The extended family gathering and why it will never work

Sorry, but I just need to bitch. Going to get this off my chest and then try to return to our standard semi-positive format!

It’s not that we don’t manage to actually have the family gatherings. We just don’t manage to have them in such a way that everyone goes away happy.

In hindsight, I can see how we got here. We two sisters are the oldest. We became adults first. We got married first. We owned homes and had children first. Those first several years, if Mom and Dad weren’t hosting, one of us sisters did. I don’t know about my sister, but personally, I assumed that somewhere down the road, the brothers and their wives would take a turn hosting a holiday, once they were a little more settled and had homes of their own. But here we all are, well into our forties. The older younger brother usually has everyone over for Fourth of July. My sister and I alternate Christmas, Thanksgiving, milestone birthdays and such. And the youngest brother has yet to host a holiday.

When our family hosts a family party, we try to encourage everyone to contributes a little something. None of us is rich, and we’ve all experienced tough times here and there. But over the years, it was always my sister or me cleaning our homes, buying alcohol and soft drinks, and incurring the cost of the main portion of any meal. A major holiday costs the hosts a couple hundred dollars or so, while the youngest brother, if he contributes anything, might show up with cheese and Ritz crackers. And by the way, could I find a cheese slicer and a cutting board because he couldn’t prepare the cheese ahead of time? And did I have a serving tray he could use too, because he didn’t think to bring one?

Oh, he usually brings some kind of specialty beer. But not to share with everyone else.

I know. This all sounds so very petty. And I’m not sure when I got so bitter about it all. I know it started brewing a few years ago when I realized that if my sister wasn’t hosting Christmas or Thanksgiving, it would be my turn again. Then last Christmas rolled around and the youngest brother said he and his family would be joining us for the family Christmas Eve party but refused to commit to contributing anything. I did all of my grocery shopping for everything that hadn’t been volunteered before his wife texted me one day prior to Christmas to ask what they should bring. And that’s when I think I’d kind of had it. What can we bring? I have almost everything we need but could still use a veggie tray. How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray. Okay, what do you want to bring? Followed by absolutely no response whatsoever.

Dysfunction 2

And then the youngest brother and his family of six showed up 45 minutes earlier than invited bearing a twelve-pack of Pepsi. Was it petty of me to feel insulted? I was stewing even more when, as usual, cleanup time rolled around and the brother and his wife sat comfortably in the living room, drinking wine and beer and enjoying my parents’ company while my family, my sister and I did the dishes and cleaned up. Just once, I’d like to be the one who gets to relax in the living room after a holiday meal and spend time talking with my mom or dad. But the reality is, even when I’m the guest, you can find me in the kitchen helping at cleanup time. Many hands make light work and all that, you know?

Oh, and let’s not forget how the brother thinks he is entitled to complain if he wasn’t offered leftovers to take home. When I am entertaining twenty-five people, I am not planning much more food than is necessary to serve everyone a good meal. Leftovers are a bonus reserved for those who actually purchased and prepared the food, if you ask me.

Christmas was the last straw for me. I’ve had one too many holidays that included rude, disrespectful, even belligerent behavior from this brother. I told my sister I was done. I said if she wanted to keep hosting the rest of the family for every celebratory event, she could. Count me out. I was ready to keep any future celebrations to my immediate family. My parents live a block away. I see them often enough. They could spend the holidays with their other kids and they wouldn’t miss me.

My sister chided me, several times. Mom and Dad may not be around in a few years. These may be our last years with them. Let’s just suck it up for their sake. It’s important to them that we’re all together on the holidays. I let her convince me she was right. And besides, Easter was coming and Mom and Dad always have Easter at their house. Granted, my sister and I have cleaned Mom and Dad’s house and done much of the cooking for Easter over the past few years. Still, somehow I was more okay with doing the family gathering thing at their house than mine. I was fine with it as long as I didn’t have to have it at my house.

