Honour thy father and thy mother. A passage of Biblical scripture that, although my family is not religious in the slightest, adheres to in the strictest of fashions. Scratch that. In my house, the word “Honour” is replaced with “Obey”, a synonym, as you will. However, “honour”, referenced in various Jewish and Christian sources, constitutes of providing parents with food, drink, and clothing, taking them home and out, and providing all their needs cheerfully. “Obey”, on the other hand, according to Merriam-Webster, is defined by “doing what someone tells you to do or what a rule, law, etc., says you must do”. This one-word, this four letter replacement has caused such irrefutable and irreparable damage within the family, damaging bonds between parent and child.
A seemingly innocuous equivalent in the eyes of my mother and father, this substitute is a favorite of my father, who quotes it at least once a week. Ironically, it is not my father, but rather my mother who enjoys the luxuries that it provides. A little hindsight into my mom: she’s the poster child of a crowd pleaser—charming, graceful, and beautiful. She even has my friends won over. Oh my gosh, your mom is adorable. Or, I love your mom. Even, Can she be my mom? In many ways, she is indeed the epitome of perfection, a hard worker, a devoted wife, a caring mother. In others, not so much. The word Tiger Mom springs to mind. A mother who is overly strict with her child in order to foster an academically competitive spirit. I can’t find fault in her belief that this method of parenting will ensure my success in schooling and my eventual career. Amy Chua, the author of The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, raised by a tiger mother herself, has experienced success financially and academically; she’s a professor at Yale and has gained widespread recognition for her works. Nonetheless, the apparent superior method of rearing has an addendum, a catch if you will: This form of upbringing is intended to direct a child towards financially successful careers at the potential risk of feeling emotionally unfulfilled and/or socially inept.
I have developed the persona of the traditional high achieving student: stellar grades, a plethora of extracurricular activities, a child on the straight and narrow, a guaranteed success story. But that single caveat has and will define me.
“Hey Brittany, you love me more than Stephanie right?” my friend innocently asked one day when I got out of my chair.
My smile froze. But not for the reasons one might assume. Love. The word terrifies me. I liked everyone well enough, but love? Out of the picture. Could it be simply be in my nature that I hold everyone at a distance? Could it be that the people I have allowed into my heart have set a precedent of creating emotionally hazardous relationships? I don’t know. So instead, I shove this feeling of unease down my throat and stutter out a lame response before scurrying back to my seat.
And that’s not the first time I’ve been stunned by the four letter word.
“Oh my gosh Brittany, you’re the best. I love you.” While the rational voice in me dismisses this and encourages me to retort with the same three word eight letter statement (I mean, they’re just words, right?), another character, some part of my thalamus, leaves me unable to respond outright, and instead I mask my discomfort with a weak chuckle and an equally weak response.
Am I just incapable of love? A short Google search returns with this result: emotional deprivation disorder, a “mental disorder characterized by an oversensitivity to criticism of others, a general feeling of inadequacy, and difficulty in forming relationships with others,.”
Oversensitivity to criticism of others: check. I’ll admit it. I like to think I have a tough skin, but when I’m told I can’t do something, especially from a loved one, I can get offended. Don’t think I can pass this piano evaluation mother? My blood boils, and while I don’t respond out loud, the single thought that consumes me is, watch me. My actions reflect my fury, and instead of wallowing in tears, I play harder. One hour, two hours. Mozart, Bach, Prokofiev, once, twice, three times. Again and again I play sonatina to the point in which my wrists can no longer bear the tension of the constant sixteen-note octaves that fill the pages, until I am confident that I will pass. But is it enough for them, I wonder. A general feeling of inadequacy: double check. Sometimes, I’ll sit on the floor and wonder, will anything ever be enough? Will I ever be enough? Will I ever reach the golden child status that my second oldest brother has achieved. If I study harder, play harder, work harder, will I receive the same stamp of approval? Will I be deserving of love when I acquire this stamp?
Difficulty in forming relationships with others: triple check. How many acquaintances do I have? Tons. How many of them are friends? Dozens. How many are considered close friends? Five. Who can I be myself around? None. All my life, I have been adapted to become what others have wanted me to be, a social chameleon of sorts. To some, I appear as the know-it-all, the intellectual, the walking encyclopedia. To others, the sassy, sarcastic smart-ass, whose main joy in life consists of one upping someone with a snarky comeback. To my parents, however, the facade in place is the mask of the dutiful daughter, the meek and submissive character. This identity transfers, evident even when deciding dinner. “What do you want to eat?” My response: Not I don’t know, or I don’t care, but Whatever you want. Because of this I have been accused of indecisiveness, especially from my eldest brother, who, due to his constant resistance to our parents’ overbearing ways, has alienated himself from the family, only making appearances during mealtimes and to talk to me. He blames his troubles on our parents, for making him go to UOP for a six year college/dental program even though he had no interest in dentistry, and everything that happened after, including the fallout of his dental education, his struggle for acceptance within and outside the household, his apparent stagnation of his goals. His bitterness has me worried. What if I ended up like that one day, where, when I finally found my voice to stand up against my parents it’ll be too late? Or worse yet, would I lose everything? There is one aspect in my brother’s situation that I find envious--through the hardships, he knows who he is. He has found his identity. I, on the other hand, am faceless. Scratch that, not faceless, there’s too many facets to choose from. Who am I? I can’t decide. Maybe that’s why there isn’t a single soul in the world with whom I can be myself around. Because, honestly, how can I be the people around me know who I am when I myself have not figured it out?
Who am I? I am Brittany. I am a 15 year old sophomore who spends way too much time on Wikipedia. I am a former diaper clad baby, a future coffin clad skeleton, a daughter, a sibling, a friend. I am an overachiever and underachiever. A nail picker, a piano player, a trilinguist. A Netflix binger, a closet hoarder, an Amazon shopper. A walking encyclopedia, a wiseguy, a yielder. Maybe even someone incapable of love. Yet, while these are cold hard facts, these aren’t all the components that make up my identity. Truth is, I don’t know who I am. Parts of me have yet to be uncovered. So it’s okay that I’m not quite sure where I stand. Because bit by bit, regardless of the outside forces that are bound to shape me, I’ll figure it out.
And that’s what matters.