Thursday, December 29, 2005

Reprinted: a commentary on family communications

I was going to write a post on this subject, but I spent all my energy on an email reply to my mother instead. And then I realized that everything I had to say is pretty much in the email anyway. My sisters read this blog, but I was going to send them a copy of my email anyway.

So... an insight into my family relations:


Thanks Momma

Yes, if you had said that you wanted to come to REI, we would have said, "Okay woman, then get your ass in gear and come with." But you said, "Well, I could take you down if you want." And since you always seem to have fifty other things going, we figured that we could take care of this by ourselves and not take up your time. When I called from the store, I asked, "Are there any plans for dinner? Because we're getting hungry and we don't want to go out if there are plans." And you told me to go ahead, whatever we wanted to do. So we did. Yet I am the rotten, exclusionary one here.

I am not used to getting your undivided attention - not since I can remember, in fact. Generally, I feel like I'm pretty far down on your list of priorities. Because I'm so used to hearing Kathy/Kate/othernickname can handle it, I just go ahead and do exactly that instead of waiting for you/anyone else to help out. I realized that you weren't going to figure out that I needed help with stuff about the time I was 14 or 15 and had exactly 3 pairs of raggedy underwear... for about 3 months. Finally took myself shopping and bought my own. I don't ask for help, because just like it doesn't occur to you to offer it to me, it doesn't occur to me to ask. Back in elementary school I used to be totally bewildered about how all the other kids would have these fantastic, professional-looking projects. I mean, how the hell did they manage to all be so good? The thought that maybe their parents were helping them never even occurred to me. Not once. And I'm not mentioning these things as a point of blame, but just to establish the pattern.

I think that's partly the reason that none of us can truly accept [my half-sister's daughter]'s presence. We know that it is the right thing for her, certainly. And we don't begrudge her the escape from the Churl. Objectively, I think [niece] is a pretty cool kid. But she's ahead of all of us on Mom's List of Priorities, and it's hard not to resent that.

With K3 - I look at it and think - hmmm... well, I asked her repeatedly to come out and visit me in Utah while she was still in high school, and somehow she never thought there would be anything to do, and so always put me off. From my perspective, this says "hanging out with my sister isn't enough to keep me entertained" and therefore, I figure that K3 prefers to be elsewhere rather than spend time in my company. Not an unreasonable conclusion, I think. When I am around her, she's either lighting up - smoking in a circle of non-smokers, which is incredibly rude and something that I was told (by other smoker friends) never to do when I was a smoker - or she is on her cell phone. Again giving the message that the people around her are less interesting and important than her friends. Yet if I say either of these things, I am judgmental and a bitch.

I feel like I hear you tell me how wonderful I am, how mature and capable, etcetera soforth and so on, but just as I really am starting to feel good about myself, you aim some low karate chop at my knees and I'm back on the floor in pain again. I don't like it. So next time you have a thought about what an ungrateful, stuck up, cruel and unusual daughter I am, can it. Keep it to yourself. Because I'm not taking that BS anymore. We pretend that you are the reasonable parent, but sometimes I am more wary of you than I am of father.

And I'm not too hard on Jay. I give him a lot of credit for returning year after year to a place and family full of bipolar-acting freaks. His family dynamic is so utterly different, it's just alien. But I don't take shit from him either. I didn't want him to feel more under attack than he already does around the Fam, so I try to conduct most of our personal business just between the two of us. And we had some talking to do at the airport, and I didn't want to put it off any longer, so that's why I didn't say, "Yeah, mom, come in and let's try to talk in the loud, crowded places this side of security." Also, I don't like crying in airports, and I was close enough as it was.

I don't understand how you think I am in the position to be hard on the rest of you. The only judgement I make is that I don't like to feel like crap, yet somehow I always do after spending time with some members of the family. I feel like I'm being held to some bizarre standard that no one takes the time to explain. You presented the wedding guest book with the explanation of don't worry if you don't like it, it's just something I picked up. So when I tell you that it's not really Jay's or my style, it's a little too girly, you snipe that I've always been so hard to please. I feel like I was set up. If you told me that you really liked this guest book and hoped it would work out for me, I would have said, "Hey, you know, I think this will do just fine."

With Christmas this year, I emailed you fairly early on with my specific preferences and an explanation about them - I wanted to spend time with the family, not watch everyone run in their own directions again. And at first, it seemed like you were on the same page. But then I get this list of all the people who just can't live without you, and so what I suggested simply wasn't possible. You don't include me on the list of people who couldn't live without you, so somewhere down the line, I stopped including myself on that list, too. Yet somehow, I end up being the judgemental bitch again. I don't get it.

I don't know what you think I'm like, or what you think I do in my "real" life. I can tell you that there are people who make fun of me for smiling all the time. Most of the time I'm a pretty happy, positive person. Don't know what else to tell you. I'm sorry that you don't know this about me, and that you seem to think I'm someone I'm not. But for as much as I might bitch about our cold, frozen north, and Jay's being sometimes clueless, I'm pretty happy with the way things are. I'm not you. Jay is not Dad. Please don't think we are.

