“I find the family the most mysterious and fascinating institution in the world.”
– Amos Oz
My family tree is a little lop-sided.
Okay, I guess I should explain what I mean by that.
I come from two completely opposite families. On one side – my mother’s side – you have the big, boisterous family. My mom is one of 9 biological brothers and sisters and then, later in life, added so many step-siblings to that total that I’ve lost count. And then she herself ended up having five children, of which I’m the oldest, so you can imagine that there weren’t many moments of quiet and solitude in my life while growing up. When I think of that side of the family – the siblings, the cousins, the aunts, the uncles, etc. – I think of laughter and loudness. Of drama and emotion. Of lots and lots of outspoken love and endless support. Variety. Open-mindedness. Freedom.
And then. Well, then there’s my father’s side.
My father is an only child. His mother, my grandmother, is also an only child. There are no aunts. No uncles. No cousins. It’s always been…well, just us. And when I think of that side of the family, the thoughts that pop into my mind couldn’t be more different than when I think of the other. No, with this side, I think of calm. Of quiet. Of dotting your i’s and crossing your t’s. Of keeping emotion and drama locked up tight and making sure you don’t stand out. Blending. Conforming. Behaving.
Now, I understand that I have just painted this side in a more negative light, but I really don’t mean to do that. There are pros and cons of both sides. For instance, on my mom’s side, it’s a little easy to get lost in the crowd. No one notices everything you do because they have their eyes on so many others. There will be weeks, months even, without phone calls. (But that’s okay, because we all know we’ll pick right back up where we left off whenever we do cross paths again.)
But on my dad’s side? No, there is no getting lost in the crowd. You are always thought of. Missed. Examined under a microscope. Expected to pick up the phone and make contact in regular intervals. You are definitely remembered, never forgotten about, and constantly noticed.
Well, as you can imagine, being someone that comes from such different ends of the spectrum has managed to play with my head a little. The other day, at the insistence of a bored friend, I took an unofficial online personality test. As I went through the test answering questions about such things as my preference of being alone or in a crowd, and where I stand when I walk into a crowded room (middle or edge?), I noticed that some of my answers were contradicting each other. And that seemed odd to me. Do I like crowds or don’t I? Do I like being the center of attention or don’t I? Taking this test made me think of another odd inconsistency I’ve noticed in my life. Any time I’m headed to a large get-together, I dread it and think I’d rather be doing anything else – and then, I get there, and I have a blast. What the heck is up with that?!
Now that I think about it, I can’t help but realize that these inconsistencies in my personality most likely stem from the two opposing influences I had growing up. Yeah, yeah, I know – everybody blames everything on their parents [cue the mental image of me lying on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office telling him all about my crazy childhood…]. But seriously, in this case, I think I’m probably on to something. We are influenced by our family, whether we like it or not.
Which brings me to the real reason I’m writing this blog.
Some of you may have seen the post I wrote about my Grandma a few blogs ago. Thinking that I had done a good thing by writing it, I sent her a copy. Now, think back to what I just told you about my two families. This Grandma? Well, this is the grandma from my father’s side of the family. The ‘keep what you think to yourself’ side. The ‘don’t go airing our business for all the world to see’ side. The ‘can’t you keep your mouth shut for once?’ side. And, well, as you can probably guess, Grandma was none too happy with what I wrote about her.
Now, I knew this was a possibility. I did. I haven’t been completely blind for the last 35 years. But I thought that since I was telling about this wonderful thing that she was doing, I hoped that maybe she could see that and realize that others reading her story might actually do some good in the world. And honestly, I thought that it showed how proud I am of her. Being that we’re the ‘shhhh…don’t talk about important stuff’ family, I thought this would be a way to show her that I think she’s pretty darn cool. But, alas. Nope. That’s not how she saw it apparently. She thinks I made her look “mean” and that I shouldn’t be talking about private things in such a public way.
