bad TV, Duggars, Reality TV, religion

Plathville… and Papa Duggar’s dirty dealings in the 80s…

Today’s post will be two-pronged. First, I’m going to write about Welcome to Plathville. Then I’m going to write about J.L. Duggar again. Why? It’s mainly because I have noticed a lot of hits on my previous posts about these two topics. But I also have some comments to make, and it’s also nice not to have to sit here and think about what I want to write. In fact, I even knew last night that today’s post would be on these topics… I love it when that happens. So, let’s dive in, shall we?

Plathville…

I finally started watching Welcome to Plathville in June of this year. I kept seeing people post about this show, which features a very blond family from Cairo, Georgia. Kim and Barry Plath are the parents of nine living children, several of whom are adults. Their toddler son, Joshua, was tragically killed in an accident years ago. He was seventeen months old at the time of his death.

I’ve been watching the most recent season of this show, which remains somewhat compelling, even though it doesn’t look like the Plaths are really all that into “religion” anymore. During the first two seasons, it seemed like they were more of a fundie family. Now, it looks like most of the kids are abandoning religion… or at least they are leaving the hyper-controlled lifestyle they grew up in, courtesy of their parents. I’ve noticed a few swear words this season, as well as more revealing clothing. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Anyway, it seemed like in prior seasons, people really seemed to think Kim and Barry Plath were terrible parents. Kim Plath, especially, seemed to get a lot of flak for being super-controlling and for the fact that her toddler son died on her watch.

This season has mostly been about oldest son Ethan and his wife, Olivia, and their estrangement from the family. At the end of season 2, Ethan Plath told his parents that he and Olivia were going to go “no contact”. Olivia and Ethan haven’t had the best relationship, either, and there’s been talk of them separating. Olivia longs to move to a bigger city, away from Ethan’s mother. Ethan likes living in a rural town, in his own house. He also seems to like being near his siblings, even though he doesn’t seem to want to talk to his parents. He especially seems pissed off at his mom, whom he claims is very “controlling”. Having watched Ethan over the past season, I’d say he has a few control issues himself.

The latest trailer.

Meanwhile, younger siblings, Moriah and Micah, who left the family nest at very young ages (in Moriah’s case, even before she was a legal adult), are caught in the middle somewhat. Moriah landed a musical gig, which included Olivia as a keyboard player. Because of Olivia’s ongoing fracas with Kim Plath, there was some conflict. Moriah felt compelled to tell her parents not to attend her concert. Kim decided she was going to show up anyway, with three of Moriah’s siblings.

Ethan saw Kim’s car and went looking for her. He finally figured out that Kim and his siblings were in someone else’s car, listening to the concert, completely out of view of Moriah. Ethan got all pissed off and basically told off his mom. Kim later told Moriah that she wasn’t going to be told where she can and can’t go, and if Moriah is playing a show, she’s going to want to be there.

I was left of two minds as I watched all of this unfold. But before I share my opinions, I also want to say that this whole scenario seemed very contrived to me. The Plaths had a family band, so it’s not like this was really Moriah’s first performance. Yes, it might have been her first solo show, but she’s a seasoned performer. It didn’t look like there was much of a crowd at her “gig”, but as they performed, it didn’t look to me like Moriah and her bandmates had much energy. They didn’t even seem nervous, really… it just seemed kind of forced and scripted, even as Moriah finished her performance and gave sort of a lackluster thanks to the audience.

Aside from that, it seems really uncool that this whole family drama involving Ethan, Olivia, Kim, and Barry was allowed to overshadow Moriah’s solo debut. I think if this truly went down the way it’s depicted on the show, all of them– Ethan, Olivia, and Kim– need to grow the fuck up. At least Barry avoided attending the show, in accordance with his daughter’s wishes.

First off– if Moriah is going to be a performer, she’s going to have to deal with people coming to see and hear her play. Some of those people may not be people she wants to be there. But if she’s in a public venue, that’s part of the deal. Kim Plath was well within her rights to attend the show, even though Moriah (prompted by Olivia) asked her not to come. Kim should not have had to hide in a car if she came for the concert, which was in a public venue. Kim did say that next time, she won’t hide. I don’t blame her.

