Inherited Family Baggage
Sometimes, I catch myself in an inherited emotional conflict. The biggest one is the Lack of Contact with Specific Relatives conflict.
My parents both came from moderate to largish sized families, depending on who you ask. I mean, my dad’s dad had something like 13 kids in the family. Dad’s immediate family consisted of 4 boys, 2 adopted girls, and a small quantity of foster kids (of which I only ever met one). Mom’s family was split between extremely tiny (her mom was an only child with many maiden aunts) and average to large for the time (I think there were 4 kids on my grandfather’s family, but he somehow got “disowned”, although even that is up for debate). Mom’s own immediate family consisted of 4 girls.
My immediate family consists of 4 girls (and a half-sister we knew existed but who had been withdrawn by her mother so we weren’t allowed to meet her until I was well into my 20s and she in her 30s).
We did the usual kid things. We’d write grandparents cards for birthdays, and thank you cards for gifts/money we might get at holidays or our birthdays, but rarely saw them. I have specific memories of certain relatives, and gaping memory-holes of others. (I apparently drove across several states with my youngest aunt on my mom’s side and thoroughly grossed her out by shoving half-eaten carrots in my mom’s mouth. I was definitely either a baby or a toddler. I have no memory of this or being a dress-up baby for my adopted aunts that are barely a decade older than me. I have previously mentioned how I met my grandfather at about age 3 and remember it very specifically.)
We didn’t live near any of our relatives. They all lived at least 2 or more states away, and we lived in Texas (albeit the top northeast corner of Texas, only a couple of hours from 3 neighboring states). And most of our relatives didn’t drive through Texas really, although some would occasionally fly through. In any case, sometimes, mom and dad would make an effort and we’d go see his side of the family, usually in Ohio or Kentucky. For a time, Kentucky was easier. It was infinitesimally closer, and my grandmother and grandfather both lived there. Even after they divorced, they were near enough to each other. I remember one Christmas trip where probably, the road conditions were very scary. We pulled over at a truck stop (one of the sorts with all-night diners that have amazing smelling coffee and pie) so that daddy could chat up the truck drivers for news on the roads. Another trip, when I was older (probably in high school), we went to Ohio. That was a very big reunion, but mostly I remember it as an excuse to celebrate my grandmother’s birthday – July 5th.
The bit where it’s an inherited emotional conflict is – that side of the family didn’t reciprocate visits, really. One of the uncles would. He adored my dad and genuinely loved my mom, and if he was traveling through Texas for any reason, he’d manage to stop for at least one or two nights and visit. Dad’s family didn’t write, in general, and they rarely called. It hurt mom a lot. When I’m being logical about it, and remember that in reality, I’m not sure I care as it doesn’t affect me on a daily basis, I suspect they just assumed we knew that we were invited. We’re family. Of course we must know that there are reunions, and we should come!
Mom’s position was that we couldn’t always afford to travel. And that dad was often working. And that it would be nice if, on occasion, they came to see us. Especially if they were in state. Once, they found out later than an uncle and his family had been just an hour or two away, and hadn’t told us until long after the fact. Dad was terribly hurt, and for mom it was the last straw – she said. Mostly, it just made her angry and bitter and judgmental of their choices.
The odd thing is, she didn’t really get that way about her own sisters. Perhaps it was because one pretty much stayed in her home state with their kids. And another was often too busy working to keep her kids fed/clothed. And the third, well, the third DID visit, when she drove through occasionally. We had a family reunion with them too, which mom enjoyed (and surprised herself doing so, because it was camping of a sort, and mom hated the outdoors).
I don’t really know why it affected her so much. The few times I tried to gently ask she would just get so upset about how much they hurt my dad with their choices that I’d often drop the subject. But I catch myself being angry with them on her behalf, when I see them post things that I know would bother her. Most times, I can shake my head and sort of shiver off the feelings. But sometimes I’m so tired, and I wish the people could see how casual thoughtless things said can hurt and exclude. It’s hard not to accept the baggage as my own, in those moments.