"Christmas is Poo Poo!" was a Boi's summary, at the end of a day with my parents. He was angry and upset. And I was wondering why I did this to him.
We spent last christmas with my parents in Queensland. Now this blog, as anyone still following knows, has in the past few years been dominated by, even poisoned by my issues with my father. This escalated after his grand statement that he would never come and visit us (and he hasn't). I unpacked fragments of a life of self-loathing and doubt here, I also took the plunge and spent quite a few hours with a counsellor.
I reached a sort of resolved, unilateral settlement: I would simply try not to have any expectations, take what little emotional interaction is given without going on the front foot, avoid any discussions of politics or education or career that have the potential to turn ugly, and continue to potter away at the relationship, largely for my mother's sake. And the sake of black-and-white memories of standing by his side fishing, or grasping his hand to be hauled up on top of the escarpment somewhere in my bush childhood.
We remain on speaking terms. He and my mother have both been on-and-off unwell; recently he has successfully fought a round of cancer. Although our previous trip to visit had been more miss than hit, I felt they deserved another, a Christmas, partly on the basis that they might not have many left. Guilt, and some hope.
You catch two planes to get to the small, difficult location they moved to well after we started having kids. The bill for the family is well into 4 figures. We allocated one of the small handful of precious, childhood Christmases. And hoped.
If expectations were most firmly rooted in actual, recent experience, empirically observed, then the result was exactly as I should have expected.
My father ignored us much of the time, reading the paper or pottering. As he did the previous time we went up.
He did manage to growl at Boiboi and be rude to Beloved. As well, there were the usual attempts to pick fights with me, although notably heightened and emboldened this time - moving on to the front foot again, probing for that sore spot to open. Now, it's like he's gone into that old man thing where he thinks fuck it, I'm right, I've always been right, fuck him.
Tried to hector us on our plans for raising the kids, and when I made plain we will do it our way and do our best to turn them out ok, he sneered: "We'll see..."
But, those aside, he was mostly mild (this may give you a sense of what mild means in my family). The real fun was with my mother. I have spent a lot of time blaming my father, who as you can tell is a control freak with some undiagnosed misfire in his neurons that periodically spits out nasty, for my mother's oddities. Yet she was in a league of her own over Christmas. Obviously pleased we were there, yet she spent her time Berating Boi, making perhaps unintended but rude digs about our parenting, favouring Bear, berating Boi, snarling at Boi, taking herself off and not actually doing much with the kids most of the time, berating Boi...
Did I mention a bit of a bias against Boi? Still, he was almost 4, who would think he'd not be perfect. And female.
In the way they've always been, they were nothing if not generous with presents. Certainly quantity. We asked that the selection be modest, and thoughtful. Instead there was a large pile of plastic - about a foot and a half off the ground - which made our presents and those from Santa look trite. But then how can you not be a loving grandparent (insert 'parent' in my own narrative) if you pile up the presents?
Pile up all the presents you want, but if you growl at him through the day your grandson will still conclude that Christmas was poo poo.
At the very end, the airport, my mother starts saying to the kids how much she enjoyed their visit and would they please come again? "Daddy" Boi said, "Can we come back, Grandma wants us back!"
It broke my heart.
I know I need to add an uplifting postscript. So. After that we drove to Hervey Bay. It was lovely. The end.
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