Road Trip!

I was thinking about why I like to go on road trips – and particularly why I like to get road trip food.

When I was younger – say between the ages of five to ten, my parents would take us on trips to our grandparents. They lived about three hours south of us. Sometimes we would drive all the way to them, and sometimes we would go halfway and they would meet us, with one child or the other going back with the grandparents for a week, then to be traded out for the other child the next week. Every summer we got to spend a whole week, by ourselves, with our grandparents. Sometimes the whole family would visit, but the best trips were when I’d get my grandparents all to myself.

Visits there were magical. There would be a present under my pillow every morning. We’d sleep with the windows open (no central air there!) and listen to the mournful sounds of the trains in the distance. I could wander wherever I wanted in that new country that was their neighborhood, and I could do anything I wanted. I got whatever I asked for and more. Going there was a child’s fantasy.

While I enjoyed being there, the part that I seem to have kept with me the most is the road trip itself, and getting the road trip food. Why? It is still a fun thing even today.

I think part of it was because going on road trips was the longest my family would spend together. Going on those trips meant that nobody could storm away to their private oasis – the kitchen, their own bedroom, or lost inside their headphones, listening to music (this applied to my brother and my father). We weren’t close by any stretch, but being in the car for hours meant we had to at least try to get along. Closeness isn’t an automatic – it has to be worked on. You can’t work on it if you are all doing your own thing.

Going to the convenience store meant that this was a road trip – an adventure out of town. Going to the store meant that there was no doubt about it, something good was going to happen. This was not a usual trip. I think part of what I loved was that, unlike any other time, I was allowed to get whatever I wanted. This made going to that store much like being at my grandparent’s house – my opinion mattered for once.

I usually bought Willy Wonka candy – Everlasting Gobstoppers, Bottlecaps. Sometimes I’d get Nerds. I’d usually very colorful high-sugar items, and not chips or sodas. These days the default favorite snack for road trips is a Yoo-Hoo drink and Andy Capp’s Hot Fries. Sometimes I’ll add something in from the “chocolate food group” – maybe a Heath bar, in part for texture. This is what I would get at the beginning of the trip. Usually later on I’ll get some fruit drink (with no HFCS if possible) and some green tea – and sometimes I’ll mix them together.

Stuck

I had a boyfriend who was 20 when was 17. His birthday was coming up and he wanted to celebrate it with his parents at his house and he wanted me to come. However, this involved a trip across the country in a plane. We flew from Chattanooga to Seattle, and then drove to some little town about two hours away. I was stuck at his house, in his town, with his parents. I had no way out. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it became really obvious very soon that I was in trouble.

Having never made any moves on me before then, he attempted to have sex with me that very first night. I resisted and eventually managed to survive the week still a virgin. I broke up with him immediately upon returning home and didn’t speak with him for many years afterwards. He was deeply confused as to what had gone wrong. Even after I explained it to him he didn’t really understand.

I suspected something was wrong from the very beginning of the stay with his parents, when I was greeted by his parents at their house and his father was wearing only an undershirt and tight shorts. I was clued in to more when I learned that my boyfriend’s “rebel” earring wasn’t rebellious at all – his dad had one, and his brother had one. I also figured out that something was wrong when his parents matter-of-factly put my luggage and his luggage in the same room.

The alarm bells kept going off – there was a lot of smoke, but I didn’t have an escape plan. Worse, I’d been taught to ignore these alarm bells by the very people who should have taught me better.

What were the alarm bells? My parents would have never greeted a guest wearing their underwear. They would never even be seen in front of anyone, even family, like that unless they were sick. They certainly wouldn’t have put a non-married couple in the same room together, and much less if one person was a teenager.

For his parents to treat me like that was a warning that I was not in a “normal” house – and I certainly wasn’t safe. He proceeded to try to “pick my locks” as the Pink Floyd song goes every night that week, and I was terrified.

How could I leave? I had no car. I had no spare money. He had the tickets – he’d bought them.

Perhaps I could have called home and gotten my parents to wire me money for a new plane ticket – to leave right away. Perhaps I could have gotten a taxi and just left.

I didn’t. I felt trapped, and I had no frame of reference for this kind of behavior. I had no way of knowing how to act.

But in a way I did. My brother abused me in many ways throughout my childhood, and my parents did nothing. He beat me and stole from me and when I told them they didn’t make it better. They didn’t punish him at all. He eventually became a full-blown narcissistic psychopath, and they didn’t nip this in the bud. He learned early on that he could get away with manipulating people any way he wanted. He learned early on that he could treat people like things and get away with it. Since my parents didn’t defend me, I learned to be passive. This was how I was supposed to be treated, apparently.

My trips to the dentist as a child also taught me passivity. He didn’t use anesthesia because he thought the needle would scare me. I learned that pain was to be endured, especially pain at the hands of an authority figure. My parents were paying for it, so this must be normal. Suck it up.

While I’m angry at myself for not standing up and defending myself, I also have to forgive myself. I didn’t know better. I wasn’t taught well. I learned to accept bad behavior quietly until I could find a way to remove myself safely. I’m angry at them for not teaching me how to take care of myself at all. I’m angry at them for their ineptness. But I also need to remember that they, like all parents, are amateurs.

