Saturday, February 28, 2009

It goes without saying that I am still sorting through my mind after the death of my grandmother two weeks ago.

My utter fear in going back to the place of my birth was all consuming. I stopped sleeping from the moment I knew I was going to have to go back. Of course, I could have chosen to not go, and I would be lying if I said that I did not seriously consider fleeing into those options. In the best scenerio, I would face this with my brother at my side. He and I could walk through that gauntlet again - not unlike the same way we had done as children. Dawn and Donnie. I did not want my husband. And I did not want my daughter anywhere near the Ohio valley. I wanted my brother.

Life, however, does not exist to conform to my mental scenarios. My brother is a brand new father of a baby boy who looks shockingly like him. He is learning about the making of a family with his wife - and that this making of a family involves hard, exhausting work FAR past the labor and delivery episode. In fact, I told Donnie that I might kill him if he left his breastfeeding wife for five days.

My next choice was my sister. My sister - Jessie. Nearly 14 years younger than me, it has only been in the last year that I have considered her. That sounds as awful, I think, as it should. At first I blamed the age gap. I went to college when she went to kindergarten. Later, I fell victim to my mothers ability to infuriate me with my sisters status as the only child left at home. I would get incredibly angry at what I inferred was special and different treatment of my sister. Trips to Europe? Ski Lessons? What the fuck?

My Achilles heel was my idea that I should be the most special, most beloved, most cherished. Me. If I didn't get it - whatever I perceived to be favoritism or special treatment, than I was going to be dammed if she was going to get it. I am not proud of this character trait of mine, and am still unraveling the tendrils of this poisonous vine. What I allowed this to do was to completely separate me from my sister. My assistant in this was my mother, who would fan the flames by telling me things that she knew would anger me - pushing me further back into my corner. I would never hear anything directly from my sister...but from my mother, interpreting Jessie's actions and experiences through her filter to me. When Jessie turned down a full scholarship to Bard nine years ago to live at home and attend the local state college, I was livid. Livid from afar. "Push her out!" I practically screamed from New Hampshire. "Why are you allowing this? Why do you baby her?"

What I didn't know was the price my sister would pay for staying. The price she HAD been paying for being the only female rival in the house.

It was this only past August that I finally got a clue as to that price. My sisters breakdown was fairly complete with the requisite accidental on purpose suicide attempt. Which my mother attempted to keep from me - by not calling to tell me it had happened. Although I was only 5 hours away from her...and My mother was 11 hours away. And when I did track my mother down...she tried to pretend it hadn't happened. Then she blamed my aunt for calling me. When I asked what the plan was going to be for Jessie's aftercare, she was vague. "You girls - you're both so willful. I think Jessie is going to go back to work today...She is upstairs sleeping right now...."

I decided to drive down. I wanted to try to convince my sister to come back to Montreal with me. To heal. To be quiet. To be away from everything. I did not trust my mother to be a parent to my sister. I told my mother that Jessie was NOT going to go into work that day - that I was coming to her house. That I was on my way.

I think we all know that this trip went down in flames, as it was clearly destined to from the beginning.

Driving back from that shit storm, I weighed everything I knew about my mother. Everything I knew about my sister. My final words had been with my sister at the front door.

"Please", I pleaded..."Come with me. It isn't good for you here. Come stay with me..."

But she wouldn't. Mom would be infuriated if she went with me, and she couldn't take the punishment that would be meted out after the fact. I knew the punishment, and while 38 year old Me could say that Mom really couldn't do my 25 year old sister, it felt very different.

I've tried to stay connected with Jessie. I call and leave messages on her phone. She never returns my calls. I tell her on the voice messages that I love her. That I blame myself for not being more involved. For allowing myself to be manipulated by my mother. For leaving her defenseless for the past 20 years.

I finally heard from her the day my grandmother died. We made tentative plans to travel to the funeral together. I offerred to arrange the car - or flight - or however we got there. She said she would call me after she got out of class to finalize plans. Then she didn't call back. Ever.

Was I angry? No, not really. Profoundly frightened at having to face all this alone, but not angry. Disappointed that my awkward and inept attempts to build a rickety bridge over 20 years of quicksand that is my relationship with my sister were going nowhere, Yes. But not angry.

I booked the tickets that night. I was going alone.

Unnamed Parent? May I have a word?

Monday, February 23, 2009

Two weeks ago my ten year old daughter walked into my room and said this:

"Is it true that Obama wants to kill babies living in pregnant womens bodies?"

Oh my head.

Deploying my oldest teacher technique, I responded with a question:

"What do you mean? I am not sure I understand your question."

What unfolded was an explanation offered to my daughter by a classmate of the politics of abortion, through a lens of a pro-life religious viewpoint.

