Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Trip That Caused The End

So, in the midst of caring for a very sick little boy, completing three difficult and time-consuming projects at work, and now, caring for a feverish little girl who had to be picked up from daycare three hours early today, I'm trying to pack for a 5-day ski trip and prepare the house for my Georgia relatives to fly over and take care of the kids while we're gone. I started typing a handy little info sheet for them last week and it turned in to an 8 page novel. Apparently, our life is rather complicated- at least from the outside, and I'm sure there's a million things about our house, pets, and children that I'm not writing down. Luckily my aunt and uncle successfully raised two children who are now in their late teens, so I'm sure they'll fill in any blanks, but it's still a lot of work to prepare your life to be handed off to two people who don't normally live it. Throw in the 60+ hours I'm probably going to bill this week, the two sick kids (who are GOING to be healthy before we leave, I can't think of anything else), the locating of the bin of ski stuff we haven't used in 6 years and which I hope is up in one of upstair's closets, my insomnia and the four hours of sleep I got last night, and things are just a little stressful. I've been excited about this trip for three months and I know it is going to be wonderful once we get there, it just seems to be surrounded by an undue amount of drama.

You see, this trip is what finally pushed our relationship with my in-laws over the edge. Or really, flung it off a sharp, steep cliff.

It all started with a text from my mom in December saying that my dad's coworker offered my family the use of his 2-bedroom condo at Keystone and wouldn't it be nice if JP and I could join them and my siblings on a trip over Spring Break, and hey, maybe the Smiths (my in-laws; not their real name) could babysit the kids? Up until that moment, I had accepted that even though skiing was our very favorite vacation in the whole world, we just weren't going to be able to go until JP got a job and we made some more headway on our student loans, and that was fine. But now it seemed possible again - a free place to stay, lift tickets from my parents for Christmas, and free babysitting from the Smiths -- we just needed to provide airfare and maybe we could do this! And, I so naively thought, wouldn't it be a great way for the Smiths to get to see Landon for the first time in nearly a year and finally meet Claire! They love Austin, they love Landon (and surely they would love Claire once they met her), they canceled their trips out here for Claire's baptism and Thanksgiving for no good reason- now they could spend time with their grandchildren without the tension of having JP and me around. It would be perfect. JP called, they agreed, we bought our plane tickets on Christmas Day.

Three days later (still in December), MIL left a message on our home phone saying "we just can't do it. Your grandmother has a doctor appointment tomorrow and your dad has one next week so sorry, we just can't come out in March."

What? JP immediately said she's making a power play, she's realized she gave in to easy and wants us to beg because now our trip, which we were so excited about, is hanging in the balance. I said no, she might do something like that with us, but surely she would never gamble with an opportunity to see her grandchildren. I volunteered to call her back, thinking things would go so much better if it was me rather than a pissed off JP on the phone. But oh, I was so wrong.

Things went bad quickly. When I said hello and politely inquired as to what had changed since they said they could come three days earlier, and did they know that we had already purchased our plane tickets and we were so excited about the trip, she lost it. She started yelling and crying and telling me I didn't love JP, or even like him, and I didn't respect him and she just couldn't stand for it any more. She said she remembered a comment I made about my mother 9 years ago (which I didn't make) that showed that I didn't love my mom or respect her either and my own children weren't going to respect me because I didn't deserve it. I was accused of using people, of doing anything I could to get ahead, of feeling superior because I went to the University of Chicago... it was insane. I was quite literally speechless and then I kept having the urge to laugh. If she'd said anything even remotely grounded in fact, I might have been hurt, but this was just so crazy that I couldn't even feel like it was personal. After a few failed attempts to interject and JP looking like he was about to hit something, I said something to the effect of, "I had no idea you felt that way about me and none of it is true or makes any sense, obviously we were wrong to think you would want to come spend a few days with your grandchildren, as long as you continue to behave in this irrational way, we have no choice but to protect ourselves and them from you." And I hung up. JP called them back (I suppose he felt he had a few things to say himself) and his dad, always the apologist and enabler, started saying things like "well, I don't think your mom said that" and "well, [LL] shouldn't have hung up." JP told his dad that we weren't kidding, that they had gone way too far with the emotional, irrational bullshit and the kids were now old enough to be affected. If his mom ever felt moved to apologize for what she said to me and actually admit fault (something she has never, ever done) and work on her reactions, things could change, but for now, he considers them entirely cut out of his life.

We haven't heard a word from them since.

I was surprised we didn't get a package for the kids on Valentine's Day. My MIL usually uses gift giving holidays as a way to erase anything she's said in the months prior to the holiday (her mother does the same thing; the things JP's grandmother said to him as a kid make me want to punch her, and I'm a very non-violent grandmother-loving kind of person), and if the gifts were only for the kids, it would have been a bit harder for JP and I to turn them away. But she didn't. My birthday was also ignored, though that was less surprising.

