Family affair

As a new parent in Las Vegas, one of the things I’ve been dealing with a lot lately is visitors. Living in Las Vegas already brings a certain level of interest from friends and family who want to see Sin City. Once you add a baby into the mix, things start getting crazy.

Since my baby was born we’ve had seven house guests (and one who stayed in a hotel). That’s more than a guest per month since baby girl has been alive! (She is 7.5 months-old now.) In fact, it’s been more clusters of guests. Two in the first month. Four in the fall. Etc. (Surprise, surprise, nobody wanted to come to the desert in July and August!) So, we have easily had more house guests since our baby was born than in the total seven years we’ve been in our house! (12 in Vegas.)

Not that I’m complaining. Mostly.

When grandparents came in our first month home with the baby, it was really pretty great. Not only was it nice emotionally for my husband and me, but new grandparents love to help take care of new babies! And this is great for new parents! It was the only way I got more than three hours of sleep in a row in those first weeks!

Like most Las Vegans, my husband and I don’t have any family here. So everyone who wants to see the new baby has to travel some distance to get here for a visit. For some, this is the first time they are coming because travel costs and time off from work are problematic. And so as the first and second-wave of visitors have come through, now we are having guests who are, shall we say, less kid-friendly. Some family members feel obligated to come visit because there’s a new baby but not being baby-minded themselves, they feel awkward and the experience is less than ideal. And it seems some want to come for the Vegas vacation. Baby, what baby? (That’s a bit lame, but I guess that’s just part of living in Las Vegas.)

It turns out, having a baby is the easy part. Negotiating old family dramas is not.

There’s no manual on becoming a parent. And it’s not like becoming a parent makes old family issues go away. I don’t talk to my mother and haven’t for about three years. It was a very hard decision to make but when it got to a certain point — and as I looked ahead to pregnancy and becoming a mother myself — there was nothing else left but to walk away. Does it make me sad that it happened? You bet. Do I regret it? No. What I had to come to terms with was that the relationship I had with my mother was not a healthy one. And she was not going to change and become the mother I wish I had. She is who she is. Once I accepted that, I had to also accept that it was unrealistic of me to expect more than what she could or was willing to be and give. I had to get honest with myself, with my own expectations. There’s more to that story, but I don’t think it’s fair to talk too much about it when my mother can’t speak for herself and her side of things. So, let’s just leave that part there for now.

What I will say is that it is hard to be a part of a family, and interact with members of that family, when you don’t have a relationship with one person in it. I live hundreds of miles from my mother and the majority of my family, who live in the Midwest. So when I cut my mother off, it wasn’t like I was going to bump into her at the grocery store. But now that so many family members are coming to visit, and meet my daughter, the issue has come up fresh in some ways. And this is not because I am bringing it up or wanting to think about it all that much. For me the situation is at a point of closure. We don’t always get what we want. And sometimes the best thing we can do is be adult enough to realize it and walk away. But for so many who are coming to my home, it is an issue for them. There are those who want to force a reconciliation. Those who want to “understand” it. (Although they use the word understand, I sometimes think that’s Midwest code for, “I totally disagree with what you are doing.”) And there are those who don’t necessarily want me to reunite with my mother but puzzle over the every-day things like, wouldn’t it be nice if my mother came to help out. Well, it would be nice, if my mother was that kind of mother. But she is not.

The folks who come and don’t agree with my decision or who try and guilt or pester me into reunification are annoying enough. But I get where they are coming from in the sense that I think their hearts are in the right places. They mean well, as the saying goes. Their meddling is misguided, but not meant to be hurtful. As I have always said, what is broken between my mother and me is between my mother and me. No one else can fix it for us. And I am not sure there is a fix for what is broken in that relationship. At the same time, I do not ask any family member to take sides. I do not ask anyone to stop talking to my mother or avoid talking about her to me. She is alive. She is a part of their lives. I am not ignorant of that fact. I think everyone should have whatever relationship with her they choose to have.

It is far harder for me to deal with the people who say things like, “You should have your mom come and do all the cooking and laundry and stuff for you. It would be such a help!” I often think to myself, who is that woman? Who’s mother is that? Certainly not mine! Indeed, I realize that some moms may be like that, but the majority of women I know do not have mothers like that. And furthermore, isn’t this an out-dated idea of how women/mothers can help after a baby is born? Even my mother-in-law, who did come to help after my daughter was born, did not cook and clean. I daresay she didn’t do much more than make coffee in terms of traditional “women’s work.” But that is not to say that my mother-in-law was not a significant help! She was a salvation in many, many ways! She took the night-shift so my husband and I could sleep a little more. What a huge help! She took the baby when I could not get her to stop crying and thought I would lose my mind. To say that my mother-in-law was unhelpful at that time because she did not cook, clean or do laundry is a huge disservice to the help she did bring into our home!

The truth is, after my daughter was born, my husband did most of the cooking, grocery shopping and laundry. We basically only cleaned what was absolutely necessary and the rest just happened as it needed to happen. Is that wrong? Hell no! In fact, the only thing wrong with that scenario is a world that still clings to the idea that the woman has to do all the work of the domestic sphere simply because she is a woman. Or that a new mother should feel she has to “do it all” because that’s the mantel of motherhood. Fuck that!

But I digress. My daughter’s newborn days seem like such a long time ago when she is passing new milestones all the time — crawling, sitting, babbling, eating in a high-chair, pulling herself up. There hardly feels like any time to catch your breath, let alone stew over something a house guest did or said. Hell, I just had a guest leave on Wednesday and I already have new ones coming today!

What I am trying to take away from all this is the love that everyone has for my new baby. It never gets old to see someone light up for the first time when they meet her! And everyone has different things about her that they notice or that make them smile.

Maybe we don’t all come from a comfortable, functional, happy past. Maybe we don’t all have the Brady Bunch family, even if our families are blended by different marriages. Maybe you just have what you have. Maybe it’s like that movie, As Good As it Gets. Maybe this is as good as it gets. But not in the glass-half-empty way of looking at it but the positive way. This is as GOOD as it can be! As good as it gets! It doesn’t get any better!

That’s what I’m trying to tell myself during the rocky moments. And it doesn’t hurt to take a deep breath once in a while either.

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