Ex, holidays, narcissists

Christmas time is coming… you know what means, right? Here’s the best Christmas gift…

Before I get started… this isn’t going to be a super lighthearted post. It might be funny or interesting to some readers who know our story, and it could be helpful and informative to others… I just want to warn anyone who’s here looking for festive glad tidings that this post ain’t it.

Still with me? Mmm’kay…

When I was really young, I loved Christmas. I loved the food, the music, staying home from school, and getting Christmas presents. I loved being with my family, too. As I got older, Christmas became more of a burden. I found out that Santa isn’t real, not that I was ever a big believer in Santa… I recognized my mom’s handwriting on the packages. Then I felt like I had to buy gifts, and I never had any money. I also realized I didn’t know the recipients well enough to get them something they really wanted, so it felt like I was wasting money that I didn’t have.

As time went on, I came to realize that Christmas had lost its magic for me and filled me with apprehension and stress, rather than the touching family moments depicted on the Hallmark channel. It wasn’t until I married Bill and swore off family gatherings that I started to enjoy the holidays again. So… from about 2005 onwards, Christmas became fun for us… I now enjoy Christmas. I like shopping for Bill, because I know what he likes, needs, and wants. And we don’t try to make Christmas what it isn’t. It’s just a day. We enjoy the day and all the good stuff that comes with it. He is the one person I can count on to love me for exactly who I am. That is a huge blessing. I, in turn, love him for exactly who he is.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t see drama about to erupt from other sources. Most of it stays away from us in the most personal sense. However, because Bill and his daughter have reconnected, he’s hearing about drama from afar. It occurred to me that this is the time of year when narcissists usually become completely insufferable. And based on what I’ve seen from Ex lately, I think it could hit a fever pitch this year.

Behold:

On the surface, this sort of seems like a “cute” post, right? She’s putting up her Christmas tree, and oops! She forgot to add one of the middle sections! She must now get on social media to show everyone her “mistake” and ask for advice.

Ummm… I know for a fact that Ex knows how to put up a Christmas tree. And I think she knows how to fix this problem. That tree has just four parts to it. It’s not even like the trees of yore, which had dozens of individual limbs and color codes that had to be put on one at a time. It takes two minutes to put up a tree like the one pictured, even if you put the wrong section on the lower part. On our tree, the top part wouldn’t even fit on the bottom section. And why in the hell would you put lights on before you assemble the tree?

But then I notice at the end of her post, she writes “On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love gave to me… no help on the Christmas tree.”

Uh huh. That was a dig at #3, who is apparently checked out. After twenty years of this kind of shit, I can’t really blame him. It took Bill half as much time to withdraw from Ex’s craziness. So when he ignores her, she hits up social media for attention.

Some of you who might be reading this are probably thinking… “How do you know all of this? And more importantly, why do you care?”

The fact is, I don’t actually care, except to the extent that it upsets younger daughter. She lives in another state, true… but it’s the holiday season, and narcissists are typically a nightmare during the holidays. They just can’t help themselves. They have this image they desperately want to project, and they expect everyone else to buy into the image. The trouble is, even if other people are cooperative, the reality never lives up to the perfect image in Ex’s mind. That causes her a lot of stress and gives her excuses to stir up drama.

The holidays are also a time of year when people are expected to be kind, grateful, and happy. Narcissists aren’t naturally kind, grateful, or happy people, even if that’s the image they try, and sometimes manage to project, to strangers. BUT– they expect YOU to be all of those things and more. If you protest when they criticize you, there will be hell to pay. “You can’t win for losin'”, as my sweet husband likes to say.

So… Ex decides to “spread the wealth” that comes with being upset during the holidays. Instead of sending warm wishes in a Christmas card or a lovely present, she sends hateful private messages full of rage, accusations, and guilt. Instead of making a phone call or starting a video chat, she drops a load of psychic angst via Facebook messenger. And then, when the response is anything other than groveling or mea culpas, she “shares the wealth” of misery to other people who care enough to listen to her complaints. Ah… holiday stress. It’s the narcissistic gift that ripples across generations, right?

I’ve been in Bill’s life for over 20 years, and I have seen Ex spoil MANY holidays. She usually craps on Christmas, but I’ve also seen her fuck up birthdays and Easter. Since one of her daughters and a granddaughter were born on July 4th, you can bet that day will be messed up, too. It’s a double whammy– Independence Day and a birthday for two family members. She hates it when the attention isn’t focused on her, so she’s got to do something to get into the limelight.

Years ago, Dr. Tara Palmatier, the Shrink4Men, wrote an excellent article about high conflict individuals during the holidays. If you have one of these in your life, I highly recommend that you check it out. Narcissistic exes who routinely act even more like self-centered idiots during the holidays is a real “thing”. It’s not all in your head. Dr. T also wrote a hilarious gift guide for the high conflict person in your life. Yes, it’s tongue in cheek… and maybe it’ll make you smile as you figure out how to get through another holiday season… and maybe consider if you really want to spend the rest of your life dealing with this kind of ridiculous nonsense.

A few days ago, younger daughter told us a bit about a recent conflict she had with Ex, who berated her for her supposed shortcomings. Younger daughter, to her credit, attempted to stick up for herself. She actually told Ex that she was being abusive. She hoped that Ex would see the error of her ways… but sadly, Ex didn’t get it and simply heaped on more abuse and blame. I couldn’t help but shake my head. I could totally relate.

