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There Will Be No Unpleasantness

January 29, 2012

I think that in general, repression deserves more credit. It’s the foundation of civilization. Stiff upper lip, everyone. Keep your head down and keep on marching.

On the other hand, I think Christine Lavin was onto something: “I am not complaining; I’m just making observations.”

It’s a family thing, I guess. My peerless spouse and some of my siblings’ significant others were once chatting about my family’s quirks — or, as we like to think of them, the habits of right-thinking people: Holding out for a bargain. Putting the butter out at bedtime so it will be soft in the morning and easier to spread on toast. And, above all, no complaining.

And not just “No venting. No futile kvetching.” It’s a sacred trust with us: Count your blessings and be quiet about anything in your life that doesn’t seem like a blessing. Expect the same from other people.

In practice, this policy seems to be a lot like telling people how to feel. Sad about your miscarriage? Be thankful you have a kid. Not enjoying those fertility treatments? Be thankful you have access to them (and be thankful you have a kid already).

My mother is a kind, competent woman, and my friends adore her, as do I. But when she talked about her miscarriages — and I must have been 30 before she ever mentioned them — she shrugged them off: Not meant to be. Something wrong with the baby. Unpleasantness. Move along, nothing to see here. Count your blessings.

So I only told her about my miscarriages when I needed her medical history for my RE. And when I did tell her, she told me how depressed she’d been about hers. OK, granted, she also had to think to remember when she’d had them — stiff lip, head down, forward march. Still, it was nice to hear her acknowledge that general good luck doesn’t always feel like an adequate offset to the crappier parts of life.

I wish she were someone I could talk to about all this. I know she’d be awesome at caramel corn and bourbon.

I have no reason to think she’d be awesome at nonjudgmental support.

We visited my parents shortly before Honey Badger started therapy. Mom and Dad knew we’d had a rough year with him, although I didn’t go into detail or describe any of the worst moments. Doing that would have felt like I was telling on him: He commits acts of unpleasantness. He behaves in ways we never behaved as children, or at least you don’t remember us behaving as children, or we did and you do but you didn’t tolerate it and we all turned out fine.

While we were there, my mother made a point of telling me that he seemed like a normal eight-year-old to her. She volunteered it, out of the blue. And because it would have been argumentative, and thus unpleasant, and also pointless, I didn’t say, “Well, it doesn’t seem normal to us. It doesn’t seem normal to his pediatrician. It doesn’t seem normal to the therapist we consulted. And every friend I’ve asked who has a kid in therapy says she knew there was something wrong. Every friend.” Instead, I just shrugged. I am too busy arguing with my kid to argue with my mother.

After Honey Badger had started therapy, I was chatting with one of my brothers, and we were discussing what we’d done for Mom’s birthday. I admitted I’d sent a card and made a charitable donation on her behalf.

But “I didn’t call her.”

“Really?” he asked. Not appalled, just sort of surprised.

“No. The thing is, I don’t want to talk to her about Honey Badger. But I don’t know how I can talk to her and not tell her about Honey Badger,” I explained.

“Yeah, you’re right. You can’t.”

He didn’t try to argue that I could tell her.

  1. February 17, 2012 10:04 pm

    This has lots of THOUGHTS in it. I keep trying to write a comment on the thoughts, but noticing and acknowledging all the kinds of thoughts is all I’ve got.

    • February 23, 2012 7:12 am

      Squee! A comment! And not just any comment — a Swistle comment. Thanks for meeting my need for validation.

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