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Ask Polly My Mom Keeps Guilting Me About Visiting For Christmas! – The Awl

DearPolly,

Soit’stheHolidaysagain,whichmeanseveryone’sgoingtocomeatyoubitchin’aboutfamily。

Letmethrowmyhatintheringasamemberofthat(sizable)contingent。

MymotherandherhusbandlivenearwhereIgrewup,aboutaseven-hourdrivefromwhereIlivenow。

Myfatherandhiswifeliveoutofstate;Ionlyseethemtwiceayearorso。

Mytwoyoungersistersbothmovedfaroutofstate(tothesametownnoless)withtheirchildrenwithinthepastyearandahalf。

Thereasonforthisbackground?

—?

I’mthe“onlyoneleft”closetovisitmy?

mother。

She’sasweetwoman,buteverytimetheholidayscreepnear,shestartsinastheCruiseDirectorofamassiveguilttrip。

Whydon’tI(andmypartner)staywiththemforChristmas?

“Wehaveplentyofroom!

I’dlovetoseeMYONLYSONthisChristmas。

WecanhaveChristmasMorningTogether!

”(Notexactlyappealing。

I’mcomingintomylatethirtiesanddon’thavechildrenofmyown。

)ThisisadoublesqueezeasmybirthdayfallsameretwodaysafterOurGoodLordBabyJesus’s(withwhomshehasavery,veryclosepersonalrelationship)。

It’snotlikeI’mleavingherinalonesomeemptynest。

Herhusbandhasthreegrownchildren,allofwhomhavefamiliesoftheirown(myhowtheChristFolktakethat‘fruitfulandmultiply’linetoheart)。

Mostofthemlivecloseby,andshe’ssurroundedwithscoresofkidsandgrandkids。

Thedinneristhelongtableofadultswithtwocardtablesfullofrugrats,hugeturkeywithallthetrimmings,massivetree,choirmusic;it’sadozensofprayersandinvocationskindofholiday。

It’sapostcardChristmas,andI’mgratefulthatshehasit。

It’swhatshelikes,andwhatshe?

wants。

However,it’snothowI(normypartner)roll。

We’vebeentogetherforcominguponthreeyears,andwhentheholidayscomearound,wejustliketospendthemquietlytogether。

Goonvacationsomewhere(oftennearwheremymotherlives,makingturningherdownallthemoredifficult)。

Seefriends。

Drinkandsmokeandswearandbemerry(allofwhichareverbotenatmymother’sdomicile)。

We’reObama-loving,atheist,chimneysmoking,whiskeyswillers。

Totopitoff,I’maCISstraightdudeandmypartnerisafemalebiqueerwithanex-wife。

Imaginehowthatconversationwithmymotherwentthefirsttimearound…。

“Soshe’sconfused,then?

Issheondrugs?

Wassheabusedasachild?

Ishouldprayaboutthis。

”Mymother,herhusband,andhisentirebroodareBornAgains。

Nice,generouspeoplewhoarealwayskindandsweet。

Butit’sstilluncomfortable;thereisnothingtotalkabout,nothingtodrink。

AndyouhavetowatchyourlanguageforChrissakes。

Everythirdseasonorso,oneofherhusband’skidswillchallengemetoadebateonmyatheism。

Yeah。

It’sareallyfunthingtodiscusswhenthereisn’tacigaretteorascotcharoundformiles。

MypartnerthoroughlyenjoyedalltheruckusinthehouseholdduringtheProp8times,I’m?

sure。

Here’sthefinalcaveat。

I’mhappytovisitheraroundtheTimeofChrist’sMass。

I’veseenhereveryyearsinceIwasincollegefortheHolidays。

IjusthavezerointerestintheEvents。

TheBigMeal,thePrayer,the400peopleinthehouse,allofthemwithlittleJesusSpawnrunningaround。

Inyearspast,I’veevenstayedthenight。

ButsinceI’vebeeninthiswonderfulrelationship,I’vewantedChristmastobeourthing,asagrownupadultcouple。

