Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Family Trees and Burnt Limbs

JP's mom called on Monday morning.  It was very early, and thinking it was the phone alarm JP invariably leaves on even when he knows he isn't going to swim practice, I swished my finger across it to turn it off and rolled over.  Only to hear a "hello" and belatedly remember a "301" Potomac, Maryland number flashing on the screen.  So I hit the phone again and to make sure it was quiet.  A few seconds later, as I was processing what had just happened and realizing that perhaps it wasn't the alarm clock talking to me, the phone rang again.

I brought it to JP who'd been in the family room feeding Cora because she didn't eat all weekend and decided 5 a.m. would be delicious, and he spoke to his mom for the first time in nearly 4 years.  His dad had had a heart attack early in the morning, been taken to the hospital via ambulance, and undergone angioplasty with stent replacement.  He was recovering in ICU and couldn't talk, but she thought JP would want to know.  He said thanks, got the hospital name and room number, and that was it.

He's now spoken to his dad twice since our 5 a.m. wake-up call.  He's home resting now, insisting that the whole thing wasn't a big deal and complaining about the diet and mild exercise plan the doctor wants him to follow.  Neither parent has acknowledged the fact that we haven't seen or heard from them since 2010 and we have two grandchildren they've never met.  They haven't used the calls to inquire about the kids or me or their son and his life that is so different than it was when they last saw him at his MBA graduation.  Our kids don't know who they are.  Landon asked, once, if daddy had a mom and dad.  I said yes, he does, and they live in Maryland.  He said okay, and left it at that.  I don't think he's made the association yet that normally dad's mom and dad would be another Papa and Gigi that he could talk to and visit and love.  It's very strange having grandparents who are alive, but who don't exist for your children.

JP and I used to spend an inordinate amount of time discussing his parents.  The latest fabricated drama, the bizarre codependent relationship between his mother and grandmother, the boundaries we were setting and would continue to set in the future.  For Landon's first 2 years we put up with their nonsense because beneath it all, they were great grandparents to him.  They adored Landon and since JP doesn't have any siblings and I just had my unmarried two, we felt that any additional family in our kid's life was a good thing and worth the difficulties, because at the time the difficulties only affected JP and me, and not Landon.  But then Claire was born and they kept setting up visits and then refusing to come because of one made up reason or another and the made-up drama got worse and it all culminated in the most insane phone call I've ever been party to in my life where his mom accused me of all sorts of untrue things (for example, not loving JP or my mother) and they refused to come out for their third attempted to visit to meet our now-9-month-old baby Claire.  Landon was old enough to know they were coming and be excited about the visit and confused when they changed their minds (and even more confused when he heard one particularly unhinged message being yelled into our answering machine) and JP was done.  In truth, he'd been done for years, but had kept up the relationship at my stubborn insistence that it could be fixed if we just tried hard enough. "Don't call back again without an apology for your behavior," he said, and his mother never called us again.

Now we never talk about his parents.  If he thinks about them, I have no indication, and when I think about them, it's to be sad that the situation is what it is.  I love family and the loss of what could be distracts me at times.  But I know that what I think family could be and what his family could be are two different things and after 9 years of trying to make JP work things out, I stepped back in 2010 and let him dictate the terms of our relationship with them.  Which, since his mom has never swallowed her pride to even call us, is no relationship at all.  And any time I start to feel bad about them, alone in their big house with their only child estranged and their grandchildren unable to recognize them in a crowd, I remember that I didn't do it.  Though we'd discussed one day having to cut them out of our lives, in the end, they did it for us.  And while I'm not sure what we would have done had his mother tried some halfhearted attempt at reconciliation after we'd all cooled off, the fact is that she didn't.  Us, our kids- her awesome, loving, wonderful would-be grandchildren, aren't worth enough to her to risk reaching out.  And when I remember that, I get mad, and am again comfortable with our lack of contact.

Now JP's mom has called three times in the last two days.  He hasn't answered.  He calls his dad's cell phone if he wants to check in with him, and she hasn't left a message, but I think she thinks we're all back on track now and I fully expect that if I were to answer the phone she'd ask what the weather is like here right now and launch into a complicated story about a coworker I don't know doing something I don't care about.

So I don't know what will happen with that.  Other than JP's renewed obsession with heart healthy diets (his paternal grandparents both died of heart attacks at young ages, his dad's brother died of a heart attack in his 50's, and his dad is now the longest living member of his family at 68, all facts that do genuinely frighten me) and his phone ringing frequently without his answering it, nothing has changed.  But it's certainly a fork in the road- an opportunity to build back some bridges if we wanted to, namely by pretending the burnt ones don't exist and never did.  JP doesn't want it, and I'm sticking by my promise to let him choose, but they're back in my mind (and on our missed calls log) in a way they haven't been in a long time.

22 comments:

  1. I hope JP's dad continues to improve and that it truly isn't as serious as "everybody" is making it out to be. I have been reading your blog for some time now. It is such as shame for your kids that they just can't apologize so they can be a part of their lives. It is certainly his parent's loss. If you don't mind me asking, what nationality is JP? Can their stubbornness with regards to apologizing be attributable to a culture difference?

    JLV

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    1. Honestly, after a year or so, I doubt an apology would have been necessary, but we did feel that they needed to be the ones to pick up the phone and attempt to move forward (and I was surprised his mom didn't at least attempt a call a few months later pretending like nothing had happened). But since they never did, we never had to figure out their minimum contribution to the moving forward process.

      As for nationality, his mom was born in Canada and that whole side is French Canadian and his dad is German, but from many generations back. JP is decidedly stubborn, as are his parents (apparently), but I'm not sure we can put it on cultural differences :).

