Tuesday, December 18, 2012

on family and friends...

I went out the other night with a small group of ex coworkers from my old job. Many of them have since left as the agency is in  a big ugly downward spiral and is topped with an abusive and conniving CEO. But I digress. Things got really bad in that workplace after I left to have my mini breakdown before Isobel came into the world and  the others in the group got closer because of banding together to cower before a common enemy and in many cases to bolster each other in the face of Really Bad Things Happening.  So they share a special bond that I am not really part of but I think they still value me and appreciate my friendship. This was to be our Christmas get together and love fest complete with Yankee swap ( which I learned is Not a white elephant!)

(This isn't a post about the horrible murders in Connecticut, just in case you thought I was going there, but I am thinking of them and holding those poor parents and their children in my heart.)

Originally there was going to be about 10 of us, but on the day of we got an email from one woman saying that she couldn't come because some random relative of her husbands was coming into town and she had to hang out with them. I don't remember the details, and I can't find the email, but I was like - oh, okay. And then another woman sent a message via the group ringleader that she couldn't come because she had some family event that she had forgotten, or had got rearranged, or something and she had to go to that. And she sent us lots of love - as did the first one. Another one couldn't come because she had had such a soul destroying day at the above workplace and just needed to be home - and had then heard about the Connecticut killings and that had finished her off for the day. So three out of an original 9 plus two others that couldn't come from the beginning.

And I stopped and thought, what is it about family that makes people leave their friends high and dry? I mean, I am rarely one of those people who cancel because I have something better to do with my family. Because I have hardly any family here. I have my sister. My nieces. And some ex in laws that I love dearly but are not part of the fabric of my everyday life. And Susan and Isobel. My brother and his partner and son are  in England and they have sworn off air travel so they have never visited us here. We visit them approximately once every couple of years. This year and next year are going to be off years. My parents are dead. Susan's mom lives in a nursing home in Kansas City and her sister lives in that city too. We don't have lots of people to do stuff with on holidays -whether that's Labor Day or Christmas Day. And people invariably gravitate towards their family, fucked up or not, on the holidays. We are spending Christmas Day with my sister and part of it with her kids and then traveling to see Susan's mom and sister in Kansas City the next day. So yes, we are like everyone else. We have a nice church "family" but they all go off and do their various family things too. One Thanksgiving a friend from church invited us to her non family Thanksgiving and we went, which really upset my sister. She couldn't understand why we didn't want to be with her. We just wanted  a change. Apparently it doesn't work like that. So that was our act of anti family rebellion which didn't go down so well.

But what makes members of a tight knit of group of survivors break off and not come to a party because Uncle Mike or someone is in town? I just don't get it. At all. Because sending your regrets and love is just not like sending yourself in person. Maybe I am bitter that I don't have those kinds of endless family occasions. And I don't ditch my friends. Just to be clear, we  don't all get together very often. It was our Christmas get together. We don't see each other much in our everyday lives if at all. Unlike family who see each other a lot, especially in the holidays. I realize I am really skirting around this issue and I wish I could just get it out.  I just don't understand it. What do people who have no family do or think of this? Our church usually organizes  a Christmas Day meal and service for those left behind with no family ( or friends I suppose).  It is akin to one of those cringily named orphans or waifs and strays affairs ( I know - it's a nice invitation to get!) No one can host it this year. No body wants to. None of the waifs and strays have the space, the time or the energy to do it. What will become of them when everyone is busy celebrating with Drunk Uncle Mike? I know I speak of this from the privileged point of view of one who has a spouse and a child and even some living relatives. I am not going to be left in the cold. Or uninvited. But I do really feel the dearth of Other People in our lives.

Sometimes I  just feel lonesome. It is a part of my personality and has not changed with having Isobel. Susan, Isobel and I are a very tight, close knit threesome. We like that. But we go to the zoo and  I see families with uncles, aunts, family friends, tagging along.  Groups of people. And that is rarely rarely us. We don't really have a gang that we hang with. Our baby mama friends are often busy with friends and relatives popping in to visit or on their way through town. We have friends that we see on occasions that we plan. Like a dinner now and then. We have no do drop in friends.  ( Do people do that any more? It was one of my favorite things about my life as a student in Wales). Our core people are the ones I mentioned earlier and they are busy busy busy.

When we envisioned having a family I had this fantasy that people would come out of the woodwork and would want to be around us more because of Isobel. In some ways that was true - everyone wanted to meet her and visit with us when she was small. And people are still enchanted with her when they see her. She is pretty darn cute. But people in the deep fabric of our lives. We don't have them. We see people at church on Sunday. We have lots of acquaintances. I have a nice group of old work friends from my last two jobs. We make arrangements to see people when we can - which is always based on the level of overwhelm and is often sporadaic. Susan goes to meetings related to church and her chosen career as a would be and almost ready to be ordained minister. That's not exactly fun although is is fulfilling. At work I am glad to have a team which I supervise that I can actually confide in to some degree ( might bite me in the ass at some point, but it's all I have got for now to keep me going as peer relationships are either hindered by too much work and no time, or in the case of my closest peers,  too much time wasting and not much work).