Secondly– if Olivia is going to be a part of Moriah’s band, she’s going to have to deal with people coming to the shows that she may not like. That’s part of being a professional. I totally get not wanting to be around toxic people, but if it’s that much of an issue for her, she probably ought to opt out of playing with Moriah. She really shouldn’t ask Moriah to tell her mother not to come to her performances. Olivia should not have made her issues with Kim overshadow Moriah’s show. That show wasn’t about Olivia. It was about launching Moriah’s career as a singer-songwriter.

Thirdly– Kim really should have respected Moriah’s wishes, as her husband Barry did. There will be other shows she can attend. Hopefully, Moriah will find someone unrelated to her to play keyboards so her family can come to her shows without issues from Ethan and Olivia.

And finally– Ethan probably should have stayed out of the whole thing. He wasn’t performing. He introduced Moriah, then took it upon himself to play bouncer. Most of the conflict was because of him and Olivia, and it was Moriah’s show. I feel like all four of the “adults” really let Moriah down by letting their interpersonal drama overshadow what should have been an exciting day for Moriah. I hope Moriah will advertise for a new keyboard player so this kind of petty crap won’t be an issue in her subsequent gigs.

This isn’t to say that Olivia is wrong to be upset with Kim, by the way. It’s more to say that this gig wasn’t about Olivia and her issues with Kim. If she wasn’t able to perform for all comers, she probably should have bowed out and/or helped Moriah find someone else to play. But again– I’m sure this entire drama was contrived for the sake of the storyline.

It did appear that Ethan and Olivia were getting along better in this episode… but I also think that if their marriage is going to survive, they probably ought to get off reality TV and move somewhere else. The United States is a big country, and surely they can find a place to live that will appeal to both of them. Or… maybe it really is time for them to cut their losses and find partners that are more suitable.

I think the most adult person on Welcome to Plathville has got to be Lydia. Not only is she very mature and kind; she’s also very pretty. I hope she’s able to come of age unscathed by this reality TV venture. I know a lot of people make bank on these shows, but they seem to cause a lot of families to fall apart. I know… I shouldn’t support this industry by watching.

Now… on to J.L. Duggar

This week, Katie Joy of YouTube’s Without A Crystal Ball shared a revelation about Jim Bob Duggar’s late father, Jimmy Lee (J.L) Duggar. It seems that back in the early 1980s, the elder Mr. Duggar got into trouble with the law and was incarcerated for a period of time. Below is a link to her video about Jim Bob’s dad, and how he wound up behind bars for fraud involving used cars he was selling for other people.

Now I can understand a little bit better why Boob seemed to have so much contempt for his father…

I also noticed in the Duggar Family News group that the group owner, Pickles, wrote a post about J.L. Duggar on her public page, which is open to everyone. It was based on Katie Joy’s video about J.L. Duggar’s past. Pickles asked Jim Bob’s niece, Amy, about the story. Amy wrote back that it was true that her grandfather did do some time. I’m not going to copy and paste the entire post Pickles wrote, but I do want to include this bit, with which I agree:

All in all, Jimmy Lee was human. His issues are all our issues in different form. He probably had an abusive childhood or mental health issues that were never addressed. I wonder if he had a narcissist personality as we see in Josh. Anyway, God sees the big picture. Hopefully Josh’s prison term will come with a professional evaluation and counseling. It may not help but at least he might finally get some real help.

If you want to read the whole thing, you can visit Pickles’ page, which at this writing is still totally open to the public. Just click the link in the paragraph under the video. J.L.’s jail stint, by the way, happened when Jim Bob was in high school, years before Josh was a spark in Boob’s balls. So I’m not sure the elder Duggar’s legal issues directly had that much to do with Josh’s issues, unless Jim Bob’s apparent disdain for his father bled over somehow in how he treats his own children, especially his sons.

