My mom’s side of the family is having a reunion, which will be over tomorrow when we all go our separate ways again. It’s been a crazy hectic experience and I’m glad I got to spend time with them… and I’ve had enough of them to last
a lifetime until the big family wedding celebration Fox and I are planning for November.
Over the course of our time here, I’ve realized that Mom is the sane one among her siblings, and I’m about on par with my saner cousins. My relationship with Mom is the epitome of functionality compared with the relationships my cousins have with their parents.
Let’s just take a moment to let that sink in.
This whole thing has really put a lot into perspective for me. I’ve seen (and heard my cousins comment on, with a calm acceptance) our complete and utter lack of effective communication. I’ve been cut off in the middle of my sentence a million times, as though the person I was talking to had no idea I was even speaking. I’ve heard so much about everyone else’s anger, anxiety, and dissatisfaction with their relationships and the relationships of others that I’ve lost touch with my own emotions and relationships. I’ve silenced myself to avoid contributing to the mess of negativity because I realized that adding my opinion won’t help or change anything. I’m completely avoiding one of my aunts, and my uncle as a result, because I just can’t deal with all the negativity surrounding the two them. I don’t think they’ve even noticed.
I’ve also had my mother stand up for me, asking what I’d said or repeating it to make sure others heard and accommodated my needs. She also said she was proud of me for standing up for myself when I wanted to do something Fox was unsure about. Fox has done his best to be supportive and avoid adding to my stress, but this trip has been overwhelming for him. He’s not used to the level of insanity that’s normal for this family and he hasn’t been able to get enough sleep. Yesterday he was saying he needs a vacation from our vacation.
If I could do it all over again, I’d bring my audio recorder so I could play back highlights from this reunion for Wakana.
Before I share some of them, here’s a visual reference so you have some idea whom I’m talking about and how they’re related to me. Circles are females; squares are males. I’m highlighted in red and have a weird shape because I’m gender queer. An X through a shape means the person is deceased. Two parallel diagonal lines means the couple is divorced. The gray dashed line means the couple was never married but live together and have a “romantic” relationship. The numbers (e.g. 70s) and the word “teen” refer to the approximate ages of the people they’re near. I didn’t include family members who weren’t present for the reunion.
On Wednesday, my cousin “M” brought my aunt “A”, Mom, Fox, and me downtown and we went to a bar that had dueling pianos. We were all stressed from traveling and “A” had had a particularly hard time, but we were able to relax and enjoy ourselves. The music was fantastic and I loved observing how the pianists were engaging the crowd while singing familiar feel-good songs at the top of my lungs. We decided to leave about the time I got tired of people bumping into me (and started feeling anxious because Mom had said we were giving the bar a bad reputation by being old and taking forever to finish one drink.)
On Thursday we went back downtown to see the art, hear the music, and visit the shops. “M” drove my cousin “U”, Fox, and me; “A” drove in her car with her boyfriend “B” and Mom. First “A” was saying she needed gas, then she didn’t want to stop where “M” suggested, then “B” started pressuring her to get gas after we passed the last convenient stop so she insisted that we find some as soon as possible. We ended up driving several hours out of our way, relying on “U”‘s GPS to find our way downtown; the trip took more than twice as long as it should.
“M” kept saying “A” was going to be mad at her for this and that, adding to the stress. I wanted to tell her I do that too and how I cope with it, but every time I opened my mouth I got interrupted. I decided it just wasn’t worth the effort to try and have a meaningful conversation with either of my cousins.
By the time we got to our destination, “A” was too pissed off at the world and in too much pain to enjoy being downtown. She and “B” sat on their own while the rest of us did our best to enjoy ourselves. I got to do most of what I wanted and Mom did her best to support me in having a good time, but I was weighed down by negativity. I didn’t like the pictures she took of me and I felt judged for buying souvenirs and I was judgmental toward some of the establishments we passed.
We stopped in an outdoor area with excellent live music where I wanted to sit and enjoy myself, but I was also dehydrated. While we were buying bottled water Fox decided to get an additional item; that took some extra time. We came back into the area where we could listen to the music near the end of “What a Wonderful World”; I’m so glad I stopped to listen because it was excellent. The singer even did the Louis Armstrong voice “oh yeah” at the end and he was spot on.
We settled down next to the rest of the group and Mom said it was time to leave. We all thought the musicians were going to take a break, so leaving made more sense than waiting around for them to start up again. I was overcome with frustration: I was angry that I’d missed the music and angry at myself for wasting what time I could have spent listening to it buying something. I just wanted to get out of the situation; there was no more enjoyment in it for me. But the musicians started playing another song, so when Mom asked if I wanted to stay I said that I did. We listened to the one song and then left. I appreciated everyone’s willingness to stay, but felt very embarrassed about losing control and guilty for imposing on them. Hi, shame.
Thursday night the cousins, including “O” (“U”‘s sister) and “J” (“M”‘s son), convened. We bonded over playing Apples to Apples and talking about our parents. “U” said that “A” and “B” were just like his and “O”‘s parents (“C” and “D”); that’s about when I realized that Mom is the sane one among her siblings.