I once made the mistake of thinking one of my own family members was mature enough to have a discussion about some abusive behavior from a Christmas past. Sure enough, she turned into a victim, and I was the bad one for bringing it up. The crazy thing was, I was actually trying to be positive. I was trying to tell her that her tantrum during the last Christmas I spent with my family of origin had strengthened my resolve not to tolerate that shit from anyone else, including and especially Ex. Saying “no” to this particular relative had led to my having the strength to say “no” to Ex the following year, when she “invited” Bill and me to Bill’s father’s house for Christmas. Instead of looking back on that incident objectively, she claimed I was being mean to her. She turned into a pathetic victim.

Younger daughter is more mature than I was when I was her age. Hell, she’s probably more mature than I am now. 😉 As she was talking about this dramatic exchange she had with Ex, she got this wizened look on her face and said, “It just totally blew up in my face.” And I knew that she realized, then and there, that there is no point in trying to talk reasonably with personality disordered people like this. They can’t see your viewpoint. They won’t consider your perspective. They have no empathy. That’s part of their disorder and sadly, it won’t ever change. The best you can do is minimize how that shitty nonsense will affect you. Learn to either diffuse it or ignore it, or better yet, go no or minimal contact.

Then last night, we heard from younger daughter again. She was very excited about and thankful for a birthday gift Bill had sent her. And she told us that she had decided to apologize to her sisters for all of the things Ex claimed they were angry at her about. She also sent them copies of what Ex had sent her in her private message of doom. To that, I say, BRAVO. Ex is a world class triangulator. She has perfected to an art form the skill of telling people different things to get them upset at each other. They don’t speak to one another, so whatever they know has been filtered through Ex, who naturally spins it so that it’s completely twisted and totally askew. She said that older daughter was “nice” and wrote “I accept your apology.” I could see by the slight flash of snark on younger daughter’s face that she could tell it was bullshit that older daughter felt owed an apology for anything. It was quite hilarious.

But what I’d also like to tell her is that it’s a brilliant move to send transcripts of Ex’s diatribes to her sisters. Why? Because then they can see for themselves what was actually communicated. There’s less opportunity to take it out of context. And, there’s a LOVELY side effect to taking this action. Once Ex knows that her secrets aren’t being kept, she stops writing things down and sending them.

Back in 2006, when I wrote to Ex for the first and only time, I ripped her a new one because she had sent Bill an email with all sorts of nasty bile about me, and how the kids hated me and didn’t want us in their lives. She then asked Bill not to tell me what she’d written. She claimed she wanted to “spare my feelings.” Nope… that demand wasn’t about sparing anyone’s feelings. She wanted to drive a wedge between us. She is Olympic class at doing this; I’ve watched her do it for over twenty years. She was hoping Bill would resent me for being an obstacle to having his daughters in his life. It backfired, because Bill could plainly see that I had nothing to do with stopping him from having relationships with his kids. Moreover, the (now adult) kids are free to think whatever they want about me. That’s not something I can control, nor would I want to try. BUT… I will not tolerate Ex telling my husband to keep secrets from me and interfering in our marriage.

She could see that I know all about her and that Bill is loyal to me. Sending him nasty emails simply gives me more evidence of who and what she is. I’m not going to keep her secrets or accept her abuse. So, when that fact became clear, she stopped sending Bill emails! Blessed be! She also never called him again! The last we directly heard from her was, unfortunately, when she sent many boxes of Bill’s possessions restricted delivery, along with an itemized list marked “confidential” and a toxic little story book Bill used to read to the girls… HA! There was a nasty letter about what a horrible father and husband Bill is, along with paperwork for Bill to sign that would allow #3 to adopt Bill’s daughters. Of course he wasn’t going to sign the papers. Even if he did that, she wouldn’t have to file them, and he would have to keep paying child support. And then she’d have a paper with his signature on it to use as an alienation tool. That nasty little delivery occurred just in time for Bill’s 42nd birthday. Another special day ruined!

Bill still has all of that stuff. He’s kept it for the day when he needed to explain it to one of his daughters. Sure enough, that day recently came, and he told his daughter about what Ex had done. He did that because, in her recent little tirade, Ex told younger daughter about how Bill hadn’t wanted to pay child support and “offered” to let #3 adopt them. So younger daughter asked about what had actually happened… or even just Bill’s side of the issue. She’s figured out that her mother lies and twists things to suit her agenda. She knew there was more to the story and she wanted to hear it. So Bill told her his side, and offered to show her the stuff Ex sent anytime she wanted to see it. He told her about how he went next door and spoke to our neighbor at the time, who is a lawyer and is still a dear friend. 😉

But, I think what really made me PROUD of younger daughter and impressed by her smarts was when she looked into the camera and said, “Now I can see things from both sides.” She said she remembered how Bill recently explained to her how, when she was still a kid, Bill would call and try to speak to his daughters. At that time, younger daughter was always “unavailable”. She was in the bathtub, or had a headache, or otherwise couldn’t come to the phone. Gradually, former stepson and older daughter also quit speaking to Bill. Ex turned the ringer off of the phone, so he’d call and no one would answer. Younger daughter became more and more hostile, and for a long time, I didn’t like her. My dislike was because of the image she was portraying. But that wasn’t really her. It was a facade spackled by Ex, designed to turn off anyone who might influence or assist her daughter, whom she sees as solely her “property”. Ex can’t share, and she resents anyone who takes what she thinks belongs to her. That includes other people, especially those who have passed through her birth canal. 😀

Since younger daughter now lives in another state, and has her own family, she is now seeing things the way Bill used to see them when he and Ex communicated. Now, she gets it! It’s a beautiful thing that she finally understands– although I am very sorry that she’s now on the other side of her mother’s abuse. Being on one side is bad enough. I guess we can take comfort in knowing that this is how she treats everyone eventually.

