Friday, December 10, 2010

Is that my mother on the phone?

* Foreword: Other title options for this post included "Sister friend" and "O cousin where art thou?" In the end, I just thought this Police song is crazy cool. Just wanted to put that out there in case a reader, who also happened to be my mom, was wondering.

from me to're welcome
Just in time for the holidays: a post on the importance and challenges of family connections. Festive, yes?
It is all easy enough if you have cool family members. But what if your bro is a white supremacist?  Or if your cousin manages a credit-default-swap-hedge fund, or manages a TGIFridays?

We all know that family relationships matter. But we aren't always sure why, and we are almost never sure what the cost/benefit of maintaining them is compared with tossing them aside like last night's meatloaf.

I've noticed a couple things about the nature of family relationships which sets them apart from others in our lives:

#1-These are people who get you, really get you. This point is best demonstrated by a conversation  overheard between my (then) 18 month and 4-year-old daughters ...
Little sis: "Babble, goo goo ga ga."
Big sis: "Well, she is a baby now, but later, after she is born, she will be a grown up. Got that cowgirl?"

I don't understand these exchanges, but they have them all the time. They seem to "get" each other and really enjoy their conversations. And it's the same for me: 34 years in and no one gets me like my sister.

#2-Shared experience. I was reading my cousin's blog and came across an entry entitled, "fear and ketchup". In this engaging post there is a description of Thanksgiving dinner and a yummy roast. It sounded truly magical and I found myself thinking, "I wish I had been there." As I read on, I realized I had been there. I was very moved by this treasured memory, and it was as if I was mentally reliving it. I got to thinking about how your family is your collective past. They are the movable memory of your person-hood.

Back in St. Olaf, we always tolerated our families
* * *
Of course, every reason I just mentioned in favor of family connections is also a screaming reason against said connections. Someone who gets you?  How about someone who has you permanently typecast in a role that you can't get away from? You could no sooner be something different than your "set role" around these people than Betty White could portray a smart, sophisticated college student.

And shared experience? What if the memories truly have some sting? For some they are truly traumatic (sorry, for those, this post is not terribly applicable), but for most of us they are more just traumatic to our sense of self. And that can feel bad enough!
* * *
So when the reasons for are just as compelling as the reasons against ... where does this leave us? Well, here is my $00.02:

Family relationships are poltergeists. A ghost haunts a location and a poltergeist haunts you. Wherever you go or move or flee -- it's right there. It's the same with family relationships, so you may as well keep them where you can see them, be mindful of them. You sure don't want dysfunctional dynamic setting up shop all over your life, especially subconsciously (... they're baaaaack).

Professional therapy is 4-square against cut-off in all but the most serious and extreme of situations. Here's the skinny from authors Betty Carter and Monica McGoldrich in "The Expanded Family Life Cycle"

Inescapable relationship patterns are scarier than Christmas sweaters, but maybe not scarier than fruit cake or blogs, or blogs about fruit cake >>>>

"Cutting off a relationship by physical or emotional distance does not end the emotional process; in fact it intensifies it. If one cuts off relationships ... the emotional sensitivities and yearnings from these relationships tend to push into one's other relationships ... the new relationships will tend to become problematic under this pressure and lead to further distancing and cut-offs."

The kids benefit. I was an adult before I knew there was ever so much as a cross word between my parents and their parents. Don't get me wrong -- overall they were good relationships. But there were old hurts, current frustrations, etc., and nevertheless my parents had the wisdom to give me the joy of a childhood with my crazy family. For whatever reason it seems that many times kids get the best of people. And they also gain a strong sense of roots and inter-connection. Can't beat that.

I know some people who struck gold in the family and in-law departments. They are dead, live far away, or are actually very cool people. Me ... well, you win some you lose some. I kid, I kid. I am richly blessed in the family department but, like everyone, there are frustrations.

But the point is family relationships have been a very important in my life, and those crazy characters influencing the childhood of my girls are definitely important for them. So I will maintain because I think it is best. And because I am hoping to pay it forward so that someday when the phone rings and my name and 3D image appears on the futuristic caller-ID, my girls pick up the phone.

What are the benefits and challenges you face with your family? In retrospect, what are some of your most treasured holiday/family memories? And oh yeah, Happy Holidays and much love. Stuff in some figgy pudding, tank up on wasil and hope your family dinner isn't fodder for Jerry Springer.


  1. I keep hoping someone else will post first, but I suppose they are all off creating Christmas memories.

    This is a tough one for me...Not to alarm the therapist in Sister1, but I have very few childhood memories, and even fewer GOOD childhood memories.

    I do remember loading up and heading to the Land of Red Dirt (aka Oklahoma) to visit my grandparents, and that was a really special time. Often, we'd get to stay there through break, and my grandma rocked! She was a nut, but so much fun! She was no Betty White grandma, she was more of a....well, there are no actresses that have portrayed anything like her. A bingo-playing, moccasin-wearing, long red haired woman to be reckoned with. She'd stay up till 3 am playing Skip Bo with us. She built elaborate doll houses that had REAL working lights. She rocked. I actually hate that my daughter never had the opportunity to meet her, because they would have had something special. The good news is, my mom gets to be a little more like her every day. It drives the mom in me CRAZY, but the makes the granddaughter in me smile….