On Friday we were supposed to go to “M”‘s house early and take pictures with her son “S” before attending his high school graduation. We were waiting for our ride when we found out “C” (who is blind, has mobility issues, is accident prone, willfully fails to follow directions, and has a reputation for falling on purpose) had fallen in the shower. She was sitting on the handicap seat engaging in normal shower activities when the seat disconnected from the wall, causing her to fall and hit her head.
So my uncle “D” and cousins “O” and “U” had to take “C” to the hospital. My concern for her (along with everyone else’s, far as I could tell) was tainted by anger that she was drawing attention to herself and away from “S” on his big day, anxiety that we wouldn’t get to see “S” graduate, and confusion regarding when we were going to leave (if ever.) On top of all that, “M”‘s husband “K” was stranded on the way home from his daughter’s graduation in another state, so we weren’t sure whether he’d be back in time to see “S” graduate.
“D” left “C” at the hospital so he could drive “A”, “B”, Mom, Fox, and me to the graduation. Fox and I had to sit in the far back of the vehicle as we drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic, which made me feel dangerously nauseous. The graduation was great (if a bit loud) and leaving was about half as stressful as getting there had been. “D” tried to back out of his spot while “A” was still getting into her seat behind him. Once that crisis had been resolved and “D” could back out safely, his sisters kept yelling frantically at him about everything. My attempts to calmly warn him about people walking behind us went unheard.
Finally we were creeping along and I was making every effort keep my heart in my chest and my lunch in my stomach. I don’t even want to know what my mom and her siblings were saying to each other. There was no room in the conversation for me, nothing I said would have made a difference (or been heard), and listening to it was doing nothing but hurting me.
And then I remembered one word: Detachment. That word has saved many lives on this trip. “M” and “O” try to remember not to “engage;” when they all start in I just tell myself, “Detachment.” Detachment allows me to maintain some sense of myself, even if it’s as the eye of the storm that is my dysfunctional family. They’re all going to do what they’re going to do and say what they’re going to say and feel how they’re going to feel. It doesn’t matter what I think they should do, and saying something isn’t going to make any difference. I can’t stop them from barging into my room and loudly spouting negativity all over the place with no regard for my existence, the fact that they’ve interrupted whatever I was doing, the fact that Fox was trying to sleep, etc.
All I can do is try to remain aware of what I need. When “O” walked in and started yelling in my mother’s direction about how her parents were treating each other, I asked her to take the conversation somewhere else or at least give me a chance to get out of the room before continuing. She decided to leave; I felt horrible because I realized I’d be horribly stressed if I were in her situation and I’d prevented her from venting. We later apologized to and forgave each other; it felt good to have an honest respectful conversation where both sides listened to each other. (I’d had a similar one with Mom earlier, too.)
Saturday was the graduation party, which was fun. “U” bought my beverages of choice on the way there. There were kids and adults playing, tasty new foods to try, a very nice older woman with a soothing voice and interesting stories to tell, and I actually got to spend some time with my uncle “D”. We watched Rise of the Planet of the Apes as the party slowed down and people went their separate ways. Once it was just the family again we played Phase 10. Fox won, “J” came in second, and I came in third. The only thing that truly upset me the whole game was that “A”, who complains incessantly about everything, was giving Fox a hard time for being frustrated when he got stuck with a lot of points. Who wouldn’t be?
Yesterday we attended a festival that would have been a lot more fun if I’d known where the interactive activities were, instead of just wandering around in the hot sun looking at interesting items I really shouldn’t buy and waiting for people. I made the most of it by dancing to the live music that was playing loud enough to hear it from just about anywhere. That was fun. Mom bought me the souvenir that I’d been seriously considering.
We went downtown again so “O” would have a chance to explore, unhindered by her parents. It was a short excursion, for which my feet were grateful. I took advantage of the opportunity to “fill in some of the gaps” in my previous experiences downtown and would say I’ve had my fill for this trip. I hope “O” and “U” (and everyone else who was with us) also enjoyed themselves.
It’s very upsetting because “C” can’t do what she keeps saying she wants to without a lot of assistance. In my opinion it’s not safe for “C” to go to the areas we’ve explored because the sidewalks are uneven and riddled with dangerous holes. But when I suggested to “O” that she look up a guide for tourists with disabilities, she calmly informed me that “C” is too stubborn for anyone in her immediate family to benefit from such a resource. They are all stuck catering to “C”‘s every whim and risking their own health and safety by taking her around an area that lacks the accommodations she needs. And she won’t listen to them when they try to, say, guide her away from the random hole in the middle of the street where a person with excellent balance and coordination could still fall and break their leg. It’s a nightmare.
I decided then and there that I wanted to have nothing to do with “C” going downtown, even though it left me with nothing to do on my last day here. “M” is with them, “K” is working, “J” has school, “S” is on vacation with his friends, I need some space from Mom, “A”, and “B”, and Fox and I don’t have access to transportation other than our own feet. Now that I’ve vented I want to go to the pool and swim for a while, or at least go outside and enjoy the fresh air.
I have a few hours before dinner, when the shit will probably hit the fan again. At least I found my riot gear.