Hey, what's this? Oh, yeah: I have a blog! I should post in it or something, huh?
I had a really good conversation with my mother this evening. One of the reasons you couldn't pay me to go back to being a teenager (along with the acne, the hormones, the unrequited love, the ridiculous curfew, and the backstabbing faux friends) is that when I was younger I could not relate to my mother at all. As far as I was concerned, my mother was just one big walking list of What Not To Do When You Grow Up. And my job was to point out every single one of those items on that list to her every second of every day. Item One: Jiminy Christmas, the house is clean enough. Put the vacuum away.
Of course, now that I'm older and posting pictures of my yellowed bathroom grout on the internet it occurs to me that, hey! If you clean halfway decently once a week, you never get to yellowed grout in the first place. Maybe mom had a point all those years.
We were not talking about housecleaning tonight, though. We were talking about people who don't communicate. That is, we were talking about my boyfriend's family and my mother's family.
"Every time I think the (mother's maiden name)'s are bad about not communicating," I told her, "I just take a look at the boyfriend's family. They're worse."
"Oh, I know," my mother said. "I don't know how I dealt with it all those years. I don't want to think what I might have been like if I'd stayed there. You can't say anything! No one ever expresses any emotion--"
"Emotion, hell," I said, "The boyfriend's family won't even deal in facts if the facts are in any way unpleasant."
"Yes! What causes that?" my mother asked. I think she was mostly asking herself, but I'm a bigmouth, so I jumped right in with my pet theory.
"I honestly think it's some Midwestern farming family thing handed down through generations of Scandinavians and Germans," I replied, because I love blaming everything on ethnicity, provided it's some ethnicity I share in myself. It's so convenient, and at least half the time you're right. My mother's family is Scandinavian (and English, another ethnic group famous for forthrightness and high comfort levels with messy emotional matters). My boyfriend's family is German and Irish, but it's the German that predominates. I know this because I have never succeeding in enjoying a drink with any of them, save of course my boyfriend, who seems to have got all the Irish and nearly none of the German.
"But I mean, you can't even say stuff that's harmless, or I mean harmless to normal people, for fear it might hurt cousin so-and-so's feelings," I continued.
"Every time I go back there I get in trouble," my mother said, referring to her mother's house. "I mean every time, because of course your father, you know he just says whatever's on his mind, and then since I've been living with him, I've adapted to his ways, and so I'm--I'm not used to covering up anymore, either, and I forget myself and say what I think, and then everyone else is horrified."
"And it's always over something trivial. At least, with Mark's family. Stuff that wouldn't bother anyone else, but if you say it, it's 'Oh dear oh dear I just don't know--'"
"Just saying what you'd like to eat is a crime," my mother agreed.
We agreed that my father's family does communication better. The funny thing is I think this is one of the few times I have heard my mother come right out and say, "Your father's family has it right." My father's family is working-class Irish and Spanish. Between my grandfather the Spic and my grandmother the Mick, who had time to fuss over niceties? Who had time to obsess over what is and is not "nice to say?" They both worked like dogs. My father has no conception of "stay-at-home mom." He didn't grow up with one.
But because of this cut-to-the-chase communication style, when my grandmother says, "Can I fix you something? How 'bout an English (muffin)? It'd take me just a minute to fix you a nice English," you know she means it. She isn't going to fix you an English muffin and then sneak off to the deck to carp to your aunt that you're so tiring, the way you keep her running in the kitchen all the time, and why couldn't you have just been polite and declined the English muffin, the way the Nice People are brought up to do?
My dad's mom isn't going to do that to you. She's going to fix you a nice English muffin, and beam when you tell her it's good. Which you will do, because it will be awesome.
But that is exactly what my mother's mother would do--plus, bonus, the English muffin would be horrible, all not toasted enough and scarcely dabbled with ye-gods-margarine--and that is why every question my maternal grandmother asks catches you off-guard, turns you to jelly while you ponder every potential (negative) ramification of your answer.
Too many people I tell this to say "Oh not me, not me. I'd show her." Yeah? Bet me, motherfucker. I've seen strong people reduced to infants around my grandmother, even now, even these days, when she's on so many prescription narcotics it's a wonder she wakes up most mornings. Me? I "uh" and "um" around my mother's family a lot, stalling for time, trying to choose the least offensive answer--the nicest answer. They probably think I can't speak so good English.
"Well, of course, it's very sad, but I suppose it isn't Ilyka's fault, bless her poor heart. Her mother did marry a Spanish man."
Enough of them; it's your turn. What's your comfort zone of honesty in communication? Did you grow up with my mother's family, or my father's, or something in-between? I know my background and my preference; what's yours?