My father married a nice enough woman about a dozen years ago,
after unfortunately having had an affair with her while still married to my
mother. All of which I was told before my mother was; but that’s a story
The story for “It’s All Relatives” is that in the 12 or
so years they have been married, my sibling and I have never been invited to a
single of stepmom’s family events. Six of her nieces and nephews have
been married, countless children of those nieces and nephews have been born,
anniversary parties for her parents have come and gone, and my sibling and I
have never been invited to a single one of these family functions. This
year, however, an event occurred which showed us just how unimportant she
considers us to be.
I called my dad to check in (I live 500 miles away and we’re
all pretty independent, so we talk every week or two). I asked how things
were, and he informed me that stepmom’s father had died a couple of weeks
earlier. Not only had we not been told when the funeral and attending
functions were, we had never even been told he’d died. There had been a
huge funeral, a reception at my father’s house for the entire extended family,
and my sib and I had never even gotten a phone call. So really, I guess
it’s NOT all relative. We may as well not even know this woman.
Recently, during Thanksgiving weekend, I was informed my
mother was diagnosed with cancer. I went home from college, spent at least the
weekend with her. Among the first things my father said after I got the news
that she would be receiving chemotherapy, was "If I knew I was getting
chemo, I would shave my head right now." Me and my mother just gave a frown
and turned the other way. "Yes!" he continued. "It's going to
fall anyway!" Another time, me and my mother were eating dinner, and
talking about the chemotherapy treatment, when he walked into the room and said
"If I had cancer, I would NEVER get chemotherapy! That sh!t burns up your
insides!" Needless to say, all his comments were bringing my mother further
down every day with depression and devastation.
My sister tried to remodel the bathroom so my mother would be
as comfortable as possible at home (the hot water didn't work), but my father
tried to set his foot down, finally saying "Just remodel later, I'm leaving
the country (we're from Guatemala) soon anyway!" Think about it. In a time
of crisis, families are supposed to be united, right? Well, my sister, seeing
that sending him away would actually make my mother more comfortable (she once
referred to him as a "time bomb"), she bought him a one-way ticket to
stay in Guatemala, at least during my mother's convalescence. Well, HE was the
one who wanted to leave from his mention of it, but in the days that followed
before he left, he kept accusing my mother of "kicking him out". Kind
of reminds me (maybe even reminds my mother) of the time after she got pregnant
with my sister and he left the country (Guatemala at that time) and didn't
return for six years! But that's a whole other story.
OK, here's the background. My husband's parents are
missionaries overseas in Africa. The deal is that they are out there for
four years, then come back to the States for a year, where they usually find
a place to live fairly close to their family in Iowa (where we also live).
The only family who really lives far away is my husband's brother (we'll call
him Jack) and his wife (we'll call her Jill), who live in Texas, about two
minutes away from her parents, who they see all the time.
So, my in-laws are scheduled to come back in about a month or
so. The last time they were here was a little over a year ago; they came
back for my and my husband's wedding. Obviously, Jack and Jill were also
Now Jill is a little odd. She's very conscious about her
weight (though she is a very trim size 8) and everyone else's weight as well.
She's also very competitive. She and Jack got married before we did, they
had a baby before we did, they go on better vacations, save more money, etc.
I can live with this, as we only see them maybe 3 or 4 times a year.
Jack was up here without Jill maybe six weeks ago, to pick up
a car that they bought off of Ebay from someone up here. He was able to
stop in and say hello to us for a while. I asked him when him and Jill
would be coming up next, and mentioned that they should maybe come up for his
birthday, which is the day after my in-laws come home. He said that was a
very good idea and to plan on them staying with us while they were here.
(No problem for us at all, happy to have them.) So for the last six weeks
we've been planning on them being here. It'll be fun, we can all go to the
airport together to pick up their parents, etc, etc.
The last time Jack and Jill were here they
mentioned that they'd like to try a restaurant in our area that is very popular,
and pretty pricey. I thought that we could all (me, husband, Jack,
Jill, husband's sister) take in-laws to dinner here, since we couldn't ship a
Christmas gift overseas (expensive, sometimes gets lost). So I called Jill
to check this idea out with her, explain that I need to make reservations (the
day we want to go is fairly close to Mother's Day, so get our name in early,
etc). She says, "Hold on!" She then runs into the other
room, away from Jack, and then says, "Don't tell Jack, we're not coming to
Iowa! I'm taking him for his birthday to Chicago as a surprise instead!