As for Katie Joy, I notice a lot of people are ragging on her for being “toxic”, mean, and hypocritical, and a couple of people have said she drinks. I have never seen Katie Joy drunk on her channel, but I also don’t watch everything she does. I’m not involved in any of the dramas involving her. I just watch her Duggar content sometimes because it’s interesting… and a lot of the time, there’s truth behind her commentary. She usually proves it with legal documents, clips from the shows and news, and newspaper reports, or screenshots from people actually in the know.

That being said, anyone who is following this stuff should take everything reported with a grain of salt. The truth is, it’s hard to know exactly what goes on in someone’s life, even if they seem to put “everything” out there. Most of the people commenting, including me, are really just speculating. So always remember that and keep it in mind as you wade through this sordid morass of a story.

No matter what, I still think Jim Bob was a total shit for treating his terminally ill father with so little respect during the last days of his life. That man was dying of brain cancer and Jim Bob turned his last days into reality TV. That was a really rotten way to treat his dad, and not exactly the best example of Christlike behavior, in my opinion. When it comes time for Jim Bob to depart this life, it would serve him right if his children him treated him similarly… although I would not wish that for him. NOBODY deserves that kind of piss poor treatment when they’re on their deathbed, especially on camera. Just my two cents.

Well… the wind has died down; the sun is out; I’ve done the laundry and changed the sheets, so I guess it’s time the dogs got a proper walk. In a few days, we’ll be taking a well deserved (for Bill, anyway) break. I’m looking forward to it, but also a bit nervous for a few reasons. But I look forward to having some new photos and memories… and some stories to share.

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family, lessons learned, nostalgia

Double repost: It’s graduation season! and Lost in Bloomingdale’s…

Sorry… one more repost. Bill and I were talking about the incident that occurred in the “It’s graduation season!” post last night, and I wanted to preserve the memory. Then I noticed the next post, which was about the time I got lost in Bloomingdale’s as a little kid. I’ll try to write something fresh after these reposts, which appear “as/is”. These posts were written in April 2014.

Apologies if I’ve posted about this before… I probably have, but I think it’s a story that bears repeating. This is not a happy story, so skip it if you prefer something cheery.

Since it is graduation season, I feel impressed to write about an incident that occurred in the year 2003, when I had the great “fortune” to attend two graduation ceremonies.  My own grad school graduation from the University of South Carolina occurred in May 2002.  I guess 2003 was the payback year.

Picture it.  It’s late April 2003.  Bill and I live in a shitty apartment in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Bill is about to get his master’s degree from Webster University.  My sister, Becky, was about to get her master’s degree from American University.  Both ceremonies were going to be held at the American University campus.  American University also happens to be where Bill got his undergraduate degree back in the mid 80s.

My parents were still mostly functional in 2003.  My dad’s mental state was starting to slide a bit, but he was 70 years old and still pretty “with it”.  Though my parents had lived in northern Virginia for a couple of years, my mom didn’t feel comfortable driving up there anymore.  Becky realized that Bill and I lived close enough to the DC area that she could call upon us for a favor.  She asked us to play chauffeur for our parents.  They would drive to our shitty Fredericksburg apartment and Bill would drive us to Becky’s graduation ceremony at American.

Now… I knew what was up.  Becky had phrased her “invitation” in such a way that it sounded like she cared if we were there to celebrate with her.  And, I’m sure on some level, she did want us there because we’re family.  But really, it was about her wanting our parents to attend and knowing they wouldn’t show up if Bill and I didn’t drive them.  At that time of my life, I was less assertive than I am now.  Still, I knew what she was up to.  She was asking a favor of us and expecting me to say yes out of familial obligation.  And Bill, being a brand new son-in-law wanting to make good with my parents, was all too willing to be the driver.  So though I knew we were being used, we agreed to help Becky and my parents, knowing that we were going to get a lovely lunch at 1789 for our trouble.  1789 is a very nice restaurant in Georgetown; in fact, it’s where Bill presented me with my engagement ring the previous year.

