Go with your gut

I broke the stand-off with father and stepmother. I’m not sure if it was a good decision or not. On the one hand, I learned some stuff that is relevant, including some health history and more about how they want to interact with me. On the other hand, I’m not sure I can handle the latter.

It has to be clarified that father and stepmother are a unit and they are rarely if ever interacting separately with me or my sister. It became apparent shortly after they connected over 20 years ago that this was their preference — that every phone call and every visit took place with BOTH of them, and never with father only — and this position has been vehemently guarded ever since. There was even a reality TV-worthy altercation at the funeral of my paternal grandmother because the cousins wanted to place a small photo album in the casket and said album did not contain a photo of stepmother, yet did contain a photo of my real mother. The bickering at the wake and funeral, and the physical wrestling over this little album was intense. (Sister and I weren’t involved in these altercations at all; when asked by a cousin what I thought of the situation I mildly said I didn’t think it was worth fighting over and to leave the album out. I can’t recall what happened to it.) Both sister and I think my stepmother has a lot to do with my painful experiences over the past two months.

Over Labor Day weekend I felt like I was ready to deal with father and stepmother again. I finally got through to them on that Sunday while I was out walking the dog. There was a long conversation because they were imparting some family medical history they thought I should know, and there were several minutes where I did get a bit worked up because I was being questioned about the validity of information I was sharing. Stepmother was telling me I was wrong about what I knew about my maternal grandmother’s death, and I was insisting that wasn’t the case because I was there at the hospital and I talked to the doctors myself. When I realized I was getting argumentative I apologized and softened my tone. (But I wasn’t going to back down on the facts. I was in my 20s when my maternal grandmother died. I was very familiar with the health problems she had because I’d lived with her for several months after graduating undergrad. I wasn’t a child who was getting my information second-hand, which stepmother apparently thought was the case because she kept saying “Who told you that? Where did you get that information?” Ugh! I WAS THERE! I had to repeat that exact phrase about 10 times!!)

There were a few times during this conversation where father commented that they had been wanting to tell me this information, but that they were waiting for me to call them. So the last time this came up I acknowledged my lack of calling by saying that I had to take a break for a while.

The next day, I received an email from my dad. There was more documentation about the medical history, and also some other commentary that I’ve excerpted below.

Now on to another concern of mine: My feelings don’t seem to count or at least that was the way I felt when you said yesterday, “I needed to take a break from you.”  About a year and a half ago, since you are one of seven children involved with my life, [stepmother] and I asked you to take one of the seven days of the week to simply make a very brief call early in the day to check that all is well here.  Your response to me at that time was, “Well it goes both ways. You know my phone number, you can call me.” And when you were still in Chicago, I never heard from you on ‘your day.’ I only heard from you when you were upset with something.  You do not have to do the brief weekly phone call.  It is your choice to refuse.  When a child becomes an adult, roles change. Older parents cannot continue to solve the problems their adult children experience. There are not enough hours in the day!  I try as an older parent to not burden you with my minor day-to-day problems.

I thought this was worth responding to in a thoughtful and honest way, so I took my time to think about what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it. Then I sent an email response about a week later. I’ve edited out some of the message because it’s not relevant.

Dear Dad,

I really appreciate the thoughtful email. Very often I find it easier to communicate in writing and prefer this form of dialog because it allows me to reflect before I react. Conversations aren’t as easy for me; I find my immediate emotions to what is being discussed sometimes get in the way.

There is a lot here to reflect back on.

[edited out…] as to my not adhering to a schedule to call you, all I can say is: it’s complicated. It sounds like you think of these weekly phone calls as a short check in, while I think of them as opportunities to talk and share updates. I wasn’t feeling that you were interested in sharing anything about yourself (your health or whatever was going on) with me for a short while there and I found it distressing. I am trying very hard to change parts of myself and to let go of negative feelings like anger, sadness, etc. It’s not an easy process for me. Sometimes I need to just turn inward to attend to it. That’s what I meant by taking a break. Then when I feel strong again, I can pick life back up and move forward.

The crux of the issue really is that I’ve felt for many, many, many years that I’m only acceptable and loved if I’m doing exactly what you tell me to do. That if I do something outside of what you find acceptable behavior, I’m bad and not worthy of your love and attention. Maybe that is not what you intend at all, just as I don’t intend my withdrawal periods to be slights on your feelings. I guess this is a pattern that is going to be a very stubborn one to break. I’m trying, though. I’m really, really trying.



