Releasing the past in order to find myself

Thursday, February 27, 2014


From the TV sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond (and I'm paraphrasing):

Maria, the overbearing, narcissistic MIL is complaining, "I don't feel welcome in your home."

Debra, the DIL says "But you are over ALL the time.  You never give me a chance to welcome you."

This is a sentiment I feel with my in-laws a lot.  They are here.  All the time.  Well, not ALL the time, but enough that it doesn't feel like I get much of a break from them.  And they are coming down, again, on their monthly trips to babysit the other grandkids and park it over at my BIL's house for the weekend (they always stay the ENTIRE weekend, Friday morning to late Sunday night).

I'm feeling annoyed by that again, and partially I know that I don't really have a right to feel that way.  I didn't make the plans, it's not my house, and I don't have a say so. 

But part of me feels, again, that we are just expected to go along with everyone else's plans.  Sure, we can say no.  But there always feels like some sort of pressure to go along with every one else's life.  Like we are expected to fit into THEIR lives, but no the other way around. 

As usual, BIL and MIL schedule these weekends and we fit around BIL's social schedule.  Or MIL and FIL make plans to come in for their social schedule and we are expected to fit around that.  I always feel like we are an "add on".  Something to round out their weekend. 

Which would be fine once and awhile.  But we are never the priority.  MIL never tries to work out coming into town, or making plans with us, it never feels like it's about US.  About actually making an effort to treat us like grown ups with our own family and schedules.  About trying to communicate with us and get together with us on an adult level.  I'm not sure if I'm conveying that well.  But it just feels that it is always about MIL, or BIL, or football games, or whatever.   And not about finding time to spend together in which we can all feel comfortable or valued.

And on the flip side, there is lots of pressure to invite them down to our house, to make plans with them.  MIL, despite her intensely controlling nature, likes to sit back and have people create plans for her.  To come to her and ASK her to be around us.  To WANT her to be around and to prove it.  She's very covert in how she does conveys that, but I always feel that.  It comes across in that she never just calls up and says "We would like to spend time with you.  What would work for you.  What would you like to do?"  It comes across in the subtle ways she hints to my husband (and he in turn gets upset with me) that she'd like to stay.  She talks a big game about wanting to create family time and family memories and all of that, but she doesn't seem to want to do any of the actual WORK to make that happen.  It's so, so subtle but it always feels like it's a choice between doing all the work for her, or fitting in around her.  I just don't feel like we are considered at all.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense with this.  I have a hard time really understanding my feelings myself.  And, being a big hypocrite, I actually don't want to spend more time with them.  But I think it's times like this that seem to highlight how enmeshed and self-centered the family is.  I don't feel like plans are made between adults, but that we are children expected to just "go along" with things.   I don't feel like it is negotiated time in which everyone can feel comfortable.  I feel like we are just puzzle pieces fitting into MIL's (and BIL - or in this case SIL's - grand schemes.)  And I can't really say anything.  What would I say?  You can't come down?  Don't invite us along to your things?  Even telling them to make more of an effort to involve us specifically would have an outcome I wouldn't want.

So, maybe I'm just here bitching because it's a shitty situation all around.  I don't really want it to be fixed (because to "fix it" would mean more time with these thoughtless people, which I don't want) but I don't like feeling like an "after thought" all the time.  I dislike feeling so marginalized and unimportant.  I dislike how all the toxic and negative behavior is hidden underneath "family" dinners and the like.  I dislike how I'm always cast as the one who doesn't invite them down enough (when they are ALWAYS here) or make an effort to plan things (when they never do that themselves).  There just is no good solution

Monday, February 24, 2014

My grandmother

It was no secret growing up that my grandmother, NM's mother, was off.  Or crazy.  Or "weird" as NM called her.  No one hid it from me and my sister.  My aunts and uncles and cousins all knew it.  We talked about it. It was sort of a family joke.   Nobody was under any delusion that she was a "normal" grandmother.