What does surprise me, even after all the other shit she's pulled in the nearly 10 years I've known her, is that she gambled with a chance to see the kids. Her grandchildren. Her granddaughter whom she's never even met (though really, they've never exhibited any interest in Claire, not even when I was pregnant, and sometime very soon that was going to become its own problem). As I said to JP that night, she has no idea the bridge she has burned. I have always been the one pushing for that relationship to exist, and I did it because whatever JP's many issues with his mom, they were good grandparents to Landon. When she pulled her little stunts (which were never anything of this magnitude), they only involved JP or me and we just ignored her until she got over whatever she was upset about and acted like nothing happened. But now? They've canceled two trips to see the kids because she felt offended over some invisible thing (and we held them to those cancellations, trying to teach her that she can't make threats just to add some drama to an ordinary phone call; it's like dealing with a terrorist 3-year-old), and this whole meltdown was just invented out of thin air. And this time, in an attempt to shift the power back to her hand (or whatever the hell she was doing), she was willing to risk the opportunity to see Landon for the first time in 10 months. In the words of JP: Fuck. That. We're done. It's a sad situation, and it makes me sad to think of it objectively, but I'm certain we're right. And for the first time ever after one of her episodes JP and I haven't really even talked about it. There's no analyzing what his parents are doing, wondering when they'll call, guessing how they'll try to start the conversation... it's just nothing. We're done. There's nothing we could have done to prevent her actions and there's nothing we could have done to fix them once she started. For once, I know we're blameless.

But it is sad. Our kids have two sets of living grandparents and they only know one. Landon was two the last time he saw the Smiths, at some point he's going to stop remembering them. I don't understand them; I don't understand her and I understand FIL even less. JP is an only child; his mother is an only child; his dad isn't close to his family -- we're all they've got. They're not on facebook or the internet, so they don't get any pictures or information about the kids without us sending it to them. I've never understood them, or how JP managed to be turn into the person he is when his mother was his example of loving behavior, but MIL has been increasingly irrational and erratic in her responses to things and I suppose it's actually better that things came to a head this early.

But they've never met our little Clairebear- don't even know that we call her Clairebear (or Biscuit!)- and don't know how amazing she is. Because of a separate blow-up that happened in July and resulted in no contact from them until December, they don't even know that Landon loves Claire like he does, or that he started preschool and loves it, or that Claire is a great sleeper and smiler and now crawls with fierce determination and increasing speed. They don't know that JP's original post-MBA employer ran aground so he's been looking for work since December. They don't know anything about us and I don't know how they justify or explain that.

But I know that we're happy and whole and we're doing the right thing. I know I'm comfortable with our actions and responses. And I guess we'll just see where it goes from here.

27 comments:

  1. How awful, I am so sorry. But good for you for sticking up for yourself and your family and good for JP for doing the same. You two have a lot to be proud of and do not deserve to be treated that way. Have a GREAT trip, on a happier note!

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  2. If I could hug you, I surely would. You are such an incredibly strong woman to withstand such an assault and still be able to see it for what it really is, a whole bunch of hot air. It is truly her (and your FIL's) loss, and what a loss it is. You and JP are raising two wonderful children, y'all are successful adults, and your life is good. If she can't celebrate that with you two...ugh. Go skiing, have fun, and know that your family has more than enough love to make up for the lack of it coming from the east coast.

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  3. Oh, hon. I know exactly what this feels like, because I go through it with my parents. (Only P doesn't have another set of grandparents; M's mother died before I met him.) It makes me mad and sad and crazy to think about. It's their loss, and your kids probably won't be aware of the loss, because your family is so wonderful. My heart goes out to JP, though, because it just sucks to know your parents are so screwed up - that they don't love you (or their grandkids) enough to be adults.

    Sigh.

    Have a WONDERFUL trip and delight in knowing your kids have your family to love and dote on them!

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  4. WOW. What a HORRIBLE situation. There is NO winning here. It almost makes me wonder what in the world provoked all of this ... is something happening to his Mom? I don't get how they don't want to know about all the amazing stuff occurring in your family. It truly is so sad. Usually babies bring a family CLOSER together, not farther apart. I commend you for having tried for so long, but sometimes you just have to say enough is enough.

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  5. Wow. If you weren't the one writing the story I would think it was fabricated. That woman is CRAZY! I'm sorry for the decision but it sounds like the best thing for everyone.

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  6. What a shitty position to be in. I'm sorry you guys have to deal with that. But you're right, the kids are old enough to pick up on this kind of stuff and they deserve healthy, supportive people who love them more than they need grandparents who play stupid games.