So, graduation day rolls around.  It’s early May and the weather is fine.  Mom and Dad come to our apartment and Bill drives my mom’s land yacht to Washington, DC.  We park and go to a gymnasium, which is where the ceremony is being held.  My parents seat themselves a couple of rows ahead of us.  Bill and I sit with Becky’s boyfriend, Steve. 

We were chatting quietly among ourselves.  It was a gym, after all, and people were yelling, clapping, ringing cowbells, and using air horns to congratulate the graduates.  Somehow, we had the misfortune of sitting near the single biggest northern Virginia/DC area cunt on the planet.  Apparently, our quiet conversation bothered her.  She complained to my parents, specifically about me.  I was surprised she knew we were with them, since they weren’t sitting with us.  But my mom said, “We can hear you.” in my direction.

We quieted down; but again, it wasn’t exactly a dignified event.  We listened to the graduation speeches and then the noise level kicked up again.  The massively cunty woman in front of us objected again and said something to my parents.  Why she didn’t just turn around and speak to me personally, I will never know.  It would have been the smartest and most adult thing to do.  But she didn’t… she took her issues to my parents, who felt compelled to correct me.

Anyway, my father suddenly turns around and roars at me loudly enough for everyone in the vicinity to hear him, “Shut up!  You’re DISTURBING people!” 

How I felt when my dad screamed at me at my sister’s graduation…

At that moment, I was completely consumed with fury.  I gave what Bill has described as an absolutely murderous look to my father and the bitch who was sitting near us.  I’m pretty sure if looks could kill, they both would have died instantly.  As it was, I’m certain the look in my eyes conveyed to that horrible bitch and her pansy male companion that I hoped she got into a fiery car crash on her way home from the graduation.  I then got up and stormed out of the gym, mortified and livid. 

Here I was, dressed up and sitting in that fucking gym, not even really wanting to be there, but doing a favor for my parents and my sister.  Moreover, I was being no more disruptive than anyone else at the graduation, including the two men I was sitting with; and I was almost 31 years old, being spoken to like a six year old by my father in a way that was absolutely uncalled for. 

Bill came after me and found me absolutely beside myself with rage.  I was so furious that I told him I wanted to leave right then and there.  He was trying hard to get me to calm down while at the same time trying to figure out how we were going to escape the graduation without a vehicle.  Getting back to Fredericksburg without my parents’ car would have involved taking a train or bus or renting a car.  Owing to the massive child support Bill was paying, we were pretty broke at the time and really didn’t have the money to rent a car or buy train tickets.  So he was trying hard to get me to calm down and go through with the lunch at 1789.

After about a half an hour of deep breathing and venting, I finally calmed down and we found my family.  I was still feeling really pissed at my dad.  I went to the ladies room and Bill was left there with my mom, who went into damage control mode.  She suggested that we sweep this under the rug and just try to have a nice lunch.  Bill, being my biggest supporter, explained that I had a perfect right to be pissed off at my dad for the way he treated me in public.  His reaction was unreasonable and he humiliated me.  Even Becky’s boyfriend, Steve, stuck up for me and said he felt my father’s reaction was way out of line.

Somehow, we got in the car and I was sitting in the front seat.  Bill was being nice to my dad, but I was still enraged.  Poor Bill got my claws at one point as we were making our way to the restaurant. 

It happened to be Mother’s Day, and the restaurant was giving out potted impatiens flowers to all mothers.  When they gave one to me, my dad helpfully piped up with “You’re not a mother.”

I said, “I am a stepmother.”  I took the flower and proceeded to have a sumptuous lunch on my dad’s dime.  I had steak and eggs, champagne, two whiskey sours, and dessert.  Bill caught my eye as I casually ran up a big bill.  I made sure my father literally paid for being an asshole to me in public.  Bill knew exactly what I was doing… and I think he approved, even though today I realize it was a pretty passive aggressive thing to do.  Talking to my dad rationally about what he had done and how it made me felt would have done no good.  In my dad’s eyes, he had the perfect right to discipline me in any way he saw fit, even though I was almost 31 years old and married. 

