Last Easter, some words were spoken at our family gathering that, while true, were perhaps regrettably delivered, and there has been a chill in the relationship with a portion of my former husband’s family ever since. The person who was unhappy about the tone and perhaps the content of my remarks did not make the problem clear that day, and has never spoken to me directly about the situation. There has, however been a lot of triangulating ever since, with the result that I heard from my ex that I was no longer welcome in his brother’s home.
This was very disappointing, given that we have worked hard to establish and continue family traditions that can, at as many events as possible, include both of us and our children in the same place at the same time. While that was excruciating for me in the early years, it has become our "normal," and I am amused rather than concerned when I end up sitting between my two husbands, as I did last week in a concert hall when Snowman played with the City By the Sea Youth Ensembles.
But the suggestion had been there in the holidays of last winter that perhaps this particular member of the ex-law clan didn’t feel all this good will herself. In her suggestion that I might be upset if she hosted Christmas dinner, and in her question on that day about the reality of our situation, I did not pick up the correct subtext.
Since the realization came last spring that I was being, in effect, shunned, I ceased to put myself in a position where I could be rejected or excluded. I simply made other plans. But here we are at the Holiday Trifecta of Thanksgiving, "The Production" and Christmas Day, and the matter is still unsettled, and the triangulating continues. My former husband and his sister have both been the third point on the triangle, and as much as I have tried to avoid participating, it is sometimes seemingly irresistible.
My strategy has been this. For Thanksgiving, we have made other plans. But "The Production" is the joy of the only grandparent my children have living, and they will be there. I considered not going until my former father-in-law turned to Pure Luck at the concert last week and said, "You’ll be doing the Grinch, right? Back by popular demand?"
So, we will all meet on December 20th, whether we like it or not.
I suppose it’s possible I was riding for a fall, as my mother would have put it, when I spoke so confidently last winter about how we were doing as a post-divorce extended family. I suppose I never should have said anything about whether my daughter and her cousin would be in the same group at middle school and should simply have asked the school for what I wanted and kept quiet. I suppose I could have called up the offended party as soon as I heard there was a problem and taken the verbal beating she thought I deserved and made peace that way. But this opened old wounds. There were times in the past when as two wives of brothers we lost our tempers with one another, and things were said, and each time her answer was to deny me the family. Long ago, my mother-in-law stood up to her and said, "I will not be there if Songbird is not included." God bless her. She would have missed her own birthday party to show her solidarity with me. Since her death in 1998, there has been, I guess, an unconscious battle for the position of matriarch. I believe this is what my former sister-in-law may want, to be the center of power for the family.
And I probably need to admit that I enjoy feeling like the one who is most interesting, most central, most fun, most shiny, most powerful, just the way my mother-in-law used to be.
We took ourselves out of the Thanksgiving equation with my ex-laws. The Father of My Children has a significant other and has gone away with her, and we’re going to Pure Luck’s people today. His family is happy to welcome his wife and his stepchildren, even though the little house is always crowded. With Snowman’s help, I’m preparing our contributions to the meal. I’m sure we will be well-fed, and we will certainly enjoy the company as well as the trip together to one of Pure Luck’s old home places.
But I must admit to a feeling of loss this morning and a lot of questions about how I created the situation and did not attempt to resolve it.