Assuch,wedonotwanttostaythenightatherhouse(remember,theGoodLordrequiresusunmarriedthirtysomethingstosleepinseparatebedroomsfortheduration)。

We’dhavenocuddlesforChristmasonher?

turf。

WhenItoldmymother,gentlybutfirmly(fornowthethirdDecemberinarow),thatthisisanadultvacationtimeforusasacoupleand,sincewehavenochildren,Christmasmorningholdsnospecialmagicalallure,shetoldmeIwasbeingselfish(averyold,commonretortfromher)andthatChristmaswas“notaboutme。

”Theimplicationis,ofcourse,thatit’sabouther,then。

Again,wearetotallygoingtobestoppingbyasI(andnowwithmypartner,we)doeveryyear。

Again,Iseethiswomanaroundtheholidayseveryyear。

Wejustdon’twanttostaythenight,dotheChristmasEve/ChristmasMorning,BigMealwithLotsofPrayersthing。

Wewanttostopbyonthe23rd,ormaybethe26th,andspendtheafternoonandhaveaquiet,smallmeal,andthendrivebacktoourcozyhotelandfucklikethecute,secular,unmarriedadultcouplethatweare。

Iexplainedthis,(fornowthethirdDecemberinarow)thusly:“Mom,we’dlovetoseeyouthisyear,butasI’vetoldyoubefore,wedon’tfeelcomfortablestayingthenightatyourhouse?

—?

particularlywhenyouinsistwehaveseparateaccommodations。

We’dliketobeinahotellikeusual。

”TothisshesaidIwasbeing“childish。

”ShesuggestedI“growup。

”ThenthingsusuallydevolveintowhyI’mnotmarriedyet,andwhenamIgoingtogetmarried,andwhyIdon’thavechildrenyet,andwhenwillthat?

happen。

Ikeephavingthisconversationwithhereverygoddamnyear,Polly。

Andwithmysistersnowmovedaway,andasIgetolder(andstillverysecular,andstillveryunmarried,andstillverymuchchildless)theconversationgetsmorepassionate,moreunnerving。

Herpositionbecomesthatmuchmoreintractable,andmyresponsethatmuchmorehardened。

ItmakesmewanttofastforwardtoNewYear’s。

Itcastsashadowoverourentirevacation。

Becauseguesswhatthetopicofdiscussionattheaforementionedquietafternoonmealonthe23rdorso?

“Whyorwhywon’tyouSTAYFORCHRISTMAS?

”ImaybestubbornbutI’mnotsoulless。

Theguiltworks,Polly。

EveryJanuaryIfeellikeaShitty?

Son。

Ohwhatto?

do?

Sincerely,

FedUpat?

Xmas

DearFUAX,

WhatyoudoatChristmasisdefinitelyyourpersonalchoice。

Iunderstandwhyyourmom’sNormanRockwellcharadefeelslikealivingnightmareforyouandyourpartner。

Icanalsounderstandnotwantingtobepressuredaboutmarriageandkids,notwantingtoprayandrevelinthejoyofJesus’sbirthday。

Igetthatit’sasininethatyouandyourlong-termladywouldbeconsignedtodifferentbedrooms。

Iunderstandtheguiltandthedefensivenessandangerthatarisefromthisyearlyshowdown。

Andyes,there’ssomethingdepressingaboutbeingaskedtoassumethiscompliant,child-likerole,tobecomeoneofamobofChristiansatabigtable,noddingandyes-yesingandpassingthegravywithalotofpeopleyoudon’tcareaboutandcanbarelyeventolerate。

But,isthebirthofChristreallysoprecioustoyou?

Canyounotfucklikecute,secular,unmarriedadultseveryothernightoftheyear?

Youneedcuddle-timeonthisonemagicalnight,orthesufferingisimmense?

—?

eventhoughyoudon’tremotelycareabouttheholiday’ssignificance?

