|Ohana: Learning with the family
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
Before this recent trip to the States, I hadn't seen my parents in quite some time. This gave me a certain amount of perspective on the personality traits they've passed on to me. Particularly the ones that drive me up the wall.
My father has serious difficultly expressing his wants. He's incapable of asking for it if he thinks there's a possibility that everyone might not concur with his idea. He works himself into a state instead, as if someone has already disagreed with him, and then gets angry, leaving everybody to puzzle out exactly what it is that he wants. Sometimes it's easy, because the anger occurs in context with plans that are still being made. For instance, he really wanted to go to the casino one day, but it turned out the friends they were going to meet couldn't make it for breakfast, which is what he and Mom had had in mind. Mom and I weren't too bothered by it, but he seemed to think our indifference meant we didn't want to go at all. So he threw a fit, until finally Mom said, why don't we go after breakfast and have lunch with them instead? It didn't pacify him immediately because he was still determined to be upset at having been "wronged" by us, but he soon calmed down. By which point, of course, I was seething.
Normally my father is the happiest, bubbliest man you will meet. He's usually okay with going along with a group's momentum, and he likes maintaining a harmonious atmosphere so much that he will suppress his own wants to the point where he hasn't done anything he wants to do for so long that he starts feeling martyred. All he has to do is ask, and it's likely that everyone would do what he wants. It's never anything spectacular - I mean, going to the casino for a couple of hours costs almost no effort even though I don't like gambling - but it just expands into this huge deal in his mind.
The only reason for this to make me irate as far as I can see, is that I do it myself. Only occasionally any more, but I do. I fall prey to that kind of thinking and start stupid fights with people, particularly boyfriends, because I haven't bothered to tell them what I want, which is usually ridiculously small, like a little bit of affection or attention.
My mother's worst fault is insecurity. For example, while I was there, I bought a monitor and I set up my old G3 for them to use at home so they don't have to drive to the library whenever they want to write a document or do a spreadsheet. When I asked her to watch me, she said, "Oh, you'd better show your father how to put it together and set it up."
I responded through clenched teeth, "Why, Mom?"
"Because I'll probably get it wrong."
Now, my mother is far more computer literate than my father. She was a librarian! She knows exactly what she's doing, spectacularly so for a woman of 60+. She's set up machines herself before. Granted, they were Windows boxes but if anything, those are more difficult. My father, on the other hand, is the kind of computer user who will send out five copies of an e-mail (in all caps) because he "didn't see anything happening when [he] clicked Send." Which of these people do you think should be watching me set up the computer?
"No, Mom, I think you should watch too. You know more about computers than Dad does," I said patiently.
She pulls this sort of stunt all the time. She talks herself down, minimizes her achievements and her considerable abilities, until I stop oscillating between wanting to comfort her and wanting to shake her and I just want to shout, "SHUT UP ALREADY MOM. You are a very smart, capable woman. Stop trying to pretend you're not out of some strange desire to preserve the egos of the people around you!"
Then I realize it's something I could say to myself, which only infuriates me more.
So this is my long overdue apology to friends and lovers who've had to put up with me acting up out of the blue and/or calling myself an idiot when that's patently untrue. I am capable of asking for what I want. This isn't to say I'm incapable of doing boneheaded things, but I'm not stupid, I know it, and I shouldn't say it.
Despite the dramatic enactment of the source of my crap personality traits and the subsequent (brief) bouts of morose navel-gazing, we had a fantastic time together and didn't fight once. We talked and laughed and sat quietly doing crossword puzzles and watched a little bit of television and lounged in the garden drinking tea and went shopping and it was all just lovely. My family is little and broken, sometimes, but still good. Very good.