Call your sister. Call your mom.


ME: So I’ve been working this week on a story about angry women.
ME: I’m unnerved how even writing about being an angry woman feels dangerous.  And then feeling stupid for being so scared. They’re just words in a story.

Mom: Being an angry woman IS dangerous. It shouldn’t be, and sometimes people pretend it isn’t. But it is. It can be.

ME: So basically, this character I’m writing has a sexual abuse history and has gone a little insane in Trump’s ‘grab em by the pussy’ America. She gets sucked into accidental revenge on a real deserving dickhead.
ME:   I’m real nervous about putting it up, what it might say about me. But at the same time, I can’t change it. It has to be that way.
ME: But I’m scared.

Mom: …..
Mom: *big sigh*
Mom: Well, as long as you make it funny.

ME:…. *head explodes, dies from internal injuries from suppressed, hysterical laughter at this requirement*
ME: *respawns*
Reanimated ME, deadpan: It is.



Little called a week or so ago. After our last conversation, I hadn’t reached out, although it didn’t break any established habits not to do so.

Since I last posted about her, I’d been thinking about your questions, in regards to behavior. It’s always so interesting to find what other people think is socially inappropriate!

In my family, my mother used to always say, “I’ll tell you if you have spinach between your teeth,” with the explanation that she loved us enough to tell us the truth, even if it wasn’t pretty.

It became code within our family – my sisters or mother might tell unpleasant truths, but the love and trust between us meant the information was to help and not harm.

To say ‘don’t tell me,’ as I did to Little, was me firing the first shot, violating our family’s pact by refusing the contract of love/trust/truth.

Anyway, our phone conversation = a bit awkward. Little asked about my life, and I answered, testing her response to varying degrees of personal information. Each thing I said, she reframed in a negative light.

For example, I told her about a business venture I felt ambivalent about, because I’m not super skilled in business matters. I said, “It’s a big learning curve for sure.”

She said, “Wow that sucks,” and “too bad it’s not working out for you.”

I told her the kids were busy with sports. She said  it was too bad I was so busy.

Then she said something she’d mentioned before, maybe a year ago. “I always call you, and leave a message, and you never get back to me. It makes me feel bad, like I’m not important to you.”

This accusation is completely true, except for the part that Little’s not important to me.

I do often get messages and don’t call back. Am an asshole that way. My only defense – I usually have to wait until after 8 pm to call anyone, as my day with kids/work + other people’s working hours doesn’t afford open blocks of time until night.

Which is usually when I’m crawling into the shower, and then bed, exhausted. Phone callers must fend for themselves.

But also probably true that on my Top Ten list of People I’d Jump Over a Chair to Reach the Phone, anyone I suspect is just calling to touch base/stay in contact/ be friends usually gets a hard pass. So maybe Little has a nub of truth about all of it.  See rule #1: I’m an asshole.

Then she told me the baby is pulling out her hair when he nurses, and he won’t stop, and did I know any tricks?

That’s when  it finally occurred to me that maybe Little’s acting like such a tremendous jerk because she’s miserable. Maybe she sees my life in such a negative light because she’s in a place where everything is shaded by pessimism and depression.

I had to do an accounting of how easy it was for me to write her off as an asshole, when she’s had a whole lifetime of being my sister and NOT being an asshole.

I was a bit ashamed. It’s not just my family that blew up, but hers too. She lost a child about this time two years ago, and probably every day this season has an anniversary of something mournful. Her dad has dementia, and her own sisters won’t call her back, even though she calls them and asks about their days.  She’s got a baby that pulls her hair out by the roots, and God, don’t I remember those days when a baby hurts you, and your instant, exhausted reaction is rage, but you can’t rage at a baby, and so they laugh at the game that is literally making you weep.

“God, I’m trying to remember a trick to get kids to stop doing that,” I said. “But mostly, I’m just thinking how glad I am to be past that stage.” Which felt like a bad thing to say, but I said it anyway.

“I’m sure big kids have shitty behaviors too.” she said, remaining true to her negative reframe.

I was thinking how (knock wood) they at least don’t rip out your hair while draining you of life juice out the nipple.  But I didn’t say anything, because Little might have been crying a bit.

So maybe I can do a little better in the future. Even if Little’s acting like a total buttwad lately.

7 Replies to “Call your sister. Call your mom.”

  1. I had one sibling. A younger brother. He was a cocaine addict and an asshole. The first part of that sentence was mostly responsible for the second part. He died in a car accident in 2009 at the age of 39. I was 43. We mostly fought every time we spoke. Because asshole. I wish he was still here, even if only to piss me off.

  2. I don’t have any siblings, but it sounds like asking your advice was the teeniest bit of an apology, as far as she could go. Asking someone for advice is telling them you respect them/their knowledge. And it’s something she could Google, but she chose