Time with family
Stories of Grandpa, Grandma
a mixed-blood feminista on love, wellness, work and privilege
Time with family
Stories of Grandpa, Grandma
Have you ever finished a book and it left you a little breathless and dizzy, with its story and insights revealed? And then you know you will read it again, because there were passages that moved you so deeply, but you had to keep reading to get to the end, because it was so compelling?
That is what Tara Westover’s book Educated did for me. It is a powerful memoir about leaving home and what happens when we leave behind the strange beliefs our families may have tried to instill in us.
Though my own life story is very different from Tara’s, the idea of leaving behind a patriarchal family structure is probably familiar to a lot of women of my generation. I am grateful I had no brothers, and endured no significant violence that I remember. But the denial and rage and depression that occurs when you realize you have been “gas-lighted” by half your family is palpable.
It was a little like when I first read Martha Beck’s memoir Leaving the Saints, another powerful story. When we are little children and we are in the care of our parents, we must believe in them. It is our first act of faith, in a way. Babies and children are vulnerable and dependent. To reject our families means likely death. If they reject us, possibly it may take decades (and probably a lot of therapy) to recover our sense of worthiness.
As we become adults, and learn to think for ourselves, we can sometimes reconcile the pain and mental illness they may have lived through. As we begin to take on a new perspective on the world, and perhaps have different opportunities available (especially as women in comparison to our mothers), we realize their views do not have to be our views.
In 1974, the year I was born, the equal credit opportunity act was passed. Before that a woman could not necessarily open a credit card or bank account on her own. Now I would scoff if someone asked me my husband’s income to apply for my own account.
Educated… yes. More of us are educated. I am grateful for the privilege of being born at a time and in a place where this is an option. And I am so very grateful that Tara had the courage to share her story. It reminds me a bit of the Mark Nepo poem (Breaking Surface) I posted last April.
I am still a bit breathless at the beautiful rendering of her story. What books have left you breathless lately?
My sister and I have been on a road trip in Canada, and it is the first time we have crossed this northern border together. It has been a lovely long weekend and we will return by Monday night to our parent’s home to recount our adventures.
I really enjoyed this time with my sister. She is a wise and compassionate person and as a registered nurse, gave me a lot of insight into the healthcare system. We have talked nearly nonstop the whole trip and I really appreciate her perspective. She has noticed some of the charming peculiarities about Canada that I love so much. And we knew we were in a different country with a different culture.
Many signs were in English and French. In the U.S., they are typically all in English, occasionally in Spanish or some other languages. Temperature is measured in Celsius, not Fahrenheit, gas is measured in liters, not gallons.
Canadians are friendly and welcoming. They seemed to lack the tension and paranoia that people seem to have in the United States. Canada feels relaxed. We are not sure if this is related to their lack of anxiety on health care. Or maybe they have good government?
They sell “Commonwealth mix” in their convenience stores. They have one-year maternity leaves, from 17 weeks to 52 weeks without penalty. Typically the first 15 weeks are paid. In the U.S. FMLA policy provides 12-weeks of unpaid time off.
Gun ownership is somewhat controversial, but because they do not have a constitutional right to bear arms, they seem less ardent on being able to carry guns everywhere.
As Minnesotans, I believe we have a lot in common with our Canadian “cousins.” But there are subtle and fascinating differences. I know my sister will go back again. And now I have new ideas where hubby and I can vacation in Rainy Lake/Fort Frances area. Gorgeous.
Happy week, amigos/as. I look forward to catching up with you when I get home.
They drive you crazy!
Yet you love them anyway.
Family. It’s true.
Last week I wrote about this topic and there was some interest in a further exploration. I think it is appropriate to post about this on a holiday (at least for those in the U.S.) because that is often a time when we can feel pressure to eat or drink, at parties or social events.