Just prior to Easter, my mom asked me if we could do something different this year. She didn’t think she could manage having a houseful of company, even if my sister and I did the cleaning and cooking. I drew the line. I said, Mom, I’d be happy to prepare Easter brunch. You and dad are welcome to come join my family and me. But I’m done having the whole family over. Your youngest son is always rude and disrespectful. (Actually, I said that he is a jerk to me.) I will clean your house and cook the food and join the whole family here. But I won’t invite him to my house. 

Take my word for it when I say he is rude and disrespectful. Not only is he a bad guest, but he has belittled my husband, he has belittled my husband to my kids, (Your dad’s an idiot)  and verbally attacked my son over a difference of opinion in truck brands. (I can only guess that alcohol and low self-esteem justify this behavior in his mind. I honestly do not know what I’ve done to earn such disdain from him.) He proudly told me on Christmas that he told Dad he had a crappy childhood because our parents didn’t take us on vacations or let him play hockey. Nevermind the fact that we had no money. Nevermind the fact that we were loved, had beds to sleep in and food to eat. But he is still holding a grudge for what he didn’t have. This is not a person I would choose to associate with if he weren’t family. I’m finding it harder and harder to figure out why I feel compelled to play along with the myth of the happy family celebration.

Mom agreed maybe it was time to quit trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I told her to let me know what she decided. Her house with everyone, or my house with just us and Mom and Dad. Two days later, I got a text from my sister. Mom wants to know if one of us will host Easter this year.

I called my sister and asked what this was all about. I said I’d already had this conversation with Mom and I was not willing to host Easter for the entire family. My sister gave me the speech again about how we never know when it’s the last holiday with Mom and Dad. She said she would host Easter – in the house she just moved into with the many boxes she isn’t nearly done unpacking. Guilt kicked in and I said I would host Easter. She was in no position to do it. We went round and round but she finally insisted she really didn’t mind having it. I was relieved and told myself for the millionth time to quit holding grudges and just try to enjoy my family for who we are.

My sister and I decided to be smarter this time. Instead of asking everyone if they could bring a dish to share, she sent out a message that included the menu and asked everyone to pick an item to contribute. Youngest brother – all 43 years old of him – immediately called mom to complain that he was being told what to bring and he didn’t want to be told what to bring. Mom told him that no one should be telling him what to bring and he should just bring whatever he wants.

Do you see the problem here? Can you say enabling?

Also, Mom apparently mentioned to my sister, my brother’s verbal attack on Jake last summer. Long story short, she mentioned that Jake should be prepared for my brother to give him a hard time about the new truck Jake just bought. Even though I might think this is wrong, even though any sane person would think this is wrong, in my parents’ opinion, my brother is Jake’s elder and Jake should just keep his mouth shut and accept whatever my brother might have to say. Bottom line, Jake might be made to feel bad, but no one should stand up against this.

Over my dead body. Who are these people? And why do they think it’s okay for family to be hateful to each other and pretend it didn’t happen?

DysfunctionAnd still we planned to attend Easter, probably because I had responsibility for some of the main dishes and didn’t want to leave my sister in the lurch. In the end, we told Jake to stick near us and not to engage in any conversation about the truck with my youngest brother. Luckily the topic wasn’t brought up. Although I was glad when my older-younger brother asked Jake about it and expressed sincere happiness for him. That was good for Jake.

Meanwhile, youngest brother arrived with his family of six and dumped his Target bag of coffee cakes in the kitchen for someone else to slice up and find a serving tray on which to serve them. And I have to admit he was fairly well-behaved except for the part where my sister mentioned that one of the  dishes she made was from a Pioneer Woman recipe and youngest brother had to announce to everyone that the Pioneer Woman’s food is disgusting because it’s all made with lard and fat and it’s unhealthy. And did he mention disgusting? I said that it is southern comfort food and my sister said that it’s not like they eat food like that every day and still he had to have the last word which was disgusting.

Did I mention that the first thing I did upon arriving at my sister’s house at 10:00 am was to start drinking? Can you blame me?

