I have blogged in the past about my ex-mother-in-law. She bugs me. No secret. She is really freaking annoying, and I never liked her.
Notice, however, that I never speak of my current mother-in-law. Or sister-in-law. Or father-in-law. Or brothers-in-law.
I’ve never met them. Not in person, that is. My sister-in-law has e-mailed me a couple of times. Mostly as a gateway to her brother, with whom she has not had a relationship since she was a child. Since he was in his early 20’s.
Remember earlier today when I said Beloved is 45?
Yeah, that means it’s been 20 years.
20 years since he’s had a relationship with his family.
Even longer since his father threw up his mental hands and checked out of the family (and society at large). Likely the beginning of the end for Beloved. Perhaps it would be for me, too, if my father struck me, sending me flying across the room into a wall and knocking me unconscious in the process.
It’s odd, then. Knowing that his sister has this window into me and my life. What seems a bit odder is how much she’s looking through it.
Why this way?
Why not a conversation?
I’ve made myself available. It’s clear that I’m independent-minded, and capable of an emotionally-detached exchange.
I really don’t pretend to understand cutting oneself off from one’s family. My family drives me up a fucking wall 80% of the time, and to think of being cut off from any one of them makes me unbearably sad.
I’m told that it’s because regardless of the wall-driving, we have relationships. We have a history of dinner table conversations, of sharing, of honesty. I know things that happened in my siblings’ lives. My mother and I have honest conversations. My father never abandoned me, leaving me, his oldest child, to shoulder the responsibilities of an adult at the age of 15. He made it clear that he loved me, regardless of viewpoints that we didn’t share. Regardless the 1,000s of things I did of which he didn’t approve.
Hell … I know where my ancestors come from. And not because of internet genealogy searches, but because my parents shared it with me. Story after story. The great-great uncle who was shot and killed while trying to climb the wall out of Lithuania, the villages in Ireland where the great-great grandmother came from. The Czech roots of my name (where my blogging name comes from). The struggles that my family went through in their early days in this country.
We spent years cuddling. Of sharing things we read. Of reading books out loud. Even our arguments, I’m told, are proof of our closeness.
While my sister and brother and I all argue, I know that if we had to, we could pull together. We have before, and we would again.
If one of our parents were to fall ill, we wouldn’t use it as a power play amongst ourselves. We wouldn’t look for ways to control one another, to throw the past in one another’s faces. We would cry, and we would hug, and we would do everything we could to give our parents full access to ALL of their children.
We would help each other to resolve that which required resolution, and help to support each other through that which could not be resolved.
My sister left our family for a little while back in mid-90s. We all mourned the loss for the entire time that she was out of touch. I dreamed about her several times a week. Yes, I was angry, but mostly – I was sad. Her absence was a hole in my life. It wasn’t something to sneer at, or to capitalize on. It was something to mourn. I did not spend the time convincing my mother of the evil-tude of my sister. I did not point out to my mother all the wrongs my sister inflicted upon her. Instead, I tried to help my mother find acceptance of who my sister was, so that healing could take place and a relationship could be rebuilt.
And when my sister returned to our family, and when she and I rebuilt our relationship, I never pretended that the only way she could bridge the chasm between her and my parents was through ME. I never thought it would be appropriate to put myself in the way of a direct relationship – because it wouldn’t have been.
So while I don’t understand, I know that it’s apples to oranges.
I still hope, sometimes, for forgiveness.
Because as much as I know that my daughter experience was an apple, I’m not sure that a mother’s experience comes in different fruit varieties. I think a mom is just a mom. We all do our best, and we all love our children. We invest so much in them. We give up an early start to a career and we give up freedom – we give up time that could be spent on self-improvement, and on adventure, and we pour it into our children.
And always first is the oldest (duh). The first bond, the first priority-setter, the first one to shape what we think is necessary. To shape our role. Of course the role shifts and changes according to our younger children’s needs. But really, the oldest? They are the initiators.
It must be impossible to forget. I cannot imagine forgetting.
A mom is a mom. A mom isn’t an apple or an orange. It’s like us moms are all Jolly Ranchers. You may be apple flavored, you may be watermelon (gross, gag, puke), but you’re still a Jolly Rancher, and that Jolly Rancher taste is present in all the flavors.
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