Archive for the 'family relations' Category

Compassion, love, and “the ties that bind”

May 10, 2015

I was talking to Gita a couple of weeks ago, and she observed that I clearly have an abundance of compassion for a certain person to whom I am related but that my compassion is for that person as a human being and not as a consequence of the relationship.  Her observation was based on the content of what I had said, the emotion with which I had said it, and my tears on their behalf.

That kind of broadly-based compassion is kind of like the smile that fashion experts tell us is always in style, I think.

This distinction Gita and I articulated explains a source of friction between this relative and myself, who seems to want to claim that I do not love them.  The way I see it, this relative wants something different from me from what I am giving, and wants to claim that the difference between what I am giving and what they want from me is love.  I don’t think it is, I think I do have a vast amount of love for them, but, as Gita and I agreed, it’s love for them as a human being, not as a relative.  I think what the relative is looking for is some sort of add-on to love that they associate with the relationship.  I’m not sure how I would characterize that add-on except to say that it seems to me, from past experience, to be that which lets the bear in the backdoor, if the person happens to be a bear — something that can be used to attempt to derive something else they want for themselves from me.  I don’t say an add-on can’t have positive aspects with some people, just that it is a gateway to more than love.

I think if more people tapped into compassion and love for others as human beings and not on the basis of their structural relationship with the person, “the world would be a better place.”  I think there would be less exploitation and inequality at the level of individuals and also less at the level of groups.

I think many people like the add-ons, however, especially when they can derive some benefit from them, and especially when they have figured out how to do so in a way in which they derive the benefit and the other person incurs the cost and the roles are never reversed — where flow is only in one direction.  An analogy from past times, I think, would be the husband whose wife supports him through medical school and who then divorces her.

I can say at this point in my life that I am, unfortunately, drawn to people like that, I can see the repetition of the pattern.  I suspect I am drawn to people like that because it is a familiar pattern for me, and one I was brought up to accept as, well, acceptable.  What I think I am trying to learn is to just say no without feeling guilty about it, to not fall for the bait-and-switch and then for the guilt-trip or retaliation campaign that follows when I protest;  my love is there, just not that other thing the person wants.  That other thing is not necessary for me to contribute in order for me to be a loving and compassionate person.

Of course, if I don’t actually locate that love and compassion within me for the other person, that would be a different scenario — it’s not, to be clear, just a cerebral idea I am talking about, it’s an actual outpouring of positive energy in the direction of the other person.  I do not expect it, or feel a need for it, to be returned.


My mother and English Language Learners

April 18, 2015

I found myself going on at a length beyond what I think is appropriate in some news comments I was making, so I decided I’d better bring my discussion over here.

The topic was teaching English as a Second Language and my mother.

My mother taught ESL as a volunteer through a local public library when she was older.  She enjoyed it.

It occurred to me when I was writing about my mother and ESL that my father was an English Language Learner.  He came to this country when he was fourteen.  My parents knew each other in high school (Erasmus Hall High School).  My mother was a little over a year younger than my father.

When my parents were visiting for my younger son’s high school graduation, I asked my dad about my parents’ courtship — I had heard my mother’s angle many times, but I hadn’t heard my dad’s and I was curious.  One thing he mentioned that was apparently a highlight for him was being invited to and attending my mother’s Sweet Sixteen birthday party;  I’m not sure I had been aware before this that she had had one.  It was apparently a big deal for my father.

I think my father had been in this country approximately three years when my mother had her Sweet Sixteen.  My father claimed to have learned English with The New York Times and a dictionary.  He said that spelling was the most difficult part and had no patience with my spelling mistakes:  “If I could master English spelling, you can, too,” was the substance of his reaction to seeing my repeated misspelling of “burry” for “bury” in a third grade report on animal hibernation.  I don’t know what state my father’s English was in when he met my mother.  I think they met through after-school school clubs and societies.  My mother told me that despite their losing touch with each other for nine years after high school, she knew she would either marry Kurt Moses or not marry at all.

So I want to say that my mother fell in love with an English Language Learner and I want to put that together with my mother’s teaching of ESL much later in her life.  I think for my mother, that later experience — her formal teaching of English as a Second Language — was also was wrapped up in a positive feeling for English Language Learners.

Too much communication

March 15, 2015

I’ve had that from some people, most particularly a certain family member, who will remain nameless.  I was thinking about it recently, because it unfortunately came up this winter when a social worker for the aforementioned but unnamed family member behaved in, at best, a careless way that threatened to undermine the boundaries I had built up with this relative over more than 20 years.

I try to make sure this relative has the information they should have, and I try to do right by them in other regards, but I learned from experience that I need strong boundaries with respect to them.