    Have a fabulous trip!

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  7. Ugh - wow, brings whole new meaning to the phrase toxic. I know I take it unbelievably personally when relatives don't take an interest in my kids. I can't imagine. I'm glad you are getting to go on your trip. Incredibly sad.

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  8. LL - this post makes me so sad. Mostly just sad for your in-laws though. It's too bad that they can't get over whatever their problem is to have a relationship with the grandkids. And to think that JP's mom AND grandma are like that... it's amazing he turned out so well! Ha!

    So glad you have your GA relatives who are able to come and stay with the kids though! I'm sure they will all have a blast together and I know you and JP will have a great time skiing with your parents!

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  9. I just wanted to let you know that this exact story is almost a replica of my life growing up. My grandma on my mother's side absolutely LOST it at my 13th birthday party, and had to be taken home "at that instant". 13 years later, after the death of her last sibling, she phoned my mom in her "doom and gloom" state and talked as though she was fine and had no hold ups. It's seriously a pins and needles relationship. She totally makes stuff up in her head to be mad about, and pulls up all sorts of garbage from the past...stuff that never even happened. I'm so sorry for you all, but you are doing the right thing, I think, by protecting your kids from that nonsense. It is too much for them to see a grown adult acting crazy...and you certainly can't trust a person to take good care of your own children when they treat you like trash. Don't let her walk over you & be straight forward with her and your fil. Good luck and have FUN on your trip!

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  10. I know everyone else is expressing shock at someone being this cruel, but my perspective as an attorney in the juvenile system (delinquency and JFS) is that this doesn't shock me as this is the kind of crazy shit that I've seen in some of the parents/grandparents that come in to court. In our cases the kids that are being primarily cared for by these people end up with attachment issues, etc. Sounds like she has a mental illness or some or mental health issue and until she gets and accepts help for that stuff there is not likely anything that can really be done to fix her issues. The vicious cycle in negative behavior is evident from the comment about her mother being the same way, so clearly it's all she knows, but JP was able to walk away from it, so it's not really an excuse, just an explanation. Good luck and it sounds like you both have a very healthy handle on it and are dealing with it well and don't let anyone else guilt you into feeling otherwise. :)

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  11. I'm sorry your family is going through this.I would react the same way as JP and you reacted. I have cut off family members for much less. Life is too short to spend in relationships that suck out energy all the time.

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  12. Wow - it always happens that life is the most stressful right before (and sometimes after) a much anticipated vacation. I'm sorry for the MIL drama - my husband & I went through a very similar similar situation last year with his mother... We were going to take an anniversary trip (1st trip since our 9 mo old son was born) and cleared it 3 months prior with his parents to watch our son for a week. We bought plane tickets, made hotel reservations, rearranged work schedules and two weeks before she says she can't do it. What??? Thankfully my mom rearranged her schedule so that she could keep him. But I just don't get it. MIL is constantly complaining that my mom "always" get's to keep him ...and she "never" gets to see him... and that we are biased toward my mom. Well, that's why we asked your to watch him for a whole WEEK! This was last summer and we've since asked several times if they'd like to visit, but no. And they almost didn't come for his 1st birthday either - their ONLY grandson. I just don't get it.

    Thankfully she is extremely passive aggressive, so I've never been assaulted as you were and we've just been able to ignore it (and her to some extent). Too bad for JP - even though he's mad, I know that hurts. Hopefully a restful week will be healing and relaxing!

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  13. Holy cow. I can't believe that people are really that nuts! I'm glad you guys are taking a stand and not trying to contact them- it's HARD when it's your parents! It's great that you and JP are on the same page with it.

    Have a GREAT vacation! We left our little one for six days to go to Italy and while it was so hard, it was really good for us as a couple.

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  14. I've been reading your blog for a long time and lurked forever, but this compelled me to comment. I'm so sorry. I wish there was something more prolific to say about it. It's incredibly difficult on many, many ends. I have no contact with my own father (or the stepfather after him)- I haven't since I was a teenager. And even though we were never close (he's emotionally manipulative and has drug use issues), it still hurts like hell to not have that relationship. What feels like rejection from a parent has a special kind of hurt far beyond anything any significant other can do. I hope JP (and you, and ultimately the kids) are ok. I'm so glad to see that you are both on the same page and it really is for the best to not have a relationship that toxic in your life. Doesn't make it easy though.

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  15. The only word that describes your MIL is CRAZY...although bat-shit crazy is more like it. And it really is a miracle that JP turned out so awesome. Unfortunately she put on a great performance at your wedding so I have only seen the surprisingly-pleasant version of her. But she needs to seek professional help from a psychiatrist as well as a great pharmacist. Until then, you all are much better off without her.