I love you, and everyone else in the family, and I hope we figure out how to communicate as a family some day. You are all welcome to come visit whenever you like.

Happy New Year



It's taken me a long time to be able to write that letter. I'm at peace with every sentiment in it. And I've looked inward, and really thought about things, and I'm not angry about any of it. Some of it makes me a little sad. And I don't want to give the impression that my whole vacation was awful, because parts of it were very fun. Playing pool with my sisters and Jay and playing cards with my sisters and my mom figure quite high on my list of things I look forward to doing again. I just can't do the mental illness dance any more. I can't cope with the guilt trips and sulk fests. If you want to talk to me and tell me how you feel, we can communicate. But as I tell my students, I am not a psychic. If you want me to know something, you have to communicate it to me, either in conversation or in writing.

It's not as difficult as we were raised to believe.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005


With the completion of the term, I've actucally had energy for other pursuits. Wrote another 6000 words on the trilogy, completed three critiques over at Forward Motion, and baked three new kinds of cookies from the Eating Well magazine recipes. Gingerbread bears/rocking horses/candy canes, thumbprint cookies (w/cherry and strawberry jams), and mandelbrot, which are evidently like yiddish biscotti. They all turned out pretty well, I think. Now they just have to survive the flight down to Pittsburgh. Figured I'd do a batch of brownies tonight.

D'oh... and I was supposed to write down the recipe for Jay to send to his grandmother. She took some home with her from Thanksgiving and evidently they went over well. Heh. Mental note: tonight, write down a copy of the recipe. It's one that I found in a cookbook that we picked up in Alaska in 2002 and I've been tweaking it ever since. I've been using measurements like "one of the small blue bowls full of sugar" and "a handful of..." so tonight actual measuring will need to happen.

So far for christmas presents, I've knit 4 scarves (well, 3 and a half) and 2 hats. Still need to do two more scarves and three more hats, but those can mostly wait until the New Year. Or rather, they are going to wait until the New Year, because there's no way I can get all that done this week. Mmm. No.

Skiing has been most lovely. Lots of fluffy cold white stuff over the last week or two. Jay's already been out... six or seven days. I think he's up to 128K for the season already. Sicko. Me? I'm at 3 days and about 24-25km total. I think. I don't really keep track of things like that. I'll leave that to Doctor Charts and Graphs.

Okay. Yes, I'm boring even myself with this stuff. Perhaps I'll be interesting again after the holidays. We leave tomorrow afternoon. Don't know if we'll have web access during the week we're gone.

Happy Holiday of Choice! I'm outta here.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Let it Snow

Many inches of the white stuff are falling outside my window. Bliss. Skiing this weekend will ROCK. We live a couple miles (about a 5 minute drive) from a kicking nordic center. If this keeps up, all the trails will be open.

Oh, this makes me happy. Sigh.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

I am the devil

At least, that's what a few of my students are no doubt thinking right now.

But honestly, do they think I ENJOYED failing them? God no. Passing a student is much easier and less traumatic to all parties involved. But it would be absolutely irresponsible to do that.

Of the people who did not pass the class, I had a few very different reactions. One exploded at me, saying that the class was stupid, my assessment methods were unreasonable, no one else was looking for improvement as one of the criteria, that she was never taking this class again because it was a waste of her time... it went on. I showed her her objective score which was failing by all standards, but she went off in a huff before I could tell her that I was only looking for improvement as a last ditch effort to find a reason for her to pass. I didn't find it.

Another sat there quietly, turning red and then pale by turns. I wanted to pass her, I really did. And if grades were based purely on attendance and turning things in on time, then she would have had an A++. Sadly, I was more concerned with the writing quality and ability to revise and integrate information. In my syllabus, I state that students will not pass unless they participate meaningfully in the class. Not by any stretch of the imagination did she fulfil that requirement. But she just agreed with me, nodding, calm, and then went off to cry somewhere. (I know about the crying because another student told me.) I feel bad about this one, but she would have drowned in the next level. She's just not ready.

The last student listened to what I had to say as we looked over his final paper. He didn't bring any of his previous work with him as stated both in a handout, verbally, and online,(But I thought you had copies of all of it... No, I only made a copy of the paper you massively plagiarized.) and never completed the final essay because he missed the last day of class and evidently didn't check his email or the class webpage after that. I told him - three times - that there was no way I could give him credit based on the work that he had turned in, he just stared at me. Then he got up, muttered, "Whatever", and walked out.

Two students who had poor final papers, but who had clearly improved all term and who had been very active and commented intelligently during discussions, I gave a second chance. They have until Wednesday afternoon to rewrite the final paper and resubmit. If they fix the biggest errors, proving their ability to revise, they will pass.

However, I just heard today that one of those students self-mutilates to deal with stress, and evidently, she's been cutting. Some time last night, she was taken to the hospital in an ambulance and her bathroom was covered in blood. She cut more than she intended, it seems. Shit shit shit. Shit. I don't think she was stressed over my class, but I just feel sick. My other students said that they tried to visit but were turned away, or I'd see if I could go visit her. She's such a bright star of a person, but I know she's had a rough time getting to where she is.

