23 December 2007

Holidays for the Inner Child

So I've been back in touch with my inner child lately, which is to say I'm spending too much time feeling too sensitive about things that really shouldn't be that big a deal. I realize that there are far bigger actual problems in the world, and I have the emotional wherewithal to rise about all this. But still. It's not always so easy.

I wrote a bit about our Thanksgiving. I realized, later, that part of my problem that weekend was that I was doing some very particular things that I wanted my parents' approval and endorsement for, and they weren't giving it. Last winter, when my parents were moving out of their New York apartment, I took a box of old family photos and offered to put them into an album, telling my mother it would be a kind of album like I made from our adoption travels (a scrapbook format, with things pasted to the page, all archival-quality materials). I never got around to making the album, and last spring when we went to Florida, I took the photos, and my mom and I organized them by topics and family groups, and she identified people for me. I still didn't have time to do the album, but I thought over Thanksgiving, we'd have time to sit together and put the pages together, and I planned to give Mom some journalling boxes so she could write captions for the photos. It wouldn't be fancy, but it would get everything in a book.

When we sat down to do the album, though, my Dad walked over and said, "but what if you wnat to take the pictures out? Or give some to Other Daughter?" So they decided no, they didn't want the album. Which is fine, but it also means they weren't listening when I had offered to make the album, and it also means I had acquired a bunch of album supplies I didn't need. And my inner child heard all this as "You don't matter." Which I realize is all the product of my inner child's insecurity schtick which my inner child has processed in therapy and I thought had gotten over. But apparently not.

So I went to a photo store and got drop-in archival photo sleeves and a binder to put them in, and we put the photos in pages, with some paper for writing captions, and Mom was happy. Then she wanted to pay me for the materials. Which my inner child also perceived as a huge slight, because I had wanted the picture-organizing to be a gift for them. I tried to say, no, no, it's a gift, but they insisted.

In the meantime, my mother was trying to tell me six ways from Sunday how much she enjoyed all the food I had cooked over the weekend--which is really a pretty big deal as my parents are not vegetarians, and are pretty suspicious of vegetarian cooking. All those compliments didn't really make a big impression, because my inner child was moaning so much about the failure of the photo project.

So really, my mother and I were talking at cross purposes: I am sure that she meant her food compliments to convey her appreciation for all we did to organize the Thanksgiving weekend. I am also sure she has no idea what the photo-organizing project meant to me. And I don't know why I can't, having come to this analysis, just take in the compliments for what she intended and leave the photos behind.


I have been on the phone with my sister several times today. We're going to her house the day after Christmas, for the Granola family Christmas celebration. Curious Girl, who in years past has been pretty darn terrified of Santa, has this year started to explore a little bit of Santa enthusiasm (she is scared of real Santas dressed up but has been having hysterical conversations with rooftop Santas we've seen around the neighborhood). We've always been rather reserved about the Santa mythology (a topic Dani has had some interesting thoughts about lately), in part because neither Politica nor I are really comfortable with actively building up a story I know to be false (most of our pretend games are driven by CG's imagination, but the Santa story is one we would need to feed to her), in part because we're not celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday even though we do love our Norsk Jul with Politica's father and my family-of-origin celebrates Christmas religiously; in part because we are always on the road. We are the People who Travel to the rest of the family.

But, Santa brings presents for my nieces , and last year, when we were there on Christmas morning, we had a Santa present for CG, too. (I think the year before, I hadn't thought about this at all, and my sister had a spare Santa present for CG. So last year, we organized for Santa, and this year, we had planned to ship a present to my sister's for CG). All fine. Except that UPS isn't cooperating. Our gifts for Politica's dad have arrived, but not our package to my sister's.

So why not just have Santa arrive at Politica's father's, you may be wondering? Well, because CG, in her Santa narratives this year, has been saying to anyone and everyone, "Santa is coming to my cousin's house." And we've just been nodding in agreement. It was a lovely narrative--we got to hitch onto my sister's family's rather extensive Santa mythology without having to do much ourselves to support it. But UPS isn't going to arrive until 12/27, we discovered today. So I suggested that Santa could leave a note saying he'd swing back around on the 27th for CG (we can reallocate some gifts and have a present that was going to be from Politica's dad come from Santa instead, so we'll have it with us when we arrive.) No, my sister says, that won't fit with where her kids think Santa will be on the 27th (at the North Pole). Just have Santa come at Politica's dad's, she says.

Politica and I confer. We like sticking to the CG-generated narrative about Santa coming to the cousins. So I call back. We'll have Santa deliver the present at my parents' house, which is where we'll actually be staying. No, that won't do, because my sister and her kids will be over at my parents' before we arrive, and they will know there is no Santa gift there. So that won't do. Just have Santa come at Politica's dad's, she says again.

