Huh, haven’t done a flashback one in a while. And this is something I’ve wanted to write for some time. If just to get the events down for me to process properly after so many years.
So last weekend was the 5th anniversary of my graduation from University. Five long years since I spent four equally long years studying for a degree that has gotten me absolutely nowhere.
But I digress. To be honest, I never assumed that my graduation day would be a big deal. But something else happened that day, which came to a head 2 weeks later, and pretty much redefined and solidified my relationship with my mother. When I graduated university, I also graduated from under her shadow.
Most people would say they become a lot more ‘themselves’ when they go to university. Away from home for the first time, they’re able to embrace a lot of things they couldn’t under the careful gaze of mummy and daddy. Although I won’t deny I definitely fell under this category (my demi-goth years, the beginnings of my cosplay obsession, my first tattoo), in the back of my mind, the knowledge of my mother’s disapproval continued to hold me back. Perhaps it’s the same for everyone at this time of life – even when free we desperately cling to the hope that our parents will just be happy we’re happy.
Anyway, as my fourth year began to end, graduation started to approach, and I started getting nightmares. Not so much of failing – I got through the course with the highest awards I could get – but of the fact that my parents would expect me to actually go to the graduation ceremony.
I didn’t want to go. I did not want to go on that stage and collect my degree. Frankly, it wasn’t my idea of a good time – I would have been happy to get it in the post and then party at the prom a few days later. Going on stage in front of that many strangers to get an award didn’t appeal.
But that was just one issue – the real issue was the fact that both my mother and father planned to attend. This filled me with a cold, deep dread – because by this point, these 2 people hadn’t been in the same room together in nearly 3 years…and hadn’t interacted without turning it into a huge screaming match in nearly 6…with the topic of me going to university being the subject an awful lot of the time.
Frankly, I had vivid (and as awful as it sounds, perfectly reasonable) nightmares that the two of them would snap in the middle of the ceremony and start yelling at each other in front of everyone. Considering they’d done it at home, in restaurants, car parks and other people’s houses – I certainly couldn’t see any reason why they wouldn’t.
However, it became clear that I didn’t actually get a say in this matter. When I told my Dad I didn’t really want to attend, he told me he’d be dragging me onto the stage himself if he had to. And when I brought it up with my mum, I was told I’d be going whether I wanted to or not. On top of which, Dad was going on holiday to Orkney the day after, and so would naturally be bringing my stepmother, and my Nana was coming. My Nana was a great peacemaker, but my mum and my stepmother in the same area for an extended length of time…my nightmares just go worse. Especially as my mum was living with her new boyfriend after her recent divorce and she and my stepmother have never been particularly civil to each other.
But then I came up with a plan. If I had to go through with this little piece of humiliation, I was damn well going to make sure they didn’t make it worse. We were doing it my way or not at all – I spoke to both of them, and laid down the rules. We would all meet up and have the carvery lunch, then go get photos. Afterwards the parents would take their seats in the hall (could only get 2 tickets originally, but managed to snag another on the day for Nana. It was in no way meant to be a slight on my stepmother, would have loved for her to have a ticket), I go on stage, walk off stage, return my gown, meet up with my brother, and go for dinner at the best Italian in town.
And if there was one, just one argument, or scuffle, or unnecessary insult I was going home, graduation ceremony be damned. After all the parties and events where my brother and I were forced to grin and bear it, or clean up afterwards, they were going to act like responsible adults for one day, and set aside their issues to be happy for me.
Both agreed, and with a still slightly nervous disposition, I confirmed I’d be attending the graduation.
When the day finally came, it didn’t get off to a great start as mum completely dismissed the outfit I’d planned to wear. I ended up wearing a dress she picked out instead as I was willing to be generous (and it wasn’t actually half bad – ended up in my work wardrobe a year later), but drew the line at any make up other than concealer – again, I’ll be generous and say she didn’t have a tantrum at that, even if there was a close resemblance.
However, that was the only road bump. She even made a point to tell me that her boyfriend would not be attending as this was just family. I was pretty happy about that – nothing against her new BF but I’d only met him once by that point. When we all met up, I got the call about the extra ticket, and I got to enjoy a meal with all my parental figures getting along amicably since…well, ever. I felt happy enough about it that I was even willing to ask for a full family photo when we were getting them (in hindsight, this was a very bad move on my part – ended up with a photo nobody but me wants to hang).
At graduation, my nerves decided to show, as I spilled water no less than three times – twice on myself, and once on my fellow student, thankfully not too badly. My left side was soaking for a good amount of the 90 minutes, and I kept glancing over to where my parents were sitting whenever I heard a louder than usual noise.
