Monday, January 26, 2009

Uncertain Expectations

“The best things in life are unexpected - because there were no expectations.”
Eli Khamarov

Last week my Great-Aunt Mary passed away in Rupert. My memories of her are few and dim. What I do remember is that she always was kind, seemed happy, and took time to acknowledge everyone around her and make them feel special. She was also a very good cook. If that's all people remember of me when I am almost 98 years old- the sum of my life can't be too bad!

Aunt Mary is the older sister of my Grandmother Loucks (Dad's mother).

As a child it was one of my greatest wishes that my grandmother would be kind, happy and acknowledge me when I was in her presence. When I was six I realized that I'd been at Aunt Kitty's for half a day and in the same room with Grandma- and she'd never even smiled or waved at me. Being kind of a strange six year old I decided to wait until she looked like she wanted to talk to me to go say hi.

That time, when she looked approachable to me, did not come that day. I abided by that choice (to wait to seek her out until she looked welcoming) for the next six years. In those six years I did not speak to my grandmother- not because I was ignoring her, but because I was waiting. No one, except me, seemed to notice.

There are some fabulous women in my father's family. I don't remember my father. He died when I was 22 months old. His sisters Kitty and Barb have children born the same year I was. My aunts were always welcoming and went out of their way to include me in family events. My Uncle George also went out of his way to include me and get to know me. If it weren't for the three of them I most likely would have been forgotten and everyone's life would have been more peaceful.

The (hmmm... I have a hard time finding the right word here. Is it rift? Absence? Unfriendliness?) difficulty I had forming a relationship with my Grandmother began to color my expectations of every family event and my hurt feelings had to have affected the way I interacted with everyone else. By the time I was twelve it was an easy leap of logic for me to believe that I truly wasn't needed in the Loucks family and most certainly my presence was wanted by very few of my family members. Although I did have plenty of experiences that led me to believe what I did, my own expectation of failure (in this arena) certainly contributed. Teenage girls are not joys to be around. Teen age girls who think they have reason to feel slighted are just that much worse.

Isn't maturity a wonderful thing (hope I attain it someday!). By the time I was out on my own and had formed some amazing friendships (and eventually a marriage) it was easier to believe that perhaps the difficulties with my grandmother weren't because I was such a very hard person to love. By the time I had my first child it occurred to me that perhaps the absence of affection wasn't even intentional. After the birth of the third child I was pretty certain that my grandmother could not possibly have enough time on her hands to even spend more than a passing thought on me at all. The woman did give birth to 11 children- and nine of them are still alive.

I almost forgot Jake's birthday this year! He's only three- and I have only three children! What would it take to keep track of and spend personal time with more than three times that many children? By this year, I truly believed Grandma's inaction in relation to me was more of benevolent sort of forgetfulness. And- well- I am an adult now- and grandma has been very welcoming every time she's seen me the past 8 years (all three of the times).

In the end, I did not pursue a relationship for a number of reasons. Blood binds us together but it doesn't give us a shared past or an affinity for each other's company. I don't know her- and she does not know me. It's awkward getting to know someone new and when the fear of failure is strong - because I've failed in this same arena many times in the past- the reward has to be weighed against the risks. I am 34 years old this year and can admit that I have given up any sort of expectations when it comes to my father's family, largely because I would need to carry at least half the responsibility and I am tired.

I am tired of trying to meet other people's expectations of me. I am tired of pursuing relationships, whether friends or family, that are not equal and reciprocal. I am tired of worrying and wondering. I am tired of fearing failure and spending energy on things that, in the final analysis, aren't really very important to me. I am tired of being a perpetual teenager.

I am a grown up and it is within my abilities to choose the people I want to spend my time and energy on. It is my choice whether to spend my time on any relationship. It is also my responsibility to care for my husband and children and provide a safe, welcoming environment for them to grow strong and wise. Any choice I make that affects my physical, mental, or emotional well being has to be weighed in relation to it's effect on that responsibility.

I wrote most of my father's family off. They are off my radar and it has been quite peaceful in the corner of my mind that is labeled, "family." Relationships I never had can't be mourned or worried about. If they didn't like me when I was 2 then it isn't my responsibility to try and convince them to like me now. I don't know them, they don't know me. Although we are related we certainly don't need to have a deeper connection. Life is full and busy around our house.

