We’re at a corner table. I’ve just shared stories about several friends remembering sexual assault experiences of their own while watching the Brett Kavanaugh trial. As the waiter sets our tea service down in front of us—kettles, cups, saucers, spoons—my mom says, with an awkward chuckle, “Well, I had a memory come back, too.” The waiter—does he sense a shift?—stiffens. He avoids our eyes, turns on his heels, and walks away wordlessly.
“What is it?” I ask, pouring tea.
“I don’t know,” my mother hesitates. “It’s a heavy topic.”
Our lunches have unspoken rules. Keep it light. No raising your voice. Avoid difficult subjects, like her ex-husband—my father. Stay seated, even when you’re tempted to walk out. No complaining, especially about each other. And the cardinal rule: be nice.
We’ve managed to follow these rules, with only a few lapses, since I was a teenager. My mother worked as a fundraiser for most of her life. Once, in a moment of adolescent pique, I called her a glorified beggar. Another time, she stormed out of the restaurant because I insisted she’d always cared more about her friends than me. On several occasions, we unleashed accusations in embarrassingly self-righteous verbal attacks, each of us convinced we were the true victim of our mother–daughter narrative.
But that was years ago, before I stopped drinking, became a therapist, and had a child of my own. Motherhood has humbled me. It’s helped me appreciate the complexities of…