Sunday, May 06, 2007

Parents, a Singleton, and Now Some Peace and Quiet

A hush has fallen over the Home of Crazy (HoC). The Parents of Crazy (PoC) have made their exit.

Overall it was a good visit. It was not a visit without conflict, but one thing about me and my parents is that, well, we've all got pretty strong personalities, and well, conflict can arise from that. It is not easy having them descend on the HoC (which really fits exactly one Crazy and one Man-Kitty quite nicely, but which does not necessarily accommodate the Strong Personalities of the PoC plus the Strong Personalities of Crazy and the Man-Kitty with ease). This is not because we're not close or because there's some Major Problem with us. It is not because there is something Wrong with my relationship with them.

So why is it? Well, one issue that is primary among the reasons for the tensions on this particular visit is that my finals week just ended. I am not done with grading for the semester, and I have not had time to do spring cleaning and to get my life in order in such a fashion that I felt like I wanted visitors - any visitors. That said, I've not seen my parents since Christmas, and I wanted to see them. So I didn't make a fuss when my mom said she wanted to come this weekend (esp. after I told her she couldn't come when I was finishing up the book manuscript), and I just rolled with it. This may have been a mistake, but there you have it. The timing wasn't perfect, but what timing is?

Another issue (and this is often an issue when I see my parents outside their natural habitat) is that they don't let me control what we do on visits. Both are kind of set in their ways, and so I pretty much have to go along with whatever it is they want to do. This is less of an issue when it's just my mom visiting, but when it's both of them, I'm kind of stuck. In this way, it is not like having a friend come to visit, as usually when friends come to visit, they want you to show them a good time and they leave it up to you - or at least up to you in consultation with them. Not so with my parents. When I've tried to treat them like regular visitors, it generally does not work out very well. And so, it's their way or the highway, and I do my best to accommodate that. Why? Because I love my parents, and it's not their fault that they're kind of stick-in-the-mud-y, and it's not my fault that I've educated myself into a range of interests and activities that is not necessarily their cup of tea. Also it's not my fault that I'm single, and so my regular life is wildly different from their regular lives.

So on Friday night I had my BFF over for pizza with my parents, an activity that recalls Friday nights from when I was 15. On Saturday, I accompanied my parents to a flea market and to the outlet mall (which meant approximately 3-4 hours total in the car - with me in the backseat). By the time we reached yesterday afternoon, I had regressed to petulant 15-year-old me, not in the least because I think that I spent the same weekend with these yahoos when I was 15.

So yes, as Dr. Pion noted in a comment yesterday, I'm not necessarily an adult in my relationship with the PoC. This is not because I'm not an adult, or because I've never been an adult in my relationship with them, but I do think it has something to do with a) the particular personalities involved (all bossy, all a little bit crazy - because, yes, I do get it from somewhere) and b) the fact that I'm not in a relationship.

Now, you may question item b above. Why would being in a relationship of my own make so much of a difference? If I'm an adult, why am I not an adult to them or with them just because I'm partnerless? Let's think about this for the moment, shall we?

Once upon a time when I was in a long-term, live-in relationship, things with the PoC were different. Sure, the strong personalities were there, but they respected me as an adult who was in an adult relationship. And, perhaps more importantly, they respected that the person with whom I was in that relationship wouldn't necessarily put up with their crap. When in a relationship, it was possible to relate to my parents as one couple with another, and sure, I was their kid, but I also had this primary relationship that was not my relationship with them. When that relationship ended, so too did this particular version of my relationship with my parents. I became, once again, their "little child." And that's how they see me, whether I've got a career, whether I live on my own, whether I've got a life outside of my relationship with them.

I also had an ally in dealing with them. I had somebody to support me through a visit with them, and somebody there to deflect a bit of the attention off of me. These were good things. I also had somebody to help clean the house before a visit, to help think of things to do (and to suggest those things, and of course my parents wouldn't poo-poo those suggestions because I wasn't the one making them).

When single - and maybe when a single woman? not sure if it's the same with men - they don't see me as an autonomous person. They see me as an extension of them, and they don't quite get the fact that I might want them to treat me as an autonomous person - that I might want them to treat me like I am hosting them as guests in my home. Here's the thing that set off the spat of yesterday evening. I had been drinking a diet coke out of a can. I went into the kitchen with that diet coke when I went to feed the M-K his dinner. My mom followed me into the kitchen, poured out the rest of her diet coke into a glass, and then proceeded to dump my diet coke which I was still drinking into the sink, because she hates it when there are half-full cans of pop lying around. I then looked around for my drink, and it was gone. I know that this is dumb, but it is my house! I can have half-full cans lying around if I want! And it wasn't just lying around - I was drinking it! And so I freaked out. Was this stupid? Obviously. It's not like this was the last can of pop on earth. But after a day in the backseat of the god-damned car, after listening to my mom tell me I looked "chubby" and note the barely visible PMS pimple on my face as if it meant I had pizza-face acne and any number of other things, it was the last straw.

