The gang is back in town. Two of my three siblings live here in LA, so we get to see a good bit of each other and help out with kids, holidays, etc. My mom also lives here, so I’m used the the dynamics between us all, interesting to watch, experience, and sometimes learn from.
But one of my sisters stayed back east. She lives in Charleston, SC, a city with history and charm which I love to visit, so that’s good, but when we all get together, with kids, old patterns jump up and if you’re not careful they bite, leaving a welt that frankly itches.
Now that we are all past mid-forty, there’s a lot more consciousness than there was when we were kids or young adults. It is fascinating to me how four kids raised by the same parents in basically the same environment can all be so different. It’s the same in pretty much every family, and now I get a chance to see that same dynamic unfolding in our children.
We each have two kids, totaling four boys and four girls, ranging in age from 21 to 5. it’s almost impossible to get them all together at the same time, especially with one at college, but we almost managed it. The cousins all adore each other, every one is unique and very special in their own way. The IQ’s, the height, and the humor runs into the ninetieth percentile, so it’s entertaining to say the least.
Like when my golden haired nephew, who is 11 walked into my kitchen and said with his cherubic little mouth, “Kennedy jacked our Maserati and threw it in the pool,” it took me a minute to figure out he meant the scooter, which she confiscated and did in fact submerge, because he had refused to pay the toll she was demanding, (cracking his knuckles).
I have girls, so having young boys around is very cool for me. I don’t think I’ve heard the word ‘butt,’ (from the five year old Cayden) or the words ‘penis’ and ‘boner’ (from the 11 year old,) as many times in my life put together as I have in the last few days. We’ve had tears, and tickling, and the scrape or two, but overall, it’s a big pile of fun.
And yet, old habits die hard. Almost anyone woman will tell you that no one pushes her buttons like her mother. I’ve had a good look at that in two generations this week. My mom, who is one terrific lady, is the source of our ADA trickle down tendencies. From her to me, from me to my oldest daughter. Attention deficit can lead to narcissistic behavior, not out of selfishness, but stemming from the inability to stay focused on a group. My mom can change subjects so many times in a conversation that we often end up saying, “What is she talking about?” My mom is super smart, and she knows for sure, it’s just us that get left in the verbal dust.
Here’s an example. “So remember the Wilsons who lived down the street on Knob Hill? You were friends with the daughter, Terri, and Dwayne was in school with John, and they had that cute dog, Spunk. Well, she started drinking, and he got a job out of state, and then when she graduated from college, she married this guy from France, and they lived in Paris for two years, and her brother couldn’t have kids and the daughter had some mental issues, then the brother sold his house and moved to the old house, and…”
At which point I stop her and ask her to clarify what she is talking about.
My mom’s response is dismissive. “Well, anyway…” she says, waving an impatient hand at my thick head, “he died.”
Leaving us looking at each other saying, “Who died? The dad? The husband? The dog?” It’s a bit tough to follow, but we can generally keep abreast.
What amuses me now is how old things, like my mom needing to do things her way sometimes, in spite of the obvious fact that nobody else wants to do it that way, still frustrates and annoys us. You think we would know better. She’s 79, and exhausts us all with her energy and interests, and you’d think we’d focus on that now. She doesn’t do it much at all with just me, but something about the whole family dynamic being reactivated brings it back in her. You’d think we’d get that and let it go, but no, every once in a while our inner five year old jumps on our head and kidney punches us, and we’re taken off guard. We are all leaving the zoo and two people need to ride in her car, but she ‘has to stop by home and pick up some tomatoes.’ “It’s right up the street,” she insists. It isn’t right up the street and the kids are exhausted and just want to go home, and nobody needs tomatoes, but she will not relent. I’m driving, so I can’t volunteer. My sister does, with rolling eyes and head shaking, but the kids are all refusing. Finally my sister nominates her daughter, who mutters and bitches, but goes. It’s like a comedy rerun. How many times in our lives have we let our mom upset us over such a small thing. How many times has she done small things to upset us? Why don’t we learn to take a breath and just go with it? Later, I watch my sister dealing with her own spirited seventeen year old daughter, and I can only think of all the trouble she got herself into and the word, “Payback” leaps to mind.
My siblings think I’m too easy on my kids, they are all three more conservative than I, but when I think to back to my teen years, out of the house at sixteen, married at eighteen, off to New York and drug abuse by nineteen, well, let’s say I’d be a hypocrite if I expected my daughters to dress in pressed khakis and refuse a beer after prom.
I’m blessed to have so many loving, healthy family members. We’ve been through some changes, that’s for sure, we’ve grown, regressed, noticed that the world is bigger than we once knew, that there are other opinions besides our own. Between the four siblings, we’ve had eight marriages. (Only the sister back east stuck with one, and I hold the record with three). We judge each other, have strong opinions, rush to support during tough times, drift away, and return to hug and laugh. The flotsam and jetsam off our lives is ever moving, ebbing and flowing, and I have sailed but half that sea. I’m hoping for many more adventures, discoveries, and growth. But who knows? Maybe we’ll get pissed off over politics and fire the cannons.
In the meantime, I’ll whip up some dip, grab a bottle of bubbly and head out for another family dinner.
I’d ask you to join us, but we all talk at the same time, and we’re the only ones who can understand us.
Ain’t it always the way.
Hug your family.
Shari, June 18th, 2015.