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"An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last."
Sir Winston Churchill


Gardens Are Like People

The BFF got married on Saturday. A friend remarked that this wedding was like my second one, what with all the planning and running around I did. The ceremony/reception site was a home on the lake owned by some old friends of the bride's parents; primroses everywhere; a stoney water feature starting at the top of the yard in a great fountain and ending at the water's edge; stone pathways; a hammock; Adirondack chairs; a screened-in gazebo; dogs; a pier and floating dock: heaven.

When I was little, my parents had a boat and a camper on a freshwater coastal lake. We spent our summers there in a little camper community full of teachers and management workers who (were) friends with my parents (before my mom alienated everyone). Nothing calms me more than stepping onto a dock lolling with gentle waves. Water: I need to be near it, to hear it, to see it, to swim in it. I used to want to be a mermaid when I was a girl.

The ceremony and reception were outside in the garden and it was a planned potluck. Friends of the bride's family were selected and asked to make their specialty dishes. The main course was pit-cooked BBQ made by an old employee of mine. Underneath a large tent tables were draped with white lace tablecloths topped with fresh flowers from the farmer's market in ribbon-rimmed mason jars. The bride wore an antique lace strapless gown, the groom wore a navy spring suit and open-collared white shirt. They both cried. It was beautiful.My day? Let's seeeee... I

  • did the bride's makeup
  • brought my (damn good) potato salad
  • made sure the train was running on time
  • made sure everything was in place at each location
  • came early already dressed and made-up
  • assisted the photographer with all his shots, including formals
  • directed the wedding
  • directed the sound guy
  • walked down and stood pretty, holding the bride's bouquet and giving her the ring at the appropriate time
  • announced major events of the wedding on the PA
  • ordered the music play lists on the iPod in advance
  • sang for the bride and groom at their first dance
  • announced the bouquet toss
  • gave a toast (which made everybody cry and cheer)
  • cut and served the cake to all 120 guests

Tired does not even begin to describe how I felt on the ride home. I could barely string two sentences together. But I still got up on Sunday and went to Mass.

And I won the Mother's Day bet Tef and I had going.

My mother and my sister run the family I was born into. My Mom chooses the restaurants we eat at as a family (even on other people's birthdays). She doesn't have to lift a finger at home because my Dad does everything. He makes breakfast for her in the morning; goes to work for 10-12 hours (he's the manager of a regional airport, by the way); makes dinner for her when he gets home; cleans it up and then goes out into the yard to finish whatever is on the "honey-do" list.

What does she do? She teaches school and then comes home at 3:45 and sits on her tookas and watches baseball while working the crossword puzzle and drinking beer. Oh, and complaining; about how nothing ever gets done around the house and how tired she is and how she never has any fun and is always bored.

She chooses where the family goes on vacation, where the family eats when they're on vacation, what the family listens to in the car on the way to and from (and during ) the vacation. She also determines what the family eats at major holidays (most of which is very bland and poorly prepared). She never has to leave a note when she goes anywhere, can come and go and spend money as she pleases and say anything she wants without repercussions. Because no one ever stands up to her. She can get mad for any reason without explanation. She can keep up the silent treatment for weeks with my father. Or she can just explode like a bomb and start slamming cabinet doors, throwing dishes and cursing loudly. Usually because she's having to do something she doesn't want to do (like dishes) and wants someone to come and tell her to "go calm down".

But I've never heard her apologize. EVER. Not for anything meaningful anyway. Her apologies are evasive and only spoken in general terms. She concedes only to acknowledge the other party's misinterpretation of her. And then she says she loves them. But she never accepts fault or promises to change anything. In short, she never -- ever -- admits she's wrong or that you might have any ground to stand on in your hurt and anger at anything she did. Your anger is irrelevant. You must just be on your period or mad at somebody else who has upset you and you're taking it out on her. You'll get over it.

And as long as I've been alive, she's never been challenged. My Dad can but he won't. He'd rather evade her than confront her. She's basically a giant toddler waiting to go off, so in order to keep the peace, he just lets her run all over him.

