Sunday, December 30, 2007

Family visits sometimes feel like a tight squeeze

I've survived another holiday season. Miracle that. Every step of the way I perilously balanced on the brink of insanity. Starting with what to get the kids, then moving on to what to suggest others get the kids, or what not to get the kids and what I forgot to get for anyone who is in fact NOT a kid, it all lead to what I succeeded in getting -- a headache.

Once I put aside all the consumer nonsense that the holidays drag out of me, I dished out a heaping helping of seasonal angst that comes from analyzing powervisits from the in-laws.

They would be the people who had absolutely NO say in who their son would marry.

They would also be the people who have NO say in how their son’s children are raised, and are furthermore not allowed to gasp (or growl) when said children arrive at the dinner table semi-nude on Christmas day.

Also, anything they do or say in relation to the development of said childhood will be misconstrued (by moi) as being critical; not to mention a dig on my ability to parent effectively.

And a powervisit, for those unaware, is when a houseguest -- usually a family member who hasn't seen the kids in a while -- stays for a brief time around the holidays, hoping to take with them some magical memory, however infintessimal, with them when they go.

Usually all they get is a memory of me turning red and steaming from the ears. Sad.

See, I hold onto every raw nerve in my body, and let the resulting wound fester. Like the time my father-in-law told me -- waaaaaay back before marriage to his son was even a possibility -- that the relationship was destined to end badly since I was "just like his mother" and "he was more like his father."

But I'm not bitter. I have no problem passing the potatoes when he asks politely.

And then there was the time the family-in-law decorated the Christmas tree the first year in our new home ... without me. Well, they strung the lights on the tree and decorated the room while I was at work, but then they retired to the kitchen with their glasses of wine and left me to hang the ornaments ... alone.

Again, not bitter. I even saved the ornaments I made that year (after plucking them from the trash).

Somehow all this seems like small potatoes once you add small fries to the mix.
I bristle when my mother-in-law gives her granddaughter stars that glow in the dark to hang in her room.

It angers me not they are plastic eyesores, but because she tells me they are the first step in getting the girl to sleep without lights on. Even thinking about it makes the hairs on my neck stand at attention.

Why am I so put out by a harmless -- inventive even -- approach to behavior modification, which, coincidentally, would also save some kilowatt hours on the energy meter? I just can't help but think grandmothers are supposed to spend their visits doting on the grandkids, filling them with sugar and leaving the parenting to their parents.

Truth is I know the person I have the biggest problem with is me.

Instead of looking at the gift as well-intentioned tool that doubles as a toy, I see only criticism -- of me. And when Ittybit kicks at the dinner table, or takes off her clothes, or interrupts the conversation and I feel the grandparental eyes upon me, I start to squirm in my seat, too.

I project my inner voice over (what I imagine to be) their inner monologue: We didn't allow our children to dress themselves; our children didn’t talk back; they didn't run through the house screaming at the tops of their lungs. We MADE them nap.

I tried to deflect the glaring light of my own failure by intervening on my daughter's behalf. When her Ama told me she was hoping Ittybit would wear the dress with the matching tights — The tights SHE'D asked for specifically -- I gave my only bit of advice:

"I find it's best to embrace the toddler-ness of her clothing choices. She has her whole life to try and fit in."

Of course then it occurred to me, I'm really just talking about myself.

1 comment:

Fairly Odd Mother said...

Yes, ANY comment about my children is taken (by me) to be a critique of me. I have to take loads of deep breaths and remind myself that my kids are their own people with their own ideas and motives, etc. I just can't control it all---"I pick my battles" is a good comeback, provided it is said with a smile and the rolling of eyes.

But, a few 'innocent' comments from my mom can really screw with my head for a long time.