Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Family and friends


I think today is the day to finally write about how I feel about “family” I think that will involve a lot of changes in perception in my head. I'm going to have to wrap my heart around how alone I feel. It's a question of definitions. I have a lot of friends. I have fiercely loyal friends. I am blessed and lucky in my friends. It's different. People don't return to me as the default experience of "of course you have to be with your family on this day." That means I'm not family. I am not invited. I am not part of your family. "Oh, you could come if you asked" is not being part of the family. No one is doing anything wrong or bad. I'm not angry. I'm just not part of your family. That's ok. That is life. Not everyone is family. I kind of feel like this focus on "chosen family" is because the word "friend" is used for people you have barely met. We have lost the experience of having acquaintances.

I'm aware that I have had a lot of extreme thinking for the past few days. I'm aware that this feels much worse to me than usual because that is just the mood swing I am in. People spend holidays with me when they "don't go home". People spend time with me rather be alone, yes. People spend time with me. They spend time on their "hang out with friends" days rather than their "hang out with family" days. I have a rotating queue of people who spend a holiday or two with me before going back to their families.

Why do I think that people are my friends instead of my family? Because I have spent very little time with most people and I unable to usefully predict how they might feel, talk, or act in any useful way. I almost always feel uncomfortable because I have no way to predict how that person might feel about things I might say and do so I am always tense. I don't know what I'm allowed to say. I really hate how people tell me that I don't censor. You have no fucking idea how much I censor. Noah gets more of it than any one else. After tipping the bucket he is getting a lot less of my internal monologue than usual and he can tell. It's weird how good he is at reading me.

(Side note: I feel like I am going to start using the phrase "tipping the bucket" a lot to talk about tests of trust. A friend told me a cool analogy: trust is like water dripping into a bucket. When there isn't much water in the bucket it is hard to spill water out if the bucket tips a little. If the bucket is full it is easy to dump water out.)

Anyway.

I'm not very good at expressing my needs on a day to day basis. I will work myself to exhaustion and tears before asking for help. My experience of life is that there isn't much point in asking for help. If I ask for help it is because I am fairly desperate. That's not always true. I usually only ask for help if I am ok with being told "no." If I need to hear "yes" then I am fucked. I can't ask because I can't deal with possible rejection. The issue is too important to me. I can't risk being told that my needs aren't important. So I won't ask for help. Until I'm in a bad spot and then it all comes out in a rush and people can’t really help me even if they want to—it’s too late.

Noah is willing to flat out tell me all the ways in which I am hard to get to know. I am very picky and specific about a wide variety of topics and life situations. He can fucking list things off. He knows how to make me feel comfortable because he has taken the time to learn. I don't have that with anyone else. It feels very much like he is the first person in my life to know me. It's bittersweet. I don’t expect my friends to know my “triggers” or care. But I will start avoiding people if they hit too many of my triggers.

It has taught me what family means.

Shanna is so polite because I model that all day long. We are both quick to ask to help one another. We are both quick to get up and do something for someone else. I teach Shanna how I want to be spoken to. It means that she knows how to get under my skin, of course. She generally doesn't want to though. She likes how I treat her. She wants to be nice to me. I like how she treats me and I want to be nice to her. Even when I'm feeling not-nice. I feel safe with asking her to do things for me. Of course they are stupid, little things. "Will you please get me a diaper?" She often just does it. It's not like I want everyone to follow me around fetching for me.

That's not it. Family is full of people who understand one another's needs and try to meet them just because they want to. Just because there is a long history of mutual support and care. Needs are quirky things. Everyone is sensitive in different ways and to different degrees. With your family you don't have to constantly be defensive and give the long stupid story about why you are defensive. You get to just relax and know that people won't say ________________. I'm hard to get to know. It takes a long time before I trust people enough to give them all of my stupid defensive stories. Mostly I just get my feelings hurt and figure it is my problem and other people don't give a shit. I don't give people the opportunity to know me.

I don't think I will ever have family beyond Noah, Shanna, and Calli because I don't think there will ever again be anyone who considers my house their home. I think I am too hard to live with. I am too difficult to get to know and I blow up when people get things wrong too many times. I don't blame people for not continuing a close relationship with me. People want to drop in to my life. They want the highlights. They don't want the grinding need. I understand. I don't either. But opting out makes it a friendship, not family. Which isn’t to say that I think my family should or could meet all of my needs. They are not responsible for doing so. Full stop. But they have a good idea of what my needs are and they help me have the space to take care of myself. I know that a lot of people don't like to define their relationships the way I do. They need to let things be fluid. That is how they set their expectations so they can have a happier life. I have to define my relationships so that I can set my expectations. That is how I can have a happier life.

Depending on people is a bad choice for me, by and large. I can depend on random one off acts of kindness from people who are strangers. If I scream out my need into the void there are enough people who want to do random acts of kindness that I get a remarkable amount of help. My friends are generous and wonderful people.

I really have good friends. They try very hard. Dear god I don't understand why they try so hard. They give me what they have to spare. I know that I am lucky. It's a bittersweet kind of lucky. I get to know the kind of people who have family. I get to hear about it. I get to see what kind of amazing people come out of families. I get to see what I am trying to create for my children. I have wonderful models in my life. I am so grateful to have them. My friends come through in consistent ways when I ask them to. My friends show up when I invite them—most people are even shockingly punctual. I have the best friends a person can have. They really care about me and work very hard to understand me. But I am an alien creature. They don’t get me and they probably never will. They love me any way. I am very lucky.