I went to a therapist once who thought I should just hang out in the “angry” place and not forgive or excuse bad behavior, but it isn’t that simple. Emotions aren’t just one or another, but a range of them. I can be angry and forgive at the same time. I can understand and empathize, but also be sad at people’s bad choices.

While I think that boyfriend and my family “should” have known better, I’m putting my value system on them. I’m forgetting that they don’t have to do things my way. I’m forgetting that they have their own ways of doing things, and if I feel that they are wrong – for me – then I must get away from them. They don’t have to stop doing what they are doing – they just have to stop doing them to me. Their actions are their own, and the consequences of their actions are their own.

This all reminds me of how nobody told me how to use the brakes on a bike when they taught me to ride. I got very badly hurt, and it was totally avoidable.

Bus driver.

One time during the drum circle I was given the task of playing the bass drum. The bass drum holds the rhythm. The bass drum is the backbone of the whole thing. It sets the time and the tone. It has to be a consistent steady beat. It is what everybody else relies on.

Midway through something really amazing happened and a lot of people were in the center and they were singing and drumming together. It was really beautiful and I wanted to look at it, but I realized if I did then I would lose track of where I was.

I realized then that I was the bus driver. They were all enjoying the scenery. My responsibility was to driving the bus and keeping us all on track.

There was another person who was keeping the rhythm with me. Every now and then I’d lose track of where I was and I look over at him. The problem was that often he was holding his drum up so I couldn’t see his mallet hit. I couldn’t use his rhythm to find my own.

At that point I had to find the rhythm within the song that was already going on and just jump back in. The group had based itself on me but then I was basing myself on it. They didn’t really need me to keep it going but I felt the responsibility.

At another point, the facilitator came over and started to talk with me during the song. I got really frustrated and told her that I couldn’t talk to her and keep the rhythm going at the same time. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I didn’t have to worry so much. I got the group started, but by then there was no way that they were relying on me. They couldn’t hear me at that point. They were doing it all very well on their own.

Which then leads to the next thought – why do I feel such a responsibility to keep things going? Why do I think that I’m in charge and have to control it? It is good to notice this and meditate on it. Some of it is rooted in my dysfunctional home life, then and now. I feel like I have to be the responsible one. I feel like if I don’t take care of things, they will all fall apart. Bills won’t get paid. There won’t be food in the house. No money left for retirement. Lifetime goals won’t be achieved.

Slowly, I’m learning to let go and trust that God is really the one driving the bus. I have my own duties that I’m called to do, but I’m not in charge. I don’t want to slack off and assume that there will be another day to do what I’m called to do – but I also don’t need to fret so much that I don’t enjoy today.

Hidden in plain sight

I think it is interesting how there are some posts that I won’t share on my Facebook feed, but I’ll still write them and post them. There are some people and situations that I want to write about that I feel won’t be received well by my friends or my family, so I don’t share them there. But I do share them with total strangers all over the world.

Perhaps it is a sign to me that I should talk to those people privately about what I see. Sometimes family or friends are doing something that I think is dangerous or stupid or counterproductive. Sometimes I can see that the direction they are going will result in making their lives even more difficult. But instead of telling them, I vent about it here.

But then again, I’ve noticed that people are unwilling or unable to heed advice when they didn’t seek it.

For a while I had a filter, where I would share posts with certain people but not others. I could block out a group. It turned out that group was either family or friends of family. Family tends to get upset when I talk about family. My brother had a real issue with it – something about family honor and pride and name. But if he was so darned interested in family honor and pride and name, he should have acted better.

I was just reporting the facts. Is it embarrassing to be called out for your repeated violations of your own honor code? His lies and machinations finally got to me. It was either my sanity and health or his “honor”.

Then there is my married family. There is quite a bit of unsettled business there, and it is ugly to watch people act like teenagers when they are in their 70s. If lessons aren’t learned when you are young, you will continue to stay at that emotional age.

I got called out for pointing out hypocrisy and lies and maladaptive behavior in my family – birth and married. I got challenged by members, saying that I should just put up and shut up and make peace. It isn’t my place to make peace with someone who has abused me. I am not in the wrong for standing up for myself.

If someone breaks into my house and robs me, I am not the person who should apologize and make things right.

Being mentally harmed by a family member, even after I have pointed out the harm and asked him to stop, is the same as being robbed. My mental peace had been stolen. But for another family member to write me and say I should make peace for the sake of the family is even more insulting, and further harms me. It says that I am the antagonist.

I was attacked for what I wrote about the church too – by members of the parish I went to, and by strangers here who thought I was being divisive and harming the Church. I’m not. I’m showing how we are damaging it. I want it to be stronger, but it can’t be until we remove the weak parts. Like all the parts that Jesus not only didn’t tell us to do, but also all the parts that Jesus told us especially not to do.

I will not be silent anymore. I was silent for many years. But now I’ve found my voice, and I will speak. The more people who try to silence me actually strengthens me, because I see it as a sign I’m on the right path. Just like in aikido, I use my opponents’ energy in my favor.