This is the same man who, while roaring drunk, felt it was appropriate to slap me across the face when I was almost 21 years old and the whole family was staying together at a beach house.  He slapped me because he felt I needed to be knocked down to a lower level.  To my credit, I did tell him that he had no right to hit me and if he ever laid another finger on me, I would have him arrested.  To his credit, he never has struck me again, though there were times when he threatened to.  My reminder that I would be calling the police always seemed to get him to back off and simmer down. 

The following week, I attended Bill’s graduation by myself.  Afterwards, we went back to 1789 and enjoyed a more modest celebration lunch, but it was a hell of a lot more pleasant, even if we had to deal with a couple of drivers near the Key Bridge who were intent on cutting in front of us.

I do love my family, but variations of the above scenario have happened to me more times than I can count.  Someone in my family will ask me for a favor of some sort or want me to attend a family event, and then it turns into a huge drama.  I find myself in a situation in which I feel forced to swallow abusive or embarrassing behavior or I find myself regressing to that kind of behavior myself.  They wonder why I don’t want to do things with them anymore.  The scenario I just described is why I avoid family gatherings whenever I can.  I’m just getting too old for that kind of shit.

2003 was an exceptionally dramatic year, but it did give me the balls to stand up to Bill’s ex wife and anyone else who seeks to treat me with disrespect.  Of course, at this point, I realize my dad was probably in the early stages of dementia and that was likely affecting his behavior.  But truly, he has treated me like that for most of my life… with disrespect and condescension.  I simply can’t tolerate it anymore. 

Awkward family photo…  I think my dad must have threatened us with the belt.

AND– Lost in Bloomingdale’s

Lost in Bloomingdale’s…

As I wrote about graduation season, I was reminded of another dramatic event from my youth.  It actually took a long time to get over this particular trauma in the years after it happened, but yesterday was the first time I’d thought of it in a long while. 

I was six or seven years old.  We lived in Fairfax, Virginia, which is a suburb of the Washington, DC area.  At the time of this incident, my sister, Becky, was about seventeen or eighteen.  We generally got along, though she had a tendency to be moody and would get very upset and angry whenever the mood struck.

Anyway, one day she decided she wanted to go to Bloomingdale’s at Tyson’s Corner, which is a huge shopping mall in northern Virginia.  For some odd reason, she decided to take me with her.  My parents had company coming over.  Maybe that’s why she took me… they may have told her to get me out of the house as a condition of driving the car.

So we went to Bloomingdale’s and they had a kids’ area where there were books and toys.  Becky told me to stay there and read while she went shopping.  I stayed there for awhile.  I really don’t know how long.  It could have been a few minutes or an hour.  I was a kid and a few minutes probably seemed like an eternity to me.  All I know is that at some point, I got bored and decided to go look for my sister.

I started wandering around, but I couldn’t find Becky.  Before too long, I got lost.  I started to cry.  Eventually, a matronly looking black woman approached me.  She said, “Little girl, are you lost?”

I was sobbing uncontrollably, but managed to tell the nice lady that I couldn’t find my sister. 

She said, “Come with me.” 

I followed the lady, who turned out to be a plain clothesed security guard.  She took me to her tiny office and called my parents, who said they’d be right there to pick me up.  Meanwhile, Becky was still out there in the store, looking at the latest fashions.

The security guard took me to what must have been a room designated for lost children.  All I remember about it was that there were couches and a nurse worked there.  Why there was a nurse working at Bloomingdale’s, I’ll never know.  It was the 70s, though.  Maybe she just looked like a nurse.  I remember she wore a white uniform that resembled a nurse’s outfit of that era.

The security guard finally found Becky, who was furious with me and swore she’d never take me anywhere again.  She kept asking the “nurse” why they hadn’t paged her.  The nurse said they didn’t have a paging system in the store. 

