Parent


ancient roman marriage

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Two things inspired this post. The first was a comment or two from the Widower Wednesday series referencing the ire of in-laws and adult children whose widower was daring to date without their permission. The second was a news item concerning Sir Paul McCartney’s recent engagement to his soon to be third wife.

All I can really say is, “Huh?”

When I hit adulthood, it never crossed my mind to seek my parents approval of anyone – friends or potential partners. I was an adult. Free to companion as suited me, my life-style and needs. My parents certainly never concerned themselves with my opinions of their friends or even of the relationship they had with each other – the latter of the two clearly being none of my business.

But it seems there is a segment of the adult world – both parent, grown kids and even extended family – who feel that getting judgey and expressing it in all manner just-plain-juvenile-and-wrong is completely fine and normal.

McCartney sought the approval of his grown children before deciding to marry again. Perhaps he felt the need to verify his choice after the particularly disastrous 2nd marriage to a gold-digger a few years ago, or maybe the big kids informed him that all future step-mothers must be vetted by them. Who knows. But why? Why?

If my mother were to date or even marry again (and I would start preparing for the Second Coming in either case because it would surely follow on the heels of something so mind-bogglingly unlikely – you’d just have to know Mom in person, trust me), I would smile and say nothing – to her anyway.  DNOS and I would have plenty to roll our eyes about in private to be sure, but we were raised better than to presume on our parents’ intimate relations.

Rob’s mother recently remarried and he kept his mouth shut throughout the process that led her online to a Catholic dating site and through a whirlwind courtship that made ours look downright puritan and leisurely by comparison. She’s an adult and sound of mind and it’s her life.

FIL shaped up to be a good match but even if he hadn’t, it wasn’t the place of her children to wade in – unasked – and jump up on the nearest high horse to pontificate about it.*

Back in my message board days of new motherhood, I belonged to a group of women who were all first time mothers. We’d met at BabyCenter and took our cadre off to a private group once our kids arrived. Through the course of several years, we shared our lives and a couple of the women lost their mothers and had fathers who dated and remarried. Oh, the angst. Some of it was grief driven and I understood that, and none of them got up to any antics because they were too well brought up for such trailer park drama, but it’s not uncommon for adult children to over-think and have a hard time letting go of the idea that parents aren’t just Mom and Dad trapped forever in the context of our childhoods. They were grown ups long before us and continue to be long after we’ve cultivated big girl and boy lives of our own.

The “being raised properly” thing is likely the culprit. The past couple of decades have seen parents being less the adults and more the friends and allowing children too much input into how a family is governed. Recipe for entitled-to-meddle-in-your-lives-adult-kids, in my opinion. Heavy emphasis on the word “kids”. Some people never let go of the selfish impulses and world view that drove their parents to distraction when they were physically children and is now quite the lodestone now that they are only physically adult.

Edie and Mick were somewhere between taken aback and actively stunned when Rob announced our engagement to them. They knew about my existence, our dating and that was about it. They felt a little out of the loop, but that’s because technically they were. That’s what happens when you go out into the world and focus on your own life: you stop paying a lot of attention to what your parents are doing. In some ways it reminds me of my middle school students who were always incredulous when details of my life slipped into their line of vision. They couldn’t conceive of me outside the role of teacher. Kids have the same stilted vision of Mom and Dad. We are JUST Mom and Dad. So there was no reason for the older girls to know about Rob’s life and he was equally oblivious to their grown up lives too.

But Shelley and Rob raised their girls well and our new family formed and continues to evolve without any reality show drama.

The issue that extended family or friends may take with a new relationship or spouse though is different. Whereas children’s feelings should be taken into account – though not necessarily catered to because the idea that one’s children – especially those underage – have some mystical idiot savant ability to ferret out bad actors is one I wish would simply vanish. Children are not the equivalent of drug sniffing dogs when it comes to people’s character. They are far too self-interested for one and way too young and inexperienced for another.

One’s in-laws or friends, unless they are point-blank asked for an opinion, should just keep their opinions to themselves. And even when asked, they should remember that no one really wants opinions. When you are asked for an opinion what is really required is validation. So validate with a smile because no one gives even the tiniest fuck what you really think. Really.

