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:
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.