My dad eventually showed up at the mall.  He had his friend with him.  They were chuckling about my frightening ordeal.   I remember being very worried about Becky being so mad at me for wandering off.  Had this scenario happened today, God knows what kind of invasions that would have invited into our home.  I’m sure someone would have called CPS!  Not that I would have agreed with that, of course. 

It was a scary incident when I was a kid, but I survived it mostly unscathed… and Becky did eventually forgive me and take me on other outings.  She even joined me in Europe when I was traveling there on the way home from Armenia.  Given how certain parts of that trip turned out, maybe it would have been better if she’d kept her promise not to travel with me anymore… 

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musings

Forced family time… not always the best idea.

First thing’s first. There has NOT been a recent drama in my family, other than my beloved Uncle Brownlee’s death. For once, things have been pretty peaceful in my world (knock on wood). However, a friend shared with me an email she got from a distant family member that has inspired me to write about this subject today. Out of respect for her privacy, beyond the most basic of details, I won’t go into specifics about what the email said, only that it reminded me a lot of my own family dramas, which I feel alright in writing about. God knows I’ve done it plenty of times.

The basic gist of the story is that a few years ago, my friend and a couple of her family members got together for a “vacation”. For at least one party, it was supposed to be a “grand” trip, involving a lot of money and international travel. I don’t know how much or what kind of planning went into the trip, but it sounded to me like there wasn’t much communication before the traveling happened. Family relations were already strained from stuff that had happened for years prior to the travel.

I suspect that when these folks came together, tensions arose and there was a lot of fighting. The trip was an expensive disaster for everyone, and it ended badly, with many hard feelings. Years later, the trip is obviously still a source of “soreness” for everyone involved. My friend recently got an email bringing up that old business, along with a few hurtful remarks that made her glad that this “family member” is literally distant, and lives on the other side of the ocean that separates North America and Europe.

Beyond a few Thanksgiving reunions, the last of which I attended in 2014, I’ve pretty much sworn off family gatherings myself. I don’t remember the last time one of them went well. When I was a child, I guess I liked spending time with my sisters and parents… even though there were often fights. When you’re a kid, you’re more resilient about these things. It’s easier to forget slights and petty shit; because when you’re a kid, you often have to get along just to be able to survive.

But most people eventually become adults, and when you’re an adult, you start to see things differently. Your relationships become more complex. You have an enhanced ability to see beyond the obvious. You stop wanting to yield to other people’s desires, especially when they’re clearly wrong. You may or may not be just as wrong about something yourself. You may even be willing to talk about it with the other people who are involved. Unfortunately, getting past this stuff usually takes cooperation and mutual respect. A lot of families are unwilling or unable to acquire the perspective that makes mutual respect and cooperation possible. I’ve found in my own family that I often get relegated to the dreaded “baby of the family” role, even though I’m 47 and have always been perfectly competent. I get spoken to as if I need “special help”, which naturally pisses me off. I can take that in limited doses when it’s just one on one, but when I’m around the whole family and they’re all doing it, it drives me absolutely batshit crazy. I’ve tried to explain this to my family members, and they usually claim I’m just “too sensitive”. Since I’m so “sensitive”, I stay away.

As I’ve written about many times on my old blog, Christmas 2003 was the last time I spent time with most of my entire immediate family under one roof for longer than a few hours. I was pretty wary about attending the gathering because history had shown that they never go well. I couldn’t remember the last time we were all together as adults and there wasn’t at least one huge fight. I don’t enjoy fighting with people, especially when the fights aren’t productive. I have a sister who, no matter what, just can’t seem to understand that I’m not a stupid person. When I try to be assertive with her, she becomes really fake and placates me with niceties. Then, within hours, she’s back to criticizing and questioning my life choices, telling me how much she hates my laugh, or giving me unsolicited advice in an insulting way. I’ve tried so many times to get her to understand my side, but she never seems to get it.