I am continually astounded by people who put up with people who behave like the cast of Jersey Shore. I don’t have any tolerance for it. Neither my younger brother CB or my youngest sister Baby act out with impunity and when my older nephew got snotty with Rob on his first visit, he was squashed. It didn’t prevent further fires, but he knew I wasn’t putting up with it and I didn’t. We actually packed up and checked into a hotel during our 2008 visit when N1 unleashed one of his classic tantrums and I unceremoniously kicked CB out of the house the afternoon Dad died because he launched into his famous imitation of his substance addled teenaged self. Though I loathed Dr. Phil, the oaf got one thing right – you do teach people how to treat you. The choice to be a doormat in your own existence is entirely yours.

Rob has had to set both his SILs straight about what he will and will not indulge as far as their grief issues go, but by and large, our road has been baby butt smooth compared to the horror shows of some of the women I have encountered in the comment sections here and there.

Stalking, verbal harassment, poisoning the opinions of small grieving children. Not okay. If the party related to these people is not acting, that’s telling, and if you are not drawing hard lines in quick drying cement, telling as well.

We have this idea that drama and the “course of love never did run smooth” means that a relationship is meant to be because adversity is good for romance. That’s just sick twisted Hollywood garbage. As the credits roll, the actors are snug back in real lives and the people on the screen are make-believe.

*Rob’s youngest sister was a bit blistery when she first met him – after the engagement and slightly ahead of the wedding – but Rob didn’t back her up. We all sat, rather uncomfortably, around the table while she had her say. Gee handled the episode with more grace than I would have.


Christmas 1979, Northeast Philadelphia, PA

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With the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday nearly upon us and our little house on the Canadian prairie covered with snow, Christmas cannot be far off, and with the holidays comes massive doses of family dysfunction.

No sooner had the Facebook brouhaha with Rob’s younger brother Tyke settled into an awkward semi-silence than noises began emanating from Rob’s in-laws that could spell trouble for the holidays.

This comes on top of my mother-in-law’s future husband’s being targeted by a Canadian Border official with a bug up her butt.

But my family can be counted on to induce annoyance too.

As I was sitting at soccer practice Saturday morning , working on a short story when I suppose I should have been raptly worshipping the mini-me of my loins, Mom called.

In the old days of yore, whenever she called me at home and got the answering machine, she would immediately call my cell. Her use of my cell as a GPS was my chief reason for fighting my late husband’s insistence that I own a cell phone in the first place.

“You need this to be safe,” was his angle. Though truthfully, he just loved cell phones and loved the idea of us being just a transmitter tower away from each other when we weren’t physically together.

“My mother will use this to keep perpetual tabs on me,” I told him. “She will call just to chat, to vent and it won’t matter where I am or what I am doing.”

It wasn’t until the dang-it thing began interrupting us when we were out to dinner or shopping or just flitting about from here to there that he understood what I already knew about Mom.  He considered it a small price for me to pay so that he could call me during our mutual break times during the day.

Now though, Mom rarely deploys her tracking option – unless something is up.

“Have you talked to your sister?” she asked.

I had not and being asked if I had set off internal alerts.

“I’ve decided not to give any gifts to anyone but the little grand-kids this year,” she said.

And by “little” she means Dee and her cousin N2. Not N1, the nearly 17-year-old for whom it’s been Christmas for quite some time in terms of his Grandmother’s largess.

“Did you send us a check last year?” I asked.

Long ago my parents dispensed with the hassle of actual presents and just gave us money. One hundred dollars to be precise.

“I think so,” she said. “Didn’t you get it?”

Although I couldn’t remember at all, I assured her that we did indeed get it because I didn’t need her panicking and prowling through her check stubs from a year ago.

“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “We don’t need a gift.”

“I’m just going to be all about me this year,” she explained. “It’s been Christmas all year for some and I think I should spend my money on myself.”

Hallelujah! I can’t recall how long I have been at her to simply spend her money on herself. The less she leaves behind, the easier my life will be as I am currently named in her will as the executor of the trusts she’s set up for my youngest siblings. I am all in favor of there being nothing to care-take.

“Did they take it well?” I meant my siblings and nephew.

“I’ve only told you and DNOS,” she said.