In any case, I strongly suspect that the holidays are causing an uptick in drama at Ex’s house. But I also suspect that her husband is about to ditch her. And this time, she might not land on her feet. So that will cause her to act up and act out, and try to pull other people into her crises… to include strangers on social media whom she asks about how to put up her stupid Christmas tree as she slides in a little dig toward #3, who clearly isn’t paying enough attention to her during this holiday season. Too funny… and it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person, huh?

What I’d also like to tell younger daughter is that I’ve learned not to be too hard on anyone who has to live full time with Ex. For a long time, I didn’t like people who seemed to be on Ex’s side. But now I realize that Ex makes people miserable. She’s a toxic person, and having to live with a toxic person is unpleasant. Toxic behavior is contagious, especially if you live in the FOG (fear, obligation, and guilt that comes with living with a high conflict person). It’s not really personal. They’re literally living in an environment that makes them “sick”. I have observed people leaving Ex’s sphere and becoming completely different, happier, healthier people. I also observed my own mother becoming a different person after my toxic dad passed eight years ago.

So, when her sisters are snarky, rude, or clueless, or #3’s mother says something thoughtless or insulting, it might be helpful for younger daughter to remember that they live in a toxic place, and they are affected by Ex’s toxic bullshit. Misery loves company, so they’re inviting her to join in their little miserable soiree. That might help her feel more sympathetic when they say shitty things to her. Actually, in her case, it probably would have that effect. In my case, it probably wouldn’t. I’m not as nice as younger daughter is, and I have never had a “loving” relationship with the people involved in this situation. In fact, I barely know them at all. So… I guess I could muster empathy, because they’re fellow human beings, and I don’t like to see fellow human beings suffering.

Anyway… Bill told his daughter that she doesn’t need to apologize to anyone for living her life on her own terms and being as healthy as she can be. One of the best things about being an adult is that you have the ability to make choices like whether or not you’re going to show up for people who behave like jerks. Children don’t often have a choice in whether or not they tolerate abusive behavior. Adults do. And younger daughter is well beyond the age of majority, so she really doesn’t have to tolerate this crap anymore. Better yet, she has young children of her own to protect from this toxic, narcissistic fuckery, which is an even more important reason to tell Ex to “zip it” and kick her to the curb.

For you, Ex.

I’d say that realizing that she doesn’t have to put up with ruined holidays and acting accordingly is the best Christmas present a person could ever get. I know it was a life changer for me when I stopped showing up for dysfunctional family holiday drama. 😉 So… Merry Christmas! And have a happy, HEALTHY, new year.

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Ex, family, holidays

Mother’s Day isn’t always easy, is it?

Special thanks to my friend, Marguerite, for sharing today’s featured photo.

I didn’t post any fresh content on this blog yesterday. It was mostly because I spent a good portion of the morning writing new posts for my travel blog. Our trip to Italy was pretty intense. I took a lot of photos that needed to be uploaded, and I had stories that I wanted to share before I forget them. Adding photos on my WordPress travel blog is harder than it was on Blogger. Once I add pictures to a post, for some reason, it gets a lot harder and slower to add written content. It’s like the photos slow down the server, which they probably do. I’m definitely not a tech guru, though; so I can’t explain it.

My travel blog is a true labor of love. It currently gets very little traffic, even though there was a time when it was somewhat popular. But then I moved the blog to a new address and stopped promoting it so much. Then the pandemic happened, and we quit going places. A day after I spent all morning adding three posts, I see that I only have one or two hits– seriously– on my new posts. It’s a little depressing. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

I remind myself, though, that above all else, the travel blog is for Bill and me. There will likely come a day when travel will become much harder or even impossible. We’ll either lack the money to go places, or our health will make it difficult… or, more likely, both situations will occur simultaneously. Maybe the blog will someday even be a source of pain for that reason. But, for now, I like to share the stories from our trips and preserve the memories. If other people like to read it, that’s a bonus. That blog might be the only worthwhile thing I do with my life. 😉

Maybe Bill’s younger daughter will want to read the travel blog sometime. She often asks Bill questions about our travels. Unfortunately, her upbringing left her somewhat culturally stunted, so she doesn’t know as much as she could about places outside of the United States. The other day, she asked Bill about which side of the road people drive on in Europe. Bill got visibly upset, and expressed sadness that she was never taught about life beyond the US. If she had grown up with Bill, he would have taught her. She would have seen Europe for herself. Ex doesn’t have the excuse of not knowing about Europe herself. She lived in Germany with her first ex husband, and with Bill. Her eldest child was born in Germany.

But, in spite of Ex’s platitudes about loving Scotland and humanity in general, the reality is, her kids were very sheltered. They were denied a lot of normal experiences that most kids in America experience. At the same time, they were often expected to deal with things that children should not have to deal with at all. It’s a real pity… but, on the bright side, at least younger daughter can talk to Bill whenever she wants to now. And he can now teach her some things she should have learned about years ago.