I could have become two very different people under my parents' tutelage. From my mother I could have learned the finer points of emotional blackmail, terrorism, and how to spin the flax of passive-aggressive double-meanings into manipulative gold. From my father I could have learned how to let people trample me underfoot while smiling sheepishly and never asking for my rights as a human being. I'm not glad to say I inherited the latter, but it was certainly the lesser of the two evils, and easier to overcome (in some ways) than the former.

My sister unfortunately, did not fare as well. She has turned into the same megalomaniacal matriarch, controlling and subduing her husband and two daughters. But I don't feel sorry for her. She knows what she's doing and she chooses to do it, just as I do.

Our family (Tef and I and our friends) do things differently. We are steady and reliable, punctual and respectful. We give and receive favors, love, support and freedom. We nourish each other and keep our identities intact. I stay at home and take care of our home. I prepare all the meals, clean all the messes and plant all the flowers. Tef's work outside the home makes that labor a joy. And my work inside the home makes his return to it a peace. Not everybody does things this way. But we don't ask everybody to (although we think it best); we respect their ways and leave it at that. All we ask is for a mutual respect.

For my mother and sister, this is impossible. They would not deign to admit our ways are good or acceptable. We don't do things the way they do things so we must be punished. I refuse to be punished for something I am doing right. So I've stood up for my rights. And I'm glad I have. I don't want my children to have to be subjected to the drama of my mother and sister's evils.
But God... it's been hard for me.

Meanwhile, Mother's Day -- the coup de grace of all holidays in the family I was born into -- was fast approaching. As it careened towards me, my anxiety began to build. I felt like a s***heel. As horrible as my mother and sister are, I still felt guilty for not acknowledging them. The old patterns have so strong a hold that even when I'm right I feel wrong. Which is why my mother and sister have been successful at their power plays for so long. Even with all the work I've done to counteract their invasion, I am still susceptible to their disease. I'm afraid I always will be, though I keep my distance and enforce strict boundaries around my heart and home.

Tef and I bet on how many contacts my Mom and sister would try to make before Mother's Day to guilt me into coming over. I won. So I took the proceeds and bought this and this. And then I went to a local nursery and spent the rest. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I veritably squealed.

I've been waiting to get plants for our yard for almost two years. Because the first tasks were to rip out all the ugliness and rebuild fallen structures to make them habitable. I had to make sure the ground was good and rich and able to support life before I trusted it enough to plant in it. That took time, labor and patience.

This year has been less about the heavy lifting and more about upkeep of my past work as well as the chance to plant some vegetables and choose carefully where I plant special shrubs and flowers. Pains have been taken to make sure the right areas are suitable for each bud and bloom and ground cover. Because I don't want them to die. I want them to thrive and grow and be the peace of my garden for years to come. I don't want all my hard work to be in vain.

For now, the jewel of the garden is the backyard, secluded away from neighbors and passersby. It's more quiet, more secret, more safe. It's the first thing I see when I wake up and the last before I retire. The garden is becoming a trusted friend. Maybe next year I'll be brave enough to go further.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was married to a woman like your mother and sister. There were times when I wanted to smack her but I never did. Finally, I just left and never went back.

You are very brave to write this post because many people refuse to believe that anyone but a man could be at fault in dysfunctional marriages.

10:38 PM  
Blogger WordGirl said...

Ohhh, I couldn't agree more! Women as a whole have been overly enfranchised to become untouchable blameless victims (thank you, Oprah). They can completely avert any responsibility for their own sins by crying and blaming the patriarchy. BOLLOX.

My Dad is not perfect, by any means. (It takes two, right?) But if my Mom was the kind of woman she should be, he would have no problem being the husband she wants. That's what so many women can't understand. Treat your man like a king and he'll lay the world at your feet. You don't have to strongarm him to get the love you want.

I don't believe in divorce ('course, anullments properly administered are a good thing oftentimes), but I have to say -- good for you for getting out.

9:44 AM  

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