One of our most precious family connections is our friend M who is my mum's friend from high school who has kept in touch all these years. She and my mum were both married on the same day ( to different men) which meant they couldn't attend each others' weddings. To me that is sad because it again  puts "family" of the wedding ring type ahead of "family" of the friend type. She talks about women in those days being a lot more clueless and less worldly wise. I get the feeling that neither of them really had much of a clue about the trajectory of their lives on their young and innocent wedding days and at least one of them was getting married to an idea  more than anything else.My mother practically worshiped M her whole life and saw her as an adventuresome woman whose life took interesting turns and who was not as wrapped up in domesticity as she was. In her turn, M admired my mom's ( reluctant) domesticity, her  nice husband and kids and being caught up in  and dedicated to their exploits (which were less adventurous and closer to home).

M lives in Canada near Toronto and has for the last 40 or so years. Since we have been living in Chicago, she has begun to visit my sister and me over the years and now she is probably as close to or closer to us as she was to my mum. She normally comes to visit at least once  a year - usually in November and came twice in Isobel's early life and was a wonderful helpful calming presence. We went to visit her this summer and had a lovely relaxing time ( apart from the rather nightmarish overnight train trip). And she was supposed to visit this fall but her health has not been good and it's hard for her to travel and also to get travel health insurance - as she is in her mid seventies and has some chronic health conditions. It seems that so many things conspire against us getting together. I forgot to say one of the most important things about M. She is Isobel's grandma. We offered her that title when Isobel was very small - or maybe even before she was born. My mom was alive only for the first month of Isobel's life and it felt right to have M be one of Isobel's grandmas. So we miss M. We talk on the phone and email. She is lovely. We have found each other in a very sweet way and I wish we were closer in real life.

I seem to be doomed to have mother type figures in my life who do not stay. That is a story for another post. But I think it is this missing of a mother figure that really has done me in for a lot of my life - either because my mother was missing metaphorically or because I picked people to fill in that role who were ill equiped or unaware that they had been chosen for this role. And that is really getting to the nitty gritty.

Hmmmm.... I know this is rather wobbly, but I do want to get it out there. What do you all think of this family / friends hierarchy? Are you disappointed too? Do tell!


Journey Girl said...

A thought provoking post. I am one of the 'other' people I guess. I have 3 siblings and JourneyMan has 3 siblings and all of us live in the same city / suburbs of Melbourne. I have heaps of family things to go to and I love my family fiercely and love having them in my life. My Dad's death has left a big hole that is nowhere close to healing. I have one amazing friend that I also consider family, we have been friends since we were in grade 2, she probably knows me better than anyone else. I have quite a lot of friends (though I had a lot more before we did IVF) but I don't agree with cancelling things with friends for family. I think that if you commit to something, you do your best to be there (though this did not happen on the weekend when we were supposed to go to a friend's daughters first birthday party and JBB had the moo cow whinges big time and slept through the whole time of the party - I felt terrible and have apologised profusely to my friend). I definitely cancelled a lot of things when I was going through cycles though but that was both with friends and family in equal measure - sometimes I just couldn't face people. I guess I haven't really answered properly but I do want to wish you and your lovely family a happy and save Christmas and New Year!!

It Is What It Is said...

I am the opposite person. As someone who grew up not particularly close to my parents (although a strong sense of obligation was beaten into me), I always chose my friends over family. And, now, especially as an adult, I cherish my chosen family over my relatives (and, as you may know, am estranged from my parents/sister).

One thing I was just thinking about this morning is the programming that goes into people's belief that they automatically "love" the members of their family. As if it is pre-ordained that just because someone is a relative, no matter how badly they treat you, how non-existent your relationship/connection with or to them may be, folks always preface statements with things like, "Don't get me wrong, I love my sister, but..." and then go on to speak their truth. I know what love is and feels like and can categorically say that I don't feel love for certain members of my family. I know it isn't socially acceptable to say, but it is true non-the-less.

I don't understand relationships that hinge on obligation and guilt. I just don't.

Illanare said...

I have a close-knit and enormous family and I'm (well, we all are) expected to prioritise family over friends. Breaking commitments already made isn't expected but for things like birthdays and Christmas we all have to check with family first. I think this has a lot to do with my background, though. In Sri Lankan culture family comes first, no question.
I guess I also have the additional pressure of being a single non-parent - I'm generally the one called upon to pick up the slack that my cousins (who are spouses and / or parents) get to drop!

Eb said...

I guess we reinvented family out of biological or geographic. We had to. DH has no living relatives and ours are miles away (in so many ways).

But lonely is lonely. I'm sorry you felt lonely.