All of this writing (some of it pure drivel) has been leading up to this- My grandmother reached out at her sister's funeral. She invited me to her home (which is a whole 25 minutes or so from mine). She gifted me with an afgan and was hoping to find a photo album she thought I'd like to have with pictures of me and my Dad. Most shocking of all- she told me she'd been missing me- and it was a bit emotional for both of us.

Uncle George and Mom were there (we'd ridden to the funeral together) and we stayed and visited for quite a while. It was awkward but it was good. Grandma showed me pictures of all her great grandchildren and I promised to bring my sons to visit her soon.

It is such a strange thing that when you give up expectations amazing things can, and often do, occur. I no longer hurt because I seemed doomed to only have 5 grandmothers in my children's lives (Truly- 5 grandmas before Grandma Loucks). My heart was filled with joy because we have the opportunity to know 5 amazing women who are our progenitors. My husband has two truly lovely sisters my children have relationships with (as well as a brother, his dad, and the spouses of his siblings). Blessing after blessing has been showered upon my little family. And now, when I wasn't looking for it, we have regained a sixth grandma.

Life is strange, though wonderful. I'd closed that chapter in my book. Now it looks as if there may be more pages to write in the history of our hearts about the Loucks family. It's awkward, but there is promise here.


Amy said...

I have to say that I started tearing up when I read about your Grandma asking you to come to her house. I know how much that had to mean to you. I know you had come to terms with the emotional distance. But I also know there was also always the question of what were you missing out on.

The other thing that struck me as I was reading this is that you called her Grandma. When we first met it was always your Grandmother, never Grandma.

I know this is just a theory and we may never know, but I have always believed that the separation was a mix of grief and well there's no good way to put this other than, your mother. It's alway reminded me of when my uncle died, and in my Grandma's grief, she wished it was my Dad and not her baby Pete. Logically we all knew she didn't mean it and that she would never really trade my Dad to have Pete back, but it was still very hurtful at the time for my Dad. So I've always wondered if she wasn't looking at your Mom, who is difficult at best and wondering why it was her son and not your Mother. And of course your Mom never would have recognized anyone elses grief when she was hurting. So I've always wondered if it isn't easier for her now that you are a VERY separate entity from your Mom. Like I said it's just what I've always wondered.

The other thing this post reminded me of is when Cory and I met your Grandma at your wedding. I'll never forget when we first saw her and both had to look at each other in shock and ask of that was her. Somehow we had never imagined her as a tiny old woman. I think listening to your Mom she had taken on an image close to the Wicked Witch of the West.

I'm glad she decided to reach out and get to know you and your family before it was to late. Enjoy this unexpected gift!

Octamom said...

I love this post--the re-emergence of a relationship when expectations have been relinquished--just beautiful!

Sorry you haven't been able to get through on my email--would you mind trying to email me again directly at ? I use a Kontactr service that may be messing us up--can't wait to get you in touch with Rosie so you can claim your prize!


Christine said...

Family are strange strange ducks. What one expects and one gets are usually two very differnt things. It oculd be like Amy was saying now that you are not associated with your mom as much. My Dad after 26 years took a leap of faith and came into my life. I let all the expectations of years past and the hurt I had go. It was such a relief not to have to carry that burden. Enjoy the ride and see where it takes you :).

jugglingpaynes said...

Might I offer one thought I had while reading? Not everyone knows how to relate to small children.

My parents have been the most doting grandparents my children could ever hope for. They play with them, talk with them, listen to them. I've always considered my children quite lucky for that relationship. I only knew my maternal grandmother.

I tried to help my in-laws to have a good relationship with the kids before they passed away, but while they enjoyed the idea of having the children visit, they really didn't know what to do with them once they were there. Because of that, the kids were a bit shy when they visited.

Sometimes we think people "like" or "don't like" us because of their behavior. But it is possible that your grandma was just like you, a bit shy. Put two shy people in a room together and you get a lot of quiet. :o)

I'm so glad you have rediscovered this grandmother. I hope she gives you a lot of memories for this new chapter of your life!

Peace and Laughter,

Jake camping in the living room

Jake camping in the living room