We finally had all of the food prepared and sat down to eat. Youngest brother’s wife immediately left with two of their kids the minute they were done eating. No one quite knows why. Mark, my sister, our kids and I cleaned up the mess and did dishes while youngest brother sat in the living room, drinking beer and conversing with Mom and Dad.

And Dad said to me, You’re awfully quiet today. And all I could say is, I guess I just don’t have much new to talk about. Because really, what am I going to say? That after years of not having a healthy conversation about how much I hate the way we handle holidays, I am beyond reason and ready to explode? I don’t think so.

In two weeks, we have another family celebration, this time in honor of Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. I will hold my tongue and I will play nice and I will get through it because I refuse to be responsible for putting a black mark on something this big.

And then I am done. Because I can’t help but feel that my parents choose my youngest brother over anyone else’s feelings, have always chosen him. We should not hurt his feelings, but we should just understand that he can’t help but hurt ours. It’s always been that way. He’s the baby of the family. His life is tough. (Not really. First world problems, believe me.) God help me if I repeat this cycle with my own kids. So I am done.

So I say now. Or until my sister convinces me again that if I make such a choice, I will not be proud of myself when Mom and Dad are no longer here to celebrate with, dysfunctional or not.

I would like to think that what we have is some kind of twisted family normal. Is it too late to move out-of-state? Would it be wrong to fake my own death just for the duration of the next holiday?

And in spite of everything I just said here, I’ll bet you twenty bucks I’ll be hosting a family celebration again before the year is done. Because clearly, I am insane.

On a lighter note…

It has been a busy week!

My women’s bowling league had our end-of-season banquet on Monday. It was my team’s turn to coordinate the big night, and I have to say we did a great job with a very small budget. Great Italian food, fun prizes and I’ve been reelected as the league president once again. (No one else wants to do it. Being president means you have to type up the by-laws every year.)

The Ball Busters with our "sistas," the Who's Up? team.

The Ball Busters with our “sistas,” the Who’s Up? team.

There were more dealings with car dealerships throughout the week, but I still don’t have my new car. I’m hoping it arrives this week! The waiting is killing me!

And of course, this was Easter weekend. Brad and Heather weren’t with us this weekend. It was Heather’s parents’ turn to have the kids for a holiday. But we all met for lunch yesterday afternoon at a restaurant halfway between us and them. We had fun conversation and good food. I learned that everybody’s family has a little bit of crazy and drama and we all stress about it to some degree. And I got a chance to give Brad and Heather their Easter baskets … because in my opinion, until my kids have kids of their own, they’re still eligible for Easter baskets. Although, Easter baskets for big kids might contain coffee, chunky peanut butter, Hershey’s syrup and ketchup in addition to candy treats, they loved them and it made me happy!

Kacey and Connor were here for the holiday, though. They also had a wedding to attend on Saturday. They got all dressed up and had a great time, dancing the night away at the reception.

Matchy-matchy

Matchy-matchy

Saturday night was Fun Night with our Saturday bowling league, planned and coordinated by yours truly. I can’t say I put a lot of effort into it. Last year’s Fun Night was successful, so I recycled it again this for this year. I’m not unhappy to see the season come to an end. It will be nice to have some free Saturdays again for a while. And besides, Wednesday summer league begins in just a couple of weeks!

I spent every free moment this weekend preparing food for our family Easter gatherings. We had brunch with my family at my sister’s house. We skipped dinner with Mark’s family, (we knew we’d be too full to eat again,)  and joined them later for dessert at his sister’s home. All in all, the day went well. But I’m sure glad that major holidays requiring extended time with extended family only come around a few times a year. I’m exhausted! The weather, though? Phenomenal. Easter Sunday was a short-sleeve, bare feet, birds singing, sun shining kind of day. Absolutely stunning.

But the biggest news of the week? Is this.

Jake and his new truck

Jake and his new truck

First major purchase of Jake’s adulthood. The shopping and buying of this truck were a good bonding experience for father and son. Jake is thrilled with it. Makes me happy to see him so happy.

And now, I think we’re all looking forward to a quieter week.

