by Chelsea Huizing
I’m standing in my kitchen, hearing the water in my kettle struggle to boil so I can pour myself a cup of Constant Comment tea. I’m hoping it will help me wake up and soothe me at the same time. This is probably the fifth night in a row that my brain was too busy and too full to allow me to sleep more than 4 or 5 hours. That’s pretty standard for me, but lately it’s been just a little worse than normal. Last night was by far the worst.
The bananas on the counter are taunting me. They’ve been there for a few days too long—brown, starting to deflate a little, and most definitely not going to be making it into any kind of bread or muffin in time to resuscitate them. I toss them too violently into the trash can.
“Fine,” I think at the traitorous fruit, “don’t become delicious banana bread.”
I feel a little amused as I realize that I can relate to both the bananas and their new garbage home.
I feel deflated, and I feel like trash. The comparison feels natural. I relinquish a bleak smile as I finally pour my tea and settle in to write.
I know with everything going on these days, I’m not alone in my struggle to sleep. Facebook scrolling at 4:30am is proof of that, with random memes and dad jokes popping up on my friends’ pages at all hours of the night. I’m probably not alone in finding common ground with something as random as dead bananas—misery loves company, right? This morning’s musings have been brought on by a conversation that I had with my mom last night and I just cannot get it out of my head.
My mom is a beautiful, patient, compassionate, gentle, conservative Christian woman, with an adorable giggle and the biggest heart. She is reserved and “reserved” is putting it mildly. She’s not one to rush into confrontation, and she’s always trying her best to avoid conflict or hurt. Her religious beliefs are foundational to her life and her faith, to me, is a thing of beauty, grace, and humility. All of the most endearing and enduring pictures of love you have in your head? That’s my mom.
My mom somehow raised 5 kids on the small church salary that my dad brought home every month; she was the first one up in the morning and the last one to bed. She homeschooled all of us, and did the taxi-mom thing of shuffling us to sports, theater, after school programs, and first jobs. When I was 12, I remember a 70-year old woman at church telling me that when she grew up, she wanted to be my mom. Seriously, I cannot overstate this sainthood-eligible woman.
That said, talking to my mom hasn’t always been an easy thing for me to do. By her own admission, she’s never been a huge communicator: she would rather listen and hold in her emotions than struggle to find words to express what she was feeling and thinking. This aversion to communication was what frustrated me the most when I was in high school. I remember yelling at her more than once to just say something, anything. Her silence was deafening. It didn’t matter why she was crying, or that I was the one making her cry—I wanted words. I didn’t care what it cost her.
It took years of practice to get past a 5-minute conversation and even so, it doesn’t always work.
Fast forward 12 years. I’m now living as a queer person, separated from my upbringing by hundreds of miles of highways, ideas and beliefs. I no longer consider myself a conservative Christian; I no longer agree with my family on a lot of issues like politics, race, human rights or even finances.
I disrupted everything by coming out to my family 5 years ago. None of my family was necessarily surprised. Even my twin sister had a deadpan, “Yeah, I already knew that” kind of response. Their response made me mad, because no one told me in the 30 years of my life that I was queer; I had to figure that out for myself. It was agonizing; I knew that me being honest would cause all of the pain and distance and disturbance I feel right now. My very Christian family would be devastated. Yet I knew I had to do it, because not being honest with myself (or anyone else for that matter) was literally going to kill me.
Last night I reached an almost indescribable, pre-holiday breaking point and called my mother.
I told my mom it’s hard for me to know that I make my family struggle so much. I explained that it was hard for me to be around my father, a man who actually tells me that he grieves every time he sees me. I detailed that it was hard for me to be around a family that has condemned me for “turning my back” on how I was raised. And I concluded that it was hard for me to be around her, my mother, who allows—and approves—of all of this.
My mom responded that she is scared for me. She’s scared because she believes that I am condemned and going to hell with all the other gays. Yup. That.
I tried to remind her that I am still learning and growing, and that I believe there is even more mercy and grace than we can understand. I tried to tell her she can still be proud of the good person I am and always strive to be. Her job as a mom is not to agree with everything I do, but to love me. And I tried to tell her that it kills me to know that I make her cry; it breaks my heart to know that she is scared for me and that even now, as a grown 35-year-old, I can make her feel like her child is doomed.
She reminded me that I was a valid person, even if she doesn’t agree with every decision I make. She told me that she loved me. And we both cried with each other—something that is long overdue. My mom found the words to tell me that she isn’t perfect, but that she’s going to try to do better. I knew I needed to hear those words, but it still brought tears to my eyes to have my mom say those things to me.
Which brings us back to the dead bananas. My first instinct, after years of conditioning was to see this as another defeat. I still hurt my mom, and the rest of my family. I didn’t change her mind. She still thinks I’m going to hell. I feel like garbage, and want to sit right next to bananas. My first response was to feel like that was where I belonged.
But I have to force myself to remember that there was a victory here—a pretty big one.
We’re both trying to be understanding, and to love each other even when it’s so hard to do. We both left that conversation knowing that we love each other, and that’s what’s most important. I’m still growing; she’s still growing. We’re still learning, and we can do that together. That conversation was essential, as hard and as strained as it was. My mom is doing the best that she can, and so am I.
And there are always ripe bananas to buy.