Despite this dysfunctional family dynamic we have, my sister has often tried to organize family events. More than once, she’s come up with the “bright idea” to rent a house and hang out together for a week. I swore off these types of gatherings after our Christmas 2003 debacle and, despite tons of pressure from her to give in and “chip in” on a house rental, I have so far refused. These gatherings just plain don’t go well, at least not for me. And until everyone involved takes a realistic look at what could happen during a gathering and actively works together to make it go well, I refuse to spend precious time and money on “forced family time”.

However, despite the disaster that was Christmas 2003– which culminated in Bill and me leaving one of my sisters stranded at our parents’ house and forced her to take a Greyhound bus home– I am grateful the disaster happened. It was a good life lesson on several levels. First of all, I finally learned to assert myself and realize that I no longer have to go along with what immediate family members try to demand of me. I’m an adult, and free to make my own choices.

Secondly– and this is the more important lesson I learned– I also don’t have to go along with what extended family members demand of me. Christmas 2004 was an even more dramatic holiday, mainly because my husband’s ex wife tried to insist that Bill and I spend it with her at my father-in-law’s house. She made it clear it was the only way my husband could see his daughters and she wrongly thought I’d cave in to her shit in an effort to “get along” and “assimilate” for the sake of family solidarity. I had absolutely zero desire to spend the biggest holiday of the year stuck in a house with my husband’s ex wife, particularly since she and her husband had brazenly claimed the one guest room (her excuse was that the kids were staying with the grandparents, so she should be allowed to stay there, too). Bill and I were expected to get a hotel room, which was actually fine with me– in fact, I highly recommend that people gathering for reunions stay in hotels, preferably in different ones, and that they bring their own transportation.

As regular readers know, I refused to attend Christmas 2004. I was blamed for the fact that it went badly, as if my presence would have made that holiday a huge success. If I had attended, I can pretty much guarantee it would have been way worse for everyone involved. My primary concern, of course, was for my own well-being and for that of my marriage. I knew that no one there, aside from Bill, actually wanted me to be there simply because they actually wanted to spend time with me.

Ex just wanted me there so she could see what buttons to push. Everyone else just expected me to be there to make the situation seem “okay”. None of them specifically wanted to visit with me; this was all about placating the ex and letting her use her children as leverage to get what she wanted. I didn’t want to be a part of that dog and pony show, spending money we didn’t have and precious time on what I knew in my heart would be a fiasco. So, I became my own advocate and stayed home. I had only met Bill’s kids once anyway, and figured they’d rather have him to themselves.

But Bill went. He saw his daughters. We didn’t tell Ex I wasn’t coming, which reportedly really upset her. She made Bill pay for it. It was the last time he’s seen his children in person, although the younger one now Skypes with him regularly after many years of no contact. Despite what some people might think, I don’t believe it’s my fault Bill’s ex wife punished him by withholding visitation. That was entirely on her. I had nothing to do with that decision. She’s now paying the price for that decision, and many other bad ones she’s made, as her three eldest children are adults and can see what kind of person she really is. Yes, Bill could have gone to court to fight for visitation. He might have won. But it would have meant spending years fighting a person who is insane, but not insane enough for the courts to keep her out of our lives. He chose not to fight, and life continued to be worth living. In fact, it became a lot more fun.

Anyway, the point is, Bill’s ex wife often has these kinds of “pie in the sky” visions of gatherings that resemble Hallmark movies. They NEVER go that way, but she expects everyone to go along with the bullshit, even though it means they’ll spend time and money they don’t have, and recovery from the psychic trauma will take weeks. Those who don’t go along will be punished… at least for as long as they give a shit. I don’t so much anymore. Maybe that’s the beauty of getting older. You realize that you don’t have to cave in to family pressures unless that’s the only means of survival. You can say “no”.