I think younger daughter would probably enjoy reading my travel blog more than this blog, anyway. It seems that I’m always trashing her mom. I do realize that while younger daughter may totally agree with a lot of my points, it’s still her mom that I regularly trash. I know that reading some of my passages might be painful for her. Or, maybe she might feel vindicated. She’s about to have her third baby. Bill said that his new grandson will be born sometime this month. I wonder how she feels about Mother’s Day, now that she’s a mom herself.

When Bill finally went to see younger daughter in March of 2020, they talked for two days straight. It had been 15 years since they were last in each other’s presence, and there was so much to discuss. There still is. Younger daughter has proven to be very astute in her observations. She is very clearly Bill’s child on many levels.

During the course of that visit, younger daughter observed that Bill voluntarily helped her in the kitchen. While they were washing dishes, she said, “Let me guess. When you and my mom were married, you did most of the work, didn’t you?”

Bill answered in the affirmative.

“When my mom comes here to visit, she just sits on the couch with her phone and complains. She never helps in the kitchen.” younger daughter continued. For some reason, she never calls her mother “mom”. She refers to her as “my mother” or “my mom”. She has also said that she doesn’t call her “mom” in front of her children. Instead, she calls her by her first name, and tries not to mention her.

She later told Bill that when she was growing up, she and older daughter were expected to do all of the housework, while Ex sat on her can. Ex’s daughter with her third husband apparently rarely helped them, either. One time, Bill’s daughters did the laundry and brought it into Ex’s bedroom. Ex said, “This is all well and good, but you should be putting the laundry away for me, too.” When she turned 18, younger daughter decided she had to get away from her mother. So, with help from some good people in the LDS church, she made her escape.

To younger daughter’s immense credit, I have observed the way she interacts with her own children. She’s a wonderful mom. The other day, she sent Bill a video from a park where the kids were playing. Her son, who will be five this year, could be heard off camera saying, “I had an accident.”

A lot of moms might have been annoyed by the interruption. I’m pretty sure my own mom would have been put out at having to clean up an “accident” at a park. But Bill said his daughter said, in a gentle tone of voice, “That’s okay. Let’s go find a bathroom and take care of that. No, don’t take your pants off here!” (giggle) And then she ended the video, so she could take care of her son.

Meanwhile, her little daughter was mugging for the camera, showing off her toy cell phones, and literally “shooing” away another kid who was bothering her. It’s just so obvious to me that Bill’s daughter is a wonderful, caring, involved mom. She’s made a point out of not being like her own mother, who would tell anyone who would listen how involved and devoted she is, telling her children to “follow their dreams”. The trouble is, Ex makes it impossible for her children to follow their dreams, and she tries to deny them access to people who can help them achieve their own desires for their lives. She expects them to stay close, and help her achieve HER wants and needs.

I know Mother’s Day isn’t easy for a lot of people. My own mom was never much into the role of motherhood. She would be the first to admit it, which is one thing I admire about her. You can say what you want about my mom, but she’s brutally honest and pragmatic, even with herself. I called her yesterday, and we had a brief chat, because she had promised her friend that she would have brunch with her. As we were about to ring off, my mom said, “Well, I wish we were closer, but we’re not… so…”

I think she meant “physically closer”, since I live on another continent, and we haven’t seen each other in person in almost seven years. But I think it could also mean “emotionally closer”. I saw a lot of people posting beautiful tributes to their mothers yesterday. I posted a few for my mom, too, because she is genuinely worthy of a mention. My mom is very, very creative, smart, and talented. She was a church organist for over fifty years, and she makes incredible and intricate creations with needles and threads. She ran a successful business for twenty-five years, without benefit of a bachelor’s degree. She spent 56 years married to my father, who was not an easy man to live with. And she raised four daughters who have basically turned out fine. Through it all, she managed to stay beautiful and youthful, and basically healthy and functional.

When I was growing up, she could be harsh and aloof, and I was expected to take care of myself. She was not a mom who would spoon feed me medicine when I was sick, double check my homework, or comfort me when I was sad. She was not maternal like that. However, she would be the first to admit that she wasn’t very gifted at motherhood. She used to tell me that my sisters and I grew up okay “in spite of” her. Wow. Talk about self-reflection.

This picture pretty much sums up our family…

When my father died in 2014, I watched my mom turn into a different person. I think she’s a lot happier. She’s definitely a lot easier to talk to now. I know she loved my dad, but like I said, he wasn’t easy to live with. She didn’t always have all of the choices she might have had if she had married someone else. Now that she’s a single person, she can do as she likes. She only has to worry about herself. That’s very freeing, and I’ve noticed that her disposition is much nicer these days. We have had a lot of nice conversations on Skype… which, weirdly, makes me feel closer to her now, than I felt when I saw her on a daily basis.

One of the things I love most about my mom is that she’s happy to let me live my life. She doesn’t expect me to live my life on her terms. She isn’t emotionally manipulative to me. I don’t get guilty emails or phone calls from her, shaming me for living so far away. For a long time, I thought she didn’t care much about me. But now I think she is just content to live independently, and is happy to let me do the same. As I’ve gotten older, my appreciation and respect for my mom has grown a lot. She’s a remarkable person, even if she’s not the most maternal woman in the world. I’ve learned a lot from her. I’m grateful that my feelings about my mom have improved as I’ve gotten older. She’s very honest about who she is, and that’s a good thing. I much prefer my very honest and painfully pragmatic mom, to Ex’s bullshit facade that she puts on for everyone who shouldn’t be important in her life. Above all, my mom is, deep down, a good person. She’s not a great mother, but she’s a very good person. Now that I’m a middle aged person myself, I appreciate that about my mom.

