Saturday, November 28, 2009

Family Stories

Jenna stood in the shower and cried. It was the only place where her tears were unheard and unremarked upon. "Father, why don't they like me?" she sobbed. "What can I do or change?"

She had just endured yet another holiday meal with her husband's family. They weren't overtly critical or unkind. They just...withheld. They withheld information about what was going on in their lives, they withheld love and affection, they withheld the normal human interaction that Jenna had every day via her blog with people she'd never even met! And they did it in a faintly disapproving manner that inferred that whatever Jenna did would never be good enough.

When she and Dale moved back to the small town when he'd been hired as the manager at the local plant, she'd looked forward to getting the families together. She wanted to know her in-laws better. She had visions of the cousins playing games together in the yard while the brothers and their wives grilled on the barbecue. The families would attend each others' award ceremonies, recitals and opportunities to shine, and would grieve together when any one of them suffered loss or sadness.

Instead she found a closed corporation. When she offered to take her mother-in-law, Cynthia, out to the mall or grocery store or medical appointments, she'd been politely refused. Instead the other daughter-in-law, Tamara, took their mother-in-law everywhere she wanted to go. When she suggested casual get togethers for the kids to play, they always had other appointments or playdates. Instead of the children cheering each other on and supporting each other's ventures the atmosphere became one of tension.

Jenna had shrugged and gotten busy with her own kids' social and academic lives. They didn't see their grandmother or cousins often, but no one acted as if this was a big loss on any side of the divide. During seasons of illness when Cynthia's medical appointments really piled up, and she though Tamara would welcome a break from the day in, day out driving and waiting, she'd offered again, and again been refused.

Eleven months out of the year Jenna could bear the situation. But the twelfth month was excruciating. Just when Jenna wanted to be celebrating the holidays with a heart full of joy and peace, their very presence conspired to steal it. She never knew what gifts to buy for the nieces and nephews. Even though they lived in the same town she knew nothing about their interests. She'd asked Tamara, but she was always told, "oh they'll like anything." Having children of her own, Jenna knew that wasn't true, but she was always at a loss for what to get. More often than not, when she suggested a gift for their cousins to her own children, they'd answer, "they already have one of those." When she tried to do personal creations she realized she didn't know enough about them to even complete something personal. And when she asked for personal information on the kids so she could create personal gifts Tamara told her, "no thanks." Jenna realized that she knew more about missionary children half way around the world than her own family members in the same town.

And perhaps that was the crux of the matter. Jenna and her husband and children were practicing believers in Christ. The rest of the family looked upon it as foolishness, a crutch for those without enough gumption to live on their own two feet. And it hurt Jenna each year to lose the joy and wonder of the season of celebrating the birth of the Savior by spending even a moment with those whose lives were so hurtful to her.

Jenna's husband was supportive and understanding to a point. He really didn't understand why it mattered so much to Jenna, but he cared that it made her sad.

Stepping out of the shower and wrapping herself into a towel Jenna became philosophical about it. After she was dressed she walked down the hall to the computer and booked a flight to Hawaii for the next year's holiday celebration. And resolved to sing the Messiah for the next 30 days.


quilly said...

I hope this isn't a true story. How painful. There is nothing worse than to be left outside. It took my FIL 11 years to accept me -- about 22 horrible holidays where I sat in a chair and no one much spoke to me beyond polite.

Thom said...

Well I hope Jenna flies Delayed Gratification Airlines. She will have a blast and when she gets here I hope she forgets all about that bum she is married to. He should put her first above everything. To hell with him and his family. She is part of this family and should be respected as much. Some people I tell ya. Very nicely written my friend :)