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Christmas with my parents

Posted Dec 29 2008 4:43pm

I’m coming to realise that my mother is just as broken a person, in her own way, as my father. She has a wheat allergy and fibromyalgia, but really I think that avoiding wheat-containing foods is the only way she can find to experience any feeling of control over her life, and the fibromyalgia is the only way she can find to demand attention.

I was doing OK over Christmas until the Saturday. I went to my sister’s house that afternoon. There were lots of people there. My sister and her husband and their two children. And there was my sister’s father. And also her husband’s parents and his sister and his sister’s husband. It was kind of overwhelming, especially after the quietness of my parent’s house. But everyone was talking and laughing and enjoying themselves, playing with the kids and so on. It was nice. It was relaxed.

So it was difficult to go back to my parents’ house, where life is slowly dessicated away. My sister’s house isn’t what you’d call tidy, but it’s full of things that she and her family do and have done, all the stuff that defines their lives. My parents house is much tidier and far, far cleaner. But the purpose of the things in their house is to look nice and be kept nice, not to be used and enjoyed. My father collects china birds that sit on the shelves, gazing down with beady eyes. Nobody knows why he collects them, least of all him. Some meals we ate in the kitchen around their small kitchen table. Every time, my father would go to the garage to get an extra chair and after every meal he would put it away in the garage again.

After I came back from my sister’s house, all this felt very, very oppressive. It was the contrast more than anything else. My parents are older, of course, and you wouldn’t expect them to live the same kind of lives as my sister. But they like their lives to be empty and meaningless and the kind of pleasure that my sister’s family take in being around each other is utterly alien to them. My mother and father think that’s the way life should be lived and that everyone else who lives differently is odd.

I was feeling kind of irritible and subdued afterwards, thinking about this. But I managed to not get angry when my father asked if I hadn’t taken my medication that day. What I find kind of annoying is the thought that my father takes my recovery as some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card. He probably thinks that because I’m on medication and feeling better my problems had nothing to do with him. But it’s not like he acted any differently when he had ample reason to believe that he’d been a lousy father and his behaviour was at the root of much of the misery in my life. So it’s probably not worth worrying about all that much.

Maybe my parents have been miserable for so long that they’ve mistaken it for contentment.

And likably daffy though my mother is, she was as much to blame for my awful childhood as my father. It was my father who did the shouting, but it was my mother who put me in the utterly impossible position of trying to reason with the most unreasonable adult in the world, who made me responsible for dealing with his moods and unpredictability. And it was my mother who denied all responsibility by pretending to be just as much of a victim and just as powerless as I was.

All in all, I did OK. I took my guitar with me and got in lots of practice. I took some books and read quite a bit. I didn’t let my father get to me. Having actual sleeping patterns helped. And I was able to escape a couple of times. It was nice to see my mother, regardless of her flaws. And it was nice to see my sister and my niece and nephew. But it’s really good to be home.

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