Accidental Inheritance

As I mentioned last week, I had a pretty enlightening dinner with my mother.  It wasn’t enlightening because of anything in particular that she said, or I said.  It was enlightening because, for the first time in my life, I was able to let go of the outcome and approach the conversation from an entirely new awareness.  Although the conversation wasn’t about me, the themes felt very familiar.  But unlike ever before, I was able to separate myself from the immediate situation while simultaneously observing my own role in our familial dynamic.  I imagine this must be what an out of body experience feels like.

I’ve spent a lot of time blaming my mother for how I turned out.  The way I am has always either been because of her, or in spite of her (more about my incredibly well developed inner rebel coming very soon).  But as much as I’ve often felt like I had no power over how I turned out, I’ve never given her that same benefit, until recently.  The more I have been able to separate myself/my own self esteem from her issues, the more I have recognized that they also came from somewhere in her past.

It’s a very difficult thing to put into words, which is why I haven’t been able to finish more of the story to get it to a point of being able to share it with you.  So in the meantime I wanted to share this remarkable and impactful piece of poetry with you.  It’s one of those examples of the universe putting the messages I need to hear into my path.  So much of this poem speaks to me, but I don’t want to ruin the experience for you by beating the individual passages to death.  I will just say that it is so powerful to finally recognize that we are part of a vicious cycle, learning and then teaching the only “truth” we have ever known; the truth we accidentally inherited.  It’s time to stop the accidental cycle and teach the future generations with purpose and meaning.


Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass.
She says she doesn’t deprive herself,
but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork.
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate.
I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it.
I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.

Maybe this is why my house feels bigger each time I return; it’s proportional.
As she shrinks the space around her seems increasingly vast.
She wanes while my father waxes. His stomach has grown round with wine, late nights, oysters, poetry. A new girlfriend who was overweight as a teenager, but my dad reports that now she’s “crazy about fruit.”

It was the same with his parents;
as my grandmother became frail and angular her husband swelled to red round cheeks, rotund stomach
and I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking
making space for the entrance of men into their lives
not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave.

I have been taught accommodation.
My brother never thinks before he speaks.
I have been taught to filter.
“How can anyone have a relationship to food?” He asks, laughing, as I eat the black bean soup I chose for its lack of carbs.
I want to tell say: we come from difference, Jonas,
you have been taught to grow out
I have been taught to grow in
you learned from our father how to emit, how to produce, to roll each thought off your tongue with confidence, you used to lose your voice every other week from shouting so much
I learned to absorb
I took lessons from our mother in creating space around myself
I learned to read the knots in her forehead while the guys went out for oysters
and I never meant to replicate her, but
spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits

that’s why women in my family have been shrinking for decades.
We all learned it from each other, the way each generation taught the next how to knit
weaving silence in between the threads
which I can still feel as I walk through this ever-growing house,
skin itching,
picking up all the habits my mother has unwittingly dropped like bits of crumpled paper from her pocket on her countless trips from bedroom to kitchen to bedroom again,
Nights I hear her creep down to eat plain yogurt in the dark, a fugitive stealing calories to which she does not feel entitled.
Deciding how many bites is too many
How much space she deserves to occupy.

Watching the struggle I either mimic or hate her,
And I don’t want to do either anymore
but the burden of this house has followed me across the country
I asked five questions in genetics class today and all of them started with the word “sorry.”
I don’t know the requirements for the sociology major because I spent the entire meeting deciding whether or not I could have another piece of pizza
a circular obsession I never wanted but

inheritance is accidental
still staring at me with wine-stained lips from across the kitchen table.

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