We're going to see a show (that they had both already seen twice) and look
around the city." I was a little flabbergasted, made some noises
about the dinner, but was drowned out by her HANGING UP ON
ME! So I email her, thinking that this way I can actually say what I want
to without being interrupted. I let her know about the dinner and that my
husband and I are quite confused, because this is completely different than the
information we've been going on for the last six weeks.
I told my husband what happened. He tries to talk to
her, same response. So basically, Jack thinks that he is coming to Iowa
for his birthday, is picking his parents (who he hasn't seen FOR A YEAR!) up at
the airport, and instead, she's saying, "Nope, you're going to Chicago and
NOT seeing your parents! Happy Birthday!" Jack has no idea that
any of this is happening, and we don't want to say anything because Jill has
made it very clear that we are not to say a word about it. She can get
very pouty and whiney and tends to carry a grudge, and I want their next
visit to be nice, not a gripe-fest about how we spoiled her
"incredible birthday surprise". We'll see how it all plays out
in the end. Maybe I'll even have something more to share!
I have a large extended family, consisting of aunts, uncles,
and cousins related to me by marriage, blood, and adoption. I am closer to my
relatives by marriage (we see them more) than anyone. Ten years ago, my
grandmother (whom we will call GM#1) passed away. 19 months later, my
grandfather married a wonderful woman whom I'll call GM #2. From the moment they
heard about her, some of my cousins from GM#1's side of the family were
determined to pit me, my mother, my uncle, and my sisters against GM#2 and her
family. When we go places together, they will speak to me and not her, they
constantly criticize her behind her back, and they swear up and down that she is
trying to cause harm to my grandfather. Mind you, she and her family have been
nothing but nice to me and she has been a big help to my grandfather.
My graduation is coming up and when I was deciding who to
invite, it was like preparing for World War III. On any given day, someone in my
family doesn't like someone else in my family and the last thing I want to
happen is for people to say, "Why did you invite _________?"I come
from a small town where people tend to invite themselves to the local high
school graduations by virtue of the fact that they know the graduate. However,
in college, we do things differently. For starters, I only get 8
graduation tickets for priority seating. Everyone else gets seats on
first-come-first serve basis. I had planned to give those tickets to the
people in my household (Grandparents & 1 aunt), my mother, 2 sisters, my
best friend, & 1 additional person. However, my mother's brother, whom I
rarely see and hardly ever has anything positive to say told me, "One of
those tickets had better be for me. I'm your uncle." (He wasn't playing).
Then, I find out that six other groups of family and
close friends have invited themselves to my graduation. My best friend has
asked if her boyfriend can have a ticket as well. I recently began communicating
with two of my dad's sisters. When I told my mother that my aunts want to come
as well, she told me that I couldn't invite them and in the same sentence says,
"Your Aunt _____ (her sister whom she can't stand) is coming too."
Since when were people allowed to invite themselves to someone else's
Now it's time to send out invitations. GM #2 asks me,
"Don't you want to invite your family?" As far as I'm concerned, her
family is my family since I've seen more of her relatives than I see
of my dad's or GM #1's. I don't feel comfortable sending invitations to
people with whom I haven't spoken in five years. I don't view graduation as a
fundraiser. I have lost complete control of what is supposed to be my big
day. I think, if I get married, I just might elope. That way no one can invite
themselves to the wedding.
My sister, "Ellen," is the only one of my siblings
that has children. Her children are sweet and adorable as she is difficult and
demanding. Ellen was recently involved in a very nasty custody court case
with her ex-husband. Basically her ex was furious she had left him for another
man and she was irate her ex was not considerate enough to drop dead once she
decided she wished to be with someone new. Thus begins a 2 year long custody and
child support dispute that eventually culminates in a 3 day long court case in
which over 25 people were subpoenaed to testify and commit character
assassination on whichever party they were testifying against. His parents, her
parents, their neighbors, his coworkers, her new bf's ex-wife, former daycare
providers of the children's, etc. You get the picture, it was very ugly.