The Poop Egg

My kids, even though they are grown up, still like to carry on certain family traditions. Maybe it’s because they’re becoming adults. Maybe their sense of nostalgia is beginning to kick in already. Regardless, it does my heart good to see them willingly carry forward the family traditions.

In the weeks preceding Easter, Kacey reminded me several times to pick up extra eggs and a dye kit. She wanted to color Easter eggs with her brothers when everyone was home for the holiday weekend. And in spite of our sadness over the loss of our little Bella, we were doing our best to celebrate Easter. And staying busy helped keep our minds off of our heavy hearts.

Kacey and Connor cleared the table on Saturday afternoon. They spread newspaper and got out the coffee mugs, one for each dye color. Connor put a dye tablet in each and then measured the vinegar and water. When he and Kacey sat down to start working on the eggs, I heard her say, “We need to make sure we get some colorful eggs done before Jake starts mixing up the colors with his poop egg!”

I had forgotten about the poop egg and Kacey’s mention of it made me smile. Every year since the kids were little, Jake has made it his mission to use every single dye color on a single egg. At times, this resulted in drastic and beautiful Easter eggs. Other times? Well… that’s how the name poop egg came to be. This year’s egg was not artistic. It was poopy. But the Easter egg bounty wouldn’t have been the same without it.

Poop Egg

The eggs were finished in plenty of time for Easter, not that anyone ate a single one of them. I don’t care. My big kids coloring Easter eggs at the kitchen table is a happy memory from an otherwise difficult weekend.

We had brunch with my extended family on Easter Sunday. It was a typical, loud and frenzied celebration. When it was over, Brad and Heather went back home, stopping by her parents’ place on the way. Kacey and Connor went to his family’s Easter celebration before they went back to school. Mark went back to bed to get some sleep before working the night shift and Jake disappeared. I put my comfy pants and sweatshirt on and Lucy and I settled comfortably in the living room in front of the t.v. for the remainder of the day.

And that’s when the loss of Bella really hit me. I had myself a good cry for a while. Lucy never left my side. I’d like to think she knew I needed her comfort. And maybe she did. But I knew she was just exhausted as well. She was worn out from a weekend of running and playing with Dacotah.

Lucy Tired

As for the Easter eggs, I used them to make potato salad to have with our dinner tonight. I didn’t use the poop egg, though. Somehow that just seemed wrong.

And as for the poop egg-maker, he’s 22 years old today! Happy Birthday, Jake!

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Easter Sunday

Another four-day weekend – gone in the blink of an eye.

The kitchen is finally mostly put back together again. We still have to install the trim boards and crown molding. I waited all day Friday and much of Saturday to get my turn in there.  I had boxes waiting to be unpacked. I got a small start late Friday, but was sidelined by some friends who Mark had invited over to see.  I  got another chance late Saturday afternoon after doing a bunch of cooking with my sister for Easter brunch. I  started unpacking. I hadn’t gotten far when the next door neighbors popped in to have a look. I was patient while they visited and looked around and listened to Mark tell tales of his manly remodeling adventures. Finally, they left and I unleashed on Mark. I told him if he invited any more people over while I was trying to put my kitchen back together, there would be hell to pay. From there on out, he would periodically glance out the front window and announce, “Bill and Tammy are heading this way…” or “Here come Dave and Rita…”

I fell for it a few times and shouted at him, “You have GOT to be KIDDING me! NO MORE VISITORS!”

Then he would laugh, thinking he was SO funny. So he kept at it, but lost interest when I would just shout back at him, “Shut up!”

I went to bed Saturday night, exhausted but with my kitchen back in order. Sunday morning I was anxious to give my new oven a try. I preheated the oven for the brunch egg dish I had prepared. I timed it just right to make sure the food was done just in time to bring it over to my parents house for the family celebration. After allowing plenty of time for preheating, I opened the oven…and found it was not anywhere near 350 degrees. Not even close. My brand new oven DID NOT WORK! ARGH!

