Sunday, November 27, 2005

Dissecting Turkey Day

If my last blog entry was entitled, "The Shortest of Blog Entries," you might consider this the opposite! I will try to keep this concise, but I have a lot of thoughts swirling around my brain after our Thanksgiving holiday. In fact, I expect this will be several blog entries for this week.

This year was our year to spend Turkey Day with my family in the small North Texas town in which I grew up. Past Thanksgivings have always included my immediate family, but also my mother's immediate family--including her sister and her family (her husband and my two cousins), as well as with my Grandmother. Well, if you've read my blog much, you know that my dear Grandmother left us about a year and a half ago. And, as much as I think many of us would like for everything to stay the same, Thanksgiving is evolving in her absence.

So, over Turkey and dressing and all the trimmings, there was something missing this year. And, I'm not quite sure what it was exactly, or if anyone else experienced it besides myself. There is a connection gone, and that saddens me greatly.

The holiday started as it typically does, with our painfully long and draining 6-hour drive to my hometown. The kids did fine on the trip, but it was not pleasant thanks to traffic, our tired and allergy-ridden family, and tension that always precedes a visit to my folks. (But, THAT is for many other blog entries...)

Upon arriving, we settled into our normal banter and patterns. My aunt and her husband were there, and we enjoyed dinner with them, my folks, and my sister and her family. My kids instantly set about playing with my sister's little girl, and we visited with everyone. The evening ended with my two kids fighting bedtime tooth-and-nail (the usual when we're traveling) and then a fun late night chat with the three extreme night owls (my aunt, my mom, and me). We were off to a nice start.

The next day my cousins arrived for the Thanksgiving dinner. The hours preceding this were also quite typical. My aunt takes the helm in the kitchen that once was my grandmother's, and now is my parent's home. My mother increasingly gets negative and agitated with her older sister for "bossing us around" and yet says nothing (aside from venting extremely nasty things to me or under her breath). I try to smooth things over by asking my hubby to watch the kids while I take orders for prepping the feast. In short, it is work and more work, but we all have our roles and do them. I enjoy working in the kitchen and helping out and don't mind taking orders really.

When my cousins arrived, I greeted them with big hugs. I asked each of them how they were and what was new, genuinely curious about their lives. These were the two cousins I was most close to growing up, spending most holidays with them in my hometown and a week or so every summer at their house. We are all very different from one another, and yet we always enjoyed our time together as children. Because of this, I really think of them fondly and have tried to keep a relationship going without much on the receiving end coming back to me.

My aunt, mother, and I continued to prep the food and the other more irritating "trend" that has gone on for as long as I can remember started to unfold. That is, my cousins, sister, and everyone else sits and watches us work and whines about dinner not being ready, as the three of us scramble. No one offers to help or says thank you. I know I sound like such a martyr, but I have increasingly grown bitter about this over the years. These people are all adults now. While my youngest cousin is expecting in February (so I excused her this year), her brother and husband were able-boded and could have done something to help--even if it was giving my husband a break with the kids. My sister and her family and myfather, as usual, disappeared and only came when my mother ordered them to do something. If the festivities were not at my own mother's house, I feel confident I would find her on the back porch having a smoke to avoid the whole scene. And, my sister's husband is M.I.A. most of our family gatherings, for whatever reason.

So, as I worked, I watched my cousins sit down and had meaningful conversations with their stepfather, my sister, and my father. Then, we had dinner and enjoyed the nice spread. Everything turned out great. And, while I did have my hands full at the kid table with my two, there was still no discussion from my family with me, my husband or our kids as to how our lives were.

Once the day was over, my husband set about doing the massive job of washing a million dishes, trying to help out. I played with the kids. My aunt and mother loaded up the food for storage, and later visited my grandmother's grave at the cemetary.

And everyone else? Well, they did more of the same of course. They sat around and all talked to one another and didn't bother to offer to help or visit with anyone else. I finally got so frustrated at one point that I muttered (too loudly) that my hubby could stop washing dishes and let someone ELSE do something for a change. Of course this fell on deaf ears--no one really cares or feels the least bit of obligation or guilt.

