Oh, holiday Monday. I remember your yester-years, those casual carefree days, hitting the snooze button and drinking an extra pot of coffee. I remember you from our childhood days, those teens years, early twenties – all the way up to last year, really. Fond memories for sure and, you know, to be fair, I turned the table a bit and stopped working for someone else, so you may be confused. An ordinary Monday sometimes feels like you’ve made a drop-in visit, and then… work knocks on Easter. It’s strange, I know.
So, I am very grateful for the normalcy of boy-yo running home on this beautiful, warm, sun-filled evening. He’s now ensconced in the arms of his ma, who is perfectly portraying five or so characters from The World of Norm. I love watching them in these moments. The good and tough evenings, the laughing, cuddling, even the frustrated cries. I love watching the light move over their faces from the kitchen window. Dude’s eyes are drooping, but he’s obviously reading along silently, word-for-word but his resistance to sleep is not as strong today.
As you know from Aisha’s post, This Morning’s Sunrise, we had an eventful weekend. My mum’s four-day foray was a whirlwind. We had duderonomy all week AND weekend, which was amazing, and in my mind, why I had 50% less stress than if he had been away. We may have found a house while hunting. But I’m far too superstitious to share those details.
What I want to work through here pings close to what Aisha is starting to poke at when she says,
“I’m constantly learning about the many ways we, as people, function and relate to each other and how quickly that unity can turn to disconnect, even if only caused by something as subjective as our perception of the situation or the people involved.”
This concept of unity and disconnect, especially regarding family, is one I have grappled with for as long as I can remember. To save you the details, just know that this visit had a mature (I thought) and unique set of parameters I was curious to explore, after years of trying other style combinations. One of them being my more upfront approach to my daily life, as you may know. Specifically, my intention towards being a better and more honest person, ability to express needs, allowances, boundaries, and all that. But that means things have shifted in my relationships with people I don’t connect with daily, which in my exaggerated brain have now become something that I am convinced seems like a clandestine undertaking on my part.
A specific example of a shift is that I am on the autobahn of raising a tiny, intelligent human – so things move fast. In general, it means my ‘needs’ in interacting have massively shifted. Broadly, my life had always been about adults, in whatever stage they were at. Independent, usually intelligent, autonomous adults. Now my life is about both adults and kids who are all thinking, learning, growing, shifting, and expanding together until our time evolves to look like what our grandparents and parents are (maybe) now enjoying with each other. Translated, I mean that until duder is thirty or so, we three are strapped into this ride together until he decides to take the “I’m autonomous now” exit.
So, we (thankfully) now have adult-friends, kid-friends, friend-friends slowly stacking onto side a. On side b… well, let’s just say that my biannual family adventures are resulting in tectonic-like shifts because all our needs are now at completely different stages. My needs, while I don’t understand the breadth, have changed. I don’t know how to explain what they look like or where they begin and end. I don’t know if they are about me, outwards; or about outwards into me. I don’t know if they are permanent, or maybe, the ground will swell, and they will shift back. All I know is that for the most part things feel different.
Reflecting on this, and consequently the stress I experience when hosting visitors, these shifts seem fated, and in many instances potentially anticipated by others. Parents acknowledge when their children become parents, and roles shift, making space for the new people. Similarly, as friends age and begin to date ‘outsiders,’ the original group expands, bringing in a transient demographic. This is natural.
I would say, it’s not so natural for me. I don’t think it has occurred to my ma yet, either. So, I become a stress-bag. No, joke. In fact, in moments of insecurity I genuinely believe my mum will give up on visiting for a while. My discomfort during her visits used to be explosive (talk about mental health cues). I would cry the whole visit, looking for assurances and stability there was no way she could provide. I would hate leaving or have a meltdown if we started discussing something I wasn’t prepared for. What used to make it work though, was that we could sit and work through the conversation, she was patient about my ‘growth.’ We saw eye to eye enough that we could commiserate over how similar we perceived an issue and come up with grand plans for fixing it. We have amazing plans for educational reform, social services, medical, political overhauls – you name it, we got it. We just never looked at ourselves.
Then, my maturation and experience of divergent realities from most of my kin, piled on top of the pile and things got fuzzy. The generational, and time, gap finally made a mark on us. She said it enough this weekend, so I’ll say it here. My mum got old; my stress became ingrained and apparent.
I want to go back to the concept of responsibility versus predetermined outcomes or unity versus disconnect. My mother showing up, in grandma mode was awesome, but every other moment she excused something because she is now old, instigated a shift. Last night, we heard running around upstairs. I was exhausted, had to be up early again, for a drive, again, and smiled wearily at what I thought I may find on the last night my mum was here. Well, my eight-year-old was responsibly re-tucking himself in (night-light, sound-maker, stuffies in formation), while my mother was laying in bed confused about the alarm on her mobile phone and uncertain about waking up on time. I tucked two people in. Then went to bed.