Both sets of my grandparents lived in the same town. Growing up,  I was much closer to my father's parents, although I can see now that it wasn't exactly a close relationship either.  But, compared to my mother's parents, dad's parents were the "normal" ones.   We used to drive down and visit once a month or so.  We'd spend the majority of the day at dad's parents' house and then drive over for our obligatory visit with mom's parents.  We would spend about an hour or so there and then leave.  We didn't do "family" dinners there (mom had three siblings who lived nearby or in our town.)   We didn't stay the night.  We didn't do anything with them.  We never spent more than half a day there.  I can't remember one time (although I'm sure it happened once or twice) that my grandparents visited our house.  They didn't attend school plays, or science fairs, or graduations.  Nm never left us with them or had them babysit.  On occasion, we would stay with my dad's parents.  Nm would have my sister and I go over for dinner with her parents, but we NEVER stayed there.  Ever.  As I grew older, I'd walk over and visit her if I was staying at my other grandmother's.  I can remember dragging my favorite cousin over to visit her.  He hated going.

Grandma was an odd duck to say the least and NM never tried to hide it from me.    NM always spoke of how difficult her childhood had been.  She always spoke of how weird Grandma was.  Grandma rarely left the house.  She had paranoid delusions that the neighbors were out to get her.  She spied on the neighbors.  She was a hypochondriac that always had some physical ailment or another (that the doctors could never diagnose).  She was quiet and reserved, rather pinched really, but she was always watching and observing everything you did.  She was not warm, or friendly, and rarely made an effort to actually get to know me.  She complained A LOT.  It was a family joke about how negative and full of complaint grandma was.  She wasn't educated, but she wasn't dumb.  She never worked.  She was a meticulous house keeper.  In fact, her home almost felt sterile.   I can remember, on occasion, catching glimpses of her as a "real" person and I always enjoyed that (she had a fondness for Elvis; she liked to dance). But really, she didn't seem to have a lot of depth to her personality.   She always seemed to keep herself at a distance, emotionally hidden away.   I learned later that she took a lot of valium, which would explain her sedated and lethargic speech and movements.  She showed little interest in her grandkids.  Even the ones who lived in town with her saw little of her.  They invited her endlessly to things, but she never went.  Getting her to their weddings was a small feat. 

Grandma ran away and eloped with my grandfather when she was still in high school.  NM always described grandma's relationship with her parents as good, especially with her father.  Grandma was a daddy's girl, they would tell me.  I always liked my great-grandfather, but my memories of him were of after he had a debilitating stroke, so it was hard to really gauge what he was like.  Great grandma was a little quirky, but nice.  Maybe a touch childlike if I remember correctly.    I didn't have a sense that she was not a good mother, but really, how could I know?

Grandpa was significantly older than grandma (especially considering she was still in high school).  He picked her up from school one day and they ran away and got married.  Grandpa had been raised by his two aunts, didn't really know his young, unwed mother, and didn't meet his father until he was an adult.  He was a blue color, working man, with tattoos on his arms and a drinking problem.  He was gruff and rough around the edges.  He was harsh and could be scary.  NM says that he was spoiled and babied as a child( treated almost like a doll, if you ask me).

Life as a young married couple was hard.  They were broke and grandpa was often in the bars.  Coupled with the fact that grandmother didn't like to leave the house much, life as a child in their home sounded miserable, at best.  Nm talks of lots of fights, screaming, and yelling.  Her father was brutish and scary and violent (although to what extent, I don't know.)  The family moved around a lot.  Grandma was pregnant almost immediately and was pregnant again with NM only months after delivering her first and only son.   NM talks of being poor and holes in the floors and her shoes and not having enough to eat. 

NM described her mother as cruel sometimes, taunting and teasing to get rises out of NM.  She described her as critical and mean.   She said grandmother didn't make a very good mother and NM often stepped in to do a lot of the work.  NM's older brother was the "golden boy" (NM's words, not mine) and was spoiled and coddled.  NM, as the oldest sister, took care of the family, did a lot of the housework and ran a lot of the errands outside of the house, as well as much of the childcare for her two younger sisters.  NM remembers being left outside in the car outside of  bars (in cold, snowy weather) while her parents went in to drink.  Or having to fetch her dad from the bar.  She told stories about having to walk home in snow and having to drag her "whiny" brother with her.  I always got the impression NM had to be the tough one.  She certainly likes to wear the mantle of being "strong" now....except when she's playing the victim.  When she got old enough, she started chipping in money from her job to pay the bills and paid for most of her own needs (clothes, yearbooks, pocket money).   Her mother was cold, neglectful, and distant.  She didn't seem much of a mother at all.  I often think NM married my father just to get the hell out of her parents' house. 

In many ways, I sympathize with NM.  It had to have been a horrible childhood.  She never kept details from me.   It was always out in the open and she discussed how her relationship with her mother was strained because of her childhood and I can remember feeling very sorry for her as a child.  And how fortunate I was.   I can also remember my father telling me that NM had "a bad childhood" and I remember it being said in a sort of "excuse" way whenever I was conflicted about NM. 