(Thanks to this, the fact that I was going on stage in front of hundreds of people, that I was wearing heels (that weren’t properly broken in as they were my rarely used ‘interview shoes’), I was ridiculously nervous, and when I went on stage, I got a ‘smile Batale’ from the Dean).
Nothing happened. It’s kind of sad just how astonished I was that nothing had actually happened. We reunited with my Stepmother who’d gone window shopping during the ceremony, and headed to a local pub to meet my brother, and wait until it was time for the reservation. With everyone chatting and getting along, this was actually turning into the best day I’d had in a very long time. And by far the best memory of my collective family since I was a child.
While they settled down with drinks, I grabbed my gown and went to return it.
I was gone maybe 20 minutes.
When I came back, they were still all smiles. Mine however, faltered when mum’s boyfriend walked through the door after another 15 minutes. Perhaps I should have asked what he was doing there when mum had insisted he wouldn’t be coming, but I didn’t want to rock the boat.
Then my mum stood with her new man, came over and smiled, gave me a hug, said she’d ‘explain later’ and walked off without a second look. As she walked out the door, everyone else stood and walked out the door, heading in a direction opposite of the restaurant. When I ask where we’re going, I’m told everyone thought the Italian reservations were too early considering how big a lunch we’d had, and we’re going to a restaurant on the outskirts of town instead.
It’s clearly too late, but I snap and ask for someone to explain what the hell went on in the 20 minutes I left them alone. Apparently there’d been some miscommunication about the events after graduation. Dad’s side had assumed mum would be leaving after the ceremony, and my stepmother and mother were struggling to stay on each other’s good sides. This despite the fact that they agreed to my plans weeks before.
My spirits, which had been in such good form all day, sank like a rock. We go to the restaurant, but astonishingly, people can tell I’m upset, and we head to yet a different restaurant – a franchise Italian in an attempt to get me the carbonara I’d been wanting all day. It’s a valid effort, but for me, the day’s ended on a sour note.
It’s not so much that the plans changed. This hurts, especially as it was the plans that directly followed my parents getting what they wanted, but what kept me agitated was the fact that they didn’t tell me. As if they knew I’d react badly and waited until I was gone to finalise their plans.
The conclusion finally comes 2 weeks later when my Dad calls me up. When I confront him about what happened, he apologised, and admitted that I’d been treated badly. They should have told me what was happening when I returned. I was grateful, and accepted that though it wasn’t the day I wanted, at least my parents admitted they had been in the wrong.
Two days later, I moved back home. Mum visited weekly just to make sure we were still alive, and we talked about what happened. She placed the blame solely at the feet of Dad and my stepmother for what happened. When they told her what they thought was going to happen, she called her boyfriend. I argued that they should have told me what was happening, and that nobody had forced her to leave.
What happened then? My mother blamed me. What happened was my fault because I hadn’t stood up for her. I’d seen her walk out the door and hadn’t said anything. If I’d really wanted her there I would have said something.
Okay, first of all my mother is a full on wildcat. She has never failed to defend herself against anyone. It’s something I’ve always admired about her. Two, I’m supposed to start a scene in a pub because my mum is running out the door with the boyfriend she promised wasn’t coming with a quick ‘explain later?’ I’m not her! And also not a child, we’d just spent the day celebrating my graduation from university! The least she could have done is taken me to the side and told me what happened!
I was livid. I was furious. All I wanted was some acknowledgement that she’d unintentionally hurt me, and what I got was diversion and accusations. But it did give me something else – an epiphany into our relationship.
I realised that I cared a hell of a lot more about my mum’s happiness than she did about mine. All I asked for was one day where they had to ‘grin and bear it’. In exchange I’d do something I really didn’t want to do. Instead, both played nice until they got what they wanted and then did their own thing. Dad was no more in the right that day, but at least he was willing to admit it.
So I decided to stop my own grinning and bearing. A few weeks later I got my hair cut shorter than it had ever been – something I’d held off on because my mother hated my hair short and loved it long, despite me hating the sheer amount of work maintaining it caused. I bought the clothes I’d always eyed but never bought because I knew how much mum hated them. I allowed myself to play video games and read manga as much as I wanted when I wasn’t working, shutting out any complaints from the weekly visitor. I had tried to make a compromise where both of us could be happy and get what we wanted, and it failed. So from now on, I live my life and make my choices completely on what makes me happy, regardless of the peanut galleries complaints. I’m not listening to her complaints.
Honestly? I don’t think my mother has any idea that this was the catalyst for our current relationship. She’s certainly been forced to master ‘grin and bear it’ techniques since her guilt tripping and complaints don’t work, but I’m certainly not going to bring it up unless she asks. I’m happy with myself, and with our current status quo.
And that conclusion was worth the sour memory of my graduation day. Times 10.