Asamatureadult,therearethoserare,importantmomentswhenyouareaskedtoshowup,andpretend。

Youareaskedtoplayanelaborategameofmake-believe,forthesakeofsomeonefromanotherplanetwhononethelessisagoodpersonandmademorethanafewsacrificesonyour?

behalf。

Now,ifyouwerephysicallyabusedbyyourmother,orifshesaidthingslike,“See,son,Iknewyou’dneveramounttoshit”?

Thatwouldbedifferent。

Ifyouweregayandsherejectedthatandrefusedtoacceptyourpartneraspartofyourlife?

Ifsheactivelyandaggressivelyfoughtagainstwhatyoustandfor?

Thatwouldbeonething。

Doesherrefusaltoacceptandacknowledgeexactlywhoyouareandhowyouchoosetolivehurtyoutoyoursoul?

I’mnothearingthat,butifthat’sthecase,then,sure。

Doyourownthing,knowingthatthepainofplayingalongwithhercharadewouldruinyourentirevacation。

Butifyoucansimplystepbackandacceptthatyou’retwodifferentpeople,withdifferentquirksandbeliefsandstubbornnotions,ifyoucanswallowherridiculousrulesandtoleratehertribe’sidioticlectureswithoutfeelinglikeyourpsycheisbeingviolatedandinjured,ifyoucangraspthatshewantsaSYMBOLICCHILDofherstobethereforthewholeroutine,foreveryprayerandinvocationandcelebratorybreakfastandchaoticpresent-unwrapping,todemonstratethatsheislovedandappreciatedasamotherbyatleastoneofherkids,thenyoushouldrisetotheoccasionandgiveyourmotherwhatshe?

wants。

Youshoulddoitbecauseyourmotherisn’tbattlingyouoveryourchoices,dayafterday。

She’snottellingyou,dayafterday,thatyou’redoingitwrong。

Shewantsyoutogetmarriedandhavekids,whichmakesherexactlylike99%ofthemothersoutthere。

Herwantingthatdoesn’tmakeherparticularlyawful。

Ifparentingbroughtherimmensehappiness,shenaturallywantsthesamethingforyou,asrepetitiveandclosedmindedasthatmight?

be。

Yourmotherdoesn’tfightwithyouallthetime。

HerprimarybattlegroundisChristmas。

Shewantsthisonethingfromyou。

Shewantsittoanirrationalextent。

Itmakesherweepyandenraged。

Shewantsyouandyourpartnerthere,pretendingthatyoufitrightin。

ShewantsyoutopretendthatyouareagoodChristianson。

Sheknowsthatyouaren’t,butfor48to72hoursshewantsyoutopretendthatyou?

are。

Now,somepeoplewilltellyou,“It’senoughthatyougoandmakeanappearance。

”Butthatisn’tthesamething。

Shewantsyoutostayunderherroof,foremotionalreasons。

Doyouknowhowitmustfeel,tobecookingandcleaningforyourhusband’skidsandgrandkids,whenonlyoneofyourkidswillevenhangoutatall,andhe’sonlyaroundforafewhoursbeforehedisappears?

I’mnottryingtogiveyoushit,I’mjusttryingtomakeyouseehowlonelythisholidayspectacularactuallyfeelsforher。

Yousayyou’regratefulthatshegetsherpostcardChristmas。

Butshedoesn’treallygetthat。

It’sonlyapostcardChristmasifherownkidsarethere,trust?

me。

Personally,Ithinkyoushouldgiveyourmotherexactlywhatshewants。

Arriveonthenightofthe23rdandstayuntiltheeveningofthe25th,thenfleetoahotelroom。

Iwouldpushtostayinthesameroomasyourpartner,butIwouldn’tmakeastinkaboutitifshe?

refuses。

Sometimesloveisaboutshowinganotherhumanbeingeverysinglepartofyou,andhavingthatpersonacceptandunderstandyoucompletely。