What I say, and what is all too true, when I decline to have the relationship and communication they desire, is that I can’t — I can’t have the relationship they want, I can’t engage in the communication they want.  I can’t, as in, I am unable to.  I really am unable to.  And it is, as I said, all too true, I can’t.

I have made the point that if the person shows evidence of change, things might be different and maybe it would become a situation I am able to handle.  How would I know?  Probably when the person backed off and showed some evidence of taking me, my needs, and my words into account.  (They don’t hear the word “no,” for example.)  And when communication did not fall into the same scripts and I did not feel preyed upon and provoked.

It’s hard to argue with an “I can’t.”  I don’t say it because it is hard to argue with, but because it is true, and I can’t do what I can’t do.

I would add as a footnote that, for people without knowledge of the history here, I may look like Attila the Hun, but I’ve learned to live with that, too — it’s the lesser of the two difficulties.


Books that channel

January 18, 2015

It recently occurred to me to bring my mother one of the anthologies of poems she so loves.  She chose her replacement copy of Best Loved Poems of the American People, which I had found for her after she spoke of her regret of having de-accessioned years ago her copy from her youth.

My mother had me leave it in the top drawer of her nightstand in her room in the nursing center, and I must say that reminded me of Gideon’s Bibles in hotel rooms.

This morning, when I visited in the early morning, my mother had more energy than she’s had some recent mornings, probably because the aide had not yet come to help her with her morning routine.  So we got out the poetry book, she chose poems, and I read them.  At some points, I could feel her enjoyment — I found myself reading a closing stanza in her cadences and intonations and she was smiling, for example.

It is Sunday.  My mother is not religious, she is of the generation and culture for whom the Holocaust negatively impacted the ability to be open to belief, but poetry can be, I think, for some people an avenue to the source that inspires our spirits, to the extent possible.

Thanksgiving pics

November 27, 2014

We were waiting to check the meat thermometer to see if the turkey was done, and Jonas suggested we take some pictures:

mm & jm thanksgiving2014

My mom and Jonas

jm & dcm thanksgiving2014

Jonas and me

Happy Thanksgiving!


August 24, 2014

While I was visiting my mother, I had to decide what day to leave.  I had come down a day later than planned, an idea that originated with my mother, due mostly to the weather, and I needed to decide whether to go back home on my originally planned day of departure or to extend the trip one day.

We had accomplished much of what we had planned — banking business; open house; sorting, shredding or keeping files that had been in the basement, sorting, folding, donating or keeping the contents of the linen closet …

I couldn’t tell whether we were done for this trip.  So I took a walk late one afternoon.  And what percolated up for me was to call my son to see how he was faring at home and to pack my car, to the extent possible at that point, with what I thought I needed to bring back with me, to see if it would fit (I drive a Ford Focus sedan).

And once I did those two things, it became clear to me to stay the extra day.  And when I did that, I found myself doing some work that hadn’t before occurred to me, including getting things off closet shelves, sorting them for donation, trash, or keeping — because I wasn’t sure who else would be able to get them down, given the limitations of the help my mother engages.  This project had not been apparent to me, but by clearing away the clutter in my mind about my decision (about when to leave), I was able to make that decision, and, subsequently, to see the next right thing I was being called to do.  Again, as in my previous post, this occurred in a mundane context, but I am here to say that my process works, at least for me.

I will add as a note here that my mother received three wonderful letters from the university that collected and received her donation of CDs, records, and books.  My mother read them to me over the phone last night.  Not only were we amazed by the number of CDs (over 4,000) and records and books (over 600 and 800, respectively), but we found it heartwarming that the writers were so appreciative of the collections.  I was also especially happy to hear that the writers mentioned that the CDs would be quite helpful in the teaching and preparation of music students.  That’s the sort of thing I had been hoping for — that the collections would go where they were appreciated for what they were and would be used in a way that allows them to reach their potential to help others.


August 22, 2014

I came back from visiting my mother, with a lot of family belongings.  My mother is downsizing in preparation for her move to Massachusetts, to a one-bedroom apartment.  My sister apparently had a negative response to taking any of the belongings, except for a napkin ring I helped my mother mail her.

So I was not sure where in my house to put the items I brought back.  I threw the problem out there to the universe, turned it over and asked for help.  And I got help, found I could remove without difficulty a few objects from my china cabinet in my front room, for example, rearrange a few more, and have a beautiful space for the family items.

What I removed is basically a collection I can pack up into a box as a set, maybe to give to someone else.

And for the other group of family belongings I brought back, I opened the trunk in my dining room and realized there were also items there I was fine with packing up and possibly de-accessioning, and that doing so would produce adequate room for these things I had brought back with me from New Jersey.

It may be a trivial problem, finding a suitable place to put family belongings, but that feeling of going from “I have no idea what to do” to “Oh, this works” is priceless nonetheless.