This is a weird post. I know it might not go over very well. I’ve never been very good at presenting the best image. Maybe I just inherited my mom’s pragmatism and bluntness.

Anyway, I hope those of you who celebrated Mother’s Day had a great day. And if Mother’s Day is painful for you, for ANY reason, I wish you peace and comfort. Mother’s Day isn’t always easy.

Time to end this post and move on to my travel blog. I still have several more days to write about…

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family, holidays, mental health

I refuse to let anyone mess up my holidays, and it’s a good policy to have!

I hope everyone reading my blog post enjoyed their holiday yesterday… those who celebrated, anyway. I know not everyone enjoys Christmas. There was a time in my past when it wasn’t such a fun holiday for me. I would say that for most of my 20s, I wasn’t a Christmas fan. I found it to be more of a burden than anything else. In those years, I was still single, and Christmas meant spending money I didn’t have on gifts for people I didn’t know that well anymore, and without fail, at least one dramatic or traumatic altercation with someone from my family of origin.

Christmas got dramatically better for me from about the year 2005. That was the first year after I resolutely decided that I would never again let someone else fuck up my holidays. I have stubbornly stuck to that resolution, and it works really well. It helps that we live in another country now, so no one expects us to take part in Christmas gatherings anymore. Our Christmases are just Bill and me and the dogs, with lots of wine, beer, music, and good food… and presents that don’t have any weird messages or symbols attached to them. There aren’t any arguments. There aren’t any manipulative ploys for attention. There’s nothing but us, enjoying each other and our very compatible and comfortable marriage. It’s peaceful and freeing, just the way I love it. We don’t even bother with church.

I know we’re beyond blessed. I’ve read more than a few angsty posts from people who find Christmas unbearably overwhelming and annoying. I’ve seen a few newspaper articles about how to handle Christmas with obnoxious relatives, which is even trickier this year, since vaccinations against COVID-19 are available and not everybody agrees with taking them. Christmas shouldn’t be something to endure… but for some people, it really is.

Unfortunately, COVID vaccines are just one more issue that divides people, which causes stress in family units. My own family of origin isn’t immune to it. My mom said that one of my sisters invited her to spend Christmas with her family, but this sister isn’t vaccinated and refuses to consider getting the shots. My mom is in her 80s and lives in an assisted living apartment. She doesn’t want to be around unvaccinated people, because she doesn’t want to get sick. My sister also lives in another state, and mom doesn’t want to drive there. So she decided to stay home… which is fine for her, since she’s a very independent person. I’ll probably call her later today to see how it went for her.

Bill talked to his daughter on Skype on Christmas Eve. They had a great chat. Younger daughter said she was very happy with the gifts that Bill and his mom sent to her. She said she was pleased with the gifts, because they were just gifts. There was no weird hidden meaning or guilt message attached. Bill sent toys for her kids, some German candy that isn’t available in the USA, a gift card for a restaurant so she and her husband can have a date night, and a big box of Lebkuchen, German gingerbread. Younger daughter said the Lebkuchen was a huge hit, since she’s pregnant, and the ginger is soothing to her stomach. She said that her mom would buy it in the past, but it was always stale. The box Bill sent was fresh, and much to our surprise, got to her very quickly.

She said that her mother also sent gifts… and then she asked Bill if he ever got gifts from Ex that had “hidden meanings”. Bill chuckled knowingly, because he remembered quite a few occasions when his ex wife sent gifts that weren’t bringing tidings of joy.

He told me about how, back when they first separated in 1999, Ex was letting #3 stay at the home that Bill was still paying the mortgage on. She told Bill not to come home. Instead, they would meet at my father-in-law’s house, and have Christmas there. Under the tree were presents for Bill from the kids… But they were items that Bill already owned. When he left their house to go back into the Army, he left a lot of his stuff there. And instead of sending the items to him, Ex simply wrapped them up and had the kids put their names on the packages. Then she put them under the tree, disguised as gifts. There he sat on Christmas morning 1999, unwrapping the Star Wars VCR tapes that he’d already owned and had watched with ex stepson.

At the time, Bill just blew it off. He figured she was just being a petty bitch. But then he realized that Ex was also doing all she could to eliminate his presence in the family. She threw out photos of him and even stole the one that younger daughter used to sleep with. She cut his image out of pictures. Older daughter once remarked that she had forgotten what he looked like, because Ex was doing her best to erase him… even as she demanded $2550 a month from him in child support, which she received on time, every month, in full, and with no complaint.

For years, I was so disgusted by the cruel things she did. But now, I know that this is the kind of treatment everyone eventually gets from her. She does the same thing to her own children. I don’t know what she sent younger daughter, but I can imagine that whatever it was, it was intended to make her feel shitty. Or, at least, GUILTY.