Othertimes,though,loveisaboutcaringenoughaboutsomeinsane,twisted,aggravatingcreaturefromanotherplanetthatyou’rewillingtoshowupandplayalongwiththeirinsane,twisted,aggravatingaliengames。

Sometimesloveisaboutgettinginthecarwithyourpartner,and,asyoudriveforsevenhours,sayingtoeachother,“Weareabouttoeatasteamingplatterofshit。

Wearegoingtoeatitandeatitandwe’regoingtoactlikeit’sdelicious。



Somepartnersandgirlfriendsandwiveswillnotagreetosuchathing。

Ihaveafeelingyourladyisspecial,andshe’llfeelproudofyourdecisiontodo?

this。

Mydadwasnotaneasyperson。

HehadverystrongopinionsaboutwhatIshouldandshouldn’tbedoingwithmylife。

Heconsistentlyreferredtoeachofmyboyfriendsas“ThatGuy,”asin“WhyareyoufollowingThatGuyacrossthecountry,anyway?

Playinghouseishell,youknow。

Andwhat’sthehurry?

Whydon’tyoustayhereforafewyearsinstead?

What’ssogreataboutThatGuythatyouneedtomove3,000miles?

away?



Hewasnotallthattolerantofmeormythoughtsorfeelings。

HewouldoftengetannoyedwhenItalkedaboutmyselformylife,soImostlylistenedtohimtalkabouthisgirlfriends,histravels,hisdilemmas,whatever。

ThelasttimehevisitedmeinSanFrancisco,Iwokeupat7a。

m。

threedaysinarowandpickedhimupfromhishotelsowecouldgorunningalongthebeach,andthenhavebreakfasttogether。

7a。

m。

waslike3a。

m。

tomethen。

Iwashungovertwoofthosemornings。

Isawdoingthisasamajoractofgenerosityonmy?

part。

Onhislastnightintown,wewentouttoabarandhadanearlydrinktogether。

Weendeduphavingareallygoodconversation,actually,maybethefirstadultconversation,betweenequals,thatwe’deverhad。

ButI’dtoldmyfriendstocometothebarlateron。

Whentheyshowedup,Iwasanxiousformydadtoleave。

Hecouldtell。

Hedidn’twanttoleave。

Icouldtell。

Iencouragedhimtoleave。

Iwasniceaboutit,butIcouldn’tseeushangingoutwithmyfriends。

Plus,Ihadacrushononeoftheguyswho’dshownup。

Ineededtofocusmyenergieselsewhere。

Mydaddiedthreemonthslater。

Idon’tevenknowthoseotherpeople?

anymore。

Itwassoimportantformetohavethingsmywaybackthen。

IsaweverythingIdidformydadasamassivesacrifice。

Sure,mydadwastough。

ButhelovedmeandIlovedhim。

Becausehemademefeelguiltyalot,though,IthoughtthateverysecondIspentwithhimwasMEdoingHIMafavor。

IhadnoideathatIwastheonewhowasluckytobethere,toknowhimasanadult,tojokearound,tohaveafewdrinks,togethisperspectiveontheworld,orjusttositbackandappreciatehistweakedholding-forthonthestateofthings。

Ihadnoideaallofthatwasabouttogoupin?

smoke。

Sure,sometimesIplayedtheSYMBOLICCHILDwhenmysiblingsdidn’twanttodoit。

IflewtoJohnstown,Pennsylvaniatoattendmygrandfather’sfuneral,whennooneelsecouldgo。

Ididn’thavethemoneyforaplaneticket,andIdidn’twanttoflyonasmallplanefromPittsburghtoJohnstown,becauseIwasveryafraidofsmallplanes。

Whenthepilotannouncedthatwewereabouttolandin“JohnTown。

”MydadandIlookedateachother,stricken。

Thepilothadneverfuckinglandedaplanetherebefore。

Theairportwasontopofamountain,andthatdayitwasshroudedin?