I am solid with this transition. I have known my whole life mum would come to me in her geriatric years. I am grateful I can give back, a small token for the layers of (perceived or otherwise) failure and success on my part. One of the things I have had time to do in preparation, is learn how to make compromises, how to people manage – on my good days. I maybe don’t do it well, because honestly, I only ever have one or two other people close to me at any given time. But also, boundaries and compromises aren’t necessarily comfortable, and when I attempt to create them for everyone, so we all get some of what we need, it can get frazzled.
Compromise can be broadly defined so I’ll give some examples. One. Dude-magoog has trouble sleeping some nights. The reasons are between us but suffice to say we’ve had to do a lot of compromising on check-ins, time he goes to bed, pre-bed routine, and after weeks of trying to be firm, a lightbulb went off. I want to preface this by saying I am not a great bedtime parent. I am ready for him to go to bed, and don’t really get the multiple-check-in-after-the-first-one requests. But, because of where he’s at, he thinks they’re great. The problem is he stays up waiting and waiting and waiting and then is up all night. Me being the final-face before sleep was a situation that sprang up and surprised us all. So, his needs versus my, ‘just go to bed’ mentality, had to be quickly reconciled so the scale didn’t tip over. We finally stumbled on a great compromise – he gets a second check, before I go to sleep, on Sundays (or, Easter Monday). Sometimes, you just have to go to bed. But, sometimes, it really sucks when things are over and you feel overwhelmed or happy and excited, or whatever, and you just need an extra check.
What I want to draw your attention to, is our willingness to compromise and continue to find the best solution with our kids because they are learning to be their best self. We are instilling lessons about self-respect, boundaries, and good decision-making practices. More than that, self-care, and self-monitoring. We inherently understand what we need to give up to successfully raise kids; time, sleep, privacy. We choose to have kids because we are ready (for the most part) to do this, in one way or another – no matter what that looks like to someone else.
When does that stop? The willingness to continue seeing things from the others perspective so you can stay on track. Does it stop for everyone? I know a mother who, to this day, calls all four of her kids daily, visits monthly (so, is not home often!), babysits, goes on vacations, and invests themselves in helping her kids raise her seven (or eight) grandkids. Lovely, no? Don’t think that my mum is not invested in family. She is very committed to her mother, being present in her aged years, transitioning from home to nursing home. This is firmly where she wants to be, and I am in no way judging that decision. It is what she needs, and I had to come to terms with that eleven years ago. She is available to me via phone, text, letter, and travel. This was a lesson that was carved into my brain with a corner chisel. Deep, slow, and measured… a distancing that was forced to be accepted; like breaking up with someone you still love, because they want to be with your best friend. My mum will (in the kindest meaning possible) ‘get around to us’ when she is ready to spend more time in Ontario.
Being subject to enforced separation is not new to me. My mother is notorious for her 1-3 pm nap schedule (worthy of its own blog post), my sister left home without a way to contact her when I was ten, ma moved to Nova Scotia, blah-blah-blah, the list will be on paper eventually, I’m sure. In hindsight, I suppose I took exceptionally well to the, “you wait here until I get back” conditioning. In the “non-absence-absence” I feel with my family I think I tried to stay 23-year-old me: agreeable, quiet, unassuming (also banshee wailing with confused emotional needs). I did this so that they’d… I don’t know, recognize me?
I can see now that that was, well… uh… bad and am thankful for being on this side of that lesson now. But, as I said to my Madre, I don’t think she realized that this whole time she was encouraging me to change, the change wouldn’t be controllable, or reversible. So, I was stuck trying to figure out how to explain our speed bumps (too many to list, but consider every geographical, generational, genre-based, interest based difference and you’ll have begun to cover it) to her, but had to pin that to tackle the interrupting that was taking place during the conversation. We literally had to institute an “is it my turn?” policy before speaking our point. But, I’m willing to do that, instead of just ignoring things.
Change is hard and when, like a parent bird, you push your babies out of the nest, you need to be ready for them to come back looking different. In time, they may come back stronger than you – or still dependent. They may not come back for days; they may build a nest next to yours. Who knows? I haven’t pushed yet. I am not getting this from actual experience. I am getting it from thinking about what people need and what they want, and whether those things can coexist. What mine looked like, and obviously, what duder’s will look like when it comes.
Considering others when you are trying to take time for yourself (grief, growth, whatever) is not easy. Considering others when you have had to forge a lonely path, is not easy. Working through the things that tie us up, is not easy. Making boundaries and expressing real needs, is not easy.