I thought that my efforts to really open up here could be a step in the right direction. I thought that expressing my feelings would be appreciated. And I also thought I wrote in pretty clear English that didn’t require any subtle interpretations. Apparently, I was wrong.

The response to this message came into my email box Friday afternoon, but I chose not to read it right away. I thought I was ready to read it yesterday morning, but I’m sure not sure I can even think of a time when I would be ready to read this response. (Again, I edited out some details that were irrelevant.)

Dear Linda,

I was glad to get your response. Sorry I didn’t get back sooner, but we had dentist appointment [sic] on several days and lots of Church meetings…etc., all out of town.

[Edited out]

As to asking you to make a very brief call early in the day once a week to check that all is well here I did because you are my daughter and I thought that was not any kinda stressor [sic].  As I said in that email, you do not have to do the brief weekly phone call.  It is your choice to refuse.  But, still I don’t feel that expecting me to listen to all your ‘problems’ while you are walking the dog, is my responsibility either. Experiencing problems and solving them yourself is part and parcel of life.  As I said in that email, I try as an older parent to not burden you with my minor day-to-day problems.

You also said, “I wasn’t feeling that you were interested in sharing anything about yourself (your health or whatever was going on) with me for a short while there”, yet you totally cut me off when I tried to tell you of some of my experiences in the Redwoods in California.  We have been in California and up and down the West Coast quite a few times. We have had family living in California since 1988 and for ten years had a niece and her family in Napa. [I have no idea what any of this means as I have no recollection of a conversation where I was cutting off anything being discussed. This is all news to me.]

As far as health goes, I am able to make up my mind about what I want to do with my health concerns. Just because you were there when a doctor came in does not mean that you are making or have a say in my decision.  I have a Health Care Power of Attorney (HCPA) to take care of that if I get incapacitated. And, several of those doctors are far from being competent about what I need in medical care. My Primary Physician disagreed with what you heard said while you were in the room. [This is a reference to my visit to him in the hospital back in late June. There were some doctors and specialists that came in while I was present so I couldn’t help hearing what they were saying. Again, it seems that by expressing any interest at all in his health I am making some sort of medical recommendation to him?]

[Edited out]

I’m sorry you feel that I tell you what to do and that you question whether you are loved when I make a suggestion.  Parents do things like that because they love their child and don’t want the child to experience some of the hurts and tribulations.  At this point in my life, I must tend to my own problems!  We all have to grow up and be responsible for our choices and actions. I certainly can’t spend my older adult years settling anybody else’s problems.  I need to focus on my aging process and looking after myself.  I love you and I always will!

Love, Dad

I was devastated by this email. I couldn’t believe the huge gap that existed in what I had thought I was clearly communicating and his (their?) interpretation of it. It hurt to read that my attempts at conversation were seen as burdensome sharing of my “problems.” (That really floors me because I think I’ve talked mainly about how happy I am here and how well I’ve been doing with making friends. I guess talking about the health issues I was experiencing earlier this year were the burdensome part?)

My scary (to me) admission that I felt I was only loved by doing exactly what I am told to do was interpreted as “you question whether you are loved when I make a suggestion.” The difference may be a bit subtle, but it is there. No, I don’t mind suggestions at all. What does make me feel unloved and uncomfortable is inflexible insistence that I must be the one to make regular contact. Plus I’ve had conflicts when I was younger (pre-stepmother) where I received rigid instructions and was punished and denigrated for not following them. (Like the time I called to ask for a few more minutes on my curfew since I was running late and was told that if I was late I was grounded, no matter what. So I stayed out until 3 AM. Father yelled at me in the morning, pounded on the table, and called me a slut.) That’s what I meant when I said this had been going on for many, many, many years. I thought that by opening up in that way I’d hear a “water under the bridge” type response and assurance that wasn’t the case at all.

I cried so hard reading that email that Hannah dog moved into her “comfort dog” position right next to me. I called my sister and I read her the messages.

Sister and I both have opinions on what is going on here. We suspect that much of what is written was edited or dictated by stepmother. We know that she is a controlling person and her identity as a highly intelligent, highly informed person is very important to her. She is intelligent, but she seems to feel threatened by other people’s intelligence, too. I suspect that she is still angry and threatened by the fact that I was not only present during the doctor/specialist visits during father’s recent hospitalization, but that I actually asked a follow-up question or two of her and in subsequent conversations with father where she wasn’t present. And the recent conversation we had where I was correcting her information about my maternal grandmother’s death probably irritates her, too.