So, as it was time to leave, my youngest cousin strikes up a conversation with me about what baby things I brought for her and what else I have to pass along to her. She still never asks about my kids, my life or anything else. I got in a few words at the front door as they were leaving about another family member and heard a funny story. And, that was it. I was the only one who stood at the front door and said goodbye and waved as they left for home.

So, the next few days were better, but I was left with this empty feeling with regards to my cousins. It makes me sad that they really don't care to know how I am or what is going on with me. There are a lot of reasons I can speculate that this is, but it doesn't really matter. Because the fact of the matter is, they don't think of me as a close family member at all. And, this all builds up a rather insecure place in me that I need to work through--that is, the feeling that I am expendable to most everyone around me.

This now sounds so depressing and really my holiday was fine. It was just a little empty. My grandmother was the glue that held together my family. My husband and I always speculated that when she was gone, the family would have trouble staying together. And, that's what I am watching happen, I suppose.

But, the other thing it makes me think about is family roles. I am the oldest of all the kids of my mom and aunt. I have always fallen in the "helper" mode, there to assist the grown-ups with things. Perhaps this isn't so out-of-the-ordinary in families. And, perhaps also this is what is making me isolated from the other family members. So, you tell me:
What role do you play in your family gatherings and have you felt this disconnect at your own dinner table over the years?


Blogger Carmi said...

My wife helps the most - she's just a good soul that way. I do my best, but I'm a bain-addled guy. So I need a lot of guidance from my wife.

Everyone else does squat. My mother can't cook. My father waits for everyone to serve him, then doesn't lift a finger to clean up. My sister disappears when it's time to clean up. My brother often doesn't bother to show.

The family that matters - my wife and children - are wonderful to be with. Everyone else....not so much.

10:55 PM, November 27, 2005  
Blogger Blond Girl said...

I figured out a long time ago that I can either let people do what they do and then not get mad at it becuase that is just who they are or, I could speak up and ask them to help. Then, if they refused, I had every right to be miffed and if they surprised me and helped, I got to be pleasently surprised.

It doesn't always work, of course. Sometimes I chicken out just to keep the peace, but mostly I will speak up as politely as possible.

But then again, I pretty much plan on doing everything myself. Then when someone does help, again I get the pleasant surprise.

I think it all boils down to being clear with my expectations; If I don't let someone know what I expect from them, then I have no right to be mad if they don't meet my expections. By the same token, they have no right getting mad at me if I don't do what they wanted me to do.

sound confusing? Maybe so. Families are complex, arn't they?

Michele sent me.

11:07 PM, November 27, 2005  
Blogger OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I apologize..Michele sent me and then I got interupted..and just came back to the computer forty minutes later...I want to read this post again, because it really spoke to is soooo damn complicated sometimes...and I thought it very touching that you now sense that since your Grandmother is gone, things will be very different...I'm not sure I can share, as yet, my own family dynamics as I'm still trying to sort them out...but I really resonate to so much of what you say...though your position in your family is quite different than mine because I am the youngest of my four siblings....and that position has it's own stuff that goes with it just as your 'oldest' has it's things....but what you wrote in this post has given me much food for thought...and perhaps if I do get it sorted out..I'll be able to write about it, too....I'll be back, for sure, to read this again,and to read a lot of your other posts, too! Thank You for such honest and open

12:49 AM, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous mar said...

Family affairs are very complicated. I am the observer from far away since I have been living abroad for over 20 years and with an ocean in between, so we do not get to see each other very often and I am happy happy when I visit or when my immediate family visits. Then I get to hear ALL the family issues and I am glad I am not there all the time...

Visiting from Michele's this morning four days before a family visit! I will be back after my trip to read more.

1:03 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Connie and Rob said...

I am the Yongest in the family. For years I was always the one every person called without making a move. Taking care of people ca be a wonderful life. The hosptital was just a few moments away from me at all times/Just a five minute drive. It is very hard to lose yourself to the demands of everyone so please try and take good care of yourself also.

3:21 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Connie and Rob said...

Okay I am just gonna quit typing at 3:21am in the morning...Sorry.

I am the youngest in my family. I used to be in charge of all the planning of all the holidays. It just got overwhelming! Finally I have asked for help. Amazingly I am much more calm. It meant giving up and not worrying if everything was done to perfection.

Hang in there. Take it slow and try the same. You will be happier.

8:02 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Tyra said...