So I freaked out and she freaked out, and then the PoC went off to the casino, and then upon their return my mom and I had a good talk about everything, and so all was well. (Because while we both are of the type that flies off the handle, we also both get over it pretty quickly.) And this morning before they left it was great, and I'm ultimately really glad they came.

Did I handle everything with aplomb? Of course not. Did I act like an immature little punk? Sure. Was I entirely to blame for that? No, I was not. Do they think of me as an adult and treat me with that respect? Not really. But is that really that big of a deal? Nah. It's just how it is, at least for the time being. And if I'm fair, I'd say that I set it up to be this way, too, as sometimes it's nice being their "little child" and having them treat me that way.

But am I happy to have the HoC back? Yes. Am I glad that they won't be coming back for a while? Yes. Do I miss them even having said all that? I do.

So that is the story of my visit with the PoC. And it was good, if not perfect; rejuvenating, if also exhausting. I'll tell you what, though: I'm much more excited for my visit to them in June/July, as the PoC are much easier to handle in their natural habitat :)


ZaPaper said...

I felt very much the same way when single and visiting my parents--namely, that they were treating me like their little child again. But since their reaction to most of the people I've dated was barely concealed dislike, it was kind of a step up...

Anyway, glad you survived!

Rachel said...

oh how this resonates! after breaking up with my partner last year, i went back to being little kid in my parent's eyes. making it worse, i also managed to land a job in hometown, and so had to face mroe thani had in years and years. nothing like being infantilised weekly in one's hometown to dim whatever authority i might feel as newly-minted prof!

making it worse, my 26 year old younger brother, who is way more together than i am, has a lovely girlfriend, is buying a bigger apartment thant the one he already owns, and has parent management down to an art. so being a single a child defnitely does not make it worse for you!!

Hilaire said...

Such an interesting post. I don't feel this so much with parents, but I feel it with my extended family -- and it's around marriage. I have a million cousins. Many of us - me included - have had long-term, live-in relationships. That's all well and good. But now that those cousins are starting to get married, I see *such* a difference in the way they're treated. They're (we're) not adults until we marry - doesn't matter if we've been living on our own for 10 years (fifteen, in my case), and living with the partner for five. Still baby until the big day.

I HATE this. And since I don't have any interest whatsoever in being married (even though I am legally allowed to marry same-sex partners here in Canada), I'll be treated like a child until I'm, what, 70, and they've all passed on??

So problematic!!!

Anyway, sorry to digress - just, it triggered stuff. Why, oh why is our being recognized as adult contingent upon our being wrapped up with another? You'd think it'd be the other way around!

Anonymous said...

oof. you know, as I starting reading this, I thought "some of this has to be because she's single instead of, like, married with kids or something" but you got to that observation on your own. I see it with my brothers in law. Also with my sister, who was married and is no longer. suddenly she's my mom's kid again. I swear I half expect my mother to ground her sometimes.

anyway, i think you're right.

Inside the Philosophy Factory said...

This is why I go to see them -- my step-dad doesn't do well outside of his little universe... heaven forbid he should have to go outside to smoke and not get to control the TV remote to watch every showing of Matlock!

medieval woman said...

Sadly, I still feel like this even now that I'm married. I suspect until I give my mom a grandchild to baby, she'll still baby me. Maybe the cycle will never end??

Doctor Pion said...

Your articles are fantastic ... and certainly more fun to read that to live it. Been in that backseat! And it is definitely the case that my wife is both a foil (in what would be a 2-on-1 battle otherwise) and a backstop to keep me honest.

My new observation is that you wrote several things suggesting that being in "Limbo" is an important factor for you that is less of an issue for me.

I was also thinking, as I read, about the first time my parent's visit fell on a bad weekend. I have Midterms to grade, and it is my mom's birthday. Mom is the Center of the Universe, but not that weekend. They learned that my job does not end when I leave the office, and just why I said that it was OK to visit but that my time with them would be limited. Yet I still felt like the "bad son".

The challenge I face is that I am not entirely an adult in our relationship. (It is easy to see an issue when it is your own issue.) It has been a serious challenge to shift from being a son getting unsolicited advice to telling my parents some things they need to do, whether they want to hear it or not.

Sorry for the long comment, but you triggered a lot of memories. You can thank your lucky stars that they don't want to watch you work on your book or teach a class because they are just so proud of Prof. Dr. Crazy!