Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A letter that will never be sent

Dear family members,

It has come to my attention that you wonder why my family and I no longer attend family get-togethers. I am sure you really know the answer, but refuse to be introspective enough to recognize it.

For many years, I struggled to be accepted and loved by you as a group. I spent every holiday trying to pretend that your words and actions didn't hurt me. I tried to be understanding when I got in more trouble than my cousin (your daughter/niece), Jane, even when we were both naughty and when it was her idea in the first place. I tried to not care when my feelings and likes were ignored.

I left every family event feeling depressed, angry, irritated, ugly, unloved, unlovable, socially unacceptable and just "wrong".

As I got older and a little stronger emotionally, I tried to assert my own self-worth. I then found out that my christian beliefs were the wrong brand of christian beliefs (apparently Christ didn't mean that whole "turn the other cheek" bit or the "blessed are the peacemakers" bit). Every event was a celebration of what was wrong with me - I was too skinny, too tall, too many freckles, too much gray hair, too big when pregnant, starting to get fat (when I weighed 135 lbs at 5'8"), I went to the wrong school, the wrong church, had the wrong job. I was used to it, I was even willing to put up with it.

Christmas of 1997, Mr. Gaia and I arrived at 4:40 for a 4:30 event (we did drive an hour and a half to a large, unfamiliar city and to a house we'd only been to once) and found that all the gifts were opened, all the wrapping paper cleaned up and people eating seconds of christmas dinner. I didn't make a scene. I did ask why you started before the scheduled time and was told I was "too sensitive" and "the kids couldn't wait, besides you were late!", when I pointed out that that didn't all happen in 10 minutes, I was told I was being argumentative. I didn't point out that for years we had waited over an hour past the start time for John and Jane to get there. I heard the message loud and clear - I was not as valuable as John and Jane.

Christmas of 2004 everyone in the family knew I was moving 2 days after christmas. Moving 750 miles away (and many times I think it wasn't far enough). I made no secret of it. When did you decide to schedule family christmas? The Saturday after christmas. The reason you gave was so full of holes a 2nd grader could have picked them apart. "Aunt Marcia has to work and that's the only Saturday she has off". Aunt Marcia works for a christian bookstore. She doesn't work Sundays, nor does she work all day on Saturday - we've often had family christmas starting at 6pm. I heard the message loud and clear - you didn't want me and my family to attend.

At this point, I stay away because I won't sit idly by while you "tease" other family members (always the young, the girls, and the "weak"). I understand that you would not be able to handle an "uppity woman" and that my standing up to you might make you violent (oh yes, I've seen the violence lurking just under the surface, I know it's there). I will not expose my children to your bullying.

I know much has been made of the special effort we make to see Mr. Gaia's family and that it "hurts" you. I make a special effort to attend events with them because they make me feel smart, attractive, loved and lovable, and just "right". Being around them is uplifting and wonderful.

You've conditioned me to apologize for saying these things. But I'm not sorry. You know in your heart that these things are true. I can't change you, but I can decide to not be around you.


Tanya Brown said...

It sounds like we've had some similar experiences. You'd think it would be such a simple, fundamental thing, to be loved and accepted by one's family and treated with politeness, yet apparently it isn't.

Good luck to you as you go on this journey of identifying the truth (i.e. "they say one thing but do another") and remaking your life. I hope it will go with a minimum of pain, and I hope there will be joy as you acquire new de facto family members who appreciate you just the way you are.

Your mileage may vary, of course, but one book I found interesting was Po Bronson's "Why Do I Love These People?: Understanding, Surviving, and Creating Your Own Family". It's full of tales of people managing to lead satisfying lives despite having dysfunctional families.

Gaia said...

Thanks for the book recommendation, I'll have to look for it.

I've found it incredibly healing to be around Mr. Gaia's family. They are so accepting.

Once, I had to go back into the house for something and they didn't know I was there. I heard his aunt saying "I'm so glad he found Gaia". Who says you never overhear anything good about yourself?

Now if it had been my family, I would have walked back in to hear something like "can you believe how she has let herself go?".

cara said...

I am having a get-together with my family tomorrow, and it really helped to read this letter. Hopefully it will help me to be more positive about the situation. Usually I dont attend family get-togethers, but I couldnt manage to wriggle my way out of this one. I may be back tomorrow with another comment after the outing.

Jules said...

Wow-I'm so sorry you have been treated like this. I came over here to read your blog after your comment on mine. I checked out the knitting posts & then clicked on this one...how moving. It sort of hit home. I would go to family reunions & get teased ALLLL the time. "Do you carry an extra can of air around for Julie's head?" etc. People would get upset with ME, for being removed. I hated going & my mom didn't get it. I really admire you for being the best mother to your children & removing THEM from the situation that apparently, IS your family. I'm so glad you were blessed with wonderful in-laws who love & accept you. Their son must be quite a keeper. Congratulations for being the bigger person.