    I think family relationships are incredibly important for all sorts of reasons. I think my family has taught me tolerance (see previous post's comments--ie my parents watch Fox News). I know they are really good people, but we have some fundamental differences of opinion. I know good people can have differences of opinion. It's true that we are type-cast, but at least there's a good bit of history and background to support it. If you screw up, sometimes they are the first to forgive because they know "why" you might have screwed up. Ultimately, they hold you accountable too. Others may forgive no matter what, but you're family makes you work for it. Sure there are advantages and disadvantages to family relationships, but they are a huge part of why we are who we are.

    Of course, there is something to be said for starting fresh, but I figure that's what friends, spouses and in-laws are for. Oh, and relocation…that way you can enjoy all the benefits of family relationships when it’s convenient for you :)

  2. I like so much about this response, like the suggestion that the lack of response is due to people creating holiday memories and not the fact that I have a readership that could fit in my bathroom. Maybe santa will take me viral for Christmas, but I digress...

    I loved reading about your Grandma, it made me smile. I miss my Grandma and often find myself thinking that I wish she had known my girls. But then I think about how my girls sorta do know her. This is a little excerpt from something I read at my Grandpa's recent funeral..."And when we tuck in our kids in by singing “I love you a bushel and peck” and telling a little Orley story...or just by loving them in the steadfast and real way that was handed down to us, we become part of a special generational chain. We are connected backwards and forwards to our beloved Grandparents. We are so blessed and comforted by our proud inheritance; what an honor to carry it forward, to the next incarnation." I was just reminded of that when you talked about seeing your grandma in your mom.

    And honestly, doesn't it just make you all warm and fuzzy to know that there are people out there willing to see the best in you and forgive you? If we all we broadened our definition of family and did those things and extended that tolerance towards everyone, I believe the world would be a better place. Or maybe not, maybe it would be like a never-ending and inescapable holiday function. Anyway, thanks--I will smile for your Grandma next time we play Skipbo!

  3. Thanks so much for sharing from your Grandpa's brought tears to my eyes. I don't think I've done enough to connect to my daughter to my grandparents. I need to talk to my kiddo more about her great-grandmother, share some stories, and re-create what I can. (PS My mom may very well become a loyal follower of yours if she finds out that I will be less judgmental of her time with my kiddo because of this blog).

    As I reflect on tolerance, I came to the stark realization that I have a long way to go. I am pretty tolerant of people I don't know, or groups of people as a whole. I'm less tolerant of those close to me. I have very high, and sometimes unrealistic expectations for my family (spouse, parents, and, to a lesser extent, child), and get really annoyed when they don't live up to them. I'm such a type A personality, that it just bugs me that they don't see the importance of perfection. Of course, I'm not perfect, but that's hard to remember when I'm looking at the trash that hasn't been taken out or the cabinet door that hasn't been fixed...or even worse, when my husband says something that embarrasses me.

    I'm also really judgmental of those who I feel are "equals". Don't come near me if you are a nurse or work in a school...I'm not very patient with those types because (god forbid) they might do things the way I think they should be done. How can I be so forgiving to those I don't know, and so unforgiving with those I do?

    Thanks Sister1, I was looking for a New Year's Resolution that had nothing to do with healthy eating and weight loss.

  4. OH SISSY. I loved your post (as usual). And of course I am very touched at your comment about how no one gets you like your sis. I feel the same way about you! To this day, we have conversations that sound as remarkably bizarre as the example convo you posted between the girls. Whether it is taking the first syllable of a word and saying it twice or using the incorrect pronoun on purpose, we always know what the other one means.

    We are very blessed in the family department, for sure. I love how you talked about the double edged sword of someone who knows you very well or "gets you." It can be a vulnerable thing to feel that someone can predict you or see right through you. Yet very comforting and reassuring that a handful of people on earth truly know your heart.

    Shellody, I always enjoy reading your comments. I also loved the paragraph about your grandma. It gave me goosebumps, actually.

    A couple of my fave Christmas memories:
    *Going to Hugoton as a kid. The 4 of us piling in the tiny blue Jetta and driving what seemed to be in my kid mind an unfathomable distance.
    *Any Christmas that involved Grandma & Grandpa. I loved how when they walked in, Grandma would sincerely & enthusiastically say "Merry Christmas!" and Grandpa would say "Well, hi babe!"
    *Oddly enough, one year that really sticks out is when we spent Christmas Eve cleaning your apartment on the Plaza. Now that was entertainment. Remember when M & D went to Wal-Mart and they were gone a scary amount of time?
    *Our first Christmas after Anna was born
    *The Christmas right after both Jack & Jane were born! They were so teeny and cute!

  5. I am so in the Christmas spirit I am practically red and green! These are beautiful. You ladies should seriously consider starting a blog. All I can say Shellody, is a big 10-4 on the low tolerance of those I actually know. I can extend all manners of grace and sympathy to someone who may have been disenfranchised, but if you are more than a hypothetical and/or theoretical who I actually I know, well look out, because sister1 can hold a mean grudge. I am so copying your NY resolution. It still more original than any health related thing.

    Sis, I LOVED your holiday memories. It helps me grin and bear and it for all the inconveniences and downright bizarre things that happen at family get to togethers (watching the California Raisins Christmas special every year before opening gifts qualifies as bizarre, no?) but who knows, that could be the very thing that ends up warming the cockles of the girls hearts. And remember when the maintenance guy "Rance" left a rancid Christmas present in my toilet in that plaza apartment? Bring us some figgy pudding, yo.


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