towards visiting Sri Lanka and visiting our family more often. You’re spending all this time running, why are you living this kind of life? Look at everyone else, they are at home, raising families and running a household. Look at (fill in friends’ name here), they are all having babies!!!” Phoebe will scream at the top of her lungs, even as my father Pierre will scold her for becoming emotional over the issue.
In one ear and out the other. Repeat for the 1000th time.
I am most certainly happy for my friends, because they are happy in the lives they lead. Make no mistake. However, as I have written previously, I have my own path in life.
And I know I’m not the only relative in the family to get blasted with that one.
“Why are you running?” an aunt on my father’s side asked my cousin when she was running to stay in shape. “You’re not fat!”
People in Sri Lanka and much of India for that matter lead a very relaxed life compared to Americans on average, who are notoriously known to take a lot less vacation time then the rest of their international peers. This fact has been cited by several sources. In Sri Lanka, family time has continued to be a very important part of life and sacrificing too much family time is generally not considered an option. In a country that has weathered civil war since July 1983 (it only ended May 2009), most of the citizenry had little else to fall back on except their families, regardless of socioeconomic status.
On my end, I’ve gone through enough of family life such that after the past eight years in particular, I generally associate the family with drama. In any given weekend I go to Lancaster (67 miles west of Philadelphia) to visit family, there is a fight about something, or should I say a disagreement that blows up into Phoebe concluding that I’m (or whoever else is) not “normal” enough for this world. The fast pace of my life to begin with really bothers her in particular; to her there is no need to live the way I do.
“If you were more family-oriented, things will take care of itself.”
Well it depends on what people want out of life. People aren’t going to want the same things out of life. Duh.
So my taking up running, which she sees as completely solitary and especially because a woman back home wouldn’t get involved in such a thing, really jars her. A cousin of mine in DC had suggested explaining to her that I will meet others through running clubs. but this had no effect on her. I don’t know why. To her, she hates how I’m spending money on an activity that is and/or appears culturally unacceptable to her, it takes away from time with the family and she hates how it’s an anti-relaxation activity. Us runners find running relaxing but to her, relaxing is just lounging and sitting around and not moving much.
The irony of all this is that I know of plenty of mothers out there with several kids that make the time for training and their families, whatever they do. So mothers and running being exclusive…that can’t be it…
And not having children, or the consideration of such, or having them late, is extremely offensive to her, because I’m not fulfilling my purpose on this planet I suppose. Oh the horror. I wonder what they would think of people that for biological/medical reasons are simply unable to have children. I haven’t brought that up yet.
I’ll save all that for another day. But just our philosophies are so opposite, and whilst that’s fine, she’s also hellbent on making me a more-traditional minded individual.
“Why wouldn’t you want to stay at home with the family and the children? What did we do wrong that you wound up so abnormal?” She has vented to her family back in Sri Lanka, all of which have told her, “Oh it’s too late to change her.”
She’s hellbent on changing me. And to me, that (changing anyone) is not healthy.
In all honesty, I know she’s not totally digging her job and career, whereas I am loving mine. So I can see why my emphasis on career to her sounds awful. Attitude – and doing what you are best at – makes a big difference. To her though, I’m not in my “ideal” career not because I like it or dislike it, I’m not in an “ideal” career simply because I’m not a doctor. Whilst she won’t dictate my love life (yet), she definitely has visions like most people of our culture that their children will be in the prestigious field of medicine. Or rather, such the prestige is perceived as it is by people in South Asia. Pride runs rampant in South Asian families, whether we want to admit it or not is another story completely. I wish they only had a little more knowledge of the healthcare crisis in the States. Medicine is, at least over here, unfortunately, not limited to just solving problems with the body.
Finally another ironic thing here is that my first half – the Amish Country Half – is in Lancaster, very close to where my parents live. I am not running the Philly half this fall but this instead. Granted there are other reasons for this, which I’ll expand upon in another post I’m sure, but this is how it is. My father Pierre will watch the race and watch me cross the finish line as he used to race. And I’ll be spending that entire weekend with them.
Can’t we both be happy here?
To her I am throwing away our South Asian culture. How I eat, how I live day to day. Well I know I’m rejecting some tenets of it just in the career that I’ve gotten involved in, but that can’t be helped can it? And in this economy…
At the end of the day, the fighting, the screaming, the drama, the incessant criticism of my lifestyle and who I am is just getting old. I’m getting too old for this. I’m in my late 20s. Here’s another distinction you all should be aware of: in American culture, kids are generally, even if temporarily out the door when they hit university age, whereas in South Asia, or at least Sri Lanka, they are under the parents’ authority in some way until they are married, particularly the girls. If this isn’t true of everyone, it’s the tenet that Phoebe is pushing in our family.
Pretty soon a full plate of this and graduate school will dominate my life. It will give me a good reason to stay far from family in terms of time, but in the past when I tell them I don’t have time to visit home, they generally say “no you must make time for the family.”
But because of all the fighting, I am at the point where I respond as such.
“I will make time for family. I will not make time for an inevitable pattern of drama.”
It’s not diplomatic, I know, but the “nice” way stopped working 4 years ago. Of course, Phoebe doesn’t respond well to anyone telling her that she is wrong. And when Pierre tries to correct her himself, she generally starts fighting with him and criticizing the way his family approaches things. Finally she will blame him for the way I “turned out” and for my “abnormality”. (Or as my one aunt put it, my “objective disorder.”)
Cue Chris Cornell’s song Scream.
Take a minute to tell you now
Don’t have to raise my tone
Take the level and bring it down
I just want you to know
I got no trouble with what you said
I don’t even think you’re wrong
It’s how you say it
You lose your head
Girl I’m standing right in front of you
Throwing out the blame when you know it ain’t my fault
Messing with my brain when you want to see me fall
There may come a time when I don’t bother you at all
It isn’t my call, it isn’t my call
Hey, why you keep screaming at the top of your head?
It’s brutal. No family is perfect, but I’ve had enough.
I’m seriously debating cutting Phoebe off from my life as she becomes more overbearing, more irate, and dare I say borderline verbally abusive. My Western friends are encouraged to walk away from family members if such matters are unresolvable, whereas in our culture, it is unforgivable to cut off family. Ever.
I feel like the one foot I have stuck in Sri Lanka is stuck there for good, even if I want to remove it temporarily.
Whilst I am single now, I fear the day I might have a man in my life that I would have to bring home to family, and quite frankly I am embarrassed by her behaviour. Not her lifestyle or anything but how she appears so unaccepting of who I am now and how she throws fits of rage. And I’ve echoed many times that I will be dating men who are like-minded like myself. Her response?
“That would be the ultimate tragedy to our family.”
I don’t want to lose someone in my life solely because they are scared of my family – or even worse, scared I’ll become my mother. She is one of the very last people I want to emulate and this proves more true the worse her emotions become. The reality is you don’t just marry your spouse, you “marry” that person’s family too. So that’s another thing down the road I have to worry about.
No family is perfect, but I’ve had enough.
And those of you who are runners reading this – no I will not let her stop me from running. Hell no. Every mile now, there’s only one thing on my mind: I will overcome.
(Note: Any names mentioned of family members or anyone else is NOT that person’s real name. See Dramatis personae.)