Were we really fristers after all?

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Apparently we’re good at taking pictures of un-reality. Because the day after Thanksgiving, I walked out of the bathroom to overhear my sister talking to the friend I had brought to Thanksgiving dinner, about how she think I criticize her so much, and how hurtful I am, and that it’s ‘so highschool,’ and I wanted to slam my fist into the door and walk out. Screaming. Crying. I wanted to do it all. Instead I walked back around the corner and put my kid to bed, because parenting duties don’t stop when you overhead gossip going on in the kitchen when they think you’re not listening.

The whole time we were there, my New York born, Seattle, living, friend kept saying things like, “your sister is so nice, she’s just such a nice person,” and honestly I’m sick of that. I’ve been hearing that kind of shit my whole life. My sister, the quintessential cheerleader personality, with all of her baubles and tittering laugh, being compared to my tell-it-like-it-is personality that questions every authority I’ve come across. I’m the older one, the responsible one, the one who doesn’t shamelessly flirt with everyone she meets. The one who came home and studied and didn’t sneak out to party with older boys and questionable friends. And all people who come in contact with her say “she’s so nice.”

I’m tired of feeling like no matter what I do, no matter who I am, that my way of being in the world is wrong. I’m tired of being labelled the ‘difficult,’ one because my personality doesn’t conform to the standard of femininity that my sister embodies. It makes me feel like shit to hear my sister say that I’m basically a terrible person and that she can’t even tell me to my face. Makes me think that she’s just been putting up a happy-happy-joy-joy cheerleader front all this time. And for what? To build a fake relationship with me and have it all go to shit when I overhear her badmouthing me?

Boof says it’s because I have the kind of personality that doesn’t let people come close without dropping their defense mechanisms. That I don’t put up with bullshit and some people don’t like that feature about me. That it’s not about my being being wrong in the world, but rather that it forces them to see how they are wrong in the world, and they must change to interact with me. Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel good. And it makes me want to cut off all relationships, like with my friend, or my sister, to pursue more authentic relationships. Ones that don’t feel like I am a difficult person.

The Ugly Christmas Sweater

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My parents made a last-minute appearance at our place last weekend. And I didn’t hate it. Who have I become? Seriously, this shit is getting weird. It’s like after the 5 out of 6 weekends of seeing them this summer I developed some sort of weird soft spot for them I should probably go to therapy or something. Because this shit ain’t normal.

What’s worse, is that I called my mom today and asked what they were doing this weekend. Seriously Monk-Monk, get it together, it’s been 4 days since you’ve seen them. I might have had a mason jar full of wine, but had been musing about going to see them long before that. There’s something about Potamus asking for ‘buppa and gammy,’ that warms my heart. There’s also something about the comfortable freak flag ugly christmas sweater that is my own’ family’s dysfunction. It’s warm. It’s known. It’s shiny, with tinsel, and little yarn balls sewn on. And it’s not hidden.

For someone with an almost-arrogant ability to intuit things, I have a real blind spot in areas. There have been several instances over the years where I have felt cosmically duped by people. My ex-boyfriend, who I internally labelled as ‘liberal hippie,’ because he grew up in a geodesic dome and went to an earthy home church, turns out to be a gun-totin’ member of the NRA, who is so far Right he makes Georgie W look liberal. Seriously. Having grown up with a Republican Conservative Christian=business suit wearing dad, I sometimes get duped by people who outwardly appear one thing, but are really something underneath. Like wearing their damn ugly Christmas sweater under a button-up work shirt.

So somehow, after 8 years of being with Boof, I have made the transition to an appreciation of my own family, which wears its Ugly Christmas Sweater on the outside, in a very transparent way. It’s causing me to desire driving 2.5 hours to hickville and see my parents for 1-2 nights this weekend. I surprise myself. I hate the town I went to high school in, but for some reason I have this longing for Potamus to have good memories from there. My parents are neurotic, and I’m going to end up seeing them NEXT weekend again, which makes my whole plan even more borderline insane, but it feels so good I can’t help but pull on that wool sweater and head out of town, sans Boof, for a magical Eastern Washington excursion. Maybe we’ll even see a tractor. And I know my mom will talk in her loud voice, saying “Pawl, Pawl, we need ….” (because that’s how she pronounces my dad’s name. It’s fucking ridiculous. But comfy, like that worn in sweater…

From a Distance

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Our 2nd annual Cama Beach camping trip was well under way, and I realized that over the past 5 weeks (4 of which have been spent in some fashion with my parents) that I have been somehow softening toward my parents as people, and possibly even experiencing some softening of memories of childhood. I blame this softening, in part, by the joy my parents had in meeting Mari and her husband and their kids when we all went there for the weekend to wine taste. And the joy my parents had in meeting my friend Amelia as she came up for the day to Cama Beach. They want to know my friends. They want to know my life. 