My sister also says, "you sound upset at me," and I lie and say I'm not. She presses me, and I continue to lie. This is my deal with my family--I do not like to show my emotions in front of them because I am afraid that they will ignore them. And my sister's continuous suggestions about how we can manage Santa anywhere but near her house are certainly feeding that fear. I had called her a few weeks ago, actually, to talk about Christmas stockings. I'm knitting one for CG now. She's never had one, although my nieces, sister, and brother-in-law all have stockings I knit for them. Last year, CG was in tears on Christmas day because her cousins had a couple of little matching items--hairbows, I think--that had come in their stockings, and she wanted one, too. She didn't really care about the stockings, she just wanted to match her cousins. So I asked my sister if she could pick up three of anything she was getting two of for her girls. I wasn't asking her to fill the stocking, just enable a little matching, I told her. She was surprised. "I thought you'd do the stockings at Politica's dad's," she said. Politica points out now that this was a big hint that she didn't really want our Christmas stuff at her house. We had an awkward conversation that night, and I called her the next day to say not to worry, we'd do the stocking on our own time.

At the moment, Politica and I are both livid. I guess we'll have Santa's gift arrive on Christmas morning, which has the advantage of giving us one more thing to do with Politica's dad in the assisted living facility that morning. There's not going to be a lot of hoopla--our traditional Norsk Jul isn't really possible given that we don't have a kitchen. We're going for Christmas Eve dinner to Graduate School Friends' house, which will be wonderful, joining them for their tradition, which is tamales. Christmas Day we'll be eating at the assisted living facility, and we won't really be able to make the traditional rice pudding (which Politica doesn't like, anyway). So having a stocking and a morning gift will make a little more hoopla, and that will be nice with Politica's dad.

But still, I'm livid. Yes, my sister says, if we had ordered the gift a week earlier it would have been there. Yes, if we had called my sister a week earlier she would have picked something up for us (although my efforts at early coordination didn't really pay off on the stocking). But when you are the People Who Travel, it is hard to craft holiday traditions, and I would think that the People Who Don't Travel would cut us a little slack and help manipulate the narratives to make our lives a little easier. Instead, my sister has all kinds of ideas about how we can change the story we've been telling Curious Girl so that she doesn't have to change a darn thing in her own narrative.

And this bugs me. I know I should be able to let it go. But it's not fading easily. And I wish my inner child weren't so up in arms about this. I've had enough therapy to see the patterns, to understand why all this happens. I don't understand why it's suddenly so hard to react in a more healthy fashion.

Bah, humbug.

But hugs to anyone who's reading my rant: my inner child is happy for supportive readers!


Anonymous said...

I get it. You are very accomodating with understanding to other people's needs. It is unfortunate when other people don't reciprocate-- especially when we care so much about their vaildation. :(


Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

It does sound to me as if your sister should be the one who travels next year... let her deal with all of that. I'm sure you'd be more accomodating than she is... sometimes people need to be shown how to be helpful, they just don't get it from what you ask or (heaven forbid) on their own.

I do think she's been pretty stubbourn about it all, like she's resisting for the sake of resisting.

I'm sure CG will love being with her cousins no matter what-- it is too bad her auntie isn't more in the spirit.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

I have no helpful suggestions, but as much sympathy and support as can fit in a comment box. :)

Anonymous said...

how irritating, because really it's not about CG and Santa. It's about CG and the cousins.
I'm the Person Who Travels. I find it irritating, even though I have no children or Santa Clauses to worry over!

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

I am so sorry that things are refusing to be easy and simple for you, Politica and CG for Christmas. Ugh! You have my sympathies, and I hope everything works out OK.

Phantom Scribbler said...

I have found that my inner child is much less willing to be soothed on such issues when I feel like my own children's happiness is being compromised in any way by my family's refusal to take my/our needs into account. Which is by way of saying that they are making it harder for you to give CG the holiday experience you want her to have, and it makes total sense to me that you are royally pissed off about it.

I'm sorry about the Thanksgiving album stuff! I had similar issues whenever I tried to cook a meal for my parents or siblings -- I finally resolved them only by vowing to take them to restaurants whenever they visit. Sigh.

Bardiac said...


I hope things work out well, in whatever way. I wish I had something more helpful to offer.

elswhere said...

Like Phantom, I find that I get really, really mad at my family when they seem to not be accommodating my kids. I know that technically, the Person Who Travels is a guest and etiquette demands that guests abide by the wishes of the gracious host, but in reality generally the Person Who Travels among families at holiday time is the one doing much of the work, paying for tickets, and schlepping themselves & families across the country, so it is kind of hosting relatives to accommodate their needs as much as possible.

In other words: (o) and {{{Susan}}}

liz said...

((((Susan, Politica, CG))))

Do you think maybe your sister is being competitive about Christmas? Giving her girls a better one in comparison to CG's?

If not, I don't get her resistance over the stocking presents.


Make THEM travel next time.

Arwen said...

Ohhh.. What everyone has said. I'm sorry to hear the stress, and I know all those loaded-with-history negotiations that mean more than they are, and that sort of sadness of cross-purposes when you don't want it to but it hurts anyway.

And I'm also with PS: it always bugs me more when my wishes for my kids are involved.

Songbird said...

Now I remember why we stayed home when the kids were little, with only one year's exception.
There is just nothing we can do to make uncooperative people cooperate, but I guess that should never surprise us. Sigh.

niobe said...

Of course, I didn't see this before Christmas, so my support is completely untimely, but it sounds like your idea that your family will ignore your feelings is a very accurate one.

You can accept and accommodate and try to react appropriately, but all that comes at a huge psychic cost. And it's completely unfair that you're the one who has to pay it. Well, you and CG and Politica.