I am the matriarch and the matriarch was me.
Illustration by Leila Kazeminejad (Co-Editor-in-Chief, The Continuist) IG: @kazemoneyjad
By Angie Toczyski (she/her, IG: @angie_toczyski)
Her judgments pierced me like tiny needles on my fingertips, forbidding me from making my next move without a wince of pain that would strike me like waves. It was arguments in the car, misunderstandings, and curses thrown left and right. My mother’s voice is stern and demanding, as if looking down on a small child no matter how old I would be. I felt isolated anytime I brought something up, as it felt like I was talking to someone of a higher power I had to convince of my rights and somewhat weak and naïve opinions. I would fight back, one never fully understanding the other as her rushed mother tongue would clash with my English words peppered into my horrendous attempt of Polglish. In public it was more hushed, although break outs of a more aggressive velocity would sometimes erupt. But in private, pasts were brought up in deceiving fashion as every word was latched onto and no one was safe from a criticism that would even make a crooked politician cry.
From childhood to teenage-hood, the arguments went from petty disagreements to meltdowns that bled into adulthood. It was so easy to fall into the constant shouting matches of a mother who just didn’t understand you. She shocked me with her opinions and views that seem almost outlandish. You might even think to yourself how it is possible two completely different people can be related so closely. Why would my mother think this way? Why does she treat me so harshly? And so I could not relate to other Canadians that spoke about their mothers; they were simply different from mine. I was raised in a household of savings and traditions, nothing like the childhoods my Canadian peers seemed to hold when they would eat McDonalds as a dinner outing instead of a hot meal at home. Mothers with careful tongues and fake smiles that would confuse me, a person who had only experienced what I thought was the harsh reality of adulthood from my hard-hitting mother.
And yet, the Polish motherhood that I was so familiar with had shattered before me as I started seeing my mother as more than the figure of absolute infallibility. For even when it seemed our arguments were the only ones she endured, I could not help but realize the repetition of history that she had carried with her mother before. A woman of immovable and sometimes backwards tradition, my grandmother was the ultimate foil to my mother as she was to me. The secrets that my grandmother passed down to my mother were shielded from me in a naïve manner I did not see before. For my mother was a daughter like me before she was stripped of her personhood; someone who was once naïve and progressive and simply confused as to why her mother acted the way she did. She had arguments even more extreme than mine and was not shielded from the truth, all in the midst of a civil war and political unrest. She became a mother faster than I ever would have thought possible as she immigrated to Canada, losing herself in the process. And so how could I, the more privileged of the three generations, even think that we could be that different?
As I pull out the needles I once felt in my fingers, I notice how they seem to be in her fingers as well. My mother’s creative streak was passed down to me, along with her strong voice and pale eyes. Her passion, anxiety, and need for balance perfectly mirrors mine. She gave me her smile and wittiness, and instilled her eye for detail and beauty from childhood. Call it the mother-daughter bond, but our tearful arguments and silent treatments were not in vain, for our moments of deep laughter and storytelling surpassed these arguments tenfold. And as I look towards the person who raised me, past the mother I once saw, I realize I am not safe from the same cycle. For the young woman who sacrificed her future for me once dreamed as I do, and like her, I will give up my personhood unwillingly to protect the person after myself. And we will have the same arguments I held with the woman before me, and we will never quite understand how we are so different and yet so similar. Sitting here, useless, all I can do as I grow into my personhood is hope the needles won’t be so sharp for the person to come.