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  2. I'm sorry. Sometimes there is nothing else to say then this sucks.

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  3. So sorry to hear about all of it. I can't even imagine not speaking to one of my children for four years. Shameful and sad. You guys are right to not expose the kids to that kind of behavior.

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  4. My MIL is French Canadian and is a special kind of dysfunctional and stubborn. JLV may be on to something.

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  5. I've been reading since Landon was a baby, and I think it's pretty safe to say JP's mom has a personality disorder... Something in the "Cluster B" realm (Histrionic PD/Borderline PD). I question how JP came out of that family as emotionally healthy as he seems to be. He must have a ton of resiliency in him.

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  6. Paragon2Pieces4/23/14, 10:52 PM

    That's tough. We have something similar going on in my dad's side of the family and it's amazing that even when you know there's nothing you can do and even when you've put it behind you, it weighs real heavy. Sorry you're all having to go through this.

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  7. I have some similar dysfunction in my family; my sibling refuses to talk to my mother (it's been going on 3 years now). While I think the reasons behind the estrangement are very real and need to be unearthed, explored and discussed, and while I recognize such thing take time (years) to accomplish, neither side has budged. As the default liaison between both parties, I see both of them suffering without the presence of other other in their lives. It hurts both of them, and it hurts me, and our family, and I can only hope one day both will have the strength to work through it.

    No judgment here of your family and its process. Everyone's on their own timeline. I read the following excerpt recently, and it made my heart hopeful that one day my family would heal. I would send it to both my mother and sibling if I didn't think they would each bite my head off. Maybe it will speak to you and yours.

    "If I knew that today it would be the last time that I will see you, I will embrace you strongly to be the guardian of your soul.

    If I would know that these would be the last minutes that I will see you, I would say to you "I love you" and wouldn't assume that you would know it.

    There is always morning where life gives us another opportunity to make things good.
    Keep always close to you your dear ones, and tell them how much you need them and love and take care of them. Take time to say " I am sorry", "forgive me", "please", "thank you" and all the nice and lovely words you know.

    Nobody would remember you if you keep your thoughts secret. Force yourself to express them."

    This excerpt is from a "letter" allegedly written by Gabriel Garcia Marquez before he stopped writing novels, but apparently it has since been revealed to have been a hoax (e.g., written by someone else). Regardless, the sentiment hit home with me.

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  8. Remember that you are setting an example for your children. When they get older, you don't want them to see that completely ignoring a parent is the way to handle family problems. If you do it, they may find it easier to do as well.

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    1. Agree with this. My grandfather cut my aunt out of the last 16 years of his life because they fought all the time. I honestly feel that sets the tone within our family -- that it's OK to cut family members out of your life. Others have followed suit, and now we're a fractured mess.

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    2. I think they are setting a wonderful example for their children. It's not LL and JP that are ignoring them or cutting them out. I think they are just not going out of their way to allow the negativity that clearly MIL has to enter their life. As LL stated in a reply above, all they likely need is just an attempt by MIL to move forward and let the past be the past.

      JLV

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    3. I agree too - it sets a good example to say "if you want to be in our lives you need to treat my children's mother with respect"

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    4. Sometimes cutting off someone who is clearly that detrimental to all involved is the BEST way to handle that particular issue. It is certainly the case here.

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  9. It's hard. I can't imagine their life - having no contact with your kids and with their only child. How terribly isolating. It's really weird they haven't made any mention of your kids in general. That's just... odd? I think I might take this as a sign though to at least open up some communication with them. Encourage JP to answer the phone when his mom calls and he has a chance to talk. Maybe if things progress, invite them down, but offer up a nearby hotel for all of your sanity for them to stay in. They may never take you up on it, but at least you know you've given it every possible chance.

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  10. I think ultimately people don't really change. They are who they are. I like what you said about how they will never be the vision of a perfect family, and that you've accepted it. You have plenty of love in your lives and you are creating a loving, accepting, wonderful home and family for your children. Nothing to feel guilty about, only to be proud at the family you've made. Hugs.

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    1. Yes, agree 100% with this.

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    2. Me too! My dad hasn't been part of my life for a long time - long story but it's not really important - and every so often a kid will ask where my dad is, and I do the same, say where he lives without editorializing and leave it at that. And they've accepted it, and so have I.

      The kids are surrounded by love, and frankly, so is JP. So you're doing pretty great. If his parents want to be part of that, they need only ask. But you aren't at fault for not chasing after them.

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  11. And it does sound like narcissism plain and simple on their part.

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  12. Sometimes the strongest decision you can make for yourself and your family is to protect them from people who will never be able to respect, love, or care for them in any way. It's unfortunate when those people are members of your family, and heartbreaking when they are the people who were supposed to be your caretakers -- who were supposed to show you how to caring works and guide and protect you until you could do it for yourself. Please don't be hard on yourself or your husband for making that decision. Be proud of him for loving you all enough to maintain it.

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  13. I'm making light here but having read you for so long, I know you can also appreciate humor in difficult situations. I know you're not much of a movie viewer due to lack of time/daily activities and you prefer books anyway but if you want to feel better about your inlaws, just watch August: Osage County. Based on the playwright's family, talk about dysfunction. Hang in there LL.
    Desimom

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  14. Having gone through something similar myself, a quote that really helped me was: Forgiveness means accepting an apology you never got. Also: We are not responsible for anyone's actions but our own. My heart goes out to u both as we expect the most from our family and it really sucks when they let u down.

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  15. "I love family and the loss of what could be distracts me at times." This. Thanks for your post. I'm going through something similar right now, and your words were a balm to my own feelings. It's HARD.

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