I have mentioned before that Ex has a habit of ruining treasured childhood relics, like storybooks and music. Bill used to read a book to his children when they were small. It was a book about forgiveness. Just before Bill went to Iraq, Ex sent him the book, with a really cryptic shitty message. She wouldn’t encourage the kids to speak to him. Instead, she had them write him letters disowning him, then she sent him a book to remind him of them… and just before he went to a place where he could have been killed. For weeks, I had to look at that book in our home. I finally told Bill to do something with it so I didn’t have to see it, or I would be throwing it out. He ended up sending it back to her with a note that read, “You need this more than I do.” BRAVO! That was the last time she ever sent him a poisonous package.

Unfortunately, it sounds like she’s still up to her old tricks. I feel sad for Bill’s daughters, and the three other kids Ex has had, but was apparently never satisfied with and just wants to torment. I don’t know what drives her to be the way she is. Some of it, I’m sure, is mental illness… but some of it is just plain mean and cruel. How sad it is that one of the things Bill can bond with his daughter over is the mental fuckery perpetrated by Ex.

Lest anyone think this is going to be another one of my Ex trashing posts… I will now move on to an anecdote about my own family. I’ve written the story many times about what happened in my own family, back in 2003. That was the year I swore off gatherings with my family of origin.

One of my sisters had asked for a ride to Gloucester with us. We obliged, but I told her that if there was a fight, we’d be leaving. Sure enough, hours after we arrived, there was a fight.

Besides the fight, which made the tension in the house unbearable, Bill and I were relegated to the very uncomfortable sleeper sofa in the freezing cold room which had once been a garage. It had been rebuilt into an office, but had poor insulation. I had started my period , and that room wasn’t near a bathroom. I just wanted to be in my own house.

Bill and I resolved to leave the next day. The sister who came with us didn’t want to go home early, and tried to manipulate us into staying. She wanted us to take her shopping. I refused, so she threw a huge tantrum… I mean HUGE! There was screaming, swearing, melting down, and it was like something I would have expected from a toddler.

However, instead of giving in, as I had in the past, I turned to Bill and said, “Come on, let’s just go.” And we did. We left her at my parents’ house. She had to find another way home, which I understand involved taking a bus. She was a woman in her 40s at the time. She and I have talked about that incident just once since it happened. In her version of the story, I was blaming her for our other sister’s fight with me.

I saw our spat from an entirely different perspective. I had told her ahead of time that I was not willing to stay at the house if there was any fighting. My sister had agreed to those conditions. Then, when there predictably was a fight, she tried to change the terms to ones that suited her, even though we had done her a favor by driving her down there, and she had agreed to our conditions.

When I refused to acquiesce to her demands, she had two choices– she could either come with us, or she could find her own way home. When she threw a tantrum, we determined that she’d rather stay in Gloucester… and I sure as hell didn’t need her in my car for hours, complaining non-stop as we drove back to northern Virginia. At the time, that was a very traumatic event, but it was a good thing it happened. Christmas 2003 was what gave me the courage to deal with Ex during Christmas of 2004, when she tried to ruin our holiday.

In 2004, Ex tried to manipulate me into attending Christmas at Bill’s dad’s house. She told us to get a hotel room, since she and the kids and #3 would be staying at the house. She refused to listen to Bill when he said it was a terrible idea. She expected me to show up, even though she never even asked me what I thought of it. It occurred to me that I LOVE my immediate family, but I didn’t even want to do Christmas with them again. I sure as hell didn’t want to do it with Ex, her husband, the kids, and my in-laws. I realized that if I went, it would be yet another disastrous holiday season.

I told Bill I would not be attending the gathering, but he should go and see his daughters. He went… and it was pretty dreadful, although not as dreadful as it would have been if I had gone, too. Bonus– we saved a lot of money because I stayed home with the dogs. I finally learned that obligatory, “forced family time is not always the best idea”…

What am I trying to say here? It’s that the holidays belong to everyone. You have the right to enjoy your holiday, just as much as anyone else does. And if family gatherings cause stress, strife, or cause you to go into unwanted debt, you have the right to opt out… to protect your own sanity. Christmas is optional.

I remember how, back in the days when I felt like I had to spend Christmas at home, it would always take some time to recover. Sometimes it took a few days. Sometimes, it was weeks. The year that we left my sister at my parents’ house, it was a year before she spoke to me again. But, she probably doesn’t realize that I rather enjoyed the silence. Nowadays, she mostly treats me with more respect, which is really all I ever could have hoped for in the first place.

But she did send me a private message with a little drama in it this year… she told me about how, a few years ago, our mom called her up and yelled at her, and brought my name into it. She said that mom was upset about how my sister refused to cooperate with the annual family tradition. My sister insinuated that it was because our brother-in-law had abused her cat when they came the year prior. Brother-in-law doesn’t think animals belong inside. He also enjoys watching us fight.

Anyway, I wasn’t there to see what happened, so I don’t know his side of the story. The bottom line is, because of what had happened during a previous holiday, she decided to stay home, and she claimed that our mom called her up and bitched. She was supposedly “shocked” that sister hadn’t wanted to celebrate, “Especially since Jenny…” then she stopped herself.

My comment was, “Because Jenny what? Because I don’t spend holidays at home anymore? I have DONE my time.” As the youngest, I went to all the graduations, while my graduations usually weren’t attended by my sisters. I used to be the one sister everyone could count on to be there. But that last Christmas in 2003 was the last straw. I refuse to let anyone mess up my holidays.