I was the only person in the family who had not been subpoenaed
who didn't live at least 1000 miles away. The court case was to take place in my
home state, in the city where Ellen and he ex had lived, which is about 2 hours
from where I and our parents live. Ellen now lives about 400 miles away and had
to travel back to our home state for the court case. Despite there being a
distant relative in the town in which she currently resided who could have
watched her children, Ellen brings her two children, ages 5 and 3 to our home
state. As everyone else has to go to court for 3 days, I was the only person who
was "free," if free means I had to take 3 vacation days off from work
during a very inconvenient time in order to watch her kids. I love my niece and
nephew and have fun with them; however, I do not have children of my own and am
not very acclimated to the demands of small children and
the level of supervision and interaction they require. Typically, when the kids
come to visit I and my parents tag-team 3 on 2 to handle them. But I had
the children from Tuesday evening through Friday afternoon. Even though sis and
her bf were there Tuesday night, once they arrived it was "free
babysitting" time and they lounged around on the couch watching TV and
trashing her ex in front of the kids. My niece, who is 5, has big ears and is
very smart, so I took her and her brother to another part of the house to play
so she didn't have to hear the horrid things Ellen was saying about her ex.
Anyways, the court case was in a town 100 miles away, so sis, her bf, my
parents, and all other involved parties had to travel to that other town and
stay there for the duration of the court case, leaving me alone for 3 days with
the kids with no backup.
Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I planned lots of activities
for the kids: museum, mall, playground, swimming, arts, general running around
and screaming, etc. However, Ellen had neglected (for about the hundredth time)
to pack properly for her children. It was spring in the South and the
temperature hovered around 80 degrees the entire time and her children had long
sleeved pants, shirts, coats, no pajamas at all and only half the underwear and
socks they required. Ellen has done this so many times I think she does it on
purpose to force us to buy her kids new clothes every time they visit, which we
do because it's not the children's fault their mother is so manipulative. I
spent over $100 in those 3 days on activities and clothing. When I tucked them
in at night, I had to immediately get on the computer and do work so I would not
get irrevocably behind. I did not get a shower for 3 days
as I hadn't figured out how do manage the kids' schedules and my own so I could
get 5 minutes alone without one of them pulling the house down around our ears.
I don't want to even tell you how much the piece of pottery my nephew broke was
worth, or that it took me 3 weeks to make it!
Finally, the court case was over (the judge told Ellen and her
ex to "grow up" and come up with a settlement agreement, which
differed very little from the original one they had been battling over for 2
years). My parents called to say they were all on their way home and I
practically wept with relief. I was tired, smelly, broke, and ready to not see
the kids again for at least 6-12 months. When Ellen arrived she did not ask how
everything went, and she did not thank me for watching her children for free for
3 days. What she said was, "Well, since we're leaving in the morning and
the kids' birthdays are coming up in a couple of weeks, do you have their
presents here so we can take them with us?" Like the organized fool I
am, I did in fact have their presents and idiotically forked them over into
Ellen's outstretched hands without breathing fire all over her. Someone on
E-Hell's message board suggested I should have said, "You kids are wearing
their birthday presents" since I had bought them new outfits to make up for
her bad packing. Never a good comeback ready when you need one.
The following day my parents called me up and told me I was a
very good sister and aunt to do all that for Ellen and that I was not
appreciated enough for all I did for the family. I told them the day Ellen
appreciated anyone there would be icicles in hell. It's been over a month and I
still have not received even a verbal thank you for all I did for Ellen's kids.
I suppose that might have something to do with me not speaking to her, not that
she's noticed because she only calls when she needs something and apparently
I've given her all she needs until the next time her kids need new clothes or
she needs someone to baby-sit.
My brother-in-law (BIL) is a control freak of the worst
sort and dislikes any social activities that involve anyone outside of his
immediate family or his hand picked friends. He also greatly discourages his
wife (my sister) from taking part in any social activities that don’t involve
people he approves of (the disapproval list includes my immediate family-and me
in particular, although I’ve never really figured out why). He’ll use all
kinds of devious methods of manipulation to ensure that he gets what he wants.
The examples of this are legion, but one particular event stands out in my
Years ago, when I was still a poor undergraduate at
university, a popular theatre production tour came, not to the city we were
living in, but in one that was a four hour drive away. I really, really, wanted
to see it, and mentioned this to my sister. She told me that she would also love
to see it. So we set about planning to go-I would call about ticket availability
and prices and arrange to pick up a couple of tickets, and she would drive us
there, thus splitting the cost of the entire outing between us. We were both
happy about the arrangements, and excited about going to the production (which
was still a couple of months away). Enter BIL. What he said or did
to persuade my sister to do the things she subsequently did, I don’t know and
have never asked, but the results really floored me.
