The Day I Lost My Cool

I don’t like conflict.

I don’t like yelling.

This may come as a surprise, because we all know that I love a good argument.  I have no problem picking a side and defending its merits.  Those of you who have heard my tales of customer service experiences would also wonder about the above statement, since I’ve told a story or three about dealing with customer service. (truth- my daughter thinks that every call center around the world has my number and picture with a big line crossed through it, and that  their free time is spent throwing darts at it)

But as a rule, I don’t like to yell at people.

You also know that I don’t discuss politics on my blog.  What you may not know it that I also refuse to discuss politics in real life (there are only about 3 people I will ever talk politics with) I am of the belief that everyone has an opinion that they are entitled to, but I also strongly believe that people don’t want to have a discussion, they want to get you to change your mind.  Obviously this is my opinion, which I am entitled to.

But anyway.

Everyone in my real life knows that I do not like discussing politics, especially at an event such as Father’s Day (see- you knew this would become topical).  Most of my youth was spent sitting around the dining room table on holidays, with people yelling at one another (the common refrain was – ‘we’re Italian- it’s not yelling- it’s how we talk- and my Mother adds facebook comments in ALL CAPS BECAUSE SHE JUST CAN’T HELP HERSELF) So my goal was to have holidays with the least amount of verbal conflict possible.  I did not want my daughter to feel like I did growing up.

My Father in Law knows that I do not like discussing politics.  I have said this to him about a thousand times.  No- make that a million.  My husband knows that I do not like discussing politics in an open forum.  Let me make this clear- if you know me, you know I do not discuss politics.

So naturally, on Fathers Day my FIL sat at the table and asked my daughter about politics.  And my daughter blew off the question the first five times because she knows that I don’t like political discussion at the dinner table.  So, the conversation went like this:

FIL (to daughter) What do you think of X?

Daughter: Can you pass the potatoes?

The above was repeated about five different times with my daughter varying her answers slightly

FIL- well you must have an opinion

Daughter: Actually, the past month has been crazy with tests and year end stuff.  The only things I’ve been reading are about school, and trying to get an internship for the summer, and pre season tennis practice.  I haven’t read a paper or watched the news.  I’m not informed enough to discuss X.

FIL- but don’t you think it’s wrong?

Daughter- I don’t know

FIL- makes ridiculous statement

Husband- makes opposite position ridiculous statement

My Father- alternate ridiculous statement

Father and Husband yelling at one another

Me: Hands slam the table saying in my loud, authoritative bond trading floor voice that I haven’t used in 18 years: “AND THE DISCUSSION OF POLITICS IS NOW OVER

FIL: (stands up from table) = “Oh, I guess your house, your rules.”

Me: (looking directly at him) You bet your ass.  My house,  My rules. (me staring him down till he sat back down at the table.

See- this is why I don’t like discussing politics, or yelling.  Because the fierce side of my personality comes out- the person who doesn’t put up with shit.  The person who takes control of the situation.  And normally this part of my personality is my friend- this part of my personality has gotten me through life.

But I don’t want to do it at the holiday table.

I don’t want yelling at the table.

I don’t want to yell at my Father.

And I was mad at myself for yelling.  I was annoyed that my FIL and Husband have so little respect for my one wish that politics are not discussed ( to be clear, my Husband engaged the conversation with the stupidest comment ever). But mostly I was mad at myself for yelling at my Father.  My Father is 80.  Thought there no imminent threat to his health, he has about a thousand issues.  I don’t know if I get another Father’s Day with him.  I did not want my last Father’s Day memory to be of yelling about politics, of all stupid things, and me losing my shit.

Yet, that is what happened.

I so want to blame everyone at the table.  But in the end I must take responsibility for my actions. But I can’t take back what I said, or what happened.

And I need to live with that.

 

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New World Order

Change.  Whether we like it or not, change is inevitable.  Minutes, hours, days, weeks, years pass before us and like it or not, nothing stays the same.  But some changes are harder to fathom than others.

I consider myself somewhat of a Darwinist: I embrace the thought of “Adapt or Die”.  I feel it change is necessary in order to survive.  I may not love how tech has seemingly taken over the world, but I realize that I must keep up with it of I will go much the way of the dinosaur.  I have to accept that tech is not going anywhere.