When I read about my friend’s situation, it occurred to me that– just as Bill’s ex has unrealistic “visions” of perfection when she comes up with her harebrained family gathering ideas– when more normal people plan these kinds of gatherings, they often have a picture in their minds of what the gathering should or actually will be like. They don’t often share these visions of family bliss with everyone involved. There’s usually little communication among the people involved about what’s expected behavior. I think, a lot of times, people just have it in their minds that these reunions will somehow be as magical as a Hallmark movie. They just expect that everyone will come together in harmony, with nothing but peace, love, and goodwill in their hearts. Unfortunately, unless everyone is already close and has a respectful relationship, that is rarely the outcome. Life is not a Hallmark movie. When there is mental illness, drug addiction, or alcoholism in the mix, you can count on things going south in a hurry.

Yea!

People often have overly ambitious and mismatched expectations when it comes to these kinds of family reunions. The more money and time a person spends on a gathering like this, the more they’re going to want to get their money and time’s worth. When things don’t go perfectly, they get angry and blame other people rather than taking an honest look at their own contributions to the problem. My sister, for instance, doesn’t want to hear what would make me want to spend time with the family. Instead, she wants to try to dictate to me how I should look and behave. She doesn’t want to relax and accept me for who I am, simply cherishing the time spent together. Instead, it’s like she wants to try to fix my flaws. This is the same sister, by the way, who for Christmas has given me exercise videos, makeup kits, and Proactiv.

While I do think family reunions can be fun, I also think that until everyone is “close” and has mutual respect for each other, it’s a terrible idea to have them in locations that involve a lot of time and money for travel. My first rule is that if I can’t drive to it, I don’t go… unless it’s for something like a funeral or memorial of an immediate family member. I did go to Virginia from Germany to attend my dad’s memorial at Thanksgiving in 2014. Dad died five years ago tomorrow, but we had his memorial during our annual Thanksgiving reunion in 2014, so more of the family could attend. Since he was my dad, I made an exception and went “home”. I don’t think I’ll be doing that again, unless my mom dies while I’m abroad.

My second rule is that I have my own transportation and lodging. I have seen way too many family fights erupt after someone has had too much to drink or spent too much time cooped up with people who rub them the wrong way. One of my cousins went home for Thanksgiving a few years ago, got into a fight with his dad, who had been drinking, and got kicked out of the house in the middle of the night. I kicked my own sister out of my car for throwing a massive temper tantrum when I said I wanted to leave early. I refuse to let someone else have control over my transportation or lodging. Now, I make sure to book a hotel and have a car at my disposal.

Thirdly… I am always prepared to leave when things start getting shitty. I have stayed too long at my fair share of parties. It’s never a good idea. I usually take weeks to recover from the trauma. So now, the minute things start to go south, I get the hell out of Dodge.

And finally, although I know it’s tempting to combine long awaited trips to save time and money, I don’t mix family business with pleasure. If I wanted to plan a trip for my completely hypothetical retirement, I would not combine it with a trip to see family. There’s just too much risk that something will go wrong and ruin what should be pure celebration. God knows I haven’t worked for 30 years in an occupation, but Bill has. If he wanted to celebrate his retirement by taking a trip to, say, Japan or South Africa, I wouldn’t take that opportunity to include family with whom we’re not close. Take the big celebratory trip to where YOU want to go. Don’t use it to see long lost family, especially if there’s a lot of unfinished business. You will likely regret trying to combine trips, because there’s an excellent chance it will lead to catastrophe. The other people involved, unless you’re close to them or dear friends, simply aren’t going to place the same value on your retirement as you will. So celebrate that with someone who values your retirement as much as you do and wants to celebrate it with you.

But really… and maybe I’m just super cynical… I think people should spend as much time as they can with people who make them happy, and minimize contact with those who don’t. Simply sharing a family bond doesn’t necessarily mean that you will get along with all of your family members. Most of us would like it to be so that blood is thicker than water, but it simply isn’t… I have many family members with whom I would never choose to be friends, and I know they feel the same way about me. So I don’t feel obliged to hang out with them. I think it spares us all a lot of pain and money.

So ends today’s long winded diatribe. Hope everyone enjoys Monday.

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