fog。

Thepilotmissedtherunwayonthefirstpass,andhadtocirclearoundandtryagain。

MyfatherandIwerequietandpaleandgulpinglikefish。

Igotofftheplaneandhadtoliedownforaminute,justtokeepfromthrowingup。

Thenwedrovedownthemountainandarrivedinasmall,crowdedroomwithmygrandfather’scorpse,whichwaswearingfoundationandbrightpink?

blush。

Thattripwasnotfunwhileitwashappening。

Mydaddrovereallyfast,andourpoliticalviewsclashed,andhedidn’texactlyrespectmyopinions,unlessIwasanalyzingoneofhisgirlfriends’personalities。

ButnowIfeelsogratefulthatIwasthere。

Wedidn’thavemuchtimeleft。

HowdoesthatBowerbirdssonggo?

“ThoughIcouldnotknowthen,we’dhavebutfewtimeslike?

these。



Parent-childrelationshipsaresobewilderingandheartbreaking,almostacrosstheboard。

Wetryhardtodorightbyourparents,butafterawhilewefeellikewe’vedoneenough,likeweneedtomakeourownchoicesandgetsomedistance。

ButwhenIthinkoftheyearsI’vewasted,wantingmymothertoconformtomyexpectationsofherinsteadofjustacceptingherlimitations,itmakesmesad。

ForyearsIwantedhertounderstandandembracemecompletely,eventhoughIwasn’tdoingthesameforher。

Icould’vejustshownupandplayedalongandnottakeneverysinglethingpersonally,forhersake。

Instead,Igotlostinmyownangerandfrustrationthatthingscouldn’tbedifferent,thatwecouldn’tbetogetheronMY?

terms。

It’shardnottotakeyourparentspersonally。

Maybeimpossible。

Yourmotherisseriouslytaxing。

Igetthat。

Andifyouspendthenight,youmaythink,overandover:WHYAMIDOINGTHIS?

Attimesyoumayfeelglumanddespondent。

Allofyourshitfromthepastislikelytocome?

up。

ButitwillalsobeVERYINTERESTING,won’tit?

Youwilllearnafewthingsaboutyourself,andyourmother,andyour?

partner。

You’llhavetobecontenttoplaythegoodsonandobserveandstaycalm。

Duringtheday,you’llgooutonawalkorajogorahikewithyourpartner,andyou’lltalkaboutyourcrazymotherandhercrazystepchildrenatlength。

Andafterit’sallover,asyou’redrivingawaytothesecondhalfofyourvacation,whichwillincludelotsofcuddlingandsexanddrinkingandsmoking,youandyourpartnerwilllaughtogetheratyourmother’sirritatingtics。

Butwhynotgiveherthisgift,allthesame?

Whatyoudon’tknowyetisthatthisChristmasinsanityisalsoYOURreward。

Thisisyou,experiencingyourmother’stwistedjoyfulodditiesonHERtermsforonce,andit’sagifttoyou。

Becauseit’llbegoodforyourheartandyoursoulandyourmemories。

Honestly,Ithinkyou’reinconflictoverthisvisitbecauseyourheartistellingyoutostayovernightatherhouse,forhersake,eventhoughit’sfuckingpurgatory。

YourintellectsaysDOWHATYOUFUCKINGWANT。

YOU’REANADULT。

FUCKHERANDHERSHITTYNOTIONSOFGODANDFAMILY。

ButyourheartbelievesthatyoushouldbethereonChristmas,thewayshewantsyouto?

be。

Iwouldpitchthisplantoyourpartner:CrazyChristianChristmas,nuttymom,peskykids,heteronormativenightmare,followedbyalonetimewithyouforfivedaysinanicehotel。

She’llsighheavily。

ButIbetshe’llthinkit’sreallymatureandgenerousofyou,towanttodothisforyourmom。

Ibetshe’llknowthatit’llbereallyinterestingandweirdandfunnyandgoodforbothofyou,tosufferthroughthistogetherandbiteyourtongueandbeaspleasantaspossible。

AndIbetthat,onceyoucommittothis,you’llfeelbetter。

Youwillfeelproudofyourself。

Ifyouknowforsurethatyouareincapableofthis,thatitwillscaryoutoodeeply,well,that’syourcall,notmine。

Butyoushouldaskyourself,“Whichchoiceofferstherichestexperiencepossible?