After my mother died there was a disconnection with my sister. Mom held us together.

I am the baby but because my sister is 12yrs older than me I've always felt like more like an only child. She moved out when I was very young.

Now for years we would get together at my mom's where I would help clean up. Then we started doing things at my house where I would have to do all the work. My sister would go lay down on the sofa and sleep.

So, now when she has stuff at her house, I sit on my butt and talk to everyone. I feel it's a fair trade, lol.

But really, it's sad when you come in contact with certain family that could care less about your life. It's all about them.

8:07 AM, November 28, 2005  
Anonymous Theresa said...

Oh honey, I could write an entire blog post on this myself. When my grandma died, the family did fall apart. Not only was she the glue, but she was the only reason most of my family members even tolerated each other. Gone were the big family celebrations on the holidays, and the regular get-togethers. Gone were the smiling faces and tolerance.

Initially I was unhappy about it all, but I guess I figured out that none of it was real anyways, so I wasn't missing anything. Those of us who remained close simply made our own traditions. Besides, as we get older, and have our own families, I think it's natural that we stray away from our extended families.

It's sad when it happens.

As for not getting any help...was my sister-in-law there? Because she wouldn't wash a pan or clean up after her sons if her life depended on it!

9:09 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger DebbieDoesLife said...

Uh oh, one of my sister in laws probably has a blog out there bitching about me and how little work I did this past Thanksgiving!! Seriously, I usually leave a family gathering saying Thank God I live 400 miles away. Distance really does make the heart grow fonder!

9:43 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Thanks for the good advice, Blonde Girl and Connie. That's really something to think about. And, Theresa, I really think what happened with your family is what is going on with mine. It just makes me really sad.

But, you are right, the smiling faces were all really forced and all done for my Grandmother's benefit. I'd rather have a really happy/loving Xmas with just my immediate family than a forced one with people who don't care or have spiteful thoughts about me for some stupid reason.

We really just need to make the break and stop doing these holidays, but my mom and her sister are the ones that need to make that call, and not us. I think things will be much better when they do.

10:13 AM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger srp said...

Thanksgiving, Christmas, holidays in general always evolve. We keep some traditions and discard others as the situation changes.

When I was little we always had Christmas at my grandmother's. When I married we had to do both his and mine. Since one was in Texas and the other in Virginia, this was sometimes difficult. For several years work did not allow us to come to Virginia. By the time we tried to start the tradition grandfather had died, my grandmother had Alzheimer's and lived with my parents, my brother was off doing a Broadway show and the marriage was shaky. Later, the Christmas tradition switched to my home, after grandmother died. Now, we are back together but with wildly different traditions than I had.

Traditions are great as long as everyone, including YOU can thoroughly enjoy them. When it becomes more irritating than joyful, it's time to change and make some new, personal ones. Sometimes the new ones are even better than the old. I know our new (well not exactly new now, 15 years or so) tradition of having Potica bread on Christmas morning before doing presents, is one of my favorite.

12:09 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Masked Mom said...

My mother was from a very large family--there were eleven kids--and holidays were always something of a nightmare. I developed a theory that there was just too much personality all under one roof. Since my mother passed away eleven years ago, I have not been back to her family's celebrations because I really came to see that the toxicity outweighed the good and when it came to my own kids, I wanted to be sure they weren't exposed to it the way I had been as a kid. (There were favorites and I was never one. I couldn't imagine my children being treated any better.)

As for my sisters, brother, father, and myself, we have a very relaxed pattern for holidays and everyone goes out of their way to do their share and then some. I'm very blessed in that department.

4:37 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Vanessa said...

Families. GEEZ. I hosted Thanksgiving at my house this year. Everyone brought food, so the cooking was not left up to just me. HOWEVER, no one, except ONE aunt, offered to help with the dishes afterward. I didn't get them all washed until Saturday. I resented that.

6:31 PM, November 28, 2005  
Blogger Dipu said...

Little late to reading the entry, but my role is to help vacuum before anyone arrives, stand in the kitchen and help out as needed (to avoid having to socialize with people I don't feel close to), eat, sit there digesting for a while looking from one unintelligble conversation to another, answer the few questions tossed my way in English, then retreat to my old room until people start leaving.

8:14 PM, December 01, 2005  

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