It’s easy to write opinions of life: no judgment, more compassion, allowing people to be themselves. However, it’s quite another to put those words into practice. Over the past few weeks, I’ve had ample opportunity to do just that. Kesi’s graduation brought family and friends into our space. The celebration offered me the chance to fine tune myself within specific relationships.
I’ve written before about how my mother-in-law rarely visits. Well, we invited her to come down for Kesi’s graduation, and to each of our surprise, she accepted the invitation.
I began to worry.
Will she judge any and everything as she has in the past? Will the house be pristine enough for her? I thought about all of the encounters we’d had where my sense of inadequacy overshadowed her presence. After a couple of weeks of fretting, something finally dawned on me. I have to allow her to be herself. If she judges the girls, our home, or me, then so what? I’m confident with who I am and it matters not what she or anyone else thinks.
The other shift I had to make was to recognize the year. It’s 2017. I needed to function with her the way we both are in this year, not 2008 when she called Kesi fat every day, and I held back from saying much. Not 2012 when she had to shorten her visit with us because she’d double-booked herself elsewhere. It’s 2017.
Once I made those two changes, I was a much calmer person ready to receive company.
We had a wonderful time. My in-laws and I picked Desi up from school early. We shopped for groceries. We laughed and talked about all sorts of things. It really was a pleasant time. My MIL helped me by cutting all the fruits and vegetables for the party. Ultimately, it was a pleasant visit. But I realized I still have a little growing to do.
“Don’t go in the house and clean everything up,” I ordered at eleven o’clock at night.
“Why not?” she asked.
I shook my head, “Cause that’s what you’re about to go do.”
“You trying to stop people from being themselves again?” Dwight asked.
He was right. In that moment, I was doing it again, not allowing her to be her. After it was brought to my attention, I let it go. She cleaned all of the dishes and the kitchen. I went to sleep. And both of those actions were perfectly fine.
While I was functioning with my MIL in the present, my cousin’s husband, let’s call him Buddy, was interacting with me in the past.
Buddy has a history with crack-cocaine, drinking, and physical abuse. Because of this, Buddy hasn’t been welcomed in my home or around my family for over 20 years. He recently began rehab, so Dwight and I agreed that it was okay for him to re-enter our family’s functions.
Everything was going well. My cousins, Buddy, and I played Spades. He drank the Paul Masson Brandy that he’d brought. He devoured the case of Corona he’d lugged in. We laughed. We talked. They won the game.
The night wore on. A corner of brandy sat in the bottle. Three Coronas remained.
“You know I think God sent her to me,” he said pointing to his wife, “Without her, I wouldn’t have been able to make it.”
“I agree, Buddy. She’s the only one who could be with you.”
What did I say that for? Buddy went into a tirade.
“Kathy, you know you never did like me,” he started.
“That was the past. I thought we were cool now?”
“Naw. Naw. You never did like me,” he continued.
I don’t want to bore you with the rest of the story. Basically, I tried to convince him that it is 2017. He’s in rehab. We are getting along today, and that’s all that matters.
But that wasn’t all that mattered. He hobbled off to complain about my family and me to anyone else who would listen. About an hour later, he got into a verbal altercation with my aunt, his daughter, and his wife. His thirteen-year-old daughter’s eyes were beet red. Everyone’s lips were tight. Pursed.
His inebriation cut the thick silence, “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT I’VE HAD TO DEAL WITH FROM THIS FAMILY!” he yelled.
And so there it was.
It didn’t matter how nice I was to him or how great of a time I thought we’d had that day. Buddy lived in a past of hurt and functioned from that past that weekend. I don’t want to ignore the fact that alcohol also exacerbated the situation. I’m not sure why he felt the need to get uncontrollably drunk. And I don’t want to guess.
The next day, he stayed at the hotel and didn’t emerge until it was time for them to return home. Even when he did come by the house to say good-bye, Dwight had to coax him out of the Expedition. Even when he did come in the house, he averted eye contact. He was embarrassed. We all hugged him and thanked him for coming.
There it is, one happy ending and one work in progress. But that’s how life is, right? Everything isn’t always tied up nicely with a bow. Flawed and traumatic relationships take time to heal. That’s just the nature of the human condition.