But the one change I never saw coming was the role I play in my family.  I am older than my sister by almost seven years, so I had the early upbringing as an only child, yet somewhere in first grade there was an addition.  I’ve always been the quieter, responsible one, a protector of sorts- when it came to her.  But my parents were my parents- they provided and nurtured as best they could.  They were in charge.

My Father turned 80 last month, and my Mom will be celebrating her 60th high school reunion next weekend (I’m not supposed to reveal her age…).  And they are still mobile.  They still have their mental faculties.  I am blessed so far that there health remains pretty good.  But they are getting older- I can’t deny this.

Last month we went to dinner for my Dad’s birthday: my husband and daughter, my sister, brother in law and niece, my Uncle and my Mom.  We went to an iconic New York steakhouse (my Dad’s favorite) which serves its steak dinners family style: big platters of porterhouse and creamed spinach and German fried potatoes in the middle of the table. So when the food is to be shared by the table, you must figure out how much to order. Two steaks for two and two steaks for three?  What temperature?  How many tomato onion salads? Who wants shrimp?

I watched my parents fumble at ordering food.  They were having trouble ordering food at a restaurant we’ve been going to for years.  My Father who ran a successful business, my Mother who inserts herself into any situation, were stumbling.  My Sister was adding to the confusion  by wanting to massively overorder.

I had to take charge.

I had to usurp my parents authority.

This was the first time I envisioned the future of my parents.  This was the first time I realized that things are going to change, and my parents may not be able to make their own decisions anymore.

So I told the table- ie my parents- that I was going to do the ordering.  I knew how much food we needed.  I knew how much steak to get medium vs medium rare. The waiter instantly recognized me as the “go to” person, even though my Father was footing the bill. And though that day was about steak and potatoes, I saw my future in front of me. I was their protector now too.

I never saw that coming. But I need to adapt.  It’s a new world order.

And the dinner went off great.  We had the exact right amount of food.  I made sure my Dad got the pieces of steak he wanted, and I ordered him an extra piece of pecan pie because I knew it wasn’t fair to make him share a piece with all the others.  I wanted him to have a good day, because I realize there aren’t many good days left.  That’s just life. Things change.

 

 

 

 

 

Relationships: Family

Since John Mahoney of “Frasier” fame passed away last month, I’ve been working my way through the reruns.  Along with being a funny show, it was also filled with surprising bits of wisdom.  One episode has Daphne asking “Why is it so easy to love our families, but so hard to like them.”  Truer words were never spoken.

My Sister and my niece were in town a few weeks ago.  They live in Seattle (I know- odd Frasier connection), so we only see each other once a year.  As they were staying with my Mom, this meant I saw more of my Mother and Father.  Even though my parents live in New Jersey, I try to limit how often I see them.  Because, you know, it’s easy to love your family, but hard to like them.

Nothing increases my stress level more than time with my Mother.  Arguments abound.  We’ve never learned how to communicate with one another.  Every conversation turns into a yelling match, and a show down as to who can interrupt the others the most.  I don’t think I completed a sentence for four days.  It ends with my Mother saying something along the lines of “I’m not screaming.  I’m Italian.  This is how we talk.”  My Father is the opposite though- he sits stoically in the chair and says little.  And my Sister, well, she is the Queen of pushing buttons.  She is also the most sensitive person on the planet.  She thinks every sentence uttered is a personal attack against her.

Happy day.

I love my family.  I truly do.  But spending time with them is excruciating.  I had a headache for the better part of the week because we are truly unable to communicate with one another in a rational manner.  I feel like I’m walking on eggshells when we are together.  I try to stay calm, but my Mother and Sister often say the most ridiculous things.  Ok- to be fair- they may not be ridiculous if you are a stark raving lunatic, but if you’re trying to be a somewhat logical, rational person, their statements may come across as a tad antagonistic.  My Mother has opinions on most subjects.  If she doesn’t have an opinion on something it’s because she doesn’t think it’s a “worthy” topic.  Needless to say, my Sister has the exact opposite opinions of my Mother.  And she makes that known.  In fact, I believe that all the residents of my 19 story apartment building know her opinions on everything.

But I think you get the idea that the visit was mainly spent yelling.

I love my family.  I know they love me and would always be there if I needed them.  I just have a great deal of trouble being in the same room as them.