Now, I could pretend that it didn’t bother me. And I did. For a while. But as soon as I hung up the phone, the pretending stopped. The part of me that is like the other side of the family started to peek through, and immediately the tears started falling. My boyfriend Richard had overheard the whole thing and immediately came and wrapped me in his big ‘everything’s gonna be okay’ arms and told me how proud he was of me for writing it. Of course, I was upset and told him that I felt like ‘never writing again,’ etc. etc. So he suggested an alternative. Rather than not writing, maybe I should just go write another blog, only this time write it just for myself. Go back to the private blog world for a bit and write the things that I really feel. Just vent, get it over with, and then delete it and move on. No missyspublicjunk this time. Just write some private junk all for myself and get all that crap out on paper. (Heh…little did he know, he suggested the very thing that I already do about him all the time! Shhhh.) So, thinking that was some pretty good advice, I headed to the computer to do just that.
And here I am.
I struggled in my brain with not posting this publicly, but suddenly it occurred to me that I was fighting those opposing forces in my head. Yes, I could write this privately and make that side of the family (i.e. that side of my personality) happy, or I could stay true to the real me and just go ahead and post it. And if there’s something I’m learning as I get older, it’s to do that “staying true to the real me” thing a heck of a lot more often than I used to. And, so far, it’s made for a much happier me in the process. So, I think I’m going to stick to it.
But, oddly, a funny thing happened as I started writing. The anger and bitterness that I thought I felt towards my Grandma suddenly started giving way to something else. Rather than concentrating on the fact that she was upset, I concentrated on the why part. She said that she thought I made her look ‘mean.’ Mean? Really? I went back and reread my blog and I didn’t see that at all. What I see is not ‘mean.’ What I see is ‘strength.’ At first I thought maybe my writing didn’t convey what I had intended. But as I read, and reread, I realized that it does. It doesn’t make her look mean, it makes her look strong.
And suddenly, a light bulb went off in my head. Maybe ‘strong,’ in her mind, equates to ‘mean’? My grandmother grew up in a very different time than I did. She grew up in a time where women were to play their appointed ‘roles’ and nothing more. She was a wife. A mother. A cook. A housekeeper. A caregiver. She played the role of her time perfectly. She was subservient to her husband. She never got a drivers license (even though she worked for years) because it was not a woman’s place to drive. She kept her opinions to herself if they didn’t match the man’s opinion, because it wasn’t her place to speak up. She was a woman.
Well, this woman is now a widow. She now has no man to take care of her and is forced to do things on her own. And now, more than ever, I see her spunk shining through. She is the woman who has to kill snakes when they get too close to the house (see previous blog). She is the woman who has to fix the plumbing problems when they pop up. She is the woman who has to be ready, no matter the circumstances, to fend for herself. She is alone. And in this loneliness, whether she likes it or not, a strength has developed. She is tougher. And that strength, that toughness, is what I was trying to convey in my blog. And, as evidenced by her discomfort with it, I think I must have succeeded.
So am I sorry I wrote it? No. Not one bit. I meant every word of it. And will I continue writing what’s on my mind? You bet I will. Of course there are some things that will still remain private (I’m not an idiot), but the things like this – this blog that has been stirring inside my mind for the past 24 hours begging to get out – these words will be posted. They just have to be. I’m a writer. I have no choice but to get it out.
I have no choice but to be true to me.
Why? Because I’m strong. Just like my grandmother.
(Oh, and P.S. – you can bet your patooty that I won’t be sending this one to her. Rebel? Maybe. But death wish? Nope.)
“If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.”
– George Bernard Shaw
BRILLIANT!! You figured it out!!! Took me a while to figure out the same thing! The women in my family are strong, they are the glue that keeps this dysFUNction bound together. And YES they view this strength as aggression, not assertion. The women in my lineage have always bucked the traditional system. Those in my tree may possibly be mortified by me knowing what I know about them. I am thrilled to know I come from these women and their courage!
I’m glad someone else ‘gets it’!