But they shouldn’t be surprised because she’s already cut them off from the nickel and dime fountain. Which is why she was really calling me.

Baby’s live-in common-law (I guess) mate, LawnMowerMan, is not happy. Baby is used to calling up Mom and nagging the occasional $20 or $30 out of her from time to time.

The money is for cigarettes mainly but given LawnMowerMan’s heavy drinking, I imagine she buys him booze as well when his paycheck runs short.

Cut off from easy pocket change and living so far below the poverty line that it likely isn’t clearly visible from their little pocket of have-nothingness, LMM has resorted to calling up Mom and harassing her again.

Whenever he is tired of Baby, and this usually happens when Baby is broke, he uses the phone in attempt to intimidate my mother.

He’s a violent man. He’s a drunk. And he has such a low stake in life that he doesn’t hesitate to use whatever means necessary to improve his tenuous grip.

DNOS has officially declared both our younger siblings “dead to her”. When things come up with either then, who’s Mom gonna call?

But what can I do from 1500 miles away and in another country?

After speaking with her, I tracked DNOS down later in the day and asked her to help Mom put a block on Baby’s home number and to look into re-keying the locks and making sure that only she, our mother and our aunt have access to the house.

It’s all I can do.

Oh, I could call Baby and read her the riot act but she has no control over that piece of shit she lives with and I would probably put her at risk if he were around when I phoned.

I am not afraid of the guy though I am keenly aware that he is capable of hurting just about anyone physically if he is inclined. I am hoping this blows over but as Rob pointed out:

“Of course it won’t.  As soon as we show up there in March, something will happen. We never visit that Baby isn’t at the center of some dysfunction or other.”

So, I may have simply postponed the shit splattering until I can take care of business in person.

Ah, can’t you just feel the holidays coming?


Gabe-birthday-part

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Late in the day yesterday I flipped through my calendar of events for the upcoming week and realized that today was Will’s birthday.

Not “is”.

The dead don’t have birthdays and I have struggled to incorporate his deadness into the scheme of holidays and birthdays for the last five years.

Last night I decided to throw it all under the bus.

For some reason I will never know probably, Dee decided that her late father needed a cake last year. Her older sisters’ deceased mother gets cake and picnics, and she was feeling decidedly left out of the frivolity. Which is how she views it. Fun times. Cake and picnics are jolly events to a child. Buying balloons and pin-wheels to put on graves is the whole point of having dead family in the first place. Because she’s a child.

When I was a child, I thought cemeteries were part of the family history experience. I totally looked forward to Memorial Weekend, bouncing in the back seat of the station wagon as we tooled through the countryside from one graveyard to the next. It was fascinating and filled with interesting stories about people my parents and grandmother actually knew. The whole “dead” thing barely penetrated my consciousness.

“I just remembered that tomorrow is Will’s birthday,” I told Rob as we sat in the office last night.

“I know, ” he said with a tone and look that implied that he had been waiting to see whether I’d bring it up or not. Not is usually my go-to because I forget. The anniversary of my dad’s death was just before Halloween and if my mom hadn’t mentioned her plans for the day to me a few days before – I wouldn’t have remembered at all.

“Dee hasn’t brought it up, ” I said, “and I am kinda thinking of letting the whole thing pass, but what if she asks in a week or so? Should I pretend I forgot? I mean, I almost did, but she isn’t all that interested in him again.  Shouldn’t I just follow her lead?

“She had said that the whole thing makes her too sad, ” he said. “She doesn’t want to talk about him.  She changes the subject when his name comes up.”

“Or just gives you that look that says ‘what does he have to do with anything?’,” I replied.

And really, what does he have to do with anything?

She didn’t know him. That he was her father, doesn’t make him any more known or immediate to her. It doesn’t give him standing or influence. She’s decided that Rob is her father and it’s her right to do so.

And I remember Will telling me about his childhood. His dad died when he was seven and his mother never let him forget the guy.

“She was always telling me how I reminded her of him,” he told me. “I hated it.”

With good reason. His dad was a rat, fucking bastard.  Alcoholic.  Child and wife beater. Adulterer.

Seriously, why rub your little boy’s face in any resemblances?

He would be okay with Dee putting him into proper perspective in the scheme of her life. Because it is her life.