A collection

July 28, 2014

I am thrilled that between the two of us, my mother and I seem to have found a good home for my dad’s extensive classical music CD collection.  He developed the collection in part as a result of his reviewing CDs for the American Record Guide.

I felt pretty strongly that the collection has greater value as a whole, that its value as a whole is greater than the sum of its (many) parts.  One example of the significance of its size is how it contains multiple performances of the same work (my dad would make reference to comparisons in his reviews) and so lends itself to in-depth study of a work.  I advocated pretty strongly that we should find someone to take it who would appreciate this aspect of it.

I did some poking about online while I was on the telephone with my mother, and I gave her some phone numbers of music departments or related departments at local universities.

The collection is going to a university library, as I understand it, and being handled by a person who really appreciates the collection (and even used to follow my father’s work).  As I said, I am thrilled.

I was going to write more about the factual details of what’s going on, but what really moved me was finding such a good match.  I wound up my father’s estate recently, and I certainly tried to do right by him on those matters, but this is a different sort of thing  —  it feels like settling something of the heart.  I think it makes me feel as though there are things we can still do for loved ones after they have died.


June 7, 2014

I spent a lot of time with another family while I was growing up, and after we adopted children, that relationship fell apart.

Years later, one of family members got in touch with me on the occasion of their marriage.  It seemed as if nothing had really changed, so I wished them well, declined the invitation (which I don’t think included our children), and sent a gift.

I included a family photo with the personal note I sent.

I got a note back sometime after the wedding that mentioned how they had used the photo in a presentation they had made during the festivities.

My kids are adopted, one through a closed domestic adoption, they were young when this use of the photo occurred, and I was accustomed to schools and extracurricular organizations asking permission to use photos of children.

I was taken aback by the use of the photo at the wedding.

I felt that my privacy had been invaded and I felt that the prevailing cultural norms had not been followed.  I felt that while our relationship had changed for the worse over our children (at the outset, when the children were newly adopted infants and toddlers), the wedding person was happy to use a photo of them, even against the children’s best interests, if it helped the wedding person with what they wanted to do.

On the other hand, I could see that the person probably had no clue about how it would feel to me, and that that was part and parcel of why there is no longer a close relationship.

For me, a big challenge in life is letting go of my apparently airbrushed versions of people, and to see them as they are.  It’s not that I condemn them for how they turn out to be, but on the other hand, I don’t owe people a relationship if I find it doesn’t work for me, especially if it causes me harm.

In this case, the issue falls under the heading, “I don’t know how to accept you in my life if you don’t accept my relationship with my children, if not the children themselves.”  In many cases it has felt as if I were being asked to collude with the relative or person I was friends with or teacher or neighbor against my child, to gang up with someone else against my child.  The answer is no.

I found myself discussing this issue with my internist at my annual check-up this spring, and he said he couldn’t do it either.  He’s a brisk and upbeat person, and had never experienced this himself, but he allowed himself to enter into what I was saying my world can be, and he could see why I handle things as I do.  That kind of acknowledgment I find helpful, not only because then the person isn’t asking me to do something I feel is harmful (and would require me to try to twist myself into some kind of emotional pretzel), but also because it allows me to move on more easily.  It’s not that I haven’t shared this experience before, and learned from others that it has happened to them, over adoption, interracial issues, etc., but somehow getting a little understanding from someone on the outside felt noteworthy.

Of course, it doesn’t provide a road map for going forward, but I try not to expect that from other human beings at this point in my life.

Sleepy Dog

February 27, 2014

We didn’t see my mother’s brother and his family nearly as much as we saw my father’s sister and her family (and she was married to a close friend of my father’s).  They (my mother’s brother and his family) lived in Florida, my father’s sister’s family on Long Island.

But a gift my Uncle Herbie gave me when I was a toddler was at least as significant to my development as the Tom Lehrer album I just wrote about in my last post.

It was a huge stuffed animal, a large yellow dog with closed eyes and floppy ears.  I named him Sleepy Dog.

I kept him, I gave him to Jonas when Jonas became part of our family, and Sleepy Dog is among Jonas’ collection of stuffed animals stored in the basement.

I loved Sleepy Dog.  He was big enough to hug.  I could even ride him down the stairs, bump, bump, bump.  He was a great comfort when I lost at boardgames, or at anything else.  I went through phases when I brought him into bed with me, but he took up a lot of room, especially because one of his back legs sticks out.  I think he spent as much time in my doll carriage as my baby dolls.

Anyway, Sleepy Dog was also the sort of thing my parents would not have bought for me, and he was a great fit for me.  Thank goodness for extended family.  It’s an interesting phenomenon for me that although my uncle didn’t know me well, he brought me something I really loved.