What inspired me to write a list of the things that I like about being estranged is that I woke up yesterday thinking about some stranger's belief that my taking down estrangements.com would make it more likely that my daughter would reconcile with me. Along with thinking about how clueless that stranger was, I was thinking that the only good thing that had come out of being estranged was estrangements.com. Then I realized immediately that that was not true. That I had had so much more peace in my life since being estranged and hadn't had a migraine headache since the time that my mother visited. I hadn't had a migraine headache before that since my daughter had visited. Then I made the list of what I like about being estranged.
I don't know if former acquaintances and in-laws visit this blog and read these posts. I know that my daughter links to the site so that if they visit her site, they have access to mine. I've wondered what they think and feel when they read something like 19 reasons I am happy to be estranged. To tell you the truth, I can imagine but don't have any idea of the reality of what they are thinking because I don't know so much about them and their relationship with my daughter or their understanding of estrangements in the intervening years or their relationships in their own families. My daughter states that they would walk through glass for their kids. Yes, I am sure that they would. As would I have for my kid before this estrangement began.
(An aside: Not only would I have walked through glass, I would have put my life on the line for my daughter. As far as walking through glass, in a metaphorical way, I did the equivalent of walking through broken glass but I won't go into why I say that.)
Back when I knew my ex's family, we all were on good terms as far as I knew. When I left my ex, I didn't see any of them again till my daughter's wedding and haven't seen any of them since.
My ex was from a traditional Italian family. His parents, now deceased, were born in America to Italian immigrants. The parents had relatives in Italy and would send presents over there. I remember this huge black slip that they were going to send. It could have fit two or three smaller women in it. "She is a big beautiful woman!" they said. Cool!
The parents tried very hard to keep family together when their kids were grown. Everyone was expected to come to their house for dinner on every holiday and also were expected to see as many of their aunts and uncles and cousins as possible while they were visiting.
My mother-in-law was one of 9 siblings. My father-in-law also was one of 9 siblings. So there was a lot of visiting to do. Estrangement wasn't something that anyone talked about and was the opposite of what they were trying to accomplish. Yet estrangement did exist. There was one long estrangement between two of the sisters and there was an underlying threat of what might happen if someone didn't do what was expected. Feelings could be hurt. Someone could get angry. They all loved each other but there was this feeling that if you didn't do things a certain way, then that might be proof that you didn't love someone and then Lord knows what might happen?
Two of the sisters in my mother-in-law's family were estranged for a very long time. Many years. It has been a long time since I have thought about this and my memory isn't perfect. If I don't have the details exactly right, it isn't due to anything but imperfect memory. I think the estrangement was between my mother-in-law and one of her sisters. The youngest one? My mother-in-law was the oldest one. If not her and that sister, then it was between another sister and that sister. I think the estrangement went on for 25 years. It began as an argument over some small thing that wouldn't make it understandable to most people why two sisters wouldn't talk to each other for 25 years. I recall that you couldn't even mention one sister to the other during that estrangement. But they did reconcile. I can't remember what brought them to reconcile.
Being the oldest sister of nine siblings must have put a lot of responsibility on my mother-in-law's shoulders. I believe that she expected people to listen to her and to respect her and to look up to her.
My father-in-law was the quieter one. He didn't talk a lot and if the subject of something like sex came up, he talked even less and looked shocked. The oddest thing I remember hearing about him was that when he was a young man and his mother got mad at him, she threw a meat cleaver at him. I can't recall for sure if it hit him. I think that maybe it did but that he wasn't hurt badly. I'd tell more but since there may be folk reading here who knew him, they might take certain additional stories as being criticism and that wouldn't be my intention. So I won't tell them.
I loved being part of this family for 18 years. And they were very interesting. Very different from my Scandinavian relatives who tended not to talk a lot and who weren't physically demonstrative. In the family of my in-laws, everyone hugged. Whether they wanted to or not, they hugged! When anyone arrived, when anyone left. And they ate. You ate and you had second and third helpings. The food was very good. I learned a lot of what I know about cooking there. I can still make an excellent meatball and gravy.
They hugged, ate, and ordered you around. This is not a criticism. It is expressed with the joy of memory. You came in, you got hugged, you got told to sit down, you got told to eat, you got told to eat some more, you got told to wash the dishes. It was delightful! I love remembering it. I loved them. I was sorry not to see them under those circumstances any more. I loved seeing them at the wedding.
My sister-in-law is married to a businessperson who has worked hard to succeed in life. They both worked together and have a beautiful home and 3 kids who were only teenagers and young adults when I left my ex. My ex's brother is a graphic artist. He was the first born and was highly regarded by his parents, so highly regarded that my ex felt sometimes that they may have loved his brother more than him. My ex was successful also at his own profession. I only know that to his parents it was important that everyone see each other on holidays and that they remain family as much as possible. Which wasn't as much as his mother would have liked but it is my understanding that they do keep in touch.
My ex's brother went through a bitter divorce before I even gave divorce serious thought. He and his wife had had a seemingly perfect marriage. They have 3 children, all now adults, some (or all? I don't know) with kids of their own. Their mom was from an Irish family and she had those beautiful Irish features of pale skin, dark hair, and freckles. At least this is how I remember her. They lived in the suburbs in a lovely house. Before they divorced, his wife shared with me that they were arguing bitterly about some things. I'm not sure what. She was involved in socially conscious sorts of activities. He wanted her to be at home more and be more traditional. She was a very strong minded person and felt strongly about things she believed in.
After they separated, a split which came as a huge shock to everyone else, they remained separated for 8 years before they got a divorce. I don't know if they are on speaking terms now. It would surprise me if they were but then things change. I think that they were estranged after the divorce. Their split up was that kind that takes everyone by surprise. As was the split up between me and my ex. I know that I never would have talked about any problems in my marriage with my mother-in-law so she never would have had a clue that anything was wrong. As I said previously, I loved my in-laws and love my memories of being part of their family but I can't say that we were close.
Even though a family can try to be together on holidays and can hug and visit, closeness isn't always there if people can't talk about some things with each other. And that was the case in my ex's family. We didn't and/or couldn't talk about some things with each other. Nor was talking about certain things encouraged. While the image was there of some of us as being a happy family, we weren't all happy all the time and we weren't all able to talk about these things. For one thing talking about it would have lead possibly to arguments and then to anger and then to ... HORRORS! ... maybe estrangement. Which is not what anyone, especially my in-laws, wanted, even if there already was an estrangement in the family.
It's as though to risk being honest was to risk getting so angry that someone might walk out. So you could order people to sit down and wash the dishes and eat and hug and more but you couldn't handle it if someone had a serious disagreement or was honest about a serious problem. Honest emotions were troublesome guests if they came to the table.
There was a lot that got shoved under the rug. Which was a VERY clean rug by the way. Because in the dining room which was used only for holidays and special events there was a clear plastic runner over the dining room rug and clear plastic over the couch and the chairs. But this might be understandable when you realize that my mother-in-law kept the house immaculate, that they lived through the Depression, that they were careful with their money, and that they wanted their possessions to last. But the memory of those clear plastic coverings still brings a smile to my face.
I may mention another estrangement in my daughter's family in a future post. This post is long enough and what I know of that estrangement adds nothing to the memory of my ex's family of which i was once a member. Although I do recall my ex's brother saying at the wedding something delightful like, "Once a sister-in-law, always a sister-in-law," and he smiled. He was very kind to say that. Thank you, R! Or someone thank him for me if he doesn't read this.