Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Reality vs. Family

Here's the situation in a nutshell: David and I are NOT going to my uncle's house on Christmas, and both my parents, my uncle, and my grandmother (who won't even be there) are furious.

Since David was traveling most of October and November, we decided to try to go to NYC for a few days. We had wanted to stay at our favorite hotel, but it had a 4 night minimum (with very high prices on two of the four nights). So we are staying with my friend R, who lives just outside the city. We will sleep late, relax with her, and go eat at a really nice kosher restaurant in the city on the 25th.

We'll drop the kids off with my parents, and they can all go to my uncle's house for the day.

Why does my uncle celebrate Christmas? My aunt is Catholic, and therefore their kids are Catholic. And don't forget that my grandfather (dad's father) was not Jewish; I spent my childhood going to my grandparents' house for Christmas.

But when Sam was an infant, I took him to my uncle's, and my mother put all his Hanukah gifts under the Christmas tree. And I decided that I wasn't coming back until my kids knew the difference.

So for many years I did not go to my uncle's house on Christmas. We stayed in Massachusetts, getting together with other Jewish friends either at someone's home or at events at shul.

Last year, when Sam was 8 and Micah was 6, David was away in Israel over Christmas week. So I decided I could handle going down to Stamford. I took the three kids, and it was ok.

"OK" means that the kids all had fun, and I was only verbally attacked a few times - once by my grandmother (whom I was able to pull aside and tell how I felt; after I too a walk around the block and called David in Israel).

The verbal attacks mostly come from my mother and my uncle (and on other occasions from my sister, but since she is a doctor she usually works on Christmas). They generally relate to which morsels of food are being placed in my mouth at any given time, along with continuous harangues about exercise and judgment calls about how I should not be involved in so many activities.


Grandma's comment as I took ONE cookie from the large tray on the counter was "you don't need that", although it was the first cookie I had taken, after nibbling on three pieces of cheese and chasing Sofia around the house for 3 hours.

Thanksgiving is always unpleasant in this regard, as I can feel my mother's eyes piercing into my skin as I put any food on my plate. My uncle will generally muster a comment; my sister continues to say "you have to exercise" when I attempt to tell her anything else about my life in Massachusetts, and this year, my mother gave a long, distasteful pause and face before deigning to put some mac & cheese in a bowl for me at lunch (I made her put it back, and refused to eat in her home, although it meant having to go get a slice of pizza with my husband - that was the night we went to the wedding in NYC, and dinner was served well after 10pm).

Add to the food and exercise theme the continued belittling of our involvement in Jewish activities like the shul or the day school.

And let's not forget the constant complaining about my husband's travel schedule. "Why doesn't he take a 'real' job?" (Uh, because he would be miserable and earn much less!).

And I get second-hand (via my mother, ever willing to criticize) my sister's horror that I spend "so much time" traveling without my children. My children who I am with almost CONSTANTLY most of the time. She works three days a week, with one night on call, so yes, she doesn't see her kids as much.

So this year it seemed like a great idea to drop the kids off and have a day to ourselves.


So far, my uncle's comment at Thanksgiving when I told him the plan was "you can see your friends any time, you'll come to us." (Everyone keeps focusing on the fact that we are staying with a friend; if we were staying alone at a hotel would this be going down differently?)

Then my mother made a gentle attempt: "Family gets together for holidays." When I pointed out that Christmas was not a holiday I wanted to celebrate, she dismissed this, since I'd spent my childhood celebrating it.

Then my grandmother called from Florida: "You're opening a whole can of worms with this not going to P's house."

My mother's comments got more heated, until today when she said: "You're being selfish (a favorite thing to hurl at me; apparently I am the most selfish person in the family). Your father is furious. It's not right. You spend time with family, not friends."

Meanwhile, back in reality, my husband and I are looking forward to getting away for a couple of days, and (yes) visiting R. And NOT being subjected to the constant criticisms of my family.

The funniest part of this is how much better I feel hanging with HIS family. Despite the great amount of dysfunction there, in his family I have a place. I am respected for who I am and what I do. I am not criticised.

Now, how do I communicate this to people who I do love, and who do love me?


Mara said...

don't guilt comments and jewish mothers go together ? What surprises me is them saying something about you eating. Dont normal jewish grandmothers encourage you to i think it is GREAT that you do so much and are so active with your kids : )

Cynthia said...

We can be grown ups with our in-laws, but will always be "kids" with our own family. It is very hard to leave those roles when we know each other so well, or at least think we do.
Best of luck, I think you are doing a healthy thing at this point.