Someday, she will want to know Will – or at least have more spontaneous interest, but for now, birthdays for the (un)dead are over.

That is all.


Sibling Rivalry (Family Guy)

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One of the longest and wide-ranging studies ever conducted on the relationship of personal satisfaction and siblings has concluded that you aren’t imagining it when you believe that had your parents practiced safer sex, you might be happier today.

Apparently, the quality of childhood (and some would argue this extends into adulthood as well) is greatly influenced by the number of siblings you have.

For each sibling added to a family mix, the level of satisfaction for the others diminishes. I would venture to add that the quality of the new sibling’s personality is also a factor and that your parents child-rearing/interacting interest and skill set probably is key as well.

Speaking only from the perspective of an oldest child, I can attest unequivocally to the fact that a mess of younger siblings did nothing to improve my life on the whole. Aside from my next in command sister, DNOS, I could have easily been an extremely happy only child. I have all the requisite qualities. I was low maintenance (which admittedly made it easier for my parents to foist their fantasies of a large family on me), able to entertain myself and not disturbed at all by solitude and silence.

My singular qualities, in fact, made the additions of siblings difficult for someone who preferred a more Garbo like existence.

I know people who adore their large families. Count their siblings as best friends and couldn’t imagine being an onlie.

Dee is less than enamoured with “onlie-ness”. She laments that her older sisters aren’t closer than a decade and more to her in age. Though, I would venture a guess that they have both pondered the implications of being singletons with a bit of longing.

DNOS and I frequently have conversations that center around the lament of the younger two existing.

Oh, stop. It’s not that gruesome. We are all adopted and had they not been our siblings they’d be some other unfortunate family’s burden to bear.

But fond as I am of DNOS now that we are well into adulthood, I can’t say that I wouldn’t have thrown her under a bus to be an only child when I was a child … even a teenager.

She would protest, but the truth is that she benefited as much from following me as the younger two did in terms of my parents aiming all their strictness at me. I was practically a shield for the rest of them in terms of unrealistic expectations and experiments in parenthood.

I will admit, however, to appreciating my younger siblings as we all hit our pre-teen and teenage years. Being an “easy” child to raise meant that when they began acting up as teens, I was pretty much ignored. A small boon but one well deserved given how much of their care was foisted upon me when we were all small.

My folks were farm-bred Depression babies. Old schoolers who still totally believe that you have more kids so the older ones will learn to be responsible. And that’s actually an interesting stance given that the fact that they were the youngest in their families.

Dad actually wanted a very large family. In excess even of his own experience being one of six children. I have no idea at all why Mom married him given that expectation because there is no one less suited to being the mother of a horde than she.

My most vivid childhood recollections of my mother was of a very angry woman who clearly did not enjoy housework, cooking or minding more than one child at a time.

By the age of five, I was the oldest of four. Wherever we went it was Mom and four wee children, consequently, we did not get out much unless Dad was along. Even then, I can’t recall a single outing that didn’t end with someone being yelled at, hauled off the ground to dangle by a tiny little elbow or smacked on the bottom.

Being the oldest, I quickly learned to lay low and deflect when necessary, but I often wished that I had no siblings at all (when I wasn’t wishing for different parents or a stint as an orphan living with my much more tolerant of me Auntie and Grandmother).

It’s not that we fought much. Aside from my brother, CB, I rarely fought with any of my siblings, but this stems from the fact that at very early ages, we all went our own ways and sought out more like-minded compatriots. We could, and did, clan up in times of trouble, but we mostly had little to do with each other – something that really still defines us today.

I don’t know a lot of people personally for whom family is all, or most even, in terms of close relationships/friendships. Even if friendship preference evolved it tends to be with only one or a couple of siblings within families.

Most people I know have sibling relationships that range all over the “it’s complicated” scale, and even relatively cordial interactions came with middle-age and were possibly even forged by crisis situations.

At my age, I deal with the whole sibling thing only when it rises like Dracula from the tomb, which mercifully isn’t often. We have our own lives filled with significant others, children and chosen companions. Our need for each other – not much to begin with – is reduced to base-touching and keeping an eye on our mother as she dodders into advancing age.

It’s enough. And it’s okay.

But, I still think I would have made an excellent only child.