Memory is a strange thing. Because, if I squint hard enough, soften into a deep breath and let my muscles relax, I can remember the feeling of childhood. I might have been an anxious child in ways, but I was also blissfully carefree in other ways. It wasn’t until we moved in adolescents, and I began to feel awkward and misunderstood and took a cynical look at my parent’s parenting. And then there was the un-diagnosed depression and anxiety that clouded my mind. And in college, and young adulthood there was a VERY cynical look back, seeing my parents in all their faults, how I would do it differently, how very misunderstood I was and how much I felt I had to hide to receive their ‘un’conditional love. 

And there I was, sitting on a log watching my parents play with Potamus on the beach and I just felt soft toward them, toward my memories of them growing up. I haven’t gone to the extreme of saying that everything they did was right, or that nothing they did hurt me at all, but there was this settling in to the gray. That my parents annoy me sometimes AND they love my son (and me, yes, I’ll even go that far). It was really a sweet feeling to just sit and be and not feel all this leftover angst that I usually feel when I’m with them. 

Recipe for a long-lasting marriage?

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This past weekend we left the hot side of the state and headed over the mountains to the HOT! side of the state for a little family reunion of sorts. Normally these family reunions are held in campground in Wenatchee, where my cousins spent every summer as kids, but this year it was a different occasion, so we held it at my parent’s/grandparent’s house, which happen to be next door to each other. We were celebrating my grandparent’s 60th wedding anniversary, which should be a carefree time of celebration, but instead, emotions and tensions ran high…at least in my own mind and heart.

My relationship to my family is complicated for sure, but the thing that is hardest for me is the very black/white nature of their discussions on things, which is heavily influenced by their brand of evangelical Christianity. And I am not the kind of person that believes things I’m told without putting up a pretty good fight. I might be considered skeptical at best, cynical at worst. And I have the mouth of  a sailor and runaway facial expressions that let people know just exactly how much they’re annoying me without me even having to open my mouth. Maybe I sound like I’m bragging, but it’s not something I’m proud of, really. My sister’s laid back go-with-the-flow personality is one that I covet.

At any rate, this lovely celebration to highlight the fact that my grandparent’s have stayed married for 60 years was quite triggering for me. Not because I don’t think they’ve done an amazing job of staying married, but because in the daily life my family members seem to idolize this couple as the BE ALL END ALL of how relationships should be. And truthfully, on the actually 60th wedding anniversary day, I think it’s great to highlight the beautiful, the good, the inspiring. It’s in all the moments before and after that I wish my family could live in a little more of the grey. Because…honestly…my grandparents aren’t saints.

So when my aunt is giving her speech about how wonderful they are, I can’t help but sputter in my mind” BUT MY GRANDPA BEAT MY MOM WHEN SHE WAS A KID! BUT MY GRANDPA STRANGLED ME WHEN I WAS A KID AND MY DAD HAD TO PULL HIM OFF MY 3 YEAR OLD BODY! HE IS NOT A SAINT!” Of course I didn’t shout that out at the dinner table. But I wanted to. Because I think the celebration of 60 years should show that 60 years is not some fairytale. That it’s two very human people who hurt others, hurt themselves, loved others, made mistakes, tried hard, cried a lot, burned a lot of toast, spent a lot of time feeling depressed, maybe had some benign neglect, worked too hard, didn’t work hard enough…the list could go on and on and on (probably for 60 years, ya know?). They are not perfect. They are examples of a value of sticking with it when maybe they could have (or should have?) broken up years ago. I can celebrate with them that they have made it, that they chose a life and have lived in it, but I can’t pretend that their choice, that their personalities and struggles, have not also negatively affected people, you know? My grandma did pipe up with some of the more difficult things, saying stuff like “it was really hard for many years,” and that they are more softer now, more in love than ever before, so it was nice to have some acknowledgment of the imperfections on her part, but I wish that the others could really acknowledge that, too.

But the kicker was, my other aunt giving a speech, that said, “the only marriages that last 60 years are ones that are built on the foundation of Jesus Christ.” and I stopped listening at that point. Because, really? REALLY? I can give my aunt that my grandparent’s marriage is ‘built on Christ,’ because I have seen them actively use prayer and Bible study and going to church to inform their values and ways of relating to each other. But to dismiss the couples ALL AROUND THE WORLD who stay married for years and years and years and Jesus Christ has nothing to do with it.

Sigh.

