Privilege Blog

Those Family Interactions, Or, Saturday Morning at 10:53am

Oh gosh it’s late.

I am mostly awake by 7am. Today I slept in. And now it’s almost 11.

In case I haven’t explained recently, Saturday mornings I wake up, have one piece of toast and two cups of tea. A handful of almonds, two capsules of fish oil, and one of probiotics. Then I settle myself onto the sofa.

My goal is to write  until I’m done. Or until noon. Whichever comes first. By noon, no matter what, I publish.

Last night I had dinner at my aunt’s house. My mother and her husband had driven up from Santa Barbara. I was tired. Somehow, the conversation became unnecessarily difficult. I got mad and rushed from the table, jumped in my white car, and drove home in some distress. I stayed up late, shaking my head and telling myself I should have behaved better. I called to apologize, as soon as I woke up.

High WASPs apologize early and often. We hate the idea of offending people but do it anyway.

This morning my father needed some tax documents signed. He came over, another early riser. I had not yet started to write. I was in my pyjamas. His shoes reminded me of slippers. His rumpled professorial hair.

We’re all getting older. My dad’s still handsome. I’ve been signing documents with him for decades.

It’s never a bad idea to take a minute and think about family interactions. Long histories of expectations, affection, and annoyance. The points of monogrammed forks. When you’ve eaten off a silver set for 45 years, it gets scratched. And there’s only a limited time to write.

I feel a strong need to unpick ritual, to disassociate the pattern from the wool, the affect from the act. We can’t ever get it all right. We can only pay attention to our signatures and our apologies.

I think an examined life requires you to shrug your shoulders and care terribly, all at once. Then put everything aside and butter some popcorn. Maybe grill the first asparagus of the season, with lots of black pepper. Have a lovely weekend.

38 Responses

  1. There’s no way I can explain how very relevant this became today. At 4am via an email. No cause for alarm, just extraordinarily poignant timing.

    That apologizing thing was worded perfectly, beyond apt, just perfect.

  2. At least you could get upset and rush away from the table and leave. If I did that, no matter how many times I’ve wanted to, an apology wouldn’t smooth things over. It’s this way in my family and my husbands. Doesn’t make for very authentic relationships. I admire that you were able to sort of “lose it.” Good for you. And admirable that you apologized, although I’m curious if you did so, because you felt one was “owed” or just to keep the peace?

    1. Amen, Kathy. I so want to confront my husband’s parents, but I will have to wait until my husband is dead to do so. Any time I have challenged them, his dad takes it out on his mom (he is very abusive) or on my husband. My husband’s mom has threatened suicide when my husband has challenged her.

      Of course I hope my husband outlives his parents. So I will probably never get the chance to tell them how I really feel. However, my husband and I have come up with a solution: I no longer visit them. It’s been over two years since I went there and since I spoke to them. It works for me!

  3. It sounds like a bit of a bumpy ride but apologies are necessary.
    It would be much worse if you were to withhold an apology as things would probably escalate and who knows what rifts might be created.

    I hope the rest of your weekend is smooth sailing.

  4. There is something strangely comforting about reading that others have family challenges, too. And handle them so graciously.

    Family life is a bit like a runny peach pie – not perfect but who’s complaining? — Robert Brault

  5. Ah, families. . . . one of my sisters said something on a family Facebook page a few weeks ago that I would have had a much more difficult time handling if I’d heard rather than read it. As it was, I was able to edit my response carefully, then delete it, then try again . . . No car ride home in a dudgeon was required, nor morning-after remorse, but the potential was there. We care so much more with those we love. . .
    But my sister’s family haven’t spoken to her husband’s parents for years and years — her youngest two, approaching their teens now, have never met their grandparents, which I find indescribably sad (I saw these folks with their older two grandchildren, now cut off from contact). Willingness to apologize is so important — and I think the honesty that occasioned the need for that apology is valuable as well.
    So pleased that in the middle of that muddle, you stuck to your Saturday morning commitment to us. Now to relax into your weekend . . .

  6. Apologize early and often is a good way to live. I hope the rest of the weekend is more pleasant. Grilled asparagus seems like a promising place to start.

    1. I think you’re absolutely correct. I practice this all of the time.

      Another thing to think about is not to go into the “you” mode but to come from “I” so you don’t accuse some one but you let them know how what they do affects you.

      I’ve got a deal with a friend when ever we offend each other it’s expected that we communicate with each other as opposed to holding it in and being p*ssed.

      Some times as a mother things will escape my mouth and I make it a practice to apologize as soon as I recognize I’m being critical or what ever I’m being.

      On to another topic you touched on. Your diet. What do you eat to stay so beautifully slim and trim? How about a post about that?

  7. You’re lucky, at your age, that both your parents are around and mentally available.

    Dinners with extreme annoyance because of family button-pushing are better than dinners with loved ones who can’t manage to eat and don’t know who you are anyway.

  8. Sigh. These things happen. It is good that you apologized so quickly. I know if I don’t that the memory of the moment lingers and festers. Aspargus sounds like an excellent way to redirect.

  9. Oh hon, we just spent the whole day in full wedding prep, all aglow. Then the bride had a major meltdown regarding something, which led to the two of us in major meltdown at each other, the father disgusted, and my head spinning. However, it also led to some good communication regarding expectations and familial relationships. It’s an ever evolving process, this family thang.

  10. I am sorry you had an off-evening, however, it happens in all families, I think. The good thing is that it was correctable. In-laws. I do not know anyone who has a perfect relationship with all of them. Being able to realize saying you are sorry the incident happened almost always soothes away the conflict. Big big story, Lisa.