I stay in my house, sleep in my own comfortable bed, eat what I want, drink what I want, wear what I want, and listen to whatever music I want to… and there is NO fighting… and no stupid manipulative bullshit or guilt tripping or mean remarks about how I need to go on a diet, put on makeup, or fix my hair. There are no intrusive questions about how I can afford my lifestyle or critical, judgmental remarks about things I say, or the way I laugh, or anything else. I can simply be myself, and be appreciated for the person I am… and the person I am is really not so bad.

I am all for holidays without stress, guilt, tension, fighting, manipulation, crying jags, physical blows, temper tantrums, or lies. Ever since I decided that I’m an adult and I deserve these things, life has been better. Ever since we decided that the holidays are for us to enjoy, too, Bill and I have found Christmas to be a lot better… and much more fun! And I haven’t felt the need to read or write to an advice column, asking for help on how to deal with my relatives since…

Last night, the most stressful event was at the end of the evening, as Bill struggled to keep his eyes open. He just looked like a pissed off teddy bear, and it was absolutely ADORABLE. That’s the kind of thing I like to see on Christmas. Here’s hoping that’s how it will be from now on. Any friends or family members who are game for that kind of celebration are welcome. The rest can make drama among themselves and leave us out of it.

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book reviews, family, mental health, overly helpful people, psychology

Repost: A review of When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People…

I originally wrote this review for Epinions in 2006. I am reposting it here as/is. I had reposted it on the original version of this blog, but that post included a time sensitive anecdote that is no longer relevant. So here’s the review on its own, as it was originally written fifteen years ago. Maybe this book is still as helpful as I found it back then.

I realize that since the holidays of 2005 have already passed, this review of Dr. Leonard Felder’s 2003 self help book When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People: Surviving Your Family and Keeping Your Sanity might be a tad tardy. On the other hand, the month of January has always seemed to me to be a time custom made for personal change. With the idea of personal change in mind, consider the following questions. Do your relatives make you crazy at family gatherings? Do they harangue you about the way you look, your job, your marital status, or your place in life? Do you find it unbearable to spend more than a few hours with your family? Do you feel like you’re out of the loop when it comes to important family decisions? Do you dread the holidays because it means you’ll be expected to hang around your family for long periods of time? If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, Dr. Felder’s book might be a big help to you.

Dr. Leonard Felder is a Los Angeles based licensed psychologist and co-author of another family oriented book, Making Peace With Your Parents. I had never heard of Dr. Felder prior to finding this book, but he’s appeared on Oprah, CNN, CBS’ The Early Show, NBC News, A.M. Canada, National Public Radio, and ABC Talkradio. I discovered When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People quite by accident. I got an email from Barnes and Noble alerting me to a large post holiday sale. I’m a sucker for sales and I’m always looking for new books. I managed to pick up a brand new hardcover copy of this book for about $4. Considering the fact that I’m a public health social worker by training and someone who has a hard time hanging around my own family, I figured it would be a fine addition to my personal library. Having just read When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People, I can understand why Felder is so popular. He has an easy to understand, conversational writing style that I found easy to relate to. He also offers advice that is both easy to follow and practical, while still reminding his readers that they can’t control other peoples’ thoughts or emotions, but they can control how they react when relatives start to pluck their nerves.

Dr. Felder uses interesting and realistic scenarios to get his point across to his readers. I often found myself nodding my head as I recognized some of the situations that I’ve found myself in when I’ve dealt with my family. For example, I have three older sisters who are driven career women. All three of my sisters keep themselves looking beautiful and polished most of the time, as they pursue their lofty professional goals. I’ve often caught a lot of grief from my family because I’m more of a housewife than a career woman.

I work as a freelance writer on an occasional basis. I’m more comfortable in sweats with my face unpainted and my hair unstyled. My lifestyle works for me and my husband, Bill, but that doesn’t always stop my family members from harassing me about the fact that I’m not like them. Consequently, I often find myself avoiding family get-togethers and hating every minute of them when I can’t avoid them. I love each individual member of my family, but not when we’re all together and personalities start to clash. Dr. Felder offers constructive ideas on what to do if you have a sister who is narcissistic and obnoxious, or a father who gets on your case about your employment status, or a mother who picks on you about your weight. He also offers assurance that family troubles are not unusual. There’s no reason to feel like a freak because you can’t get along with the people who created you. It happens to a lot of people. Dr. Felder’s book offers hope and a chance to make those visits with family more bearable and constructive.

One thing I did notice about When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is that it does seem a little bit skewed toward those of the Jewish faith (which I am not). Dr. Felder is himself a Reform Jew, so he sometimes uses examples that will be more familiar to those who share his religious preference. However, I will note that Felder is careful to explain whenever he includes a cultural term with which his audience may not be familiar. For instance, when he uses a Yiddish term like mensch, he explains to his readers who may be unfamiliar with the term that mensch is a Yiddish word for “good person”. Felder’s explanations make the book accessible to everyone, but they also reveal that the book is slightly bent toward people of a certain culture. It’s only natural, though, that writers tend to write best when they focus on writing about what they know; Judaism is certainly something about which Dr. Felder knows.

When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People is divided into ten chapters that are dedicated to certain common issues. For example, Felder devotes whole chapters on dealing with religious disagreements, family battles about food, weight, clothes, and appearance, getting past drugs, alcohol, and other addictive behaviors, and relatives who are just plain intolerant. At the end of the book, there’s an appendix as well as a list of suggested reading and sources. I was happy to see that Dr. Felder suggested a book that I read and reviewed last year on Epinions.com, Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood inside the Fortress by Mary Edwards Wertsch— an excellent book for people who have family in the military.

