I expect ours will be drama free this year, since we’re celebrating Thanksgiving in Germany and it’s not a German holiday. Christmas will be spent in France, with my friend from high school and college. She’s married to a Frenchman, so we’ll have the chance to experience a French Christmas. That should be fun, too.
I have had my fill of dramatic holiday seasons. Bill and I have talked about this a lot, especially since he’s also been through quite a lot of dramas over the years. We both treasure “heavenly peace” at this time of year. However, I must admit that it’s kind of fun to read about family dramas on www.exmormon.org. Who needs the Hallmark Channel when you can read about all of the control issues and high expectations that come from religious families?
Shunning, threatening, fighting, forced church attendance, forced praying, underwear checks, and leading questions abound, and people write about this stuff all the time on that site. I sympathize with them, even though I have never been LDS myself. I think stress during the holidays among family members is a given for many people. Christmas, especially, is a day that a lot of folks fill with great expectations and hopes for magic. It pretty much never works out that way, because Christmas is just another day. In some parts of the world, it’s not even a holiday!
Should Christmas be a little “magical”? Well, sure… if you can manage to make it that way. Everybody likes it when friends and family can come together and be happy as a unit. But if you can’t make it magical, there’s no need to go nuts. It really is just a day.
Thanksgiving doesn’t tend to be quite as crazy as Christmas is. That’s why it’s my favorite holiday. Historically, I’d spend it with my extended family in Virginia, which has a reunion every year. There’s a lot of music, dancing, drinking, singing, game playing, football watching, and visiting. The best part about it is that everyone stays in the hotel, so there’s little fighting. And if a fight does erupt, there are plenty of other people to talk to and places to go to get away from the squabbling. Our Christmas celebrations were usually a lot more stressful, since most of us would stay in the house and spend too much time together. Inevitably, there would be a fight– as there was the last time we celebrated with my family, back in 2003. I swore them off after that year!
Last time we went to my family’s Thanksgiving party was in 2014, and we flew all the way from Germany to attend. We were mainly there to honor my father, who had died a few months prior. To be honest, as much as I had always loved those gatherings, they had become very crowded and chaotic. And now, even though I’ve always loved the family shindig, I kind of appreciate staying home and having a quiet time with my husband. This year, it’ll just be him, me, and our dog, Arran, since we lost Zane a few months ago. Maybe we’ll just go out to dinner… or we’ll cook something at home. Our oven is kind of too small for a whole turkey, though, and even if it were big enough, there are only two of us.
I’m always grateful to have a spouse who not only respects my preferences, but enjoys peace as much as I do. He doesn’t pressure me to hang out with his family during the holidays, and I don’t pressure him to hang out with mine. I miss some of my relatives, but I don’t enjoy fights. So I’m for staying home… and reading up on RfM for all of the inevitably outrageous stories that occur at this time of year. More people need to realize that they have the right to say “no” to drama, especially when the holidays are afoot.
Actually, more than a couple of things… more like a few things I could write about today. I have a bunch of topics clamoring for my attention. My brain feels like it’s full of hyperactive squirrels all running in different directions, chasing nuts. This is pretty funny to me, since I rarely even see squirrels up here in Deutschland. Even when I lived in a rural area, it wasn’t so often they’d come out. And here, they’re small and either red or brown… not huge, grey, and rat-like, as they are in the United States. But anyway, though I’ve been in Germany for almost five whole years and I don’t see squirrels very often anymore, I haven’t forgotten them or how ubiquitous they are in the United States.
First on the agenda… apparently, my favorite uncle, Brownlee, recently had a stroke. I found out about it a day or two after it happened, thanks to a post on Facebook. The post I read was not from a family member, but from a friend of the family. Or, really, a friend of my uncle’s family, since I don’t know this person at all.