In her adult relationship with her mother, NM never hid the fact that her relationship was still strained and difficult.  I can remember her complaining a lot about her mother.  I can remember her not wanting to visit.   I remember her telling me that she always struggled to buy her mom a mother's day card, as there were no cards for "marginal" mothers (oh, the irony, as I stand in the card aisle looking for that same card.)  They never seemed close.  NM didn't call her a lot (and complained when she did).  She didn't depend on her mother, or look to her for support, as far as I could see.  But she continued to do her duty.  Looking after her parents.  Sending them money on occasion.  When grandmother got ill and died, NM stepped in and did the hard work and arranged medications and hospital bills and stuff like that. 

The day grandma died, I can remember how cold and stony NM was.  She made my aunt cry because she told aunt that she should quit being such a baby about it.  She had no sympathy or empathy for anyone feeling badly that day.  I don't think it even occurred to her that I might be upset at all.  She made it out like I was there to support HER, not like I was there to be part of a family mourning their matriarch (if you could call her that). 

And really,  I wasn't terribly upset.  Sure, the death of a family member is never easy.  But we had never been particularly close and she had been sick for awhile.  One thing I think I can say for NM is that, by being open and honest, she saved me from being hurt by my grandmother.  I don't remember feeling particularly sad or upset that she wasn't a "normal grandma".  I just had always understood her to be the way she was.  I had no expectations of her.  I didn't feel I missed out.  She didn't hurt my feelings.  Partially, I'm sure that had to do with grandma being of the ignoring variety of narc.  I don't really remember feeling too much of anything for her.  Maybe a small fondness?  I visited her as an adult, and didn't find the conversations horrible (as so many family members did).  I didn't feel sorry for her either.  I just remember feeling accepting of who she was: a nut case.  She sent me letters in college, filled with complaints about the neighbors, which was as much as she'd ever reached out to me.  She never got to know me.  And I always felt like I'd fulfilled any obligation I had to her. 

Standing by her coffin on the day of her funeral, my older female cousin and I were discussing her.  No one in our family is particularly close, so it was a bit of a weird moment for me to have her confide in me.  She said, tears in her eyes,  "I never really felt like I knew her.  I knew nothing about her childhood, her family.  Did you?"  Probably being a tad unsympathetic, I said, "yes, I did."  And I felt I did.  I asked her the questions I wanted, learned about her family, looked through her family photos.  I'd maintained enough of a relationship with grandma.  I didn't feel regret or loss or really anything. 

Later, that same cousin (and her mother, NM's SIL, a bit of a black sheep in the family) wrote blog posts about how upset they were that grandma hadn't involved themselves in their lives more.  How desperately they'd wished she'd participated more in their family.  How much regret and sadness they felt over it all.  At the time, I really didn't understand their feelings.  In fact, I thought it was a tad disrespectful to write a blog post about what a horrible mother and grandmother she was days after she died.  But, as time has passed, I can see how much they were needing to process.

And I've come to understand their point of view a tad bit more.  See, my aunt's mother (cousin's other grandmother) was a very involved grandmother.  She was the cookie-baking, at-all-events, help-you plan-your-wedding grandma.  They knew what it could look like.  Even though my other grandmother was better (by a LONG shot) she still wasn't that involved as a grandmother (she's a whole other story).  I really didn't know any better.  I'd had no expectations at all for my grandmother, where as, they had a whole list of things they wished my grandmother could've been.  It was an interesting revelation for me. 


The reason I bring this all up now, is that NM sent me a truckload of emails yesterday.  She was going though old pictures on her computer and when she found one that struck her, she forwarded it to me with her comments (which sucked, by the way.  Her depressing walk down memory lane was bad enough, without forcing me to witness it.)

One of the photos was a picture of me and my grandmother, when I was an adult, chatting about grandma's flowers.  NM always loved this picture.  I think she somehow projected an image of "family" onto that picture that really skewed the reality of  the situation.  She's sent me that picture many times.