The 2005 holiday season is now a memory. If you’re currently breathing a sigh of relief that the holidays are over because you found hanging out with your family stressful this past year, I urge you to read Dr. Leonard Felder’s book, When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People. Even if none of the scenarios in this book apply to you, you may find yourself comforted at least in the knowledge that you’re not alone. There’s no need to feel badly just because your family makes you crazy. As Dr. Felder points out in his book’s title, it happens to the very best of people.

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humor, music

All-beef Patty…

This has been a pretty low key Labor Day weekend. We usually try to go away when we have long weekends, and Labor Day is prime traveling time. We haven’t been on a Labor Day trip since 2018 because last year, we lost Zane over Labor Day weekend, and this year, there’s COVID-19, our recent big trip to Austria, Italy, and Switzerland, travel shaming (although none of my “friends” are brave enough to shame me yet), and the fact that Bill needs to build up more leave. Also, we’re hoping to have a new dog soon, and acquiring him will probably require some time off for Bill.

I did try to find somewhere close for us to go, as all of the formerly “safe” countries around us were turning red on the COVID-19 tracing map. But then it just seemed like a big hassle and expense that I didn’t care that much about. So I gave up looking, and settled in for a long weekend at home. I think today, we may venture to a store to see if we can find chairs for our TV room. On the other hand, going into the IKEA, especially while wearing a mask, is not very appealing to me. I hate IKEA under the best of circumstances. I don’t really like the Scandinavian style, the fact that we have to assemble everything, and the massive crowds of people in there– or the way people get herded through the show room. There are other furniture stores in Germany, of course. Maybe we’ll find one of those.

Anyway… sometime yesterday afternoon, after I’d done my guitar practicing for the morning and written a blog post, I headed downstairs. Bill was out back, sweeping the steps to the basement. Our house, like a lot of German houses, has a “mother-in-law” apartment, and there’s a separate entrance through steps to the basement. We have a tall fence around the backyard, though, so we never go in and out that way. The steps were full of detritus blown there by the wind. We also did some minor garden maintenance. Bill pulled up some very undeveloped carrots and picked some of the parsley he grew. Our zucchini plant was the big producer this year, and I don’t like zucchini all that much.

Then Bill made dinner. I had the music going, and while I was sitting there, I heard the opening strains of the song “Starfucker” by a duo called Folk Uke. Folk Uke consists of Amy Nelson and Cathy Guthrie. They are the daughters of Willie Nelson and Arlo Guthrie. They are also hilarious. One of my favorite songs by them is called “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow”.

Simple melodies, irreverent lyrics, and lots of cussing. My kind of music and my motto for living.

I didn’t hear “Shit Makes the Flowers Grow” yesterday, but I did get a mighty kick out of “Starfucker”.

Kind of a similar melody, with easy chords. I probably could play this myself.

The lyrics to this are just classic. Check them out…

[Verse 1]
They call her All-Beef Patty
She’s got her eye on my daddy
She’s comin’ at him like a trucker
She’s a starfucker

[Verse 2]
I’ve been trampled by the tramps
They’re not wearing any underpants
Ooh yuckers
Starfuckers

[Chorus]
Aim for the stars
Aim for the stars
Aim for the stars

[Verse 3]
Well, they’re trying hard to charm me
But they frighten and alarm me
They’re the salivation army
A bunch of starfuckers

[Verse 4]
And when you wish upon a star
Well, it makes a difference who they are
And you hope that they’re a sucker
If you’re a starfucker

I just want to hang out with these two and giggle. We’re about the same age. It seems like we have similar thoughts on life, too. Nowadays, if I don’t laugh and crack irreverent jokes, I might cry. Here are a couple more funny numbers by Folk Uke.

“Just get down on your knees…”
Cathy, I’m gay for you… Awww… But Cathy doesn’t share Amy’s ardor.

I would love to go to one of their shows. Sadly, the fucking virus has made it impossible for such merriment. This morning, I read about how a wedding in May, in which 65 people attended, caused over 140 new COVID-19 cases, which led to three deaths. Among the affected were residents in an assisted living facility and inmates in a jail, both many miles away from where the wedding occurred. An epidemiologist for the Maine CDC said COVID-19 is like glitter. You open it in the basement of your house and somehow, it ends up in the attic. Interesting analogy…

So I’m content to listen to Folk Uke videos instead. The song below has a bittersweet effect on me. This song was playing as we drove Zane to the vet last year for the final time. The melody is sad, but the lyrics are witty and loaded with zingers. Somehow, it seems fitting that this would play as we took Zane to the Rainbow Bridge. He was a funny dog. ETA: Actually, it was a different song that was playing– “Try to Say Goodbye”.

Cathy tells a funny joke at the beginning.

This year has sucked on many levels. It hasn’t totally sucked for me personally, but for the world at large, it’s been pretty bad. I’m glad Folk Uke is around to make me laugh randomly, when one of their funny little ditties ends up playing on my HomePod. I love that they don’t take anything seriously. More people need to be like that… although I hope they haven’t run into any male versions of All-Beef Patty.

Now… off to eat breakfast with my wild and crazy husband.

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