Step one: My sister phones me and tells me that my BIL has
expressed a desire to see the play (this sort of thing isn’t usually his cup
of tea at all). So could I please arrange to get another ticket? (The idea here
being that if the tickets are all purchased together, we will all be able to sit
together for the performance). Okay, fair enough, if a trifle hard on a poor
student’s credit card.
Step two: My sister phones again about a week later. BIL has
asked his mother and father if they’d like to go, so would I squeeze in a
couple more tickets? Now this is getting to be an amount that will likely be
over my (rather low) credit limit. I mention this to my sister, who says “Oh,
right! I will arrange to pick up all of the tickets and you can pay me for yours
later”. (She was employed at the time and had a higher credit limit). I agreed
and insisted that I should still pay for her ticket.
Step three: BIL has arranged that he will call about the
tickets, rather than my sister. He orders four. Not five. Four. Once again my
sister phones me. It’s been decided that since they’re a family and I’m
not (!!) he, she, and his parents will use the tickets that have seats together.
I can now take care of my own ticket, as a single one will not be over my credit
limit. Of course enough time has passed that there is absolutely no chance that
I will be able to purchase a ticket to a seat anywhere near them.
Step four: Last phone call. BIL’s mother and father have
their own car, but he thinks it would be better for them all to travel together
to save on the price of fuel. So now there is no room in the car for me-I will
have to find my own transportation to the venue. So, very effectively, I was
pushed completely out of the picture, from having been the one who planned the
trip, to an outsider. You can imagine how disappointed I was. I have
a successful job now, and go to the theatre and opera a great deal. I have never
invited my sister to go with me to any of these performances, even when she has
expressed a desire to attend them. Once bitten….
My husband and I were invited to Easter dinner with his
family, parents, grandparents and they were gracious enough to invite my aunt
who also lives in town. We live in California now, but both my aunt and I are
from Texas. As I often say, Californians are rude. I love my husband and his
family, but no one taught these people manners. I was 3 1/2 months pregnant at
the time and the subject of baby names was brought up by his grandfather. I told
him, as I had told everyone else, the baby names we had in mind were kept
secret, so that I wouldn't get grief from people. His grandfather was satisfied with
that answer and continued eating his dinner. Then one of the parents asked if I
was going to name the baby after me. My name *is* a family name, it is my
mother's as well as my grandmothers. The truth is, none of us have regularly
*gone* by our given name, but the name is a meaningful tradition for the second
daughter. I reply "no" and begin to explain why when his mother,
father and grandmother all volunteer that they don't like my name! They openly
discussed, in front of me, my husband, and my aunt that my name wasn't good and
I shouldn't use it to name my child. These people don't joke, they're
scientists. They were absolutely serious. I politely gave them attempts to take
it back or apologize during the conversation, even reminding them that it was my
deceased grandmother's name, but they were not about to budge. Later I talked to
my aunt she said I *should* name the baby after me just to spite them.
My MIL, whom I'll call Shelly, can often be taken the wrong
way, or is that what she says is just wrong. So there's my
boyfriend John, his mother Shelly and Shelly's Mother - Nan. We all live in
the same town and are within five minutes drive of each other. Nan is
now aged in her nineties (90's) and was until very recent was still living
in her own home and pretty much looking after herself quite well. Shelly
has said some tactless things which are numerous and for any other time, but
these ones pretty much concern Nan.
A few months ago, Shelly was telling me that Nan had called
her at work just that day. I expressed concern thinking Nan had accident.
Shelly replies "Oh no. She just called to tell me she was lonely.
So I told her to get a grip!" I was speechless and did not
reply. This one happened just last Sunday. Nan had been in and
out of hospital for the last few weeks and it's now time to move into a nursing
Last Sunday Nan came home 'to put her affairs in order'.
It is likely to be the last time she'll be home. John and I went to visit
Nan. Betty and Nan were having cuppas. The tea pot was empty so I
decided to refill it for John, myself and whoever wanted seconds. I
delivered the tea pot and was about to pour a cup for John, when Shelly says
'Don't use those cups, go and get another older one. We're using
the good china set for the last time.' I returned with an 'old cup'.