This entry has kind of morphed here. I didn't start out planning to mention her. I'm just worried. And wishing I had finished the day with one of the students who thought I was great, instead of one who thinks I'm Satan. Shit.

Friday, December 09, 2005

New car - Yay! Old car - oops...

This morning we picked up our brand new Subaru Outback. Pretty. Atlantic Blue Pearl. We have named her Nimbus. (Jay's cloud fetish showing.) And thanks to my dad, the bank owns very little of it. It's a manual transmission, so I have to relearn how to drive a stick. I learned in 2004 on Jay's old Subaru, but I haven't actually driven a manual since that summer, so I need a major refresher.

And I realize that I sound like a student essay here... been reading for grading all morning and the pattern starts to stick after a while. Gah. Shoot me.

Of course, we've been getting snow up here... looking out the window, I see it's just now stopped. Now, I like snow. It's very handy for xcountry skiing, makes the dark Vermont evenings look a little less dark, and looks so pretty on the trees and all that. However, I don't really care for the white stuff when it's on the freezy roads. And of course, that brings us to "old car... oops".

I generally don't drive in the snow. Jay is a borderline (ha! more like TOTAL) control freak, and it's easier for me to let him drive than it is to listen to him freaking out in the passenger seat. As a result, I haven't driven much in bad weather for a really long time. Sadly out of practice.

Roads didn't seem too bad on the way to the dealership this morning. I kept an eye on Jay's speeds to gauge how fast I could go on the way home. Unfortunately, it kept snowing while we were inside signing papers and making nice, and the conditions didn't exactly improve.

Because of my long lapse in manual driving, Jay had to drive the new car home, and I had to take my poor old Oldsmobile with its crap tires and faulty heat system (low traction and an icy windshield - Lucky me). I made it through the first intersection and up the hill to the Interstate on-ramp. And then... wheel turned, tires facing one way but continuing to slide instead of turn... sliding very gracefully, very gently, off the snow-covered pavement and onto the embankment. Thought for a moment that I would be lucky and the edge of snow and grass would stop me, but after a slight pause, I slid down the hill sideways.


I will say this for Vermont. No fewer than 5 people stopped to see if we needed help. One guy even got some boards and things out of his truck to try to give my car some traction, and then helped push from behind, but no dice. Had to call the tow truck. Our only consolation was that we were definitely not alone in sliding off the road today. Tow truck comanies are raking in the bucks. Fifty from us, in fact. Sigh.

But we have out lovely new Nimbus, complete with the standard All Weather package that includes heated seats and heated windshield wipers. Oooh ahhhh. But I think we're still going to need to invest in snow tires.

I miss my mild western winters. Sniff.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Money - Tact + Alcohol = Aunt Ethel

So. Back to the neglected blog. Understandably, I think, I just couldn't string any sentences together last week after I finished. My fingers are just now regaining their feeling. But I'm back, and I will make an attempt to be slightly more interesting than I have been. (Sadly, this should be all that hard.)

As the title suggests, Aunt Ethel is not, perhaps, the most charming of women. Her husband left her millions when he died, and her son now manages the family fortunes, leaving Ethel to do... hell, I have no idea how the woman fills her days. Not doing charity work, I'm pretty sure.

She is a hardcore Republican, not because she believes in the values and ideology of the party, but because rich people are republicans and poor people are democrats. In Ethel's world, anyway. She is unabashedly racist, and treats us to her views on all those of non-western-european descent. There's no arguing with her, because the intake valve on her brain is entirely faulty. She only hears the things that you don't want her to hear. Usually things that start with "She's &*@^! nuts. Did you hear what she just said?!?!"

This year, she had us all write our initials on our plastic cups so we wouldn't waste so many. Good idea, I thought. However, when she looked at my initials (which are KEG, by the way... my students think that's hilarious), she says "But jayslastname doesn't start with "G"!" And when I replied with the usual comments about "married not adopted" and "decided not to change his name, so I decided that I wouldn't either..." She came back with "Well, I'm not saying that you're less of a person if you don't change your name...." If she weren't so comically over-the-top, I might have been offended. As it was, I just had to leave the room so I could laugh and not fall over in the kitchen. Heh.

Oh, and then when she found out what the "G" stands for, she busts out with "What? Are you a Jew or something?" Followed by a lovely rant on some of the Jewish people she knows and how dreadful they all are. I wish I could recreate the exchange, but my mind was so busy going :holy crap, she IS nuts. totally wacked. good lord, can I get in a word here?: that I wasn't paying close enough attention to retain the random insults she came up with. I do recall telling her that as far as I knew, I didn't have any Jewish ancestors, but that there were plenty of drunks and fools in the bunch, which was probably why I fit in so well with Jay's extended family. I don't think she really processed that, but Jean (her sister, Jay's g-ma) thought it was pretty funny.

And so Ethel's legend grows. We'll add this year's comedy to the time that she slurped some spilled King Louis Cognac from the counter "because it's too expensive to waste", the time that she commented on evil women who leave their husbands and steal other people's men while Jay's father's girlfriend was at the table, and countless other drunken and tactless comments that she's made over the years.

Ah, Ethel, just keep on telling it like it is. The Jersey gatherings wouldn't be the same without you.