Posted by: Kate | June 30, 2010

Ritual

I’ve decided we don’t have enough ceremonies. A baby is born, sure, great, much pushing and effort, or slicing and dicing, or travel and meeting, and thus you receive a new little creature. There is much rejoicing, and sometimes birth announcements wander out through the postal system. (Which, hmm, maybe I should get on that… somehow I wasn’t quite up to the task in the month following Isaac’s birth. Such a slacker, I know, I could’ve used those endless hours in the hospital to apply calligraphy and scrapbook decorations to little bits of paper and end up with true works of art; instead I have a disjointed and angst-ridden journal and random IV-inflicted scars. So misguided.)

But there’s not much in the way of real events associated with a birth. Escape from school gets a graduation, legal union gets a wedding, death gets a funeral, birth gets… some sore parts, either from the physical birth or just the multitude of headaches brought on by chronic parenthood. Lots of cards and well wishes, certainly, but not much in the way of formality. It just doesn’t seem right, because birth is one of those things that is kind of necessary before any of the rest of it to happen.

So, we baptize. We aren’t particularly spiritual here, and aren’t religious at all, but I want to leave that option open to my children, through childhood and onward. All three children now share the same couple as godparents, a pair of individuals whose faith is evident, and strong, and true, and joyful… but is not ever used as a weapon with which to fling guilt or restrictions at others. They’ll have their 50th wedding anniversary next year, and to celebrate, they’re going on a trip to the Holy Land, a guided tour with a group from their church, because of all of the places in the world that they could go for their first-ever international trip, Israel is the one they feel most drawn to. We love them dearly, and by formalizing the relationship with them we’re able to provide our kids with a direct line to another, true, deeply held set of beliefs when they bring up the, “So, what is this God person, thing, whatever, anyway?” Willem and I answer, from our own perspectives, and then we get Grandma Judy on the phone to share another way of looking at it all.

The fact that we’re involving religion in our lives has garnered some opposition, over time, from Willem’s family. His parents were adamantly anti-religion, and both put some effort into making sure that their sons knew how averse they felt to the idea of any sort of organized religion; Willem’s father was outspokenly atheistic from childhood, and his mother referred to herself as a “lapsed Catholic.” Both pulled me aside and expressed their unhappiness when we first announced our plans to have Emily baptized, and in the end it became one of those Kate’s-side-of-the-family things, something that a handful of Willem’s family members might choose to attend or acknowledge, if there was nothing else on their calendar that day. Each child’s baptism featured the church service, followed by a low-key party afterward, and invitations were casual, including an either/both kind of approach: attend the service, attend the party, attend both, whatever.

So, it was a lovely weekend, and we got a sense of ceremony out of it, a ritual in which Isaac was formally welcomed into the community, and then fêted with linguine salad and strawberry shortcake at my mother’s house afterward. We had family friends make the 3-hour drive from Rochester just to meet Isaac, a few representatives from Willem’s family at the church to remind him that he wasn’t totally alone in the world, and various relatives and friends of mine to introduce to Isaac and tell, and then retell, stories about my illness, and catch up with them, and generally be social. I would kind of like a non-religious ritual, or at least the option for one, but this works just fine.



Recently, I’ve had several people ask, “Where is Willem’s mother in all this? Have you heard from his family at all?”

The answer is, “I’m not sure. And, no.”

We did hear from his mother during my illness. My mom simply couldn’t believe that C’s anger and resentment could be so deep that she wouldn’t want to drop her grudges and rush out, at the birth of her grandson and then the grave illness of her daughter-in-law, so (with Willem’s apathetic permission) she called C. C called Willem and was wildly inappropriate over the phone, wailing and reminding him of just how close to death I was, to the point where he was in a position of comforting her, rather than the other way around. After a few such conversations, he asked her not to call unless she could maintain a bit more decorum; she stopped calling. She has not acknowledged Isaac’s birth, and she skipped Emily’s birthday altogether this year. It baffles me and makes me sad, that someone would chose to let an adult conflict (one which could, truly, be worked through with one or two frank and simple conversations, no ongoing punishment needed) separate her from her grandchildren, but thus it is.

I think Willem’s mother and aunt intend to punish us with their ongoing silent treatment, but really, it has been so much less conflicted and difficult in the past year. I still would be willing to mediate a reunion, to set some boundaries and renew a relationship with them if they wanted to get to know the kids, but at this point they don’t seem willing to interact with my children on anyone’s terms but their own. And, since I don’t find their terms (unsupervised conversations that often include violent imagery, negative comments about female body image, sarcasm and rampant passive-aggression, but proof of love via expensive presents) acceptable… well, it means holidays are a bit easier to plan, since we’re not receiving invitations from his side.

So…

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Responses

  1. Congrats on baby’s baptism! It’s a wonderful ceremony. So sorry, again, to hear about your mil. I know how much pain that type of conflict can bring a family. My mil is no where near as bad as yours, thankfully, but we’ve had enough to know how tough it can be. So sad she doesn’t see the kids.

  2. Dont feel alone in the isolation and lack of concern from your In laws…I have only met my mothers mother maybe 3 times my entire life…she has lived in my town since I was born and just could completely care less about me, her other grandchildren, her own children (my mother and uncle) and now her only great grandchildren. If you put too much thought into it you will be full of anger and sadness…I chose to consider her gone…she has never tried to be apart of our lives, therefore I truly dont have a grandmother. I kind of feel the terms like grandmother, aunt, etc are EARNED….if they dont want to share in the joy that is our lives and our children, then it is their loss…let them live miserable lonely lives. Those kiddos of yours are loved so much, and so are you Kate…and I am so happy you have had your children Baptized….I love giving them the option to decide what religion or lack thereof is right for them. Love you guys!

  3. Congratulations on the celebration of Isaac’s birth, I am so happy you are both doing well.

  4. It’s disappointing to me how anyone could not put aside differences to express at least some basic concern in a civil manner. One of the distinctions of humanity is that we relate to each other cognitively and emotionally, and to completely disregard someone’s decisions and feelings seems inhuman.

    Unfortunately, my sister-in-law seems to be just like your mother-in-law. Most recently, when I called my brother to tell him our mother went to the emergency room, she asked me not to keep her informed of my mother’s condition.

    I hope they come around. And if not, as you said, life is simpler. And less stress is always better, for you, Willem, and the children.

    A belated congratulations for Isaac! Cheers.

  5. I agree that it’s sad when adults let their conflicts hurt children – and other family members who are innocent bystanders. In my family it’s the other way around. My cousin, on account of some disagreement the details of which he will not divulge, is “not speaking” to his mother and really anyone else in the family but his brother. This means that he has a 2-year-old daughter who lives minutes from a grandmother and great-grandmother she has never met. This Christmas I gave my grandmother a family tree picture frame with individual pictures of her 4 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren. She is not an emotional woman, but she cried. So I just sent out a FB message to my sister and two cousins asking them to get the 8 of us together for a group picture to give her for her 88th birthday this summer. My cousin “unfriended” me. My heart breaks for my grandmother, and for his daughter who one day will ask him why she never knew her only living great-grandparent.

  6. I just entertained my6self by going back and reading all about your MIL. She is a PIECE OF WORK!!!


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