Never fear.  There will be a few more posts that detail some of the more fun moments of the trip, as I try to logically break down exactly why you can love, yet not always like your family.

That’s What I Like About You

My blog friend G Sandwich wrote a great post the other day about writing.  Sometimes as a journalist she (and every other journalist in the known world) would need to file copy, so they would “milk” an already written article – basically rewrite the story using mainly the same facts.  The other option is to write a “follow-up”.  This is where the majority of the new story is actually new, but just brings up different viewpoints or more info.  Here’s hoping that todays post is a follow-up and not a milk.

Last week I wrote about saying I Love you unconditionally.   My blogging friend Deep As Thought commented that sometimes she would like important people in her life to say, not necessarily I love you (though I think everyone wants that) but “I like you because ….”  That got me thinking.

Growing up, my Mother was very critical.  In 3rd grade, I remember getting a 95 on a test.  I was proud of myself.  I went home and told my Mom.  her response: “Well, if you’d studied harder you would have had a 100.” ( No- my Mother was not nominated for parent of the year that year, or any year since.)  These words from my Mother never got less harsh as time passed, but guess what, my grades got worse.  I stopped studying and doing homework.  How I managed to escape High School with an average somewhere in the B range is a testament to being somehow smart enough to get through a test. What I lacked in actual book knowledge I made up for in an uncanny ability to figure out multiple choice questions.  In my teenage mind, my Mother was not going to appreciate anything I did, so why should I try? No- I hadn’t yet learned the art of doing things for myself.  Again, my Mom was so controlling, I didn’t think having my own thoughts and actions was possible. She did not like who I was. Thanks Mom.

My Mothers words and actions continued to dominate my thoughts and actions.  This lasted for way too long.  I had a long line of mistakes and missteps that can be directly attributed to my weird relationship with her.  Because at the root of everything, my Mother did not like me.  She did not like what I did.  She had comments about my weight, choice in friends, what I wore, what I read, how I spent my free time.  There was little in my life she did not criticize.  As a child and a teenager and young adult, even as a real adult, it did not feel great to think that my Mother didn’t like me.  It sort of zaps your confidence.  Well, not sort of.  It  totally zaps your confidence.  And if you don’t feel confident, then you really can’t succeed at anything,  you really can’t ever be happy.  You walk around with a feeling of not being worthy of anything.  This is not a great path to be on.  It is a dizzying downward spiral.  It is a spiral that is hard to recover from.

All because my Mother never said “I like….”

We all want to be liked, especially by our parents.  Shouldn’t the assumption be that a parent likes their child?  As a Mother, I know I want my daughter to feel loved, liked and appreciated every day.  I make sure I praise her about the things she does well at, give constructive criticism if the situation warrants it, thank her when she does something nice, and tell her I love her.  (Don’t worry- I screw up a lot too- I’m sure one day she will write a blog and tell you all the horrible things I did…)  But I really try.

So here’s your homework assignment.  Really think about why you like all the people in your life.  Think about their positive attributes that draw you to them.  Tell them.  Tell the people in your life why you like them.

Here’s my list:

  1. I like it when my husband takes out dog out for the 10pm walk, because if I’m home I like to be in my pajamas by then.  He knows this is important to me, which is why he does it.
  2. I like it that my daughter comes home and takes care of school work right away.  This makes my life so easy.  I have never had the dreaded homework fight.
  3. I like my best friend S because she is a vault.  I can tell her anything and she will not even share it with her husband.  Everyone needs a friend like that.
  4. I like my friend G because she will always tell you the truth.  Sometimes I need the reality.
  5. I like my friend M because she is completely realistic.  She knows that sometimes life has to be ugly, and she will guide me through the cold hard facts.
  6. I like my friend A because she is truly the funniest, most sarcastic person I;ve ever met.  No matter what the situation, she finds the humor, no matter how dark.  I need this type of person in my life.
  7. I like my friend SF because he is willing to argue with me.  We differ on certain subjects, and he’s never afraid to engage, even though he’s always wrong.
  8. I like my friend M2 because she loves culture.  I need a friend I can go to a museum, concert or whatever with because those experiences are fun to share

I could go on and on and on, but you get the idea.

Tell someone you like them.  It really means a lot.  They will like it.