Spent the weekend at the "family" cottage. So, as you might imagine, I'm still recovering.

Preparing to spend time with my family is like preparing for war. You have to be ready with all the accoutrements. Gas mask. Helmet. Squashy, padded, lunacy-repelling flak jacket.
It's also best to have diversionary equipment. Personal music player (to tune out audio). Thick books and newspapers (to hide behind). Getaway car (for moments of desperation).

Sleeping pills. Alcohol. You know. The necessities.

And there's no substitute for a buffer. Though I occasionally feel guilty for using a friend or loved one as a human shield...

Mostly, what I find I need more in order to spend time with my family is a sense of self.

When around blood relatives for more than a few hours at a time, inevitably, who I am becomes mired in the more powerful muck of who they are and I feel myself being sucked back into an impotent teenage mindset; into the darkness of the middle 1990s when I couldn't imagine myself as anyone outside of the context of the family.
In no time at all, it becomes normal to tell people (adults and children alike) to shut up. Normal  to abruptly abandon conversations with the parting words that's stupid. Normal to let pass thinly veiled (and sometimes overt)  fat jokes, and bits of miscellaneous misogyny. Normal to pit siblings and partners against each other for amusement. Normal to bully. To roll eyes. It feels normal to be rude in the interests of "truth" and to gain the upper hand in conflicts both minute and massive with sarcasm.

Actually, it doesn't just feel normal. It is normal. It's who they are. And while pressed to the smothering bosom of family, I fear it's who I am.

And this worries me, because what if I'm not just part of the family system in the context of the family? What if I'm like this all the time and I don't even know it? (Because clearly, they don't know it. In their hearts, they're nice, well-meaning people. I'm not so stuck that I can't see that they don't mean to be this way. They don't even notice that other people aren't.)

But what if it's genetic? What if you can't escape biology? (Can you? Can I?)

Terrifying, right?

I estimate that it takes me about half the time I spend in the company of the family to unwind again after each meeting. In other words, a two-hour visit requires one hour of recovery time. So a three-day visit means a day and a half to decompress.

With that in mind, I expect I'll feel okay again sometime tomorrow. See you then.

* Creative commons military signage image by Mattox from Stock Xchng.
* Creative commons paper dolls image by Stephanie Hofschlaeger from Stock Xchng.



07/04/2011 12:59

Don't worry - I've decided that we all have our versions of this story. Some bigger some smaller.
Move on.
Choose happy.
It'll really bug them - trust me - I know!

07/04/2011 13:36

As I read your post today I felt that nasty "I'm 16" feeling creep up on me. You are not alone in this family experience. My relationship with my parents has mostly evolved past this, and generally so has my relationship with my brother... but the minute you mix all these relationships together in one room, my brother and I revert to squabbling, annoying teenagers, vying for our parents' attention. I feel helpless, and so easily bated. I feel like a silly kid with no valid opinions, who no one takes seriously. In real life I've got a decent career, a husband, a car... I'm more grown up than I sometimes like to believe.

Last Christmas I made a decision (the previous one had been a nightmare). I decided not to forget who I was as an adult, and perhaps more importantly, not to take the bate. My brother poked and prodded. I ignored him, or even laughed when he made fun. Eventually I did reach my breaking point, after the millionth time he questioned something I said, I looked straight at him and asked very calmly "Is there a reason you need to poke at everything I say?" Without waiting for a response I went upstairs and read for a while.

I guess he got the hint, because the rest of the visit was great, our family vacation in February was great. The point of this diatribe? Try to remember, and behave like the person you know you are outside your family unit. I promise, even if no one else behaves better, you'll leave feeling proud knowing that you did.

Good luck!


Leave a Reply