I think, given how much I plan to shelter from my kids, Noah will be the only person who ever gets me. And I’m not sure that he does. People often comment on how not-sarcastic Noah and I are with one another. We both heavily use sarcasm with other people but not with one another. No. I don’t want to deal with sarcasm in my family. In my family I know that people will speak the truth to me the best they can at all times. That does not include mocking me. Ok, we have our moments—they are deliberately rare.

What does family look like to me? What do I see in my head when I think of the word “family”? I see comfort. I feel the anxious ball in my stomach relax. I know I am allowed to take up space here. I don’t have to carefully count how many words I have said because I have to “leave time” for the other person to talk because we will only spend about six hours in one another’s company this year. I can say all of the things I want to say instead of only the things I think this person wants to hear. I am allowed to cry whenever I need to. I don’t need to worry about “socially appropriate” times because it makes other people feel uncomfortable. In my family people know that I am sad and I cry sometimes. In my family it is ok that I like to talk a lot because we all talk a lot and we all take turns listening because we have enough time to talk that we don’t have to rehearse in our head while we pretend to listen. That is a weird sentence. I have so many words in my head. It requires a lot of talking before I get to the still place where I can really listen to someone. Here in my home with my family I talk and talk and talk until I find the still space. Then I can really hear Noah. I can listen to minutiae of computer stuff and not feel angry. He is trying to involve me in his thinking process not his hobby. He doesn’t care that I don’t share his hobby. He wants to think out loud and I like being his black-box-in-life. I want to know everything that goes on in his head. That is family to me.

Family knows which facial expression goes with which topic in your head. I am told constantly how hard I am to read. I’m difficult to predict. My mother complained constantly about having to walk on egg shells. You have to be careful around me. If you aren’t careful I will stop holding back and I’ll tell you how I really feel. Do you know why people have to walk on egg shells? Because they don’t want to know how I really feel. They want a polite masquerade. They want to have a relationship with the nice and patient side of me.

The problem is that with my friends I decide how much energy I have to go spare and I see them only when I have that much energy left to give to someone. With my family I need there to be sufficient reciprocation that our relationship can survive me opening the flood gates. I don’t have the same kind of boundaries with my family. I take care of them and they take care of me. There is a lot of inter dependence with Noah. With the kids it is different; I am actively working towards inter dependence, but of course right now they are still quite dependent on me.

There are exceptions though. I have dumped heaping lapfuls of need on people and they have come through for me. Doesn’t that count for anything? Don’t they get to be grandfathered in forever? Kind of? Maybe? Jenny is grandfathered. I still talk to her nearly daily. I know all about the antics of her cats even though she lives in another country. She hears anything and everything I want to say about any topic. She doesn’t let me in to the same degree and I constantly fret about offending her. I just haven’t yet so I keep going and pray I never hit the wall. The Godmamas are certainly working on being family for my children. They show up.

This is something else that is bothering me. Children count time differently than adults. Shanna is nearly four. Not very many people have spent much time with her. That makes me sad. The Godmamas want her company and seek it out. I’m grateful every single day that she gets to have this relationship with them. Family is not made of blood. Family is made of time spent. They are learning one another. They are learning how to manage one another’s needs. No one is doing anything bad. None of my friends owe my children a relationship.

And I think that is a lot of the difference. My children are people with personalities and spirit. My family would know my children. My family would take delight in talking about how my daughters do _____ like me and _______ like my mom and _________like Noah. They would understand why I want to feel like I am part of something. Instead I only comment to my children about these things. My knowledge of my relatedness in the world is limited to the people in these walls.

These are the things that never get said with friends because there is never enough time. With your family you spend so much time together that you get all the thoughts out. With friends you search your brain for the highlights, because that is all anyone wants to hear anyway, and you gloss over these small things. They aren’t important enough to talk about. So they become invisible. Meaning that these people do not have the opportunity to even know my relatedness in the world.

If I come and write about it, does that change it and make it better? Err, no. Writing is a false intimacy. True intimacy is reciprocal, not one sided. I am alone in this room. I will never be able to stop noticing that.

Why is it important that I think about this now? Why do I have to decide to kind of roll back a thinking schema? Because this isn’t serving me any more. I have a lot of needs. I have a very high intensity life. This will always be true. I am just that kind of person. While I leave space in my head and my heart where I am supposed to be considering the needs of people I love because they are family and with family you want to help meet other peoples needs then I am over-drawn. I can’t do this. I can’t meet my needs this way. I need more space in me. I need to understand that most of the people in my life have very little to give me in terms of support. What I give to them has to be a gift with no expectation or need for reciprocation. I do have expectations of family. I need to stop thinking that the people in my life are reliable sources of support. They aren’t.

That doesn’t mean everyone I know is a flakey bastard—far from it. But my friends give what they can when they can. They feel no obligation to be here every week. I promise you that I have needs every week. They go unmet. This parenting gig is hard. I picked the high intensity version. I’m just that kind of person.

I have to stop looking outside of myself for support. Well, I need to stop looking outside this house. Noah and I need to figure out a way to go through this life together where I have the ability to meet my own needs. I can’t expect that from anyone else. No one else will try to help meet my needs in a consistent and predictable way. That means I need to slow down what I give to other people. I have far less to spare than I thought. It will all be okay in the end.

I have always poured a lot of emotional and mental energy into my “chosen family”. What could I do in life if I put that energy into me in a consistent way so that I can benefit instead of other people? I think I should probably find out.

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