Emily is an ardent supporter of President Obama. As expatriate Americans, her father and I both voted for him, and she loves the story of his parenthood which seems so familiar to her. She, too, is a biracial child, "just like the President".

This conversation occurred after Emily was talking about how much she LIKED the new President of the United States. Her peer retorted, with all the self confidence of a ten year old repeating information heard from her parent, that Emily's new hero was, in essence, a baby killer.

Because a shot of tequila was not at hand, I had to take only a deep breath and try to sort out the basic information on the tricky and personal topic of the right to choose whether or not a woman carries a fetus to term that I wanted to convey.

"You and Daddy chose to have me...", Emily offerred.

"Yes, love. Daddy and I planned to have a baby and then we found out we were having you - and we were very happy. But some people aren't ready to have a baby when they find out they are pregnant. So they have a choice whether or not to continue being pregnant. President Obama believes that people should be able to continue to have that choice - he doesn't want to take babies from Mom's who are wanting to be pregnant - he wants to make sure that the law says that people can make that choice for themselves, if they need to. Just like Mommy and Daddy think that you can't tell people who they can love, and who they can't love - we don't believe that you can tell someone that they have to have a baby if they have personal reasons for not wanting to have a baby."

I paused. I held my breath. This conversation could really tumble out of the realms of what I was already unprepared to discuss. Topics like birth control, sexuality, religion were flashing like neon signs in front of my eyes. Em has a very basic and unembellished idea of how babies are made....but it is a concept that she understands in a very non technical way. I was not ready nor eager to increase her knowledge of this topic either.

She digested this all quietly. I followed with my standard, "Do you have any other questions about what I said?"

In my head, I was strangling the mother who I knew had started this little interlude. I wanted to rake her over the coals - not for her personal viewpoint with which I disagreed, but for her decision to drag our ten year old daughters into this discussion. Her decision to make statements to HER daughter was now leaking into my bedroom forcing me to discuss issues of sexuality and contraception and the politics of pregnancy.

Emily is far more practical. "Can I tell Unnamed Child that she is wrong?"

I hesitate. "Well, perhaps you can tell her that you don't believe that her information is entirely accurate."

So unnamed Mother...Did you feel my laser beam eyes in your skull last night at the school concert? Because they were trained on you, I assure you.

Homeward Bound

Monday, February 16, 2009

As I have written before, my family is complicated.

No different, I suppose, than anyone else - old hurts and memories, resentments and things said and unsaid layered like shale.

I'd not spoken to my mother since August of last year. When she called me a pretentious snob. And uninvited me from her house. I, in turn, told her that she wasn't a very good mother. To me, my brother or my sister.

When she called and left a voicemail on our home phone on the 8th saying my grandmother was dying I was, well.....skeptical. My mother has been known to exaggerate things, spin some events to her benefit making her appear MORE - hurt, damaged, sad, or whatever emotion she is going for. I guard myself against her descriptions, holding out for the kernel of truth in whatever story I am hearing.

I emailed my Aunt to assess the accuracy of the description. According to my mother, she and my Aunt were taking turns providing care to my grandmother who was in hospice at my Aunts house in West Virginia.

The idea of my mother AND Aunt living in the same house for any length of time was enough to make my alarm bells go off. The sisters have had a real love hate relationship over the years, sometimes going for YEARS without speaking. If there is one thing you can give my family - we know how to hold a helluva grudge. Last I knew, the relationship tipped towards the "not entirely warm" scale so the news that they were living and caring for my grandmother in tandem was shocking.

But yes. My grandmother had been deteriorating for the past year, her memory fading and her heart beginning to fail. My aunt had taken her into her home after her release from the hospital. My grandfather having broken his leg in the spring, was in their home being cared for by my uncle.

Nonetheless, the email announcing my grandmothers death last Tuesday was shocking.
The implications were even more shocking. I would have to go back to the Ohio Valley. I would have to see my mother. I would have to see my grandmothers body. I would have to see my fragile grandfather, and my aging uncles. I would be in the very places I had successfully avoided for the past 25 years, resisting all invitations for family reunions and the deaths of my other set of grandparents. I would have to drive by the very house in which I was sure my father was living.

My roots were reaching out to strangle me.

Killing me softly

Thursday, February 05, 2009

This morning was business as usual.

Running around - telling Em to put on her socks...did she brush her teeth? PLEASE put on her socks - stop looking at the television and PUT ON HER SOCKS!!!

In the midst of my stream of exhortations regarding her socks, she stopped looking at the television long enough to stare at me.

"I don't want to look at your naked butt", she said to me.

"Then don't sit your ass in my room while I get dressed!" and for emphasis I did a little booty wiggle and bounce.

Now,back in the day, this move brought all the boys to the yard, as my milkshake was something to behold.

Today? I get this:

"When you dance, your bum looks like two chicken nuggets."
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