May 03, 2010

Mother's Day?

Something like 21 years ago my family drove home from the dollar theater. The movie we had just seen stared a young Elijah Wood. I believe the title was Avalon. A pretty decent movie for a dollar. I remember the scene where Elijah dances in the hallway outside his classroom. Seems like it was because he had to pee. Or perhaps he was just glad to be out of class. Anyways there was dancing in a school hallway to be sure.

So as we are driving home from the movies there is some discussion between my parents, my sisters and I about the movie. What parts we liked, etc. The conversation turned awkward when my new step mom (who we weren't allowed to call 'step' due to the implication that she may just have an evil mirror hidden somewhere that she consulted with regularity), pointed out that the family was Jewish. Due to my limited experience as a 20 year old, I hadn't caught on to the nuances that make a person Jewish just yet. Ask me now however, and oy vey can I ever tell you what makes a person Jewish. I lived next door to Rabbi Anemer for 4 years! At that time, just after Avalon, my Jew-spotting-skills were pretty much bupkes. I vocalized my surprise that they were Jews. Her reaction was insulting. "How could you not know that they were Jewish!?" I responded by stomping in the house and slamming my bedroom door behind me. We hadn't lived in the same house together for more than I month and I already knew I'd have trouble with this relationship. She probably sensed the same thing.

Over the years things improved the the point where I could appreciate that at least this woman made my father happy. I was truly grateful for all the things she did for us. But there were always generous portions of criticism, and her own self importance. She was in a tricky spot being compared to my own perfect mother who had died 4 months before she entered our lives. I have tried to have compassion. But she made it difficult when she did things like give away my clothes to charity without consulting me, (and one of my favorite sweaters ended up walking in the door one day on her daughter's back), or telling my new fiance that he'd better beware, or making my kids feel uncomfortable upon breaking a glass at her home... on and on it goes. There's always another JoAnn story for us to laugh about while on the inside we are thinking why. Why does it have to be this way?

And now it's coming to a close. She is in the end stages of cancer. My poor father has had to endure this with 2 wives now. I am a mix of emotions wondering how to deal, and how to feel. How much effort does one make to improve relations when someone is on the way out the door? Is it considered foxhole nicety? I have had my kids send her notes in the mail with pretty artwork. Is that enough? I have talked to her on the phone, but not too long. We are considering a trip to visit one last time this summer. Too much? I guess I am feeling a bit of guilt for my part in our shallow relationship. It's almost too late to repair it. Maybe it isn't meant to be repaired. Am I a bad person if I can't wait to have alone time with my Dad? I can't wait to talk on the phone to him on speaker (the only way he does it these days) and know that it's just the two of us talking and I won't hear her chiming in back there. I've already told my Dad he can come and stay with us in the future for as long as he likes and I will totally set up a room for him with a large TV blasting FOX news 24/7. And if you know how I like my politics these days you know that is an ultimate testament of my true love for him. Maybe that is all the penance I need to do to make up for not loving his wife they way he envisioned....

11 comments:

Carrie Stuart said...

Ugh! I feel your pain, Kelly. My husband's father and my father have each been married 4 times and our moms divorced twice. It's not easy to introduce someone else into the family, especially someone with "issues". I'm glad that you can be happy that she makes your dad happy. All you owe her is kindness. She's not your mom. Don't beat yourself up about it!

I love my dad's current wife. We have a relationship with her because she wants one, and "comes to the table" ready to participate in one. My kids love her, too. They love to be around her. It's like having a bonus Grandma. Some of my kids are old enough to remember the one before and trust me, their feelings for her were none. It took them forever to even figure out she was gone.

In my Yoda-like wisdom (LOL!) I think that step-relatives are only as much of our lives as they earn. I don't mean they have to buy us or do anything spectacular...but they don't just get to step in and have a place in our hearts...that has to be earned. Making someone feel like an outsider in their own home is not the way to do that! All we owe them is kindness and civility and like you said, an appreciation that they make our parent happy on whatever level. But that's just my .02!

Good luck with it all. I'm sure it's hard to watch your dad go through this nonetheless.

CSIowa said...

I am so sorry, Kelly. My heart goes out to your dad. I'm sure you'll figure out what you need to do each step of the way.

Kristina P. said...

Oh, gosh, what a tricky, hard situation. I don't think you need to all of a sudden start having a fake relationship with her.

But I think that going out of your way to be kind to her, will go such a long way with her, as well as mean a lot to your dad.

noyb said...

maybe ask your dad what would make him happy and give him comfort in this difficult time. if its not important to him, i think you have done plenty, but if he would like a little more you can make the stretch for him.

Kelly said...

I am sure I can do many nice things for her in the effort to make my Father happy. I just fear that overkill will come across as fake.

It's not like JoAnn and I don't speak. We do. Mostly I listen while she goes on and on. Some of the best telephone conversations we've had have been in the last month when she actually asked about my kids etc. Perhaps she is trying harder too. Too bad it couldn't have been better for the past 20 years eh?

Cheeseboy said...

Yeah, I really have no advice for you, given I have never gone through anything remotely close to this. Good luck though.

I will say, that your Jew spotting skills are quite humorous. I am half Jewish and I still have a hard time with it.

Tracy P. said...

In my "Sisters" book, my entry about you talks about your honesty. I love that you are looking at this so honestly. I think making efforts, even last chance ones, are better than not. Don't worry about how it seems, just go with your gut.

Kelly said...

Cheeseboy,
Please know that I only have the utmost respect for Jewish people (even half the amount for half Jews-kidding!)

My husband read my post and thought I was being a bit racist. I loved the Jewish people we knew in our old neighborhood. Given that they were all Orthodox though they were pretty easy to spot. Those sideburn curls gave them away every time : )

Kelly said...

Tracy
What is this Sisters book of which you speak?

CSIowa said...

It didn't sound racist to me.

Shana said...

I think Carrie Stuart said it best!!