Spending time in the Land Of My Birth with my parents was a wonderful experience, with some great moments. I got to see old friends. I got to spend time with family. While the weather was generally cloudy, a dusting of snow made the world look like the front of a Christmas card.
Sadly, the visit also provided me with a fairly strong dose of reality concerning the status of some members of my family. The picture isn't pretty. The situation will not end well unless some major changes occur in the next year or so. I sense the possibility for tragedy.
The key player in this drama is my sister's husband, M. M. has some pretty serious emotional baggage left over from his childhood; his family situation was far from ideal and grew worse to the point that his family imploded when M. was in his teens. It's left him with a model for family life that involves bickering and childish bad behavior, a macho outlook that makes women inferior to men, and a lot of unresolved anger, much of it aimed at authority figures. Add to this the fact that M. and my sister have a two year old son and that M. lost his job last February, and it is easy to see that M. is under a lot of stress. He's not holding up very well under the pressure.
M., my sister, and their son are currently living with my parents. M. is still unemployed. My sister telecommutes on a part time basis for an employer about 60 miles away. If certain reports are true, this situation will not change for the foreseeable future. M. has a graduate degree in the sciences that does not appear to lend itself to a broad number of industrial applications, and he seems to be very picky about the jobs he does apply for. I say 'seems' because it is difficult to talk to him about the situation; he's highly defensive about his employment status.
Other members of my family are worrying about my parents. While they are both still healthy and relatively robust, my Mom is in her mid-60's and my Dad in his early 70's. They are starting to slow down. Under the best of circumstances, these would be their pleasant sunset years... where they could enjoy a slower pace in life and enjoy visits from their children and grandchildren. Instead, they find themselves living with my sister's family under somewhat more stressful conditions. While they do get to be present during their grandson's early formative years, it has to take a toll. Given some of the health problems that my Mom dealt with in the recent years, close family members are wondering how this will affect her.
One solution that some people suggest is to show some "tough love" and put a time limit on how long my sister's family can stay with them. My parents won't do this, for several reasons. The most pressing reason seems to be that they want their grandson to spend the first few years of his life in a loving, supportive environment with other role models than just M. and my sister. They feel that a cycle needs to be broken, and they want to be part of that change.
I worry for and wonder about my sister. She seems in denial on some level. When I spoke with her, she seemed to talk about the situation like it was out of her hands. She seems to want to simply stay out of M.'s way and be with her son. M. seems sense this and reacts badly; he sometimes verbally belittles her. Their son senses this, and was observed to get up and try to interpose himself between the two of them when M. raised his voice at my sister.
Yet, she's been involved with M. for over 10 years now and continues to stay with him. I'm not sure why. Does she see what's wrong with the picture? My extended family is generally a fairly open, welcoming bunch when it comes to spouses (as Mrs. Geek could tell you.) Why did she ignore my parents when they rather strongly hinted "maybe you should think this over"? Does she see that while all couples do things that bug each other, this goes a bit beyond that?
All this also has more tangible effects on my relationship with my sister. M. and Mrs. Geek are like oil and water; her basic attitude is to try to please others, his is to provoke others. It generally takes about a week for M. to drive Mrs. Geek crazy. It would take less if my sister's family stayed with us in our home. I don't see my family spending a lot of time with hers as the years go by... which is a shame.
This has been a tough entry to write. I tried to decide what details to include for the last three days, or if I should even write an entry about it at all. In the end, I decided that it was too important not to write about it... it bears too much about my state of mind.
Mrs. Geek and I will be lighting a candle or two when we go to Mass this weekend for my sister and her family. They need some good karma from the Universe. Both M. and my sister are rather agnostic, but Mrs. Geek and I are not. We'll do whatever we can to try to bring them some good news in the New Year.
on 2006-01-03 at 1:30 p.m.
The Wayback Machine - To Infinity And Beyond