Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Family comforts

I hesitate writing this but it has been gnawing at me and I have to get it out.

I've had a lot of trouble of the past few years defining the big concepts...love, values, me, and most recently family. Its well known that I am an orphan insomuch as both of my parents are dead and I have no siblings. What I do have for blood relations is limited and no I can say, strained.

I am struggling very hard with my Mom's side of the family. The family closest to me genealogically is I feel the most distant. I am struggling with how I feel about them. I am struggling about what it means to be struggling about how I feel about them. It is obvious to any observer, I think, that they care deeply for me but I am having so much trouble returning that devotion. When I am with them (in person or on the phone) all I can do is see their faults, the narcissism, the pettiness, the self-serving martyrdom and the competitiveness. This all came to a head on our most recent trip to visit. It was one of the most stressful, unpleasant visits I can remember. I found myself having to protect Tara, I felt party to a conspiracy when I agreed with Tara or when I opted to do something for Julia instead of the rest of the family...if I wanted to make sure Julia had quiet time or had a feeding at a certain time I was being to regimented and that as being a backhanded stab at Tara's need for order because other family "are flexible" and don't have to be anywhere at a certain time. Or I was being compared both directly and implied to other family members.

Compare this with a trip to see Tara's family who were welcoming me to me as the in-law, old photos were brought out, stories were told, we ate together with no expectations, no pressure to be anybody other than us. We ate and we caught up and hung out and we laughed. There were no geography lessons, there were no quizzes. There was an unspoken understanding that Julia rules the roost, if Tara needed to feed her, Tara is given that space and time. If Julia needed a nap we found a way (as often as possible) to make that happen. The vibe for most of the trip was unforced. I don't think Tara was put in a position where she felt I was being unduly pressured or snide comments about the way I handle myself.

I have a theory that if you disregard individual personality that the difference between the two families is socio-economic and socio-geographic (if that's a word). On one hand you have a family of consistent and over achievers, a black family which is 4 generations out of slavery and 3 generations out of college and most of those college graduates completed some sort of graduate level degree. It appears to me that there is so much middle class frustration and disappointment. No matter what you achieve its not enough, the grass is always greener, if I don't keep pushing I will let someone down. Then the family moved from South to North which added removed them further from the ebb and flow of nature and spirit to the start and stop agitation of urban life...you have to keep moving till the lights go out and in the city the lights don't go out. Where as the part of Tara's family we visited still lives on the land they were raised or within a couple of hundred miles. They are 3 generations from slavery but far fewer college and professional degrees. They accept, sometimes reluctantly, the ebb and flow of available work and and life's changes without turning it into a big drama.

How strange that I came away from a weekend with the in-laws less stressed than a weekend with my relatives.

I accept that this is a simplified and even romanticized view of the family dynamics and I accept that this was the first time I visited Tara's family farm but I think I have to stick with what I've been saying for awhile...Poor Tara, I got the better end of this deal.

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