I remember growing up my extended family would often have a barbecue or picnic event, and everyone would be eating hot dogs (which we cooked on the grill or at the camp fire), potato chips and dip, potato salad, beans, etc. Then there would be dessert: cookies, bars, brownies, cake or pie, and sometimes ice cream as well. Thinking back to this makes me a little hungry now, actually…
There was always a little pressure to eat. Typically I ate 2 hot dogs on buns, my Grandma’s yummy potato salad, some beans. I saved room for dessert, which I always enjoyed (sweet tooth then & now). There was not necessarily pressure to eat a lot, but if you didn’t eat, someone would invariably ask why you didn’t try their dessert.
Probably three quarters of my family members would describe themselves as overweight. Not all of them are obese, but clearly we do not hold back very much when it comes to eating at social (family) events. Taking a second helping of a food is considered flattering to the cook, and so that can lead to additional pressure.
Isn’t it weird that people always prod you if you do not eat much, but they do not say anything if you are serving up vast quantities of food and shoveling them down? I mean, to me that is an indicator of discomfort, as I see it in myself, so it now makes me wonder what someone might be experiencing emotionally.
Food can be a way to bond and share experiences with people and I think this can be done in a healthy way, when nobody feels pressured to eat. I like to share a dessert sometimes with colleagues, when I want a little taste of something sweet, but I really don’t need a full dessert. “Going for coffee” in Latin America is a very common event, a chance to sit down and get to know someone, whether you drink coffee or not.
I realize I am still a little self-conscious about my eating habits when I am in a social setting. I am gradually learning to trust my hunger signals, and I stop when I am full rather than worrying about how much is socially acceptable to eat. I also try not to eat as much sugar and flour these days, as I find they create unnatural insulin spikes for me, and mess with my metabolism and brain chemistry.
It is getting less important to me to explain myself when these episodes occur, but I find it interesting that we still have to justify these choices. People ask if you are on a special diet, and then that topic comes up. Ugh, do I have to explain again?
I am curious about other cultural social norms that exist around food. Definitely Americans take everything to the extreme, and I think most other cultures take more time with their food, enjoy it more and obsess less about it. Perhaps we can learn to relax and see food as source of nourishment and pleasure. We can allow people to eat what they want, and not add to the social pressure.
May you enjoy the holiday (if you celebrate) and partake in the foods you enjoy, only in the quantities you want.
Many of us find it hard to get rid of objects in our lives that remind us of someone we love, or an experience we have had. So we hang onto boxes of these things, unnecessary objects that weigh us down, simply because we associate them perhaps with a loved one who has passed, or an experience we enjoyed.
But the memory of the person or experience does not require the object to exist in your mind. You can choose return to that memory at any time simply by thinking of of the person or experience. Rather than keeping wardrobes of Grandma’s old clothing, maybe keep a favorite teacup she enjoyed, and put it somewhere that you see it periodically.
The weight of our things in the world tends to weigh on our minds, even if packed away unseen in drawers, boxes and basements. Sometimes people try to de-clutter the main areas of their house by storing things out of their line of sight, but this just postpones making decisions about whether these items serve them.
Marie Kondo explains that our attachment to things is really about an attachment to the past or fear about the future. To me, there is so much wisdom here. I still struggle with letting go of things that are “perfectly fine” or were gifts from someone. But if they are not things we use or enjoy, then the purpose of the gift (to be received) has been completed. We are free to let go if they will just sit in a box and take up “guilt space” as I used to do.
This practice of paring down and living with less seems to be easier for generations that grew up with more abundance (actually with more excess than was ever imagined in the 30’s or 40’s). But when the fundamental belief is one of sufficiency, letting go is so much easier. I come from a family that likes to hang onto stuff. It has been rather challenging and tricky for me to accept that, in light of my aspiration toward minimalism. I must remind myself that I can only control my own choices when it comes to these matters.
Sometimes the “stuff” that requires letting go is our ability to control other people, particularly family. I may wish for them to be free of all the clutter and items that appear to weigh them down. But then I add extra “weight” by judging and imposing my ideas of how things should be, rather than allowing them to be who they are and make their own choices.
Practicing compassion toward myself and toward others is a necessary part of the process. If I am asked for help in de-cluttering, I will be eager to pitch in. But if the impulse comes from pressure or shame, then I am part of the problem, not the solution.