While sister has suggested that I try to call and ask for a private conversation with father, I’m not ready to do that. For now I’ve decided that I have to go back to a father and stepmother hiatus again.


Highs and Lows

Fair warning: there’s some adult content here!

Stuff that makes me feel good:

  • I’ve been getting into a groove with exercising in the mornings. I found this fitness program that I really like on the local PBS station. It’s a sort of ballet/classical dance based program and each episode is only about 25 minutes long. I went looking for DVDs online and found that in addition to the DVDs you can subscribe to a bigger catalog of streaming programs, so I did that instead. With my employer fitness program subsidy it only costs me about $7 a month. In case anyone wants to try these classes they’re at essentrics.com. At the end of each session I say “Thank you, Miranda Esmonde-White!”
  • One of my close friends from Chicago contacted me a couple days ago and asked if it would work for her to visit me over Labor Day weekend. Yes!! She scored a super cheap flight. We’re going to have so much fun!!
  • I’ve been listening to the Against the Stream podcasts more often and thinking about how I can add meditation into my days. I’ve sat a couple of times for a whole 20 breaths.  Woo hoo!
  • In a totally different vein, I’ve also been amused by listening to the Guys we F****d podcasts (NSFW!), starting with the oldest ones first. I still have quite a few to catch up on, but am finding them intriguing. I admire that these young women are claiming their sexuality so boldly, and find some of their advice to be spot on, yet at the same time I think they still have some things to learn about relationships. But they are stand up comedians, so the podcast isn’t meant to be super serious. A few of the shows have been annoying, but I just skip past those. It will be interesting to see how the podcast continues to develop as I catch up with the current episodes.

Not so good stuff:

  • I cried during a conference call today. I think my colleagues (both women) knew what was happening. One sent me an email message tonight that was really nice. I’ve been working on a project that is really frustrating the hell out of me because I seem to be hitting all sorts of roadblocks. The project team keeps telling me I need to step up and make some progress, and that just is getting to be too much for me because besides this project I have like 5 billion other things I am supposed to be doing. I have 3,500 emails in my inbox. I’m waaaaayyyy behind on just about everything, and I keep getting more piled on. My new boss (yes, I have a new boss and a new organization I’m kinda sorta not quite fully integrated into) says things like “Just speak up when you need help,” so I do and the people he tells me to get help from are also already really busy and help just a tiny bit and then it just bounces right back to me. *sigh* Every Friday I am ECSTATIC that the weekend is nearly here. Every Monday I am hopeful. By Wednesday, I am frequently in the pit of despair. But I have a job, right? I am employed and able to pay my bills and all that. That’s good, right? Right?
  • I am currently in a stand-off with my father and stepmother. When I was back in Chicago for my mother’s 75th birthday my dad was unexpectedly hospitalized. I hadn’t been planning to add a visit to my dad that trip, but I had a rental car and some flexibility in my schedule so I drove out to see him in the hospital. He was released a few days later and has been doing OK, but I apparently made a couple critical errors around that whole event. I didn’t know that he and stepmother don’t want any references to them EVER posted on social media. I had made a reference on my Facebook account to going to the hospital to see him and what his condition was. Big error, apparently. A lurking relative contacted dad and stepmom about his “health scare” which is how they got tipped off. They let me know they did not like that I had posted something about them on Facebook, etc., etc. Fine, I took my lumps and said I wouldn’t ever reference them again on any social media [which I guess I’m sort of breaking right now], but apparently that wasn’t enough and they were still miffed about it. Also, the fact that I had expressed any interest at all in dad’s treatment by asking questions was seen as bad, too. When sister had a visit with dad and stepmom last month, stepmom apparently complained vehemently about how I had not only shared information about dad’s health with all sorts of people who didn’t need to know (and not just mentioning that he had been hospitalized on Facebook, but likely talking to my friends about it, horrors!!) but that I also had tried to give my dad medical advice. ????? I guess by asking questions, I was giving advice. So for the past three weeks I have been in a f*** them mood and refused to call them, and since they refuse to call any of their “kids” (we are expected to call them once a week…yes, EXPECTED, as they have made abundantly clear to me) we are in a stand off. They’re older than me and not in as good health as me, so I’m gonna bet they break first. We’ll see.