Thankfully, Mom and Dad live a block away, so I called over to their house and my mom answered the phone cheerfully. Unable to hide the pout in my voice, I said, “Mom? My oven doesn’t work!”

“Well bring it on over,” she said. “We’ll just cook it in my oven.”

Easter was saved.

We had a great time with the whole family and stuffed ourselves silly. The food was delicious and plentiful. My mom made sure the orange juice was pulp-free, because she knows how much I hate pulp in my orange juice. My brother and I were actually already planning Thanksgiving dinner.

Later on, we went over to Mark’s parents’ house where we had a great time with his family! I got my baby-fix kissing and chasing and hugging our one year-old nephew Ryan. We threw plastic eggs at each other all afternoon long and then I helped him find more plastic eggs in the egg hunt.

Family isn’t always fun, but today was good.

Life is Good – April 2, 2010

I have no photo to offer today. Things have been so chaotic around here that I haven’t even had a chance to take pictures lately. It’s a shame too, because the weather was absolutely gorgeous yesterday here in Minnesota. Our temperatures were in the high seventies and I even donned my flip-flops for the first time this year!

So things are still crazy in la casa de Terri, due mainly to the kitchen remodel project which is threatening to send me over the edge. I have to constantly remind myself that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. (Though Kacey recently informed me that due to the struggling economy, and in an attempt to conserve energy, the light at the end of the tunnel has been turned off until further notice.)

The past few days have been the worst days of the remodeling adventure. There had been a temporary restoration of order in the kitchen, but then came the installation of the new counter tops. In addition, Mark started ripping out the old hardwood floor. The table, chairs and any other kitchen items that I find necessary and convenient were shuffled all over the house. Early Wednesday morning, as I was attempting to get out the door for work, I found myself searching high and low for my insulated lunch bag and my vitamins. Thursday morning, Mark began installing the new hardwood floor bright and early. Our friend, Paul came to help out. The place was a mess. The sound of an air-nailer and pounding hammers continued throughout the day. I felt in the way and aimless, so I got out of the house and ran some errands.

When I returned, they were still working fast and furious and I still felt useless, so off I went again. I found myself at Barnes and Nobel, which always has a therapeutic effect on me. I recently (finally) finished reading Pillars of the Earth and LOVED it! This is probably the best book I have ever read. So there was no question what book I was seeking in my trip to the bookstore. The sequel, World Without End was sitting on the shelf, calling my name, just waiting for me to come pick it up. Who was I to argue?

The guys worked well into the late evening on the floor installation. In spite of the noise they were making, I decided to go to bed and was actually able to go to sleep, for a few hours anyway. Midnight rolled around and suddenly I was wide awake. I decided to tiptoe into the kitchen to see how much they’d accomplished and much to my surprise, they’d completed about three-fourths of the floor! The new refrigerator and stove, which had previously been sitting in the living room were now in their proper places. A sense of order is slowly but surely returning. Maybe today, I’ll actually be able to unpack all of the kitchen belongings and place them in their new homes!

This weekend promises to be a full one. Not only is it Easter weekend, but today is Jake’s 19th birthday! He’s been desperately wanting an iPod touch, so one of my escapes yesterday was a trip to Target to pick it up for him. He’s been nearly crawling out of his skin in anticipation, so I didn’t make him wait for his gift. I gave it to him and let him start enjoying it right away. And I was rewarded with one of his rare but heartfelt hugs and a sincere thank you.

This week also saw the return of my parents from their winter home in Arizona. It is so good to have them back. They arrived late Wednesday afternoon and I walked over to their house as soon as I felt they’d had enough time to get their bags inside and get somewhat settled. I spent a wonderful evening sitting around the kitchen table with Mom, Dad and my sister. We talked and reminisced about friends and neighbors from “the old days” when my siblings and I were growing up and it was such fun.  Mom and Dad had an uneventful winter, which is always good news. No health scares, to speak of and they returned home to very warm and welcoming temperatures. The whole family will be gathering at Mom and Dad’s on Sunday for brunch to celebrate Easter and their return home.