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  16. I'm just going to echo what everyone's already said -- I'm so sorry, and I'm sure you've made the right decision. Even though it would be ideal for your kids to have two sets of loving grandparents, they just... don't. And as sad as that is, you can't really change it. All you can do is protect them from the crazy. I can understand why you made heroic efforts before Claire arrived, but you know that even if the in-laws started keeping all their commitments and being more sane toward you, as she got older she couldn't help but be hurt by their behavior. And given Landon's relationship with Claire, I'm sure he would be equally as hurt.

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  17. Your MIL is certainly mentally ill, and I am so glad that you and JP have just stopped trying to figure her out. I guess another thing to consider is how you will talk to Landon, and eventually Claire, about the situation, as kids always eventually ask about their grandparents. Blessings to your wonderful and beautiful family!

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  18. Oh, do I need to email you my whole in-law drama. There is a hilariously irrational text exchange from my narcissistic sister in law you just have to read.

    ANYWAY, I know this is kind of a "No duh" kid of thing to say, but is your Mother in Law bipolar?

    The good thing is that JB is on board. My husband sees his family for what they are, and always backed me up too. Could you imagine how horrible it would be if he took their side/enabled them? My ex-fiance was had a horrible mother and simply refused to stand up to her. Big reason why he's my ex, right there.

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  19. Three words. Borderline Personality Disorder. Look it up if you're unfamiliar, but sounds textbook to me (with some Histrionic Personality traits). (I'm a therapist) Unfortunately, it's probably nothing that will change. The real surprise is that JP's father has stayed with her all these years. Is he a workaholic that spends most of his time outside of the home? A loyal man who stays with her out of duty, but emotionally distanced himself from her years ago? Just wondering...

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  20. I've had similar experiences and standoffs and rehearsing the issues only made the hurt worse. I tried kindness and forgiveness and it feels so much better. It will also set a wonderful example for your children.

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  21. My mother is nuts. Bipolar and Borderline Personality Disorder. She is largely sedated on psychiatric meds which is why we can speak once a week and see them once a year. Otherwise, forget it. And once I married and especially after I had kids, protecting my family was more important than continuing to enable her. It cost me relationships with 2 siblings.

    I admire you and JP's ability to protect your family. I had 8 years of therapy before I could do that.

    I hope you have the best vacation ever!

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  22. Yeah, it sounds like your MIL suffers from some pretty severe mental health issues. And if she's not willing to seek treatment, I don't know how you could ever justify having her around your kids. You don't get to pick your parents, unfortunately. I just feel bad for JP. At least he's got your family, which sounds pretty healthy and normal.

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  23. Just an addition to some of the comments...
    People who are bipolar do not automatically act this way and acting this way does not automatically make them bipolar.

    Sane people act crazy all the time and it makes those of us with actual issues look bad who are doing nothing.

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  24. How awful. Thoughts for you!

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  25. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this kind of drama. JP's mother sounds a lot like my mother, and we had a similar incident happen which led to cutting off virtually all contact with my mother a couple of years ago. You do what you have to to protect your children and your sanity.

    She has had minimal contact with my children, and exhibits little interest in being a grandmother. It makes me so sad for my kids, and made the death of my mother-in-law all the more devastating because she was the only real grandmother my kids ever had.

    I'm so glad that you have an awesome, supportive family to make up for your in-laws.

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  26. You know, what was really interesting was reading her accusations toward you on the phone. If I hadn't known it was your MIL, I would've though it came from a male chauvinist. Who else would feel that threatened by a strong woman like yourself, making your way through the world, fighting tooth and nail for your education? It almost sounds like she'd be happy if you'd decided to be a SAHM (nothing wrong with that btw), but then again, that's not the girl her son married. Lady's got some paradigms to shift.
    Sorry to hear it ended this way, but really glad to read about your fabulous trip!!!

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  27. Wow! I am so sorry for you and your family...but you have to go full speed ahead, live your lives and do your best to let those children you have been gifted with, know that they are special..and teach them how NOT to be like their grandparents. I have a daughter who has been shunned by her grandparents, uncles and aunts on my husband's side all her life...supposedly because I didn't say thank your for a Teddy Bear someone put on our front porch (which had not a clue of who it was from, plus we live in the French Quarter, so I tossed it, not knowing where it came from...tourist, bum, drug dealer?). That was over 20 years ago and they aren't over it yet. Oh Well, their loss. My lass is magnificent, on the dean's list, a great docent in a FQ museum, a wonderful employee and an all around good sport about her family. She just says, "too bad they chose not to know me better, I am so much better than they think!" God bless yall! and best wishes

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