We all know that people remember things differently. That's why I was more amused than embarrassed by a conversation my children had the year we were in Saudi Arabia. Several of the kids were living in Provo and deciding what to do for Thanksgiving. The previous two years the rest of the family had agreed to meet the BYU kids in Provo, but since they didn't have the facilities to cook for all ten of us, we had our big meal at a local restaurant. When our oldest daughter, who had recently returned from a mission, offered to host Thanksgiving at her apartment, the others disagreed, saying that it was our "family tradition" to have Thanksgiving at Chuck-A-Rama!!
Little did I know that the stories of Thanksgiving traditions would morph even further. This year, I checked the blog of one of my married daughters, who had posted pictures of the family feast, which I did not attend. I was horrified to read the following:
Contrary to what you have just read, I, just like E's mother, have my own homemade stuffing recipe. It calls for sticks of butter, cloves of garlic, Jimmy Dean sausage, fresh mushrooms, onions, celery, chicken broth, and bags of herbed Pepperidge Farm bread crumbs. It is delicious and takes hours to make. I was so upset by the intimation that our family is used to the "boxed stuff" that I actually shed tears of frustration when I read this post. Why had I spent all of those early Thanksgiving morning hours while the rest of the family slept preparing that stuffing when they would end up remembering that it came from a box?
I have noticed that the family narrative has made quite a shift in the year since I have left my difficult marriage of 30 years. Stories surrounding my leaving vary in detail from what I recall and don't reflect my motivations. Recollections of family life have been reconstructed to demonstrate that I was never a very good Mormon mother. Despite spiral-bound notebooks of minutes written in childish scrawl and cassette tapes of costumed Christmas pageants and testimony-bearings, we "never" had Family Home Evenings. All of my nagging to gather for scripture study has also been lost in the annals of time, since we never did that, either. In short, I was an absentee parent who only in her own head threw birthday parties, created original handmade Halloween costumes before the advent of Pinterest, devised elaborate (winning) school science fair projects, and taught eight children how to read and how to swim before age three. (And incidentally, kept them all alive until adulthood.)
I understand that my children (nearly all of them grown and living on their own), are devastated by the breakup of our marriage. The status of an eternal family is now in question. Perhaps the stories they have created are helpful to them as they try to make sense of this new situation. Narrative adjustments are a normal thing that people do when they suffer dislocation of belief. When the world doesn't match their expectations they tell themselves a story that helps to make sense of it all. I just hate being cast as the wicked monster in their dark fairy tales.
Tonight I have just returned from seeing the film version of "Life of Pi." In this movie, Pi tells two stories about his ordeal as a shipwreck survivor. One is more empirical, the other symbolic and designed to help him deal with the wild side of himself which helped him to survive. I think Pi rather liked his fanciful tale, and wanted others to see the truth in it, but at least he was able to recognize that there were two ways of looking at his experience. He also realized that he himself was the Bengal tiger in his own story.
I hope that one day the children who have vowed never to speak to me again will relent. I hope they'll be able to see me as a mother who loved them and was motivated by good. There is a scene in the Life of Pi where he and the tiger are so weak and emaciated that they can no longer continue their savage conflict. Harsh conditions in the manifest world have stripped them naked. Pi sits down next to the beast and cradles the large, fearsome head on his lap. It is a touching moment.