As a side note, that picture (or rather, NM's feelings about it) irritates me.   I have gotten the feeling in the past that NM somehow projects her mother onto me.  That somewhere, in NM's deluded mind, she has overlapped the two of us.  For one, I think that my NM has always used me to fill spaces in herself that her mother should have.  She used me to care for her, fill her up, give her the unconditional love that she didn't get from her mom.  And when I can't (or won't) live up to those expectations, her anger at her mother, and her feelings of abandonment by her mother, are also projected onto me.  It really frustrates me as she seems to see us in such an overlap, like she has enmeshed me and grandma so much in her mind that we are interchangeable.   And so, when I "reject" her, all that anger comes pouring back at me.  She loves to tell me how much I remind her of her mother....and it's not because she's giving me a compliment, although she acts like she is.

So, anyway, this picture was labeled with the comment "just having one of those miss my mom days".   Good God, spare me.  These kinds of comments put me in such an uncomfortable position.  Ignore it, and I'm ignoring MY mother's pain at losing HER mother.  Respond to it, and I'm not only feeding her need for attention, but I'm also playing into her bullshit false memories that NM has created of her mom.

See, NOW,  NM seems to remember her mother as a good, kind, supportive mom.  On the five year anniversary of her death (a few months back), NM posted on FB a paragraph discussing all the wonderful things she misses about her mom.  Now, while the actual examples are (mostly) true things she did like about her mom, it creates a false impression.  These five (or so) memories are so horrible out balanced by the BILLIONS of shitty things grandma was as a mom.   NM going on about how she "wishes (she) could call (her mom) to just chat or get support" about made me want to vomit.  When the hell did that happen?  Never.  She created an image (and posted it for everyone to see) of a mother that was completely fictitious.  Every year on the anniversary of grandma's death, or the anniversary of grandma's birthday, NM makes a big production about missing her mom (these anniversaries are months apart during the holiday season, so she usually drags it out between the two.)  She posts things on FB about wanting "just one more conversation" with her mom.  How a mother's love never dies. Just. so. much. bullshit.  It's often hard to even look at, as it is so phony and fake.  Plus, NM uses this "grief" to try and bully me into things: visits, attention from me and my kids, putting my holidays on hold to work around her (because "this time of year is so hard for me since grandma died").

Seriously, sometimes I really feel like I could vomit over it all.  And yes, I know, she is doing it for attention.  Clearly.  So, I try to give her as little attention as I can when she behaves like this.

But what I don't get is that she actually seems to believe this shit.  And I can't figure out why.  Is it to somehow lay guilt at me so that I remember she could die any day and give into her demands?  I know that's part of it.  She loves to post things about "acknowledging people when they are here because you'll miss your mom someday."  Is she trying to construct a new reality in order to deal with the mother she never had?  Is it somewhat easier to completely make up a new mom, now that her mom isn't here to actually contradict her concocted version?  Is she just really that diluted and mentally ill that she believes her own shit?  Is it because she's never really worked through her feelings about her mom?  She always seemed to have a pretty clear view of who her mom was (she never acted or stated that she thought grandma was a good mom when she was alive.  In fact, like I said above, it was quite the opposite).  How can she create this false mom now?  It often makes me wonder just how fucked in the head she is.

Another reason I ask is because I want to make sure I resolve all my issues with my NM now.   I have no delusions anymore than NM is going to be the mom I need.  It was a LONG, HARD process of grieving for her.  I can remember, when I first started writing this blog and someone told me that my mother clearly doesn't love me.  I remember looking in the mirror, brushing my teeth, and breaking down in sobs.   She had to love me, right?  To get to the point of understanding that she never loved me like a mother should (that she would chuck me under the bus at a moment's notice to save her own ass) as a fucking ordeal.  But I feel I'm making peace with it.  And I can't imagine that I'm going to be devastated when she dies (man, that's a hard thing to write).

NM is getting older (but far from old).  Am I going to miss her if something happens to her?  She always threatens me that I will.  What can I do to prevent myself from becoming deluded like NM and making a saint out of someone who clearly wasn't?  Am  I going to regret this emotional distance I've created from her?  I don't at the moment.  Accepting that she can not support me, can not be trusted with my thoughts, feelings, and details of my life, keeping her at arm's length has giving me a degree of peace I've never felt before.  But when I watch Nm behave like she is and....well, it freaks me the hell out. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

A "Grandparents" Prayer

MIL posted this on her FB page yesterday and it instantly made my stomach knot up:

Sure, it seems nice enough.  She followed it with a big "AMEN!"  But the thing is, she has no action to follow up this prayer. 

The bottom section, in particular is the one that got me:  "May they look back upon me with fond memories and may they never forget that they were and always will be deeply loved by me." 

