It came to me in parts, how cold and unforgiving I'd been to her all those years. Part one: grad school. A literary critic named Edward Said is assigned. His work calls out the idea of the "Other"—namely, people who seem so foreign in some essential way that we consider them utterly alien. Part two: My mother-in-law visits. My husband, her son, never picks at her or rolls his eyes or sighs with irritation. Not when she's with us, and not after she goes. Part three: My 6-year-old is squeezed out of a playdate, and every consolation I offer puts another inch between us. I "don't get it." I'll "never understand." I'm "not listening." It is the first time I've ever been useless to her. No, it's worse than that. I am compounding her pain. Explaining to me is "not worth the trouble." Eventually, she gives up. I am told, in a tone I've never heard before, to "forget it." But actually I have heard that tone before. Where have I heard that tone? Then she's storming upstairs, saying "I'll talk to Dad." I want to be sturdy but it feels like I've been slammed against a wall. And while she's in her room (I guess), writing in her journal (I'll bet), I sit at the table wondering how it is that I have become so Other and if we'll ever have the easy camaraderie my husband shares with his mom, and remembering where I know that voice from: 1980 to 1985, suburban Philadelphia. Mom, I think as I slump over my tea. Oh Mom, I'm so sorry.

This story is part of O's Live Your Best Year Toolkit

Next: How to stop negative thinking

Kelly Corrigan, author of The Middle Place and the forthcoming Lift (Voice)


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