Not sure if good or bad:

  • Last weekend I did some social media “gardening” (such as removing some “friends,” etc.). One of the things I did was update my Google profile photo. I don’t use Google +, although I do have an account, but I use Gmail and comment on Blogspot blogs and had noticed that my photo was very old (like, at least 14 years old!). So I changed it out for a more recent one. Ever since then I’ve been getting notifications that men I do not know (they are all men) had added me to their circles. I have checked my G+ privacy settings and strangers should not be able to add me to their circles, so I’m very confused by this development. And a little creeped out by it, too. Is G+ now some sort of clandestine dating site where guys troll for women? WTH?!
  • I had a very odd, but very sexual dream about an old boyfriend last night. The boyfriend in my dream was someone I dated a very long time (like nearly 30 years) ago. I had ended the relationship because he had become very disrespectful of me (by cheating a couple times, and essentially raping me once) and then proceeded to creepily stalk me for a while afterwards. So it disturbs me that I had this dream about him and it involved sexual stuff. Certainly I’m feeling healthier these days because I’m having…ahem…cravings, but to dream about this particular guy in this particular way…ewww. Maybe I need to listen to less Guys we F****d podcasts.

On being child-free

While unwinding after work today (and it was such a gorgeous evening to do so on the back porch, cocktail in hand), B brought my attention to a segment he heard today on our local public radio station, WBEZ. The segment was called “Why Have Children?” and included an interview with the author of a book examining the ethical issues involved in deciding to procreate.

The summary included in the link above is very good, but listen to the segment if you have time as the calls were particularly interesting. There is a call from a man about how he and his wife have been considering this issue for some time and are still not sure, and the last call is from a woman who says she hears people tell her how selfish she is for not having children. While the author is surprised, I’m not. Although logically, really, if a person chooses not to procreate aren’t they really being selfless? Isn’t choosing to not produce another person to consume finite resources a decision that frees up those same resources for the offspring of others? Can’t that be called selfless or even altruistic?

I can’t say that I put a lot of heavy thinking into my decision to be child-free. Although the fact that I choose to call my state of not having children to be one of freedom says something about my mindset, I think. I have several child-free friends, and I think some of them do wish they could have/would have made children at some point in their lives. But not me.

For many people, there seems to be some thoughtlessness that goes along with procreating. Even the author comments on this in her interview. “It’s natural,” or “it’s the next step after marriage,” seems to be the cultural norm most of us face. I actually did face this assumption in my twenties. I hadn’t gotten married yet, but I thought that I would do so and just have kids since that’s what we’re biologically optimized to do.

But at 30, when I finally did make plans to be married I talked to my soon-to-be husband about the fact that I didn’t really think I wanted to have kids ever, and he was OK with that. I can’t really put my finger on one single reason why I didn’t want to reproduce because there seemed to be many reasons: I doubted my ability as a parent; I was concerned about the costs of raising a child or children; I had reservations about adding to the population of an already over-populated planet; I felt like I had a lot of personal development ahead of me that would be interrupted by the addition of a child or children.

For six years of marriage I continued my hormonal birth control and then I finally decided I should stop the drugs. I still didn’t want kids, though, and husband concurred. So I asked him to get a vasectomy. He balked. I said I’d get a tubal ligation, and he urged against it. He said it was not because he wanted children, but because he didn’t want me to have unnecessary surgery.

Turns out he was probably right about that, as I could have gotten an IUD instead if I had just seen another OB/GYN. The one I had at the time was very discouraging of it and said she couldn’t guarantee the insertion would work since I was “nulliparous.” She was also highly doubtful when I said I wanted to have a tubal ligation.

I should have been insulted when she insisted that she meet and talk with my husband first before she would perform the procedure. I was certainly incredulous that in 21st century Chicago I had to jump through so many hoops to get surgically sterilized when I was “only 36 years old.” I was counseled that if I ever did want to have children I’d have to use IVF, and I thought, “Yeah, me and pretty much every other 36+ year old female will need to use a lab to get pregnant these days; no surprise there.” But the fact that as an adult woman I had to get my husband’s approval first…damn, that amazes me now, nearly 10 years later.

I’ve never regretted my decision to have the tubal ligation, by the way. (Not even when an accident during surgery — oops, we perforated your uterus, sorry! — turned an out-patient procedure into an overnight hospital stay.) I’m glad I took the surgery route back before women’s access to birth control was being challenged, like it is now.

For the most part I don’t judge others that have children. I can’t say I’m completely judgement-free because I think people who have more than two children are being selfish or misguided. I’m a big proponent of zero or negative population growth because I think there are more than enough Homo sapiens on Earth. (Let’s give the rest of the life forms a better chance, OK?)