I poured John a cup and sat down. A few moments later Shelly enquired why
I wasn't having a cup. "I'm lactose intolerant and can't drink skim
milk.' I replied. (Skim was the only milk in Nan's fridge.) Shelly
replies 'Well that's pretty silly isn't it! Oh in that case, John you
should have used the good china."
During the hour long visit, Nan spoke of relatives I hadn't
meet but she included me in the conversation. Shelly however did not.
It seems that every few minutes she would say "Oh that reminds me, I want
this picture or that piece of furniture." she was talking about Nan's
possessions, in front of Nan - as if she were not there. I was given an
old enamel soap dish. 'Otherwise it would have just gone into the
bin." shelly said. I hate to think what will happen when Nan
I have a wonderful uncle, I'll call him Irv. He is
my late father's younger brother. It's his wife I'm writing about, I'll
call her Edie.
I've always known that Aunt Edie is very outspoken. In
the past I never minded; in fact I rather liked it. Years ago, my sister
spent a good deal of time with her and they came to blows over various
incidents. I never had a problem with Aunt Edie, not then anyway.
But since Edie has gotten older (over 80) her rudeness has taken new heights.
She says whatever comes to mind, and God forbid any one disagree with her.
While they were visiting from their neighboring state, they stayed the nights
with my mom in her small senior apartment, five miles from me. My mom told
me Aunt Edie had commented that the apartment was too small, the living room
furniture too crowded. It is modest, to be sure. But it
is what my mom can afford, and being a gracious hostess is very important to
her. Too bad it's never quite up to snuff for Auntie Snotty.
I love to sing jazz, and my uncle Irv is an amateur jazz drummer. I
had invited a very sweet and dear friend to come over and play my piano.
We were looking forward to a jam session! My mom and Aunt Edie sat nearby,
while my friend was arranging her music at the piano, she politely asked Uncle
Irv about his musical background. He was retired from a federal job, but
had played professionally a little in his younger days. He mentioned
having played professionally somewhere, when Aunt Edie rudely cut him off and
contradicted him, saying "You never played professionally!" I
was NOT going to let her get away with that; not in my home in front of my dear
and gentle friend. I told her very quietly that that was mean. She
told me and my mother that she believed in honesty. We told her the hell
with honesty, that's your husband you are arguing with in front of others.
If he says he had played professionally, fine. Let him.
I later heard that the next morning she apologized to MY
MOTHER. My mom told her it was Irv she should apologize to. She
quietly agreed. After they were gone my mom told me that she
complained as they all drove up to my house, which was where they were visiting
during the day. It seems she had commented about the look
of my house as one approaches the front. I should explain that my husband
works very hard clearing our land to subdivide it as he has ungodly sums of
money invested in equipment, surveyors, the town, etc., and unfortunately our
house is not a big priority. I'm not happy about it, but I have learned to
accept it. She pointed out to my mom the sagging gutter, the
tired old garage doors, and the crumbling concrete steps. At one
point she even criticized my husband, who is my mom's beloved son-in-law.
My mom adores my husband. He has his faults, (mostly cute ones) but
he is the kind of husband most women can only dream about. THAT was
something my mother did not just accept. When she objected to my
aunt's complaints, Aunt Edie asked her, "Why are you always defending
people?!" I haven't seen them since then, one and a
half years ago. Too bad, I would love to see my Uncle. I guess love
is blind, because he adores her.
Granted my mother and I have never had much of a relationship,
she still managed to make “an appearance” by phone or in person to the
really important stuff. I hadn’t talked to her for about a year before I
graduated high school, but magically, like always, she was there. She
called to inform me of the births of all her other children and when she met
“the one” (three times), when she had a falling out with “the one” and
when “the one” was no longer “the one.” So you can understand my
surprise when I come home from college one day and my dad (her ex of 15 years)
tells me that he read in the paper that she got married. I call her to
find that the phone number that I have for her no longer works. I run into
one of my aunts (my mother’s sister) at the store and she tells me that indeed
my mother has gotten married AND moved 150 miles away. All of this,
considering that the last thing I had heard about this man (husband # 4) was the
last Thanksgiving when we skipped dinner to drive 35 miles to her home to pick
her up after he beat her up so badly that he broke her nose…really winner,
Hi Miss Jeanne! Thanks for the wonderful site. I'm
thrilled that I've made it this far in my life with few incidents that would
qualify for Ehell! Here's one, and it's pretty mild: I love my
boyfriend, "K" and his huge extended, slightly redneck, family
dearly. Since day one, they've treated me as one of the family (sometimes
a little more than I was ready for!) Background: At age 20, K got
his then-girlfriend pregnant, and decided to do the right thing and marry her,
despite his family's general loathing of her. They were married for a year
and a half, had another child, and divorced immediately following their second
child's birth. His kids are now 9 and 8. K and I have been
together for 3 and a half years, we've lived together almost 3. His family
is always asking "When are you two going to tie the knot?" and I have
a list of standard replies, depending on whether someone has pulled me aside to
ask (like I'm going to share some secret information with his great aunt, or
cousin's wife) or put the two of us on the spot in front of a large crowd.