I kept all of this mostly to myself, though I did make some snide remarks to my sister and her boyfriend under my breath. And spent a few hours late into the night processing my emotions with Boof about the whole thing. Because maybe I’m feeling unconsciously judged by their rules for how to make a marriage last. Certainly it has worked for my grandparents, but my marriage with Boof feels incredibly strong, even though the way we are operating within the context of what is even defined as marriage is so different than my grandparents. And even, maybe, our definition of what a good marriage is, does not include 60 years, if it is going to hurt one or the other or cause more conflict than splitting up. But here were are, only a mere 6 years into the whole matrimony thing, and I feel like we can make it to 60 without trampling on other people in the process. Openness. Acceptance. Encouragement of the individual. Playfulness. Protection. Listening. Sharing. Working through Jealousy. Celebrating the differences. Laughter.

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Thoughts dear bloggy readers: what is your recipe for a long lasting marriage?

Compassion for Difficult Family Members?

Last night my mom left a voicemail to call her back. Assuming that a voicemail like that was bad news, I called back pretty immediately. And she proceeded to say:

“Your Uncle Matt is currently in the hospital. He lost his voice last week, and they went in for a checkup and turns out he has a really large tumor in his neck. And two tumors at the base of his skull. And so they’re operating on the one in his throat, first, because it’s the biggest. They’re not sure if it’s cancerous, but it’s probably a side effect from the radiation he had as a kid for that tumor in his face.”

I tried to muster some compassion. This is my mother’s youngest sibling, twelve years her junior, and she was calling to ‘keep [you] in the loop so you don’t hear from the grapevine.’ But honestly…honestly? I couldn’t muster compassion. I tried to imagine my mother’s perspective, caring for her younger brother, especially since she was a mother figure to him growing up, but I just couldn’t do it. I thanked her for letting me know, and got off the phone quickly to head into my yoga class.

And before you start labeling me a horrible human, for taking this news so lightly, I must explain:

My uncle is an asshole.

I mean, not your average run-of-the-mill asshole, but like a certified ASSHOLE of asshole extremes.

It’s hard to put all the stories into one blog post. But he’s 50 years old (ish?) and lives next door to my parents…in the upstairs part of my grandparents house. He hasn’t worked a job in 30ish years, and spends his days sleeping and his nights playing pool tournaments. He is the angriest person I have ever met, and has done shitty things like strangling my parent’s pitbull (not to death, but still), calling and cussing out my family on their voicemail, dispatching the sheriff to the school my mom works at to complain about ‘noise’ (aka the dog barking…note, my parents live in the countryside), disowning his daughter because she married a black man, screaming obscenities at his 3 year old nephew for not shutting the door quick enough, etc. etc. etc.

These incidents have been happening since I was a child. He is angry, probably mentally ill, and has caused HUGE tensions in the family. The most difficult part is seeing my grandparents enable his bad behavior, and justify it, though now as a mom I wonder if I should be less hard on my grandma, specifically. And while his ASSHOLE behavior is no reason to wish cancer, or tumors, on him, I am still having a difficult time mustering up any compassion for his condition.

I am wondering what to do about this feeling. Not going to lie, there have been times in the past that I wished ill upon him because of how awful he has treated members of the family. But lately I have mostly felt neutral. Like, if I don’t have to think about him, or experience him in any way (can you believe it, after 8 years of being together, Boof has still never met him?) then I am much happier. At the end of the day, though, he is my mother’s brother, and she is worried about his health.

 

Thoughts? How do you have compassion or empathy for assholes difficult family members?

I’m Not the Angry One

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It was an emotionally exhausting journey across the mountains. Potamus slept until Issaquah (which is about…um…thirty minutes), and then cried until we got to Cle Elum for a snack. And then he ate a lot of french fries, and cried some more because he was out of water, and then he was content for five minutes down the road before he started to scream again because he had pooped.

We had three stops on the “2.5 hour” drive. It was hell. There might have been a ten minute stretch where I plugged my ears and shut my eyes (I wasn’t driving) and tried to notice my breath like I did when I was in labor or in Savasana in yoga. It helped me to keep myself from hurling out of the speeding car at 70 mph.

But other than that, the trip was brilliant. There was a wound-up kiddo who loved his gifts, and plenty of cupcakes that induced sugar highs for all of us, and maybe some good natured teasing. I even managed to only shout one time, out of passion and not anger, about how cool I actually think The Pope is (because my dad insinuated he was evil because he was ‘Marxist,’ which I later debunked). And then, about ten minutes until we left, the shit hit the fan. Somehow my dad managed to start yelling at me and saying that I had been yelling at him and it became a crazy convoluted argument about who-the-fuck-knows-why, of which I left feeling confused and sad and might have cried for twenty minutes until we got out of the city limits. Ad if you know me, you know that I cry approximately every 2 years, so it’s a pretty freaking big deal.

