There are many broken families out there and mine is one. An estranged adult child, I hadn’t identified myself as one for the stigma I associated with being cut off from family.
What sort of an ungrateful fuckwit do you have to be to cut off contact with the people who raised you?
It turns out you have to be one very hurt, unheard and misunderstood person (or even parsley!) who simply needs time and space to figure herself out.
I hadn’t maintained regular contact with mum or dad since my early 20s. This changed when I began having children of my own two-and-a-half years ago.
To be clear, the conversations with my mum, dad and brother didn’t start overnight. It began with posting photographs of my little ones on family chat through Facebook Messenger. Way to go Facebook, you did have a role in bringing this one family closer.
Slowly as the photos kept flowing into the family chat channel, so did mum’s desire to face a very long journey from Istanbul, Turkey to Sydney, Australia to be with her granddaughters.
Her first visit was in 2017, then another visit in 2018 and yet another one just at the beginning of this year.
Mum’s visits always included smuggling in of some sort of Turkish food in her suitcase.
My partner, an Australian, let’s call him Guy, told her the first time she arrived that all food items are to be declared at the Australian border.
Mum seemed to understand, she shook her head and said “uh huh” which is a sure sign that whatever you’re telling her she isn’t considering at all. It’s something she’s done within our nuclear family setting many times causing endless arguments with dad who assumes every time that “uh huh” means “I understand”.
She smuggled more Turkish food during her second visit and again my partner had words with her.
Her third visit she brought leblebi, which is roasted chickpeas. Wondering what leblebi tastes like? They’re God awful. Leblebi sucks all the moisture straight out of your mouth like chalk might. I don’t know why anyone would eat them or feel a need to smuggle them to Australia but there she was proud of herself for having packed them in a vitamin container and had made it past border security without detection.
“I can’t believe your mum brought seeds into the country…” my Australian partner was fuming.
I felt the need to do what I do best. Meddle. I’m parsley, you see.
“Mum, he’s upset that you brought seeds. All food items need to be declared at customs.”
“They are not seeds. They’re a snack.” She said and shot me a look across my face like I’m an insane person.
“Yes, but you have to declare anything that’s a plant or animal. It’s the rule of the land!” She didn’t say anything. I realised that leblebi is a snack and not a seed to wreak havoc on the Australian ecosystem.
I knew what to do next – bury my roots further in the soil of this argument that Guy should be having with my mum. I’m a good parsley. Ain’t I?
“C’mon Guy, get a grip. They are roasted.”
“That’s not the point!” he was angry. I’d seen this face before. Every time he believes someone isn’t giving him the respect he feels he deserves, this is the face I get.
I had to do something.
And no, I could not keep going back and forth trying to explain each others’ perspectives. I had two young daughters to look after. “Ain’t got time for this shit” I thought.
Family That Dines Together…
So I hosted a dinner. I told both Guy and mum that we were having special reunion dinner together at 7 PM sharp. Throughout the day I reminded mum and Guy, who is known to get caught up at work and come home late.
“Can’t wait to see you at dinner!” I SMS’ed him building up anticipation. Thankfully he came home at 6:30, giving himself plenty of time to relax into dinner.
I’d typed up the dinner menu and placed it on the plates.
It was a three course dinner with lavender iced tea between the courses as palate cleanser. It was made with locally grown lavender from a neighbour’s front yard.
The appetiser was a flavour familiar to all of us. It was spinach pie filling with onions and feta cheese. Mum used to bake various Filo pastries to sell at farmers’ markets and the good old spinach pie was among my favourites.
Guy had a taste when he’d visited mum and dad’s home in DC in 2011 when we first started dating, but that’s another story. The important thing is we opened up with a flavour we all knew and loved thanks to mum bringing it into our lives.
The main course was something Guy and I tasted on our trip to Fiji.
We were fortunate enough to visit a traditional village when one of the elders (who wasn’t the chief as we were led to believe) invited us. To prepare for our visit, Guy Googled the village customs. We were to offer Kava (root of a plant from which the villagers make a calming ceremonial drink) to the head of the house and had to take off our hats before entering their hut.
So we bought the best Kava we could find. Upon arrival at the hut Guy remembered to take off his hat as a sign of respect. I was too excited and caught up with saying “hello” to the family to remember to take off my hat and Guy whispered “you’re rude” and at that moment I knew how important respecting customs was to Guy. I wonder if Guy realised that acknowledging people is my main driver and in the process, I forget the rules.
I told this story as we were enjoying the coconut fish I’d cooked up to honour our Fijian friends with whom we first had this type of fish. Admittedly, my version was not very good. But the story was. Mum started to understand why it was so important to Guy that she obey the customs of Australia and declare all food items at Customs.
A personal note here, no matter where you’re traveling to, or who you’re going to see (even if it’s your daughter, sister, brother, etc…), please make sure you’re respecting them by following their house rules, otherwise, your trip may not be such a happy memory.
In Turkish we have a saying “tatliya bagla” meaning a happy ending (not the sexual kind!) so the dessert was to conclude the dinner in a way that was to satisfy everyone.
Guy had seen the importance of food to our culture, mum recognised Guy’s respect of other people’s customs and expectation that Australian laws be obeyed. This set the stage for the dessert which was specially created for this occasion to bring the best of both cultures together.
Reunion Pudding, a combination of the lemon butter Guy’s mum had made from the lemons growing in her backyard, ricotta cheese which I’d bought with Guy’s money and leblebi to top it off, was perhaps not the tastiest pudding, being only slightly better than Christmas Pudding, but it made everyone happy.
As a writer, I was very satisfied with the way I ended our dinner.
For Now, Coffee
As for how I’m keeping the family ties alive and well?
Again, Facebook has much to do with reuniting our family.
My brother and I share a passion for coffee. So we started a messenger group where we post photos of the coffee we’re having.
Mum sometimes posts tea photos, but we don’t mind. I sometimes post wine photos. It’s so that when we have a moment to sit down to enjoy a drink, we’re thinking of each other.
My cousin Nergiz has been a happy addition to the group and I really like seeing everyone’s beverages and feeling like I’m there with them enjoying a drink. It’s helping me heal my emotional hurt one coffee at a time.
Over to you…
Have you had a falling out with your immediate family?
Have you found some ways to overcome the misunderstandings to heal and grow as a person so that you can be a better son, daughter, brother, sister, mother or father?
E-mail me your story, firstname.lastname@example.org