Since we bought a house together recently, the asking has
become more frequent and insistent. So at a recent family function, while
K and his kids played in the yard, I sat with his mom and grandma chatting
pleasantly. Talk turned to how much they dislike his ex wife (as talk
invariably does) and I smiled and nodded, as I always do--I don't particularly
like the woman, but can't bring myself to talk bad about her within earshot of
her kids--and then they brought up weddings and being pregnant and how horrible K's
ex was at their wedding because she was pregnant, blah blah blah. And his
mom was making a big deal about how she paid for everything for K's wedding
and how she wanted it to be special for K because he deserved that and weddings
are important. And grandma pitches in with how she paid for all her kids'
weddings even with little money, so they would have the experience of a real
wedding. All very touching. Then mom turns to me and says, dead
serious, "But that was it for me, next time you're on your own!"
We'll start by saying, my mother in law isn't your average
overbearing insensitive mother in law, she's an alcoholic to the extreme. She
can't go a day without drinking a minimum of a 12pack, and she's also one of
those abusive types. My husband can barely stand his own mother because of her
behavior. She's 51 and acts about as mature as a 5 year old.
One really beautiful day last week, my youngest daughter, who
is 7, decides to finally learn to ride her new bicycle. So, I'm outside working
with my youngest child, getting her going and she's just about got it!! I'm so
proud of her at this point, I don't notice my mother in law coming outside. My
mother in law, who is raising my 5 year old niece (my husband's brothers child)
decides she's going to teach this child to ride her bicycle also. Mind you, it's
nearly 5 p.m. and my mother in law has been consuming alcohol since around 11
a.m. Needless to say, this woman is drunk, darn near fall down drunk and I'm embarrassed
just being outside with her weaving back and forth in the middle of the street.
The mother in law is holding onto the back of this 5 year old
child's bicycle, the bicycle has a flat tire, so it's not as if the child should
be riding it anyway. I asked her to let me go put air in the tire, she refused.
So, she is trying to run behind this child's bike when CRASH, she falls flat on
her face in the middle of the street. Half the neighborhood is outside in their
front yards, enjoying the lovely weather, including the State Police Officer
across the street. Everyone is staring at my mother in law laying in the middle
of the street, no one says a word. I swear you could have heard a pin drop!
Finally, she gets up off the street and returns to the safety
of the house, where she immediately opens another beer. She cried when my
husband returned home and told him she was an alcoholic and she wanted to be
admitted into a rehab, well I of course, don't believe a word of it at the time,
I know her better than that. Needless to say, the next day, she was back to
drinking before noon. My husband and I both knew she wouldn't even cut back on
her beer drinking!
Talk about embarrassing! I now remember to appreciate my
mother so much more.
I have an aunt, Colleen. Colleen is a lovely lady, now in her
early 50s, and is the youngest of three girls on my mother's side. All three
women have very different temperaments -- my mother Fiona is very knowledgeable
about etiquette, but allows for the occasional lapse; Margaret is very lax about
etiquette herself, and picks and chooses as to other peoples' etiquette
depending on her mood, the weather, solar flares... Seriously, anyone's guess;
and then there's Colleen, who is a general etiquette terror and maddening to
My mother has always maintained that we do not have to write
thank-you notes for Christmas gifts we receive (and for which we have already
said thank you) in person, because we have a very small family and spend the
entire Christmas season together. This isn't an aberration; no one else in the
family sends them either, because the praise and appreciation is quite lavish on
the day. But then there's Colleen.
