Chitchat and the occasional in-depth analysis about fiber, knitting, spinning, crochet, cooking, feminism, self-image, and a modicum of personal blathering.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

That Italian Girl

What follows are ruminations on my psychological state, my relationship with my family, and my ongoing efforts to heal. If you want yarn, you have to hit the archives.

At least until next week.

It’s tremendously difficult for me to put things into words in talking; I’ve always been much better at writing them down. It allows me to be more organized in my thinking and my communication, and also allows me to go on until I’m finished, something talking almost never allows, at least in conversation. Talking is also harder because it’s emotionally charged, and it’s easier to be somewhat dispassionate when writing, or when emotion overcomes, to stop a while and be able to pick up again, seamless, where one left off.

One of the biggest things taught to me by my mother’s family was loyalty. I think this is what they learned, so this is what they taught. But it’s not a valid value all the time. My elder daughter, a wonderful young woman, told me “You know what, Mom? I really appreciate that you never expected us to take sides. That was extremely cool of you.” I think I did this reflexively, because when I was growing up, the expectation was that I’d always take my family’s side. And I always did. The problem came up when I tried to reconcile having two families. I had the family that was primarily raising me, the Italian family, my Mother, my Grandmother, my aunts and uncles. They did what they knew. They did what they’d been taught. They taught loyalty. The loyalty bore with it, probably unintentionally, quite a bit of guilt and manipulation. “After all I’ve done for you.” Then there was my other family, my father’s parents, my aunt and uncle on that side, and later, half-siblings. I wanted so much to get closer to them, to get to know them better, to be part of their family properly and well, and I was never truly able.

I want to emphasize that I don’t think anyone was really to blame for this. Nobody deliberately set out to keep me away from half of my family. And yet… and yet. I tried very hard, especially after meeting my half-sibs, to be close to that family and it was so, so difficult as to be almost impossible. I felt always on the outside, always the one who didn’t belong. That Italian girl. My daughters had more success, I think. They didn’t have the baggage I had.

I begin to wonder if the baggage is self-imposed. If I packed them, slung them onto my back, and dragged them along with me. Was the loyalty that kept me apart from my father’s side of the family truly expected from me, or was it something I second-guessed into being? Was it implied? Or was I being so sensitive and afraid of my mother’s fragile emotions around my existence that I was actually protecting her by refusing to be close to my father’s family?

My mother did the best she could raising me, as her mother did the best she could raising her. We’re all flawed. We can only do what we’re taught, and if I know one thing, I know that it’s not as easy as you’d think to keep emotions in some kind of logical order. It makes no sense that I’d withhold love from one side of my family out of loyalty to the other, but I really believe that’s what I did. And now, it’s too late to get all of that back. There’s too much awkwardness, too many missed opportunities, too much dysfunction.

What a shock it must have been. In 1961, good kids from good families. My mom was 15, I don’t really know how old my father was, probably 16. I have no idea what the relationship between them was. I don’t know what really happened, I can’t ask, it’s not possible now. I think my mother has so effectively blocked all that from her mind that I doubt she even remembers. I am sure both my grandmothers and their families were thoroughly scandalized. I don’t know what was said in anger, in shame. I think some very hurtful things likely were said, and done too. It’s all a very long time ago now. 46 years. 46 years and my own children grown and wonderful and so much more well adjusted than I ever was; able to give so much more love and be so much more open than I ever was. I made a quantum leap, yes, from where my mother was (and in some ways still is, I think) emotionally. Now my daughters have leapt beyond me, and I’m very proud of them. I was very aware of the shame that existed because I existed. It’s hard to shake that off, even when you’ve been trying to do so for a lifetime.

My grandmother is gone now. I hope she knew how much I loved her. I tried to tell her as much as I could, in the last years she was with us. I didn’t see her enough. I didn’t talk to her enough. But I loved her, fiercely, and I admired her so, so much. Her beauty and her elegance and her persistent sense of style, I admired these. I admired her strength and her ability to deal with the hardships she was dealt.

I had happy memories of those grandparents, not enough of them, but some. I remember my grandfather coming to see me at my “other” grandmother’s house. I remember him standing on the porch with a big smile on his face and a hug for me, bringing me a birthday or Christmas present. I remember going to their big house on Ella street, not often enough, but enough to remember the big bright kitchen and the gorgeous flowers Grandma grew in the yard. I remember her gifts of Avon things for me, little-girl perfumes and cosmetics. I wanted to be as beautiful as she was when I grew up. And I remember feeling guilty that I was there when I knew, knew on some level that my “other” family did not approve of my visits.

All of this is very confusing and very hard. Trying to come to terms with something that hurts so much when nobody truly meant to hurt anyone.

I love my aunt and uncle on my father’s side just as much as I love my mother’s siblings. They were kids when I was born. They did nothing, but they were caught in the middle, too. My half-siblings have gone through things I can’t even imagine. All this family that I don’t know, except to know that I love them and there are no strings, there is no misplaced loyalty, and there is no manipulation or guilt there. Just because they’re my blood and they’re fundamentally good people, just like my grandparents were, on both sides, just like my mother is, just like her siblings are, and all my cousins and aunts and uncles in that big, sprawling, boisterous Italian way.

All we can all do is try. I hope that someday I’ll be ready.

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