I’m nervous all the time.
I come by it honestly–you should see my grandma. “Would you like a sandwich?” “No thanks, I’m good.” “You sure? It’s no trouble.” “I’m sure. I’m not hungry.” “I’ll just make you a sandwich. You can eat it if you get hungry.” “No, grandma, really, I- well, okay then. Thanks, I guess, but I’m really not hungry.”
She’s afraid we don’t like her. It’s worst with me, because, until recently, I didn’t have the emotional capacity to understand how hard it is to be scared, all the time, that people don’t like you. To want to interact with them, but not be able to handle it if they don’t want to interact with you. Even if it’s just because they’re busy, or tired, or there’s a strange itch on their back and they’re trying to figure out if it’s a bee. They don’t respond with full, total enthusiasm=they don’t like you. They won’t want to interact with you ever. (The weird thing is, I do know what that feels like; I just couldn’t empathize well enough to use that knowledge to stop being such a jerk.) It’s worst with me, because I did get annoyed with her, and want her to leave me alone for a while. Not forever. Just… stop offering sandwiches, okay?
The sandwich means “I love you”, and I was saying, “I don’t want you to love me” every time I didn’t want it. I didn’t mean to, but that’s what she heard. She speaks a slightly different language than me, the language of a very anxious 80-something who grew up in Ohio and had three kids and volunteers at the hospital a lot, who has probably done a lot of cool things in her life but I don’t know what they are because I never asked. I only recently learned: if I don’t want to say I don’t love you all the time by accident, I have to learn to speak her language. I don’t have to accept the sandwich, but I do have to (want to) accept the love. “No thanks, I’m not hungry, but we could go for a walk if you want? I wanted to ask you what it was like to raise three girls anyway. If you could give me any advice you wanted, what would you say?” What is it like to be you?
My grandma is a cool lady, and I’m finally old enough to understand that the worst thing I can do is get annoyed with her for not knowing how to ask for love. I don’t see her that often. She’s old. It takes years to get to know somebody. I will not let my grandma die without knowing her.
Happy mother’s day, Grandma.