11 June 2007

That Dear Octopus from Whose Tentacles We Never Quite Escape

The past weekend has been busy for us because we've been surrounded by visitors--all from my family. Little man had a blast--so many people to play with and perform for. And we had a pretty good time, too.

But visits from and visits to my family back in Ohio seem to get more and more bittersweet for me, because they often illustrate the growing differences between the family I came from and the family we're trying to create. See, I have a very very close family. I'm talking Christmas Eves with 23 people sitting around 1 table in a moderately small house--every single year...without fail. And, like most people, it comes with it's share of dysfunction. I grew up in a big, Italian family where my grandfather ruled (and continues to rule) as head patriarch. And I grew up less than40 yards away from my grandparents. I still can't quite understand why it is my mom doesn't see the similarities between us and "Everybody Loves Raymond." My
husband is even more dumbfounded.

Growing up that close to my grandparents came with certain perks. My grandma makes killer pies and cookies, and I was always my grandpa's girl growing up. They were like a second set of parents to me. In some ways, I feel closer to them than to my own parents.

The real problem is that since growing up, moving away, getting an education, and starting my own family, there are certain things that I believe that just don't line up with the family line. For instance, Hubby and I have always decided that our little family comes first. This isn't the case for my huge Italian family. We also have decidedly different views about politics. My grandfather, for instance, is never without Fox news on the TV or some right-wing pundit on the radio. After Hurricane Katrina, for instance, a friend of his gave him a "funny" little CD that made fun of the plight of those displaced by the storm. It made my stomach turn. We also have very different ideas about raising kids and discipline. They shake their heads and laugh when we say we're not going to spank Little Man. "You'll see," they say, as they laugh. What they don't understand is that we have seen--and we are even more determined not to spank...or yell. These subtle differences wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't for the fact that I know too much about the family politics. I was always the little kid listening quietly to things I shouldn't be hearing. I know how the guilt trips and subtle digs work...I know what happens behind the scenes when someone doesn't perform up to the expected standard.

So for me, family visits have become bittersweet because I'm usually screaming inside about things that I just can't change. The racist, sexist, or homophobic jokes. The swatting of little bums (not my child's, but still). And part of the reason I can't say anything is because it's none of my business. But a bigger part is that I've always been opinionated--I've always had a bit of a big mouth--and I know that any opinion I have that's different than theirs will be taken as me being a 'bitch' or 'stuck up' or the fact that I think too much. Maybe that was true when I was a teenager...but I still think the label isn't deserved. Speaking up would just prove them "right." I try desperately to prove them wrong.

The hubby and I are faced with balancing our own beliefs against theirs in the most non- confrontational way possible. It may be a long way off, but I know that there will come a day when one of the lines that the Hubby and I have decided upon will be crossed--some one will yell at Little Man or make a racist remark around him or (god forbid) smack him--however gently--on his little behind. When that day comes, I will be forced into action--an action that no matter how reasonable or benign will forever alter my place in the family. But I haven't quite gotten to that point of not caring what they think. To get to that point means achieving an emotional distance I don't really want. In some sense, not caring what they think entails not caring about them.

The mafia isn't that bad. Step out of line they just shoot you. There's definitely worse.


Mad Grad Mom said...

Oh, boy. I feel your pain.

Except replace close-knit Italian family with redneck, backwoods, good ol' boy networked family.

Good times. Good times.

LD said...

but are they Catholic? There's a whole 'nother layer of guilt with that one :O)