I’m probably wrong to feel this way. I’m not the one in a crisis, after all. I just felt a little stung that I had to read about this on Facebook, on a post written by someone I don’t even know– especially since I have a huge extended family and not a single one of them thought to clue me in on this. Still, I sent my aunt an email letting her know we were thinking about her. And I left a very slightly bitchy/passive aggressive comment to my cousin, who informed me that she’d told my sister and asked my sister to alert me about our uncle. Obviously, my sister failed in her mission. I just don’t understand why my aunt or this cousin wouldn’t have told me before she told my sister, who has a Facebook profile, but is rarely active on Facebook. Or why, if Brownlee’s immediate family isn’t able to spread the news because they’re obviously busy, no one else in the family bothered to say anything to me. Out of sight, out of mind, I guess.
I guess it’s my own fault for being so physically far away and determined not to go along with the crowd. I used to spend a lot of time with my Uncle Brownlee. We always got along well because he has a great sense of humor and loves music as much as I do. His birthday is the day after mine. It’s his house where the annual Thanksgiving party is. I used to be a very regular attendee until I got married and moved far away. But I didn’t move away because I chose to, and my proud, Republican, military family should understand that better than any family does.
I pray my uncle is able to recover. One of his greatest joys in life is playing the organ, and I know it will really be hard for him if he can’t play anymore. He also loves to build things and is amazing with his hands. I don’t know how serious the medical situation is, since I’ve only gotten limited information from the smattering of Facebook postings from friends of the family. Anyway, he was always one of my favorite people, and I guess I’m kind of hurt that I had to read about this on Facebook. I’m beginning to feel like the family I thought I had was just a sham. I’m glad I do, at least, have Bill.
A couple of years ago, my good friend Erin’s father died very suddenly. I haven’t seen Erin in person in about 25 years, but she thought enough about me to send me a private message on Facebook to let me know about what happened to her dad. Her parents were very involved in 4H as leaders, as I was also when I was a kid with a horse. I always got along great with her dad, and she explained that he’d always been particularly fond of me. She wanted me to get the news from her, rather than reading about it on Facebook or in the newspaper. I was really moved by her thoughtfulness and kindness. I think it’s sad that this old friend I haven’t seen in 25 years has more regard for my feelings than my own family has. But again… I’m not the one in crisis, so I’ll try to get over myself for now. I really hope everything will be okay.
Edited to add: Another cousin has told me the stroke happened on Friday night and my uncle is in the ICU. The CAT scan indicates no major damage, but he can’t move his right side or speak right now. He will supposedly be moved tomorrow.
Next on the agenda… a friend of mine shared this meme, which I found especially apropos.
I’ve seen this happen over and over again with people who are recovering from abusive relationships. A person will finally get the courage to talk about being abused and someone else will doubt them, based on their own experiences with the person in question. I’m not saying that sometimes people don’t lie about being abused. What I am saying is that not every relationship is the same. The dynamics are often different between different personalities.
Also, the very definition of abuse is kind of subjective and fluid. Behavior that doesn’t bother one person may feel very abusive to another. For instance, I have mentioned more than once that I have a low tolerance for verbal abuse. I can’t tolerate being yelled at, particularly in my own home. Other people may be less sensitive to being yelled at, but more sensitive to physical altercations. Personally, I think yelling at people and hitting them is always abusive. Others may disagree.
My husband was abused by his ex wife for years. He kept silent about it, which gave her free rein to say and do whatever she wanted. It wasn’t until I came into the picture and acted like a “bitch”– basically by asserting my right to enjoy Christmas without being ordered to spend it with her at my in laws’ house– that got her to change her behavior toward Bill. Of course, being assertive and not allowing another person to control or abuse me doesn’t really make me a bitch. However, I have a feeling that’s how she sees it. I’m sure she sees Bill as “abusive” too, since he finally quit giving in to her whims and became more assertive.
Same thing with our former landlady, who I’m sure thinks she’s completely in the right to accuse me of things I didn’t do, yell at me in what was my home, and rip off our security deposit for unjustified reasons. She probably doesn’t realize that her behavior was abusive and has had some fairly damaging and lingering effects on Bill and me. I’m sure it never occurred to her that we felt like we were walking on eggshells, especially for the last year or so of our time in her house. Nothing we did was good enough, either. It didn’t matter that she got her money in full and early every month and we tried to comply with most of her demands as best we could. It doesn’t matter that we spent four years in her house, sparing her from having to look for other tenants, who might have even been less reliable or less to her liking than we were. I doubt it even occurred to her.