Because no matter what I do, I somehow am always pegged as the ‘angry one’ in the family. I’m tired of having a perfectly good time and still not ‘doing it right enough,’ to show my family t hat I’m not the angry  depressed teenager I used to be. But somehow in pouring my heart out to Boof, I realized…I am not the angry one. I haven’t ever really been the angry one. In fact, my dad, who has been so pegged as jovial and overly rational (let’s sit down and discuss this conflict using I statements) is actually the angry one. He is angry. I am not. And that realization shifted something in me.

I am not angry.

Knowing that he is angry relieves me. It makes sense for why he’s been lashing out and blaming me for things that I didn’t actually do. I don’t know why he’s angry, what hes’ bottled up over the years, but that’s not my job to figure out. My job is to work on myself, which I have been doing in therapy, and it’s my job to continue to treat him compassionately. So while I don’t like having to have experienced that explosiveness earlier today, I do like the insight, because now I feel like I am better prepared to handle myself in the future.

What have you learned about your parents over the years that has re-shaped how you view yourself, your childhood, or them?

Christmas Spirit

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I really love the Christmas season, though, for me, I really just consider it the Winter Magical Wonderland season, because with my birthday on December 13, and our anniversary (and now Potamus’ birthday) on December 20th, the whole month of December is much more than just Christmas Day. But, as much as I love the magic of white Christmas lights, and have such nostalgia about Christmas memories from childhood, I’ve actually felt pretty grinchy about Christmas for the past few years.

And it wasn’t until reading Am I a Grinch or Will I Find the Christmas Spirit Someday? over on Offbeat Home, that I really started to articulate it to myself. Sure, in therapy, a few weeks ago I made the connection that Christmas has been stressful because we have managed to be everywhere for everyone for the past 5 years, and it’s exhausting (not to mention we’ve felt like we’ve half-assed a lot of it).

But as I was reflecting over on that post, I think what has contributed to my grinchyness feeling, as far as not really wanting to decorate my own house much, or get too into too many traditions, is that Boof’s family felt very solidified in terms of THEIR TRADITIONS. And whereas, my family had spent many years celebrating Christmas Eve, and then it switched to more Christmas Day, it felt more low-key. Of the people in my family, I was the one that usually felt most tied to a particular tradition, but that’s mostly around food than about the actual day or what we do. So, I liked Christmas Eve because we could open presents and then sleep instead of waking up early to open presents. Seemed much less stressful. But Boof’s family had a set specific ritual of driving across the state on-Christmas-day to make it to Eastern WA by dinner, having dinner in the woods with their grandparents, and then spending the next 5 hours systematically opening presents one by one and finally playing a game of Trivial Pursuit.

The thing is, I am just now realizing, that I expected that traditions would change when we got married. Not that I want the world to revolve around me, but I guess I just assumed that Boof and I would form a few more traditions of our own, and try less to fit into the traditions of either of our families. And I don’t think we did that. I think we actually tried to really hold on to the traditions of his family, and have me fit into them, which did work, and was fun, but then when I was pregnant and everything had to change it felt like I was the reason for change…like I was the bad guy…and not that things change when people get married and have kids. I felt responsible for throwing a wrench in the traditions, like the extra 10lbs of fat keeping you from fitting nicely into the jeans. And that wasn’t a good feeling. 

Before I had the mentality that my  house didn’t need to be Christmassy, because we wouldn’t be here for Christmas. We always traveled…even if just down the road to my in-laws or across the state to my parent’s, or across the state to Boof’s grandparent’s. But then, I was thrift shopping (mostly taking pictures of ridiculous things that people donate to thrift shops), and found the sweetest little Charlie Brown Christmas tree, with pre-lit lights, for only $20. And it’s put up, in the corner of our living room, by my bookshelf..and I love it. I don’t know why this 4 foot cheesy tree, with a giant hole of missing branches in the back, makes me teary eyed. I know it isn’t gonna be a tree we have for years and years, but it just feels right. Like we can sit around the Christmas tree on Christmas morning, before we head over to my in-law’s, and drink coffee and watch Jake & the Neverland Pirates, or not, and our house has a little Christmas cheer to it. It feels like I have come to a place where I realize that we can’t do everything, and we get to decide and explore what things we like and want. Like changing from Trivial Pursuit to Carcassone, because that’s a WAY BETTER game 😉

How have your holiday traditions changed over the years? Are you a Grinch or totally into the whole Christmas season?