I’ve never wanted IVF or to adopt or foster children. I’m perfectly happy being an aunt to one niece and one nephew, and having lots of friends (including an awesome guy like B!) who are child-free like me. And I’m not selfish, just practical and realistic. Or at least that’s what I think.


While I’ve been on hiatus from writing, I’ve been keeping a few notes here and there on topics that may be interesting to write about. So this morning when I realized that I actually had the time and inclination to do a bit of writing I pulled up some of those ideas and this one was right at the top: Differences between me and my sister — she doesn’t want to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.

This little nugget emerged from a discussion over Christmas Eve dinner at my mom’s house. We were talking about food and the subject of lactose intolerance came up. I noted that for years I thought I had it, then my doc tested me for food sensitivities and it turned out my problem  was with cow milk (and all things cow dairy). I can drink goat milk without any problems and can eat all the cheese I want as long as it’s made from goat or sheep milk. (And as long as I don’t mind packing on the pounds from eating all the cheese I want since cheese is so delicious, yet fatty! Nom, nom, nom!)

When my stepbrother asked me where I got goat milk, I said at certain ethnic markets, as well as Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. This is where my sister jumped in to comment. “I refuse to shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I can get the same stuff they sell for a lot less at the fruit market near my house. People that shop there are more into their image and I don’t want to be like them.” That may not be an *exact* quote but it is pretty darn close.

When later recounting this to my boyfriend he had a similar reaction to mine: how could she possibly criticize people based on their desire for “image?” Here are a few things to know about my sister.

  • She buys and reads Cosmopolitan and Self magazine. (She’s in her mid-40s by the way; I can’t understand how someone in her age group can relate to anything in Cosmo magazine.)
  • She drives a bright red Volvo convertible.
  • She regularly refreshes her wardrobe with new clothes.
  • For work she most often wears hose, skirts, dresses, and suits, despite the business casual dress code.
  • Outside of work she wears what I call “MILF fashion.” Lots of low cut tops, short shorts, tight pants, and “cute shoes.”
  • Make up and cosmetics are very important to her and she wears them every day.

Looking at her life from my perspective, she is very image conscious and places a high importance on image cultivation. In many ways I am a total opposite of her. I don’t wear make up, I rarely purchase clothes, I don’t “dress up,” and I would never buy a gas-guzzling, sporty convertible. We are like a study in contrasts in so many ways.

How did we get to be this way? We were raised in the same household by the same parents and are just under two years apart in age. Our family life while growing up was lower-middle class. We lived in a small house in an uncool suburb, wore KMart clothes, and ate a lot of ground beef dishes.

Looked at another way we are very similar, though. We both value hard work and a DIY approach to life. We do our own gardening and yard care. We clean our own houses. (And perhaps it’s worth reminding that when I was briefly living with my sister during my divorce she charged me rent.)

We learned how to shop for groceries by being dragged along with mom on her weekly shopping trips. We watched her scan sales flyers, clip coupons, and create complex shopping lists that included stops at several grocery stores. (Which all were located conveniently at one intersection. There were three grocery stores on three corners, so stopping at so many stores didn’t involve a lot of driving, either.)

Breaking it down, my sister’s main objectives to shopping at grocers like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are cost and image. Image is definitely subjective, and cost…well, cost is also a reflection of values.

In that Christmas Eve conversation, I noted that the closest grocer to me is Whole Foods and that I valued saving gas and time by going to the closer grocer. (This was questioned, but not challenged. I looked up the distance between my house and the closest grocers later that night and found that, technically, a local grocer called Jewel is a bit closer to my house since it is 1.2 miles away and Whole Foods is 1.4 miles away.) I like to ride my bike to the grocer during the warmer months, and I like to buy a lot of organic food products, so the closeness of Whole Foods means that I go there quite a bit.

One sister likes to save money on food by driving to Costco and purchasing big slabs of farm-raised Atlantic salmon; the other sister pays a higher cost for wild caught salmon, but saves money by not making a car payment every month. Which one is right? Neither. It’s just not productive to argue values.

But I think the fact that we can have a discussion that involves discussing the cost of items is important. Whether “cost” means the pay out at the cash register or a more complex accounting that includes fuel, time, and other less tangible things.

For those with siblings, how do you compare with each other? Are you very alike or very different? Do you talk about values, including money?