Life is Good!

Busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest

I feel so overwhelmed. I’m falling behind on everything!

Work is chaos, though that’s not really a complaint. I’ve been begging for this for the past two painfully slow years and I finally got my wish. But I hate when I make minor mistakes because I’ve got too many irons in the fire and I don’t know how to say no or ask for help.

The kitchen is still in chaos. But it’s coming together, slowly but surely.

Kacey is on spring break this week and filling up every spare moment with activity. Last night she hung out with a friend, first at the mall, then back home to play Wii and watch a movie. Tonight she’s going bowling with a bunch of kids. Tomorrow there’s a bonfire party at a friend’s house. I took Friday off, thinking I might spend some time with her. At the rate things are going, that probably won’t happen. That’s okay. Maybe I’ll be able to put my kitchen back in order.

I have to make some sort of Bingo card for fun night with my women’s bowling league. Only instead of BINGO, it will be called BOWLO. Get it? BOWLO? Heh. I know. Lame.

My parents come home from Arizona tomorrow. Jake turns 19 on Friday, and I’m pretty sure there’s a major holiday happening this weekend for which I’m supposed to cook the main dish for the family brunch.

Just a few things happening here…

Easter and Church

I have been in a bit of a slump about going to church lately. I’ve found a church I really like but my family is not exactly comfortable with this church. It’s a non-denominational church and a BIG change from the familiar Catholic traditions they are used to. So I tend to go alone when I go there.

This morning, Easter morning, I really wanted to go to church. And I really wanted my family to be with me. So I woke them up and invited all of them to join me at the Catholic church we have attended for years.

I am sure someone reading this is thinking, “You can’t just come and go as you please.” But I used to be one of those people who attended faithfully, every week and every holy day, for most of my life. And I get that perspective. But I have been working through some faith issues… or maybe it’s worship issues…for a while now. The ultimate goal is to have a better relationship with God and I think He understands.

My family all graciously agreed to join me at church today. It was a compromise for all of us. The kids would have preferred to sleep in. My husband had actually suggested we skip it all together when I mentioned it a couple days ago. I was tempted to go to the “new” church where I always feel infinitely more fulfilled after each service than ever before in my life. But because I wanted my family with me, I suggested we go to the “old” church and everyone felt just a little more comfortable with the whole thing.

I should have realized that the church would be packed and we should have left earlier than we normally would. When we arrived, there weren’t many open seats left. I saw a space big enough for the five of us on the far side of the church and led the way, only to find that the three-person family in the large pew had spread all of their jackets and diaper bags across the open space, presumably saving it for someone else. They made no indication that they were willing to share the space. We stopped in our tracks and looked around.

An usher noticed us looking for a place to sit and motioned for us to follow him. He found a pew where five people were sitting on the far right side and a few others on the far left side and a large open space in the middle. The usher stood next to the family on the right and asked if they might move in and make space. They refused to make eye contact and none of them moved, but the man on the end grudgingly stood up and offered to let us crawl over the others. The usher, sensing the tension, noticed an open pew right up front and led us there instead.

Needless to say, this was not the best start to my day. Mark noticed the tension in my face and once we were seated, whispered, “Don’t let this ruin your whole day.”

He knows me well. I was all set to let this ruin my whole day. I was embarrassed and felt like we had become a spectacle. I was ready to declare this my LAST visit to this church and let the seating issues be my proof that this was not the church for me. But for once, I calmed down quickly and realized my husband might actually be right. It is Easter Sunday and I had my entire family with me at church. There were people who arrived later than us and went through a similar routine in finding a place to sit. The people who refused to share their pews were not a reflection of the church as a whole, and not a reflection of God’s presence in our lives.  They were just some people who appeared selfish to me at first glance, but I also realized that I really had no idea what motivated their actions. The bottom line is that we did get a place to sit. We ended up surrounded by good friends, some whom we haven’t seen in years and we got to participate in a joyful and fulfilling service.

It is a happy Easter.