In-laws and outlaws

You know the difference between in-laws and outlaws? Outlaws are wanted.

In-laws are like an arranged marriage. You didn’t pick them – they were picked for you. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. It is great when it does, but it is horrible when it doesn’t.

You can’t drop them like you can drop a new friend.

With a new friend, one you are trying out, things might not work out the way you both hoped. You can just stop calling and making dates with each other.

Family is different. You are stuck with them. All the major holidays, all the big celebrations, you are expected to spend with your family. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Weddings. Funerals.

The most important days of your life, and you are stuck with people you didn’t pick.

This makes no sense.

The only thing that will make bad in-laws go away is divorce. Either you leave, or they do.

Or, better yet – re-invent the idea of holidays. Don’t make it mandatory to spend time with people you don’t like. Create new traditions. Invent your own ideas.

Being stuck with people you didn’t pick doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps this is why people hate holidays so much. They are expected to spend time with people they think, by society’s rules, that they have to get along with.

Why fake it anymore?

Family honor

My brother used to push the idea of family honor on me. He seemed to think that it was my responsibility to keep up the family name and family pride. And yet he was the one who changed his last name and who got two women pregnant without being married to them. He is the one who got divorced four times and who got himself a quarter of million dollars in debt.

So I’m not really sure why he thinks it is my responsibility to keep up with family honor and pride. Perhaps it is my responsibility because he realized that he had failed at it. Trying to make his problems my problems isn’t acceptable.

I have felt like I have failed the family for many years but I’ve gotten over it. He really did a number on me. Because he was older than me, I trusted him. He imprinted me. I finally realized that their madness isn’t my madness.

If you work for a company, everybody should work together to make a good product. But if you work really hard and no one else does, then you will lose your sense of loyalty towards the company. You feel like it doesn’t matter what you do because no one else is pitching in nearly as hard as you are.

The same is true with my family. I feel like they aren’t doing anything for me so why should I do anything for them? In fact they seem to think that it is my responsibility to care about everybody else’s feelings, when they don’t bother with mine. That is the very definition of codependency.

In “Anatomy of the Spirit, Caroline Myss talks about how our first loyalty is to our tribe – our family, our culture, our country. Whatever we are born into and is impressed upon us. Problems occur when we disagree with it and realize that its goals and values are not the same as ours.

She talks about our family of origin as being Divinely chosen. So this means we should accept it.

That isn’t so easy.

This happened with Jesus in the Garden at Gethsemane – 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39, RSV) He was about to be crucified, and he knew it. He was about to suffer a very painful and humiliating death, one that he didn’t deserve. He knew that he was going to be resurrected, but getting to that point was going to be ugly.

He didn’t want what was going to happen to him. He was asking God to let it not happen.

I was angry at God for letting things happen to me. I was angry at God for the abuse and neglect. I was angry at God for it all – not having a better family then and not having a better family now. I didn’t pick these people.

I felt pretty ugly for thinking these thoughts. But if even Jesus can think stuff like this, then I’m in pretty good company. And Jesus says, not my will, but yours, God. It isn’t what I want, but what You want.

I’m trying.

Myss says that problems with this area tend to manifest in the lower back and knees, and that is where my pains are. And from my prayers before I read this, I knew that I needed to let God be in control. It is good to get confirmation, but still hard to do.

There has to be a reason what has happened and is happening to me is going on. God made it happen and is making it happen. It is a way to open up, to learn, to grow. It is a test, a trial. Somehow I doubt that the world will be redeemed through my sufferings, but I might be.

Taking care of your parents when the relationship is bad

There is nothing about being an adult child that means you want to take care of your parents. There is nothing about the situation that says you even know how to.

You didn’t enter into this relationship voluntarily. Nobody asked you if you wanted to be the child of these people, and nobody asked you if you wanted to take care of them as they got older.

Just because they raised you doesn’t mean you are obliged.

What if they did a poor job of raising you? What if they were abusive? What are your obligations and responsibilities then?

Sure, there is social pressure and Christian guilt to deal with. Society expects you to drop everything and take care of these people. Forget the fact that you barely have enough time money or energy to take care of yourself.

Getting married is a legal commitment. You swear before your friends and family and a witness that you will take care of each other, no matter what happens. You make no such commitment to your parents. It is all passive. You are born into this family. You have no choice, and you haven’t promised anybody anything.

But yet you are expected to drive them around when they can’t anymore, to cook for them, to spend the night at their house when they are afraid…the list goes on and on.

Taking care of your parents is like taking care of children, but in reverse. As they grow older, they grow more needy and less able to care for themselves. As they grow older, they grow less independent and more dependent.

The really big problem is that unlike children, they remember being independent, and they don’t know how to receive help. They certainly don’t want to get help from their children, regardless of their age. They feel that something is wrong with this situation, and that they are losing control and power. That only makes the situation more difficult.

Another problem is that nobody trains you, the adult child, how to take over responsibility. Nobody tells you that now you are the parent and they are the child. So it is hard for you and for your parents.

If there is a history of abuse or neglect it is even harder.

People who had a great relationship with their parents cannot understand this.