  11. Sometimes it is OK to walk away from a difficult or uncomfortable scenario. It can also be a blessing. Apologies are good too, so I hope it lifted away your tension and you were able to enjoy the rest of your weekend <3

  12. I grew up believing that High WASPs never apologized, ever, because they were never in the wrong. Or because there was never any comfortable way to broach the possibility of an apology, because that would require the sort of emotional intimacy between family members necessary for the wrong to be articulated in the first place.

    That’s why I’ll never, for example, have the close relationship with my sister that I always wanted. But then, when it comes to families, we take what we’re given and we make the best of it, and mine could have been a great deal worse.

    I hope you’ve restored the family equilibrium.

  13. An interesting post.
    As it takes two to quarrel, you had a reason to hop in your car and drive home.
    Just wondering, how your apology was accepted..
    Not aware what it was all about, I´d think, that the only thing needed to apologize for, was your quick leave?

  14. I am glad that you are capable of apology. Some people are not. That makes things worse.

    I am not as nice to my mom as I should be. There is no reason I shouldn’t be nice to her – she is a nice person and just wants to know what’s going on in my life. It’s not like there is a history of abuse or anything.

    For Lent, rather than my usual giving up of sugar, which is just a gloried diet, which is not what Lent should be about, I have vowed to be nicer to my mother. I have a note stuck to my computer admonishing me, “Be nice to Mom!” and I am calling her at least once a week.

  15. “Family is our test in life, friends are our reward.” The older I get, the truer this seems to become.

  16. Lisa,

    Apologize for what? Whatever their intentions, these members of your family obviously said something to offend you. Are you sure that YOU are the one who needed to apologize? I’ve read your blog almost since its inception and – if anything – you are TOO nice.

    Yes, partly a WASP thing. A lot of women old enough to have grown children, especially non-WASPs, would have waited for the offending parties to apologize!

    1. Thank you very much. On the blog I am very considered. In life, I struggle with the thin-skinned blurting phenomenon. And I always try to isolate my responsibilities and handle those, no matter what anyone else may do.

  17. Don’t know if it’s something in the air but everyone seems to have a little more static electricity swirling around in their auras. I like how you handle it though, with asparagus. Just add a cocktail and you’ve got dinner for tonight.

    Have a sensational week, dear friend. xoxo

  18. And why, pray, is it so hard to deconstuct our own stuff, even with the blessed distance of a day or so. I know you tried, I know even as you drove away, you examined every edge and corner for clues. And you are such a lovely person that I bet it never occured to you that you may have been subtly set up according to deeply coded family handoff and setup skills.

    It’s complicated in every way. But knowing how you seek to be your best self in every post, in all advice, in all suggestions, and knowing how high your own comportment standards are [see Privilege bumper stickers], why would you not want to be your best self even in the middle of a family UXB. I’m absolutely sure there was no other rational outlet than getting your keys inside your hand, given the pressure.

    I hope you got with your most sympathetic sibling for a download session of each and every key detail leading up to Overload and Detonation. Including how WASPs sit at the top of the universal culpability pyramid, i.e. if something has gone wrong anywhere, at any time, look to yourself first for cause [hence the need to “apologize early and often”].

  19. “… an examined life requires you to shrug your shoulders and care terribly, all at once.”


    And some of what we find as we grow older is more compassion for those we care about – and others – as well as for ourselves.

    To still have family with whom to share these rituals is a gift. An uneasy one, no doubt, at times. But a gift, all the same.

  20. Quite like nothing I’ve ever read here on these well-behaved pages! Combustible moments usually release the energy to propel you into some new and freer domain. Love that you let it out so, notwithstanding the apology, your discontentment found form and expression and will continue to have an impact.

    Challenging people can be good for them, placating them at all costs can be very condescending. One only argues with people one takes seriously.

  21. O. M. Goodness. Never better said and yet again, now I know why I apologize early and often.

  22. Your sentence, “…an examined life requires you to shrug your shoulders and care terribly, all at once,” is probably one of my favorite, most treasured things that you’ve ever written. Applause. The thunderous kind.

  23. I find it easier to apologize for something I didn’t do that for something I did. If a shrug of the shoulders is the only action taken, damage can linger for decades. (That is the experience of my birth family.) The skillful route is to apologize even if it’s 5% you, 95% some else.

  24. I think it tells us what a loving,understanding family you have that you could leave the table instead of sitting fuming at the table…you felt able to leave.It was right to apologise for the leaving in a ‘huff’.

    You have brought back memories of signing papers with my Grandfather,when he died the first time I signed by myself I felt so alone.Ida

  25. “I think an examined life requires you to shrug your shoulders and care terribly, all at once.” – yes, this exactly. I’m working on the shrug your shoulders bit, and it helps to have it put so eloquently in this mental picture. As always, thank you.

  26. I have that one family member who delights in pushing buttons, is the eternal martyr/victim, and who does not come at any situation logically, but rather based on some combination of how she woke up feeling today, who was mean to her at the grocery store, and how we all treated her at Thanksgiving in 1992.

    Fortunately, I have an ally in another family member who sees the situation the way I do, and I can call her and ask her to “talk me down.” I do the same for her. There are times when I answer the phone and before I even say hello, I hear her saying, “OK, you’ve got to talk me down.”

    Unfortunately, there are situations where one of us steps in it and ends up on the wrong side of this person, again. It sucks and is frustrating, and we can’t logic our way out of it, so we have to either apologize or pretend it didn’t happen and move on. I tell myself, though, that I have really just given this person a gift – another grudge to hold against me for years to come. She will delight in in her own way it as if I had just given her flowers.

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