Ice cream dreams of perfect parents

I had a weird dream last night. In it, I went back home for a visit to where my parents live, about 20 miles from where I grew up. It’s still part of the same “metro” area even though it’s very small.

In the dream, my parents took me to a trendy new ice cream place in town that had just opened up. I was so excited by the existence of this shop that I decided to move back there, thinking it was a sign that the area was changing. I told everyone I was moving back. But then before I left to return here, I suddenly came to my senses and told everyone I’d changed my mind and I just couldn’t live there after all.

I mentioned the dream to my husband. One of the things I love about him is that he understands the way my mind works better than anyone else does. He suggested maybe the dream was about missing my parents and I came to realize he was probably right.

On both a literal and metaphorical level, I associate my parents with ice cream. They love it and ate it almost every night when I visited them exactly a year ago. But I can’t actually handle ice cream; it doesn’t make me feel good. It always sounds like it will be a good idea to have some but then it makes me feel so bad I won’t have it again for a year or more. In fact, I think the last time I actually had ice cream was when I visited them last year.

Like ice cream, my parents are often sweet and it always sounds like I will enjoy them. But the reality is often quite different.

It feels weird to say any of this because right now, my relationship with my parents is probably the best it’s ever been. It’s been good for almost two years. I don’t have any real complaints about them and have worked hard to put the past behind me. I’ve apologized to them about holding a grudge for so long and asked for their forgiveness.

They are often very generous. They sent us a fairly significant amount of (unsolicited) money to help out after my husband was diagnosed with cancer.

They are also pretty progressive, especially compared to others in their generation. They were completely supportive and kind when my oldest came out as transgender.

And yet, there’s still this awareness I can’t escape that they don’t meet my emotional needs and never really have. I felt it acutely while growing up but didn’t know why everything felt so wrong. I blamed myself, thinking that if I were a better kid, my parents would have been more interested in me. I used to wish as a kid that something really bad would happen to me to make them show they cared.

That didn’t really change when we moved back there almost 18 years ago. But for some reason, I expected it would. I thought that having their grandchildren close by would make them more involved with my kids than they were with me. It didn’t and that hurt a lot. I had friends whose parents had weekly dates with their grandkids and one friend whose mother drove two hours to bring her soup when she was sick. Those were the kinds of things I wanted.

I came across something in my Facebook memories earlier this week (which may have triggered the dream) about the time several years ago when I broke my wrist pretty badly and had a fairly involved surgery to repair it. I had a tough recovery. I was about a week out from surgery and posted that I just wanted my mom to at least come check on me.

She didn’t do so until more than three weeks after the surgery and she was hurt that my mother-in-law had been helping me. My mom was looking for an invitation to come help me. But at the time, I couldn’t even bathe myself and was still working full-time from home. I needed a mom to come over and help without being asked.

I find myself feeling that way again now. My mom knows about my husband’s cancer. I don’t know if I ever told her specifically that he’s stage IV but I did tell her it was really bad and that they didn’t catch it early. This is a time when that little girl in me still wants a mommy to hold me (or even call) and let me cry and tell me everything is going to be okay.

But instead, I hear from her every couple weeks. We talk about her golf games or the weather or my grandpa’s birthday. It’s almost like my husband’s cancer doesn’t exist to her. But for me, avoiding talking about it feels like denial and it’s not something I can ever deny. I don’t have crippling anxiety about it often anymore but I can’t ever pretend it’s not happening.

Maybe she’s also afraid. My parents’ strong suit has never been in facing painful truths or events that they’d rather ignore. But it’s still something I find hurtful anyway, whether intended or not.

Still, this is all the more complicated because I think I understand where my parents are coming from. I think they feel rejected because my sister and I don’t reach out enough. And they seem to feel too preemptively rejected to really reach out to us in a meaningful sort of way.

I know they’re not bad people. They are complicated humans like everyone else. I forgive them for the unintentional ways they’ve hurt me. But they’re also not seeming to work on getting better, either. It seems as though their lives have been difficult and they put up these walls that keep distance between us.

Right now, I just want my mommy, the kind of mommy I never really had. The kind of mommy I’m not sure I was able to be to my own kids because I didn’t have a model, though at least I am open about it and keep trying.

I think I need to grieve the fact that my mother was not what I needed, while still loving her as she is. I’ve only been working on the second part, which is not allowing me to process my legitimate and valid grief about her absence when I needed her.

I don’t doubt that there’s probably a lot of pain on her end and I feel bad for that. But I also have to stop carrying it as my responsibility and work on my own continued healing.

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