Colleen, born and bred in the North (where my family lives),
moved to a Southern state in her mid-20s. We're not sure if it's the influence
of her Southern neighbors, but Colleen now insists on a thank-you card for every
little thing. Gifts, dinners, visits, rides to the airport, whatever. This is a
system that works only one way, interestingly. We rarely, if ever, receive
anything more than verbal recognition from her. She is single and has developed
into a very egocentric woman, though she can also be extremely generous and
loving when it strikes her.
Here's an instance of Colleen's bizarreness: Last year, she
got hold of my work journal and promptly located her birthday, then wrote down
not only that it was her birthday, but also the address of an online store where
she wanted a very expensive item. Um, okay, got the hint, thanks. Though on a
recent graduate's salary, I bought her the item, sent a note with it, and also
rang her to wish her happy birthday on the day. Two months later, I had to call
my mother to check if Colleen had ever received the gift, because had I heard a
Aunt Colleen often mentions that I, as the first niece, am her
favorite and special to her, and that she remembers my birthday as the moment
her life changed. Well, wouldn't know it -- my birthday rolled around this year,
and I didn't hear a word. Even flaky Margaret sent a card (a month after the
actual birthday), and she and her family called the night of my birthday.
Colleen? It's now three months later, and nada. My mother agrees that complaints
would be echoing from Colleen's direction if I had forgotten her birthday; I
find it easier (and, actually, more interesting) to just remain silent and see
if Colleen will ever clue in.
The entire family is rather befuddled by this behavior, which
gets worse and more extreme with every passing year. My sibling, who lives in
the same city as Colleen and so has more constant exposure, is currently trying
to subtly clue Colleen in by sending her thank-you notes for every single little
thing, no matter how small (honestly, it doesn't seem to be working -- Colleen
just thinks that Sis is well-mannered). And the rest of us just have to deal
with the hypocrisy of constantly being lectured on politeness by a woman who
apparently doesn't practice the extreme form of etiquette she preaches.
My husband and I took my mother-in-law to visit her sister,
who I’ll call Auntie. Auntie cares for her husband, who has dementia.
I had met Auntie at my wedding, and I barely knew her or her husband, who I’ll
As we entered their home, Auntie proceeded to complain to us
about Unkie losing control of his bladder, and how she had
to clean up after him. She described it in detail. We stood
uncomfortably in the foyer as she ranted—with Unkie right there!
Now, I understood that Unkie was out of it a lot, but I was very upset that she
would say this in front of him.
She showed us around the house, pointing out the bathroom
where Unkie had made his mess. Then she took us to her
sitting room. This was not long after the 2004
presidential election in the United States. She asked my MIL who she had
voted for. My MIL told her, and then Auntie began to mock
her. My MIL pointed out that my husband and I had voted for the same man,
so Auntie decided to tell us how we were all wrong. By this
time, I was grinding my teeth together. Then Auntie
began to complain about having 12 people in her house on Thanksgiving.
This wouldn’t be that bad, except that my MIL had just
lost her husband of over 30 years, and would have an emptier house than usual.
Then Auntie went to answer the phone. We were left with
Unkie, who turned to my MIL and asked her about her house. And
he used her name! This was one of his coherent days, and he had to sit
there as his wife told complete strangers about his
Auntie came back, and started to talk about her daughter, who
was recently diagnosed with diabetes. The daughter had
been complaining about the cost of the blood testing strips that she had to buy.
Auntie guffaws, and dismisses her daughter’s worries.
She says,” That’s nothing! Unkie’s diapers cost much more than
Auntie then takes us through the house again, pointing out
messes that Unkie had created. He knocked over a candle here,
and now the wood was ruined. This is the laundry room—she has to change
his sheets twice a night!
Mercifully, my MIL prepared to leave. We moved to the
door. Unkie and Auntie followed us. As he sat down in the foyer,
she took out pictures to show us. This was her teenage granddaughter.
There was her diabetic daughter. Blah, blah, blah.
Then she showed us a picture of a mess Unkie had made in the
bathroom. A picture! Why would someone keep a picture
of something like that, unless it was to humiliate someone else? As she
showed us the picture, she laughed and rolled her eyes at
Unkie. I was shocked, and she must have seen it, because she put the
picture away quickly.
As we stepped outside, I turned back to the house. Unkie
had come to the door, so I waved at him. He waved back. What
makes it so horrible is not how uncomfortable we were, but how degrading it was
to that man.
Page Last Updated May 18, 2007