In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to thank the readers that have followed me and, even better, read my posts. I started this site not necessarily to make “friends” or “followers.” I think both are great, but they are not the primary reason why I began writing. I began writing because I was bursting with a desire to write. For about a year, I didn’t even tell anyone about my website. I did have a desire to connect, but I was too shy to do any broadcasting. Somehow a few people found me, none of whom I knew previously, and began following me. That gave me a huge boost in confidence. So to you readers, I say, thank you..
The post I am writing has been on my mind for the better part of a year. It comes from the heart because above all, I believe in being genuine.
As the holidays approach, one is inclined to think about family, whatever that term means to you. Here come the ad men and women propagating their images of family and the holidays. I think about family. I think about my violent grandfather that targeted his anger at those least capable of defending themselves. I think about my grandmother who used detachment as a coping mechanism, and her daughter, my mother, who adopted the same tactic. I think about my step-father and his workaholic tendencies. And I think about being an only child and having no one to share this with.
So when I met Peter, the youngest of five, whose parents have had the same address and phone number since 1956 (while I, when I met him, had never lived more than five years in one spot), who went to the same elementary school for eight years (while I went to five in the same time frame), whose family pictures show homemade, white, ironed clothes, I thought I had found a “family.”
I found a few things odd at first. I thought it was odd that family members didn’t call each other regularly. Then I found it odd that people didn’t call each other on their birthdays. Then I found it odd that siblings didn’t know each others’ birthdays. I found it odd that siblings went over to each other’s houses three times a year- Thanksgiving, Christmas, and a barbecue in the summer- despite living within an hour of each other. I found this odd because my parents and I drove five hours every 2-3 months to visit both sets of their parents. I found it odd because birthdays meant phone calls and presents and getting together for food. Within all the dysfunction in my family, we still gathered together regularly.
“They’re busy.” Peter said, referring to his family..
“For nine years?”
There comes a time when “busy” becomes a four letter word relating to priorities. If you’re busy and something that’s important to you comes up, then you make time for it. If not, you remain “busy.”
I guess I could have invited them to our place, but it would have been cramped. For seven of the nine years, we used a coffee table to eat on in a room that functioned as a living room, dining room, and once Polina was born, a bedroom and playroom. I dreamed of owning a house someday. To have an entire room for eating…. We were in what the Russians would call a two room apartment. Peter’s brother and sister who lived nearby lived in a two story building.
The income disparity wasn’t something we were proud of. Some of it was our own fault, but some of it wasn’t. Peter had a botched surgery to reduce the size of turbinates in his nose. The hack that did the surgery cut them off almost completely. This caused Peter severe breathing problems (because the airflow was altered), sleep problems, and anxiety. A man who once ran up mountains had trouble walking up a hill. A man who used to be kind and patient became at times bitter and impatient. A man who used to sleep until 10 am on weekends now regularly got up multiple times a night with feelings of suffocation. He was fitted for a CPAP, which has helped somewhat, but I have to stay on my side of the bed or I will be pelted with a jet stream of air emanating from his forehead. This one operation has cost us thousands of dollars in medical bills, travel, and lost work time. It was a huge stress in our lives.
There comes a time when “busy” becomes a four letter word relating to priorities.
On my end, I took a 50% pay cut to become a social worker. It was a bad decision and I wouldn’t do it again. But it wasn’t like I did something horrible.
When Polina was born, I thought Peter’s sibling that lived 15 minutes away would offer some help. Nada. I guess I could have offered help when their three kids were born, and I did think about it, but it was awkward since I wasn’t exactly invited to their house.
Buying our first home, now the rubber hits the road and they’ll come through, I thought. Maybe they could have offered some advice. Nope. I realize that it’s not the American way, but in our family, advice was plentiful, because it meant that you cared. Okay, I’ll put that in the “difference in family culture” category. But what really made me angry, and this became the tipping point, is when they didn’t offer to help us with the move. Not with a truck, which each sibling had; not with a helping hand; not even with looking after Polina while we did the lifting. There were some long days packing in between Peter’s work schedule. And the health issues just complicated things. On the actual moving day, Peter and I worked all day and into the night, returning the rental truck at 4 o’clock in the morning with me following Peter in the car with Polina asleep in the car seat. The apparent apathy hit me hard and the seeds of resentment were sown.
If you have a family that you value and that values you back, I say Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy [insert holiday here]. And to everyone else, I invite you to say a big, heartfelt, thanks for nothing.
The home we bought was a fixer-upper. Even though Peter helped his brother with remodeling his home, the favor wasn’t returned. We did some creative time management to get work done, with me arriving as early as 6 am to prime and paint the vacant house, but once Peter arrived with Polina on his way to work, it was hard to start and stop with an active and breastfeeding on demand two year old. I vividly remember one day in particular when I was trying to paint a wall. I only managed to get 25% of the wall painted the entire day. We were under pressure to move in- we were paying a mortgage and rent. I looked at all the work around me. Pete was working a full-time job. Polina was, well, being a two year old. At times the stress was so palpable I wanted to scream. And I did. At times I took my anger out on Polina when really, she was just being a two year old. Afterward I felt guilt, anger, and resentment. For anyone that doesn’t have a child, trying to get work done with a toddler is like trying to get work done with a puppy. Possible, but challenging. But Polina wasn’t a puppy. Her cries pierced my soul. Every time she cried for my attention, every time she cried because things weren’t as they used to be, I mentally took my anger out on the people who I thought would be there.
Let’s come out of the closet and acknowledge that there are problems in the world and it doesn’t always have to do with problems somewhere else.
This experience changed me as a person. I used to be compassionate and friendly. I worked as a social worker for crying out loud. Following this experience, I became more angry and cold to the world. The blogs I read from other moms and their “troubles” didn’t resonate. Ha! I thought. Try doing all that and having boxes all over the place and not knowing where anything is. I didn’t have compassion for the homeless man at the intersection asking for change. At least you don’t have to work. Kind of nice not to work, huh?
It was a couple months before we got everything out of boxes and more or less moved in.
When Peter’s brother came by to look at our house, I gave him the cold shoulder.
“He was going to offer us help,” said Peter.
“Really, when? We’ve already moved in.”
I’ve mulled possible scenarios and came up with three of them.
Scenario # 1: You care and are involved in someone’s life. You call and ask what you can do to help. How about we take Polina on a Saturday or Sunday and that would give you some time to work. Or, how about you guys come over for dinner this week to give you guys a break. Or, hey, you might need a truck carrying your belongings or supplies from Home Depot. We have one, would any of these times work?
Level 2: You care but don’t involve yourself in someone’s life. You call once in a while to ask how things are going
Level 3: You ignore the person.
As an only child, I value having a sibling. Peter, as the youngest of five, says it doesn’t matter. Now I agree with him, because with this family, what’s the difference?
And so, if you have a family that you value and that values you back, I say Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy [insert holiday here]. And to everyone else, I invite you to say a big, heartfelt, thanks for nothing. In American society, there is pressure to have a positive spin on things. I don’t think that always conforms to reality. Let’s call a spade what it is. Let’s come out of the closet and acknowledge that there are problems in the world and it doesn’t always have to do with problems somewhere else. Let’s drop the passive aggressive bull sh** and be honest with ourselves, because we can’t change anything we’re not aware of. Being open to awareness and questioning our egos is the first step, I think, toward change.
I realize that it is not about them anymore, it’s about me. I can be a bigger person and forgive, but I’m not there yet. Instead, I’ve become as distant from them as they have been of us. I no longer base my happiness on whether or not they invite me to dinner. Instead, I signed up to work on Thanksgiving.