I am in the line for security at the airport. It is a longer line than usual, but thankfully I arrived early enough to not care. Behind me stands a daughter and a mother. At one point, daughter says loudly: “I was so calm this morning. Now I’m totally stressed out. Mom, you’re stressful. Travelling with you is stressful. I hate this. When I’m alone, travelling is not stressful. This is awful.” About thirty seconds after she finishes her last sentence, I turn and look at her, catching her eye. I say nothing. The line moves slowly. I badly want to speak to the daughter, but as she continues in angry mode, I assume it would not be well received. At one point, the mother is commenting on how she had been cold outside, but now inside is warm and so she will take off her sweater. As she takes off her sweater, I observe: ‘Of course, you know it will be cold in the airplane.’
I hadn’t done it consciously, but I quickly realize this was a tester – to see how they might react to me entering their verbal space. The mom, sweater off, simply says – ‘Well, yes’ and in a tone that doesn’t seem inviting to me. I’ve started enough random conversations with strangers to know when they aren’t interested. I look at the people in front of me. I look at the floor.
Finally, I cannot bear it anymore – the bubbling inside me. We are at a standstill for a few minutes and the mom-daughter conversation gets loud again. When there is a pause, I look up and catch the daughter’s eye and I say it: “I’m sorry, totally none of my business, but when I hear you, I hear myself. I mean, before, when you were saying how stressful your mom is – that was me, before, maybe five years ago. Thing is, yeh, your mom is going to do stuff that annoys you, but how calm you are about it is up to you. How much you enjoy your trip is up to you.” Pause, while my heart quickens its pace as I wait to for her/their response.
“Yeh, I know. You are totally right” shrugs daughter.
And with that, we continue to talk. Turns out daughter is twenty-three and mom fifty-six. The daughter is thin, perhaps five foot five with long straw blond hair. She looks quite soft. But then she talks and you can feel the anger she carries, the hardness inside her. She thinks her mom is the cause of it all. She explains how she is worried about this, how she wonders if she should talk to someone professionally about this (remember, I’m in the US). She thinks she should meditate. “After all”, she observes, “I’m never like this with my friends.”
We behave with immediate family in ways that we do not behave with others – we have no boundaries. I say this and daughter gets excited: “Exactly – she has no boundaries!” I don’t want to take sides, but I am feeling for mom here. Using an example of conflict they experienced before coming out to the airport, I observe – based on something she says – that it seems if the daughter’s friends behaved the same way, she wouldn’t react with such levels of stress – and she nods her head. I’m thinking at this point: daughter has mom in a box labeled in capital letters, perhaps red: STRESS. She sees mom and she sees the box.
Most of the conversation is with the daughter. The mom is silent except when I ask her something directly. She is soft-spoken. She explains they are on their way to a brother’s/son’s fiance’s bridal shower, going first to LaGuardia and then Newark (daughter criticizes her for giving too much detail). She is looking forward to the trip. Daughter is not. Mom confirms she would like for the daughter to have fun and that whenever they travel she enjoys it and wishes her daughter would also.
I learn a bit more about their family dynamic – the daughter has four brothers and no sisters, while the mom is one of five daughters, no brothers. “Perhaps” observes daughter “this is the thing, I’m just so different from her. I can’t be the sisterly type. I’ve got a lot of boy energy.” The mom suggests that it might be a big load to be the only girl in a family.
We shift subjects when focus on taking off shoes and putting stuff in in security boxes. I think we will part ways after a few words about my being off to London, but then I find them next to me while I am on the bench putting on my shoes. I am about to say goodbye, when I have that bubbling again. “So, I know that your mom does things which annoy you – it is hard for a mom not to and it is easy for a daughter to get annoyed. But I sense that your mom loves you. And she doesn’t want to stress you out. It’s a gift – a mom who loves you and wants to spend time with you. Not everyone has that.””
“I know” daughter says “I know and you know what, I don’t want be like this. I don’t like being like this. This isn’t me. It’s who I am in response to my mom”
“No, its not you” I venture. And then I add, “It’s who you are in this dynamic.”
“Exactly,” she says “It is who I am in response to my mom being so stressful.”
“Hmm. Yes, you are stressed out by a dynamic between you and your mom” I feed back, as I sense that our conversation is ready to close.
“Do give meditation a try. And it is great that at 23 you are aware that this is not you, and that you want to change it. It is an early start – I did not come to such awareness until I was a lot older. I hope you enjoy your trip.” I offer up as a conclusion.
The mom leans over and gives me a hug with a quiet “Thank you.” The daughter says warmly “Thanks for saying something and sharing your experience.”
Sometimes I get it wrong – I stick my nose in it and people get annoyed and angry. I rarely do it to give advice. I usually do it just to be social and because I enjoy conversation and learning about/from other people. Nevertheless, it isn’t always welcomed.
But it is exchanges like this that make the risk of random connections worth it.
And it is exchanges like this that I look back on and wish I had expressed my gratitude, had said ‘thank you’ to mother and daughter. Not simply for interesting conversation – but for helping me reflect on and learn from/for my own relationships.
They won’t hear it, but I’ll say it anyway here (and now, as the plane starts it’s descent into London): “Thank you mom and daughter. Thank you.”