I have a feeling that she had little to no regard for what I do with my time, not that how I spend my time is any of her business. I got the sense that she thinks I’m lazy, mainly because I don’t spend all my time cleaning, don’t have children, and don’t work outside the home. She probably doesn’t care much for my efforts at writing or making music, and sees my flabby body as the sign of someone who is undisciplined and unworthy of the most elementary modicum of respect. More than once, she claimed to be “too busy” to let us know when she was going to be coming over, because obviously I can’t be doing anything important or actually be busy myself. And certainly, because I’m “wasting my life” without a suitable career, children, or a devotion to housekeeping, I’m not worthy of a simple text or email alerting me to her desire to come over so I can be prepared.
It doesn’t matter if I’m sick, sleeping, showering, or simply not in the mood to be bothered. My time and right to basic privacy have no value, because I’m not worthy of that much consideration. But her time and “right” to extort money from us is absolute, and we’d better respect it. Because she also apparently thinks she has the right to speak or write to us in any tone she wishes, with no appreciation for our perspective. We should be grateful she even gave us the time of day.
These are just my basic impressions, based on her behavior and things she said to me over the four years I lived in her house. It’s possible that my impressions are wrong, but I really doubt it. I think the fact that she actually asked me point blank if I caused my husband’s divorce was a pretty good indicator of what she thinks of me. She was only slightly more respectful to Bill, probably because he was the one paying her. You see… I see her behaviors as absolutely abusive, and I have a perfect right to feel this way and speak up about it.
However, I know at least one other person claims to have had a very different experience with the ex landlady. She’s friends with her, and evidently can’t see why I’ve been so upset about the way she’s treated us. She thinks she has the right to try to silence me about my experiences. She makes erroneous assumptions about me, and even about my fiction writing, while she loudly objects about any assumptions I might make. She stalks my writing projects and feels perfectly free to try to censor me. It’s fine if I write about any subject, except for the “beloved” ex landlady. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that she could simply stop reading, consider that maybe we had different experiences, and have some basic respect for other people.
Now… I really don’t know what this other person’s actual experiences have been. I have no reason to doubt what she writes. I’m sure she was a more suitable and admirable person in the ex landlady’s eyes, since she has a job, children, and isn’t so obviously “lazy” about things. I’m sure she really is like another daughter to the ex landlady– the kind of daughter she’d be proud to have. I understand that.
It’s okay, really, because I never aspired to be anyone else’s long lost daughter other than my mother’s. And my mom sometimes liked other people’s daughters more than she liked me. I remember being humiliated because my mom took a liking to some girl in Camerata Singers who was a lot prettier, thinner, and more ladylike than I was. She fawned all over this girl, who spent the night at our house as our choir made its way on our spring tour, while she ignored me, her flesh and blood. The girl in the choir had perfect hair and makeup, a cute figure, and a solo. I’m sure my mom wished she could have been her mother instead of mine.
If the former tenant was reading this, I’d tell her that the snippet of a story she complained to me about was actually about that phenomenon. It was not a smear piece about any of the ex landlady’s children. I’ve never even met the ex landlady’s children, and didn’t even so much as ever know their names. And just like she didn’t like it when she claimed I made erroneous assumptions about her (when I was actually referring to all of the people who had lived in that house as tenants, and not her specifically), I sure didn’t like it when she made nasty implications about my character and my writing. You don’t like my writing– fine. Just don’t read it, and stop meddling in our business. You love the ex landlady? Great. Go with God. I think the ex landlady is abusive, and she needs to be held accountable for that. I’m tired of being quiet about other people’s asshole behavior and I refuse to keep doing it just to spare other people’s feelings.
Well… this turned out to be a lot more personal than I wanted it to be. And since I know people are watching, I’m going to have to password protect it. Thanks to the ex tenant, I can’t even say what I want in my own space anymore. Maybe I should get better at cleaning. Obviously, that is a more productive use of my time than writing is.
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