Posted by: Kate | November 29, 2009

A Glutton for Punishment

We’re sneaking up on the six-month mark since things went so horribly bad at Willem’s grandfather’s memorial, with his mother and aunt on one side and Willem and myself – and, apparently, our children – on the other. Since we left, the kids and I without being able to say good-bye because the venom and rudeness were just overwhelming, and Willem with an abrupt, “Bye, then,” from his mother, because the conversation wasn’t going her way, we haven’t heard a word. There was the anonymous goofiness on the blog, followed by the rejected-birthday-present go-’round, which may have prompted the single non-anonymous email exchange between Willem and his mother, and then… nothing.

It’s on my mind today because we just coasted through an easy, conflict-free Thanksgiving. No tense phone calls, no guilt trips, just a traditional meal shared between two families that are not yet blended (my father has been with his partner for three years, give or take, and they have recently obtained a marriage license, so it should become official within the next 90 days). I probably should have called my mother sometime that day, but after the intense togetherness of our trip to Paris I thought she would probably forgive my lapse.

Thanksgivings of the past have not always been, howdoyousay, scar-free. Hurt feelings, unspoken angst, unsubtle judgment of our parenting decisions, constant low-grade tension… those were just as ubiquitous as the turkey and stuffing. there were good parts, too, laughter and stories and catching-up, but it was not served equally. Even the post-meal phone calls, made if we had the audacity to be spending a holiday with my family instead of Willem’s, was fraught with peril, because if we called too early, we were interrupting, and if we called too late, “Oh, I thought you had just forgotten us.” It was just nice, this year, not to walk a tightrope.

I don’t know how Christmas will turn out. I know where we’ll be, and I know that there is the potential for enormous, huge, painful drama before year-end. I’m talking the kind of drama that could realistically involve public servants and write-ups in the Police Blotter of the local paper. It could also fade away into absolutely nothing, and boy am I rooting for Choice B – less exciting for the audience, true, but lots easier on my blood pressure.

I just have no sense, at this point, how long the silent treatment will continue. I recognize that we are being punished, not just for our behavior this summer but for being who we are. I know that it is a complete coincidence that the past six months have been among the best months of my life; that the move and the pregnancy would have happened regardless of my in-laws’ involvement… but it’s hard, sometimes, not to really appreciate the timing of said punishment. We have moved and changed phone numbers, it’s true, but we’re not in hiding; the blog is still present, and our email addresses are unchanged. Since the last round of communication was via email, we know that’s a legitimate means of contact, and since the last volley of words went from Willem to his mother, we consider the ball to be firmly in her court. She’ll contact us when she wants to, and until then we’re operating under the assumption that she needs time and space.

So things could all change again tomorrow, or stretch out past the horizon. We don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it lately, because we have plenty of positive things to focus on.

And my primary souvenir from this whole adventure is bafflement. I can understand anger, even years and years of it festering under the surface and finally exploding. I can understand resentment, and blame, and self-righteous indignation. Maybe it’s true; maybe I am just as horrid and unpleasant as my mother-in-law has always suggested. Maybe I have somehow managed to create interesting, healthy, compelling children whilst existing in my own world as a thoughtless, selfish tyrant. Maybe Willem has been drawn in to my twisted way of doing things, and has become tainted by association.


But the constant chorus we have heard, for almost a decade now, is how wonderful our kids are, how special, how loved. And I am left baffled: I simply cannot imagine being angry enough to walk away from my (theoretical, long-future) grandchildren. I can’t imagine allowing adult conflicts to completely shut down any efforts to reach my grandchildren. Sure, the parents sent back a large package of gifts, unopened, but I might interpret that as a message to start with a small, personal message – the mail will get forwarded, be it paper or electronic – that somehow takes a lot more effort than buying some toys. I would understand, even expect, that any message I sent would be screened by the parents, especially if I had a history of sending backhanded passive-aggressive messages in the past, but then my messages would simply be along the lines of, “I love you and I think of you and you matter to me,” and so I would have nothing to fear from parental oversight.

But that’s me. Apparently there is another way of viewing the world, one in which anger at the parents immediately translates into silence toward the children. I’ve been able to sit down and understand, at some level, the thought processes and behaviors of the severely mentally ill, of sex offenders, of drug abusers, but somehow this particular mindset just eludes me.

Ignorance isn’t bliss, exactly, but it could at least be characterized as benign contentment.


  1. Though I don’t have your professional knowledge or expertise in psychological analysis, my simple thought is that whatever her emotions and actions are and have been for years, they rise out of an intense and overriding narcissism.

    Anything that goes against her primal need to be the winner/focus of any situation is cause (in her mind) for her actions.

    It’s a clear driving force that may be inexplicable to all observers, but it makes sense to her. I say, enjoy the peace and let it go, let it go.

    Continuing to expose yourself and the family to toxic contamination is just as inexplicabe to me, whatever “wouldn’t it be nice” familial drives are in your own core.

  2. When my mom died, my dad got all wierd. He had a freakin’ cow cause he thought my mom had hidden money(WTF?) and just knew she told me where it was…

    He not only stopped talking to me, he basically threw away my children and the “friendship” he and my spouse shared.

    I never understood throwing away a child period. But throwing away your only(at the time) grandchildren? This is a man who used to throw me up in the air and then catching me, as I screamed with laughter, when I was 3. His ONLY daughter. Now I never cross his mind. I emailed him when I passed my NCLEX…no response.

    I get ya. I totally get ya. I pray my father’s genes are only about .00001% of mine. Obviously Will did not inherit many things from his mother.

    I know you know this, but validation must come from within. It’s hard for you because of the kids(all 3 of them). In some cases one must just let it go. Your kids are incredible. It’s her loss most of all. It seems like a good thing to me. No passive/agressive guilt or comments or messing with your kids’ minds. Think of all the negative input they’ll never have to suffer.

    PS~Willem is one amazing person to be able to have his priorities in the right place and he recognizes he has all the very best people in his world right this second.

    PPS~sure you don’t want a baby nanny/nurse? I want to blow this tightly wound Northwest pop stand??!!!!!!!! Love you.


  3. I’m glad you had a stress-free thanksgiving, because we sure didn’t THere were passive-aggressive e-mails and tearful phone calls. My mil gave me the silent treatment when she picked the kids up the day after thanksgiving, but she knows better at this point, I hope, to push things too far because we have shown in the past that we are willing to cut off contact as a result of her behavior.

    Despite his mother’s and aunt’s bad behavior, though, husband stuck to his guns and put his family – me and the kids – first. Gosh I love that man.

  4. You’re one of my favorite people. I wish I were closer, tho after having me underfoot you might not share in the sentiment.

    I see your children growing into amazing people. Loving people.

    I don’t know where I got the idea, but growing up I was firmly convinced that love was a zero-sum game. That I had to dole it out jealously. That’s how I saw The Aunts and Mom doing it. Luckily, I got most of Mom’s.

    When Sis#2 adopted her newborn I decided I was just going to love him. And to my utter amazement? I didn’t run out! I didn’t stop loving all of the other people in my life. If anything I was able to keep drawing from my well. It was no longer a reserve! I no longer needed to guard this entity – My Love – least I run out. Because I realized I will never run out.

    When I say he’s my favorite nephew? that’s sort of part of it. Without knowing, he taught me how to love, truly, wholly, unconditionally, without running out.

    How could I ever “take my love back”?

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