First, these little "grandparents quotes" on FB drive me crazy as it is.  They often seem to be less about the child and more about the grandparent.  Sort of "may they always remember how AWESOME I was!!"  They seem to be praying more about what they want someone else to do than what they want God to help them with.  MIL seems to have this mentality a lot.  She's told me many times before how she's "prayed" that God would make someone do what she wanted them to do.  For example, she's prayed that one of her sons would choose the college that she wanted him to go to.   While, on the surface, that may not seem like a big deal, I see it as just more of her need for control.  Why not pray that he chooses the college that would best suit him?  That he find it inside of himself to do what is best for him?   Why not pray that people make the decisions in life that are best for them and not the ones that MIL THINKS they should make?  Why is she in the middle of it all?

Why not pray that she is the type of grandmother that will be remembered fondly?  Or, I pray that I serve my grandchildren well so that they will always see that I love them?  Or, please help me God to give all of my love to my grandchildren so that they will never question that I loved them? 

Maybe I'm nitpicking.  But this seems more about getting a response out of the kids than actually being the type of grandparent she wants to be remembered as. 

And the thing is, she's NOT that grandmother.  Fond memories?  She never has authentic conversations with my kids.  She rarely gets down and plays with them.  She shows NO genuine interest in who they are.  When all four of her grandkids are together, she bounces between them, trying to always be "where the actions is".   She controls their interactions and tries to force "bonding" between them.  She doesn't actually create experiences in which my kids will remember her.  She doesn't try to do anything special for or with them.  She expects DH and I to come up with those plans.  For all my NM's faults, she at least tries to do special things with my kids.  She asks them questions and tries to get to know them.  She plays endlessly on the floor with them.  (And I'm sure it's not all for the right reasons, but for now -and I watch her like a hawk- she's been good with them.)  She looks like a perfect grandmother compared to MIL.

And the "love them deeply"?  I don't think MIL knows what deep love is.  She is so emotionally disconnected it's scary.  She puts on a good image, but there is NO substance behind it.  It's all about sucking love from her grandkids.  I can almost physically see her sucking attention from them in a one-way flow. 

Earlier in the day, MIL had posted a picture of the Valentine's card she had gotten from my niece and nephew, captioned "The best Valentine card ever!". (She took a picture of it and posted the picture).  Well, let's examine that.  The card was clearly ordered from an online print shop.  My SIL used the same professional portraits she has used on her Christmas card and as MIL's Christmas gift.  So she just "recycled" the same old card into something "new".   And I'm not trying to be critical, but two years ago my three year old spent tons of time crafting a beautiful card for MIL and FIL.  He meticulously cut out the heart (which is so hard for a young kid) and decorated it and colored it.  So, really, is this "new" card the "best valentine EVER".  I'm sure MIL doesn't even remember my son's card.  And I'm sure she wasn't trying to slight me and my son.  But it just shows her pathology to me.  She is constantly proclaiming things the "best ever" with no regard that it leaves no room for the "others" to be good.  She's told my son that he's the "cutest kid ever!" right in front of his cousin.  Really?  How the hell is that supposed to make my niece feel?  But she doesn't think of that and does it constantly.  Her insensitivity is appalling. 

This is also the woman who doesn't bother to send any Valentines cards to her own grandkids.  She doesn't remember them at all.  She did once...she bought a cheap box of kids school Valentines and sent them out to her grandkids.  (Not that I'm begrudging the cheapness of it, but this woman will spend tons of money on a bottle of wine or a nice meal, so it's not out of her realm to send a real card to her grandkids.)  I've told DH that it seems "out of sight, out of mind" with her.  She never sends anything to the kids, never gives them anything without being present to "get credit" for it (or actually, she has, but she was forced to do it in those few situations).  Both NM, my step mother, and my husband's grandmother (MIL's mother) always send cards to the kids.  Most of them remember them at Easter too.  NM sends cards (and money - 20 bucks for the college fund and 5 to buy a toy- and stickers) on every holiday.  She knows the kids love mail and sends it every time.  But not MIL.  I don't think she's every sent a damn thing (except the school valentines). 

So, maybe MIL, maybe try BEING the grandmother you want to be.  While you are at it, quite telling me you "don't want to be that MIL" and be the MIL you actually think you should be.  Quite worrying about how everyone is going to remember you and start worrying about creating good memories of yourself.  Quite "praying" that people remember you in certain ways and that they remember your love, and actual be the person people remember fondly and loving those people.