Whichchoicewillmakemylifethemostinterestingandadventurous?

Whichchoicewillbethemostmemorable?

”IwillneverforgetthatcrazytripItooktoJohnstown。

Eventhoughitwastaxing,it’soneofmymostvividmemoriesIhaveofmyfatherandhisfamilyandhishometown。

Eventhoughyourfamilyvisitsareexcruciating,ifyouthrowyourselfintothespiritofitandtryveryhardtoplaywithlittlechildrenandchatwithGod-fearingcousinsandhelpyourmommakethemashedpotatoes,Ithinkyou’llbechangedbyit。

Peoplewillannoyyouandmakeyouangryandyou’llhavetoworkhardnottoargueandsaythewrongthing。

Butonceit’sover,youwillfeelgoodaboutyourabilitytoriseaboveyourownneedsandgiveofyourselflike?

this。

Butlook,evenifyoudon’tgo,youshouldresolvetostoparguingwithyourmom。

Shewon’tbecomeadifferentperson,orstartlisteningtowhatyou’resayingoutoftheblue。

She’sgettingolder,andlessflexible。

Willhermindstillbesharpintenyears?

Willshebeabletocookaturkey?

Willallofthosefamiliesthatcometoherhouseeventuallystayathomeinstead?

Inafewyears,willyourmombewidowed,livinginsomeresthomeinanotherstate,nearoneofyoursisters?

Appreciatewhatyouhaverightnow。

Appreciateherforwhosheis,rightnow,withallofherlimitationsandflaws。

Watchherinyourcompany,andwitnesshowmuchshelovesyou,howmuchyoumatterto?

her。

I’msureyoufeelangrythatI’maskingyoutodothis,thatI’maddingtotheguiltyoualreadyfeel,whenyouwerehopingI’dtellyoutotellhertofuckoffinstead。

Itprobablymakesyoufeelalittlesickjustthinkingaboutdoingthis。

Andit’llbeeasyenoughforyoutofindsomefriendwho’lltellyouthatyoushoulddowhateverthefuckyouwantforChristmas。

Butyoumightnothavethatmanyyearslefttoplaythegoodkid。

Itactuallyfeelsgoodtoplaythatrole。

It’sarole,sure,andmaybeit’snotperfectlyinlinewithyourmostauthenticself。

Butit’sagenerousthing。

Youcanplayitonceayear,can’tyou?

Youcanputeveryounceofyourloveforherintoit,andyoucanplaythatrolelikeyoufuckingmeanit。

LoveisnotJUSTaboutbeingacceptedforexactlywhoyouare。

Sometimesloveisaboutacceptingsomeoneelse,firstandforemost,andgivingthemexactlywhattheyneed。

Idon’tthinkyou’llregretthat。

Twentyyearsfromnow,Ithinkyou’lllookbackandsay,“I’mreallygladIgaveher?

that。



Mydaddiedalmost20yearsago,andIstillthinkaboutrunningalongtheSanFranciscoBaywithhim。

Ididn’tknowthatwouldbethelastdayI’deverseehisfaceorhearhisvoice。

I’mreallygladIdidn’tsleepin?

instead。

Polly

Areyoufreakingoutabouttheholidays?

WritetoPollyandshe’llfixyouanicehomemadeknucklesandwich。

HeatherHavrilesky(akaPollyEsther)isTheAwl’sexistentialadvicecolumnist。

She’salsoaregularcontributortoTheNewYorkTimesMagazine,andistheauthorofthememoirDisasterPreparedness(Riverhead2011)。

Sheblogshereaboutscratchypants,personalitydisorders,andagedcheeses。

TheterribleSantaisbyDan?


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