In my late twenties, I recall a time I paid a visit to my parent’s house for a family dinner. During my visit, my mom had to slip out of the house briefly to go to the store, so she asked me to place one of the dishes she was cooking in the oven for her. I removed the tinfoil that she had covering the casserole dish and placed the dish in the oven. I figured it didn’t need the foil, I usually like the top of my Shepherds pie a bit crispy.
When my mom came home, she pulled the pie out of the oven and saw that the tinfoil had been removed. She turned to me with one hand holding the oven door, the other hand holding the oven mitt and yelled, “Oh my god, so stupid, so, so stupid!”
In that moment, my twenty-nine-year-old soul shriveled up and suddenly I was seven- years -old again.
I was standing in my mom’s kitchen, being yelled at and called stupid for trying to help. I was stupid when I tried to wash the dishes because she didn’t like the way I left the dishes a little soapy. I was stupid when I dropped something. I was stupid when I forgot something. I was stupid when I didn’t put a jacket on my two-year-old sister when I was forced to bring her to the park with me.
My stupid twenty-nine-year-old body stood there in that very same kitchen I grew up in, trying to hold back my burning tears of rage. I couldn’t hold them back, the hurt and anger took over as I screamed, “I’m not stupid! How would you feel if I called you stupid!!? It’s not nice!!” My mom could see how angry I was and replied, “Don’t get all upset.”
She didn’t get it. She had no idea that I had anger and sadness hidden away inside me. I had no idea until this moment that I had anger and sadness buried deep within. It was in this moment that my childhood memories of feeling ashamed, inadequate, never good enough, and verbally abused came back.
As I wiped my tears and tried to get a hold of myself, a flashback came over me. It was a vivid memory of a trip I took with my mom when I was fourteen. She brought me with her to visit her family in Ontario for a wedding, where we stayed with her mom for a week.
When we arrived at the airport my grandma, short, with a round face and short black hair, approached my mom with a tap on the arm. I was expecting airport hugs, like a scene from a movie, however, my mom received a tap on the arm from her mom saying these words in her Chinese accent, “you’re so fat now”. My mom burst into a fake laugh and we carried on.
Five days into our trip, I found my mom sitting on my grandma’s front porch staircase crying. I had never, ever seen my mom cry.
Her tears, made me tear. I felt an instant sadness take over me. Seeing my mom in this type of emotional pain, broke my heart into a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of mini pieces. I walked down the staircase, sat down beside my mom and listened to her weep. A few seconds later, she looked up at me, her eyes welled with tears, as she said, “My mom so mean to me, I hate it here.”
My mom in that moment was a little girl again. Being in the house with her mom, brought back her past hurts. The memories she suppressed came rushing back. The pain that led her to run away from home at sixteen.
My sudden recollection of this incident of my mom and grandmas relationship calmed me down. My broken seven-year-old soul slowly vanished and my adult soul came back to reality. Standing in my childhood home, I looked at my mom’s face and realized that yelling at her wasn’t going to solve anything.
The only thing I could do was forgive her.
Forgive her because she learned what she lived as a child. Forgive her because she was dealt a rough hand.
She may never understand how deeply the word stupid has affected me in my life. But I forgive her. I forgive her because if I don’t, I will never truly be able to heal.
My sudden vivid flashback of my mom and my grandma helped me use empathy towards her rather than anger. In a calm tone with an extended expression used for each word, I said one more time, “I don’t like when you call me stupid, it’s not nice.” My mom quickly looked at me and replied in her broken English, “I don’t know why you take off the foil?” Then she shook her head and walked away.
It was evident my mom knew I was upset. It was also evident that she lacked the communication tools to articulate anything more about the situation. In her eyes, it was merely about the foil. When she called me stupid, she didn’t intentionally mean to hurt my feelings, break me down, and belittle me.
Children learn what they live and the way that we talk to them becomes their inner voice. The belief that I lacked intelligence became my inner voice as a child and affected my self-esteem, self-worth, and ability to believe in myself.
Today, if my inner voice tells me I lack intelligence, or that I’m not enough, I show myself compassion and forgiveness. I gently approach this negative self-talk and doubt with the intent to understand what is triggering it. Essentially, these moments of self-awareness are when I begin to unlearn what I lived.