I distance myself most often from people based on one principle. I get confused why my perceived list of expectations is seemingly much more exhaustive than others. Knowing it is partially self-created, I am not looking to point fingers. I am trying to figure out what the heck I’ve been doing. Remembering a longer list of details than the nuances that are recalled about my life, being one example, and further, being forced to hear their details repeated. I don’t forget, and even if I were to forget, they would upset – tables turned, if you knew as much about me and forgot a tidbit, I’d get over it. Genuinely. The grey zone of gatherings and commitments is a different expectation I haven’t quite grasped. Having important plans cancelled is confusing, and forces you to wonder if the repairs you’ve attempted to make to the disappointments you’ve caused, haven’t worked. But then again, you know it isn’t about you, per se, so the cancellation request is granted, and you put your hope on the shelf. Because how could you ask, when it costs them more?
So, unity and disconnect, perceived expectations. This is starting to take shape. Let’s add a final detail. I don’t know when an appropriate time frame is for getting over it or having to get on board. When to modify or raise the expectation to get on track. I am only learning to ask for things, or refuse requests, in a calm, logical, considerate way. One that is respectful of the recipient’s time and space, and includes what I honestly (bare minimum) need to make the compromise worthwhile.
My requests or admissions may seem out of the blue, I supposed. But I keep considering ‘you’ after you’re gone. I allow myself time to consider and process, which means I had to get comfortable revisiting something in a conclusive way and am now here to approach you with it.
For instance, I finally asked my mum to stop being “HELPFUL” when negatively commenting about my hair, weight, look, clothing, because well, she is not a potential partner so her input isn’t helpful if it’s counter to what feels good and attracts my partner to me. It is contradictory and negative. I have had to move out a notch on my ‘belt’ with my sis, hoping its enough space for her, finally.
What do I mean? Ok, here are random statements and my internalized response:
worry you are overwhelmed, that you aren’t ok, and I don’t know how to help you
I either overly defend, get angry, cry, lie, fall apart, or… manage a good conversation about how I am doing, and we can look at my new reality
are always saying you’re unhappy, you don’t get enough, you can’t do x, y, z
I get confused hearing this, feeling like I don’t talk about my stresses unless we are together, which is usually for eleven to fourteen days a year. And the odd phone conversation where I can mask the heart palpitations.
just don’t feel like I belong here
But I have waited for my family to piece back together in an archipelago of sorts, made up of grandkids and partners, evolved from the small islands that drifted.
So, guys, unity and disconnect; in or out of the cart.
I am now an adult with a big brain who is working hard on integrating my care-taker personality with my hard-line-boundary marking, compromise making, parent-self, who had to build and scrap a few (many, who am I kidding) models of what a ‘unit’ was to me. So, I inevitably changed, didn’t stay the way I was thirteen years ago, so now she worries I am experiencing foundation issues, that I am not ok. I am ok, though. I just don’t look or sound like I did. Because there are important things we aren’t addressing, things that changed.
Speed is a theme here, but I mean the speed that is determined by what stage your relationship is at – in time. This abstract relationship has a serious impact on physical relationships. It can take over connections between people. We don’t have patience, because we are moving fast and don’t have time to fill ‘you’ in. Ma comes in for four nights (I go to bed at 9:30…) and three days, so I am JACKED on trying to come across as ok. Why? Probably because my major concern is convincing everyone I am ok, now that I am honestly ok because I want to make room for that elusive quality time.
I am seriously contemplating writing a manual for how to navigate my family depending on your proximity to the players (obviously for secret, internal consumption only). Namely, because in my own head I get ridiculously caught up in the nuances of the private, important secrets that I try and navigate with and for people I have a long history with. To answer part of the original question, it isn’t only subjective factors that affect unity and discord. Having too much information can be detrimental.
I made a few big decisions this weekend and set hard lines down. I’ve shared some, other’s I just can’t (here, or otherwise). Some of them make me sad, seeing the immediate ripple cascading down the corresponding timeline, shaking the foundation just a bit. Others are freeing, and empowering, and may lead to some cool honesty.
I don’t know who in the world is not vulnerable when sensitive to, aware of, and trying to facilitate the needs of any other, without also being sensitive to subjective mistakes. Unless there is an ‘is it my turn’ policy, interpretation can be difficult. That, friends, is when we need the storm. We need things to tumble and shake loose so that fresh buds can sprout.
My ending question then, is this: what, if any, relationships have you stopped working at being tied to that surprised you. Was it gradual; did you resist? Is it final? I am working through a lot, obviously, but mostly because I like to feel resolve. My present state is not affected, majorly, by the ruminations so why not clear the ol’conscience, right? As Aisha said, why not challenge ourselves to reflect more?
Since starting this piece, we found out the hopeful-home is now off the market, the owner feeling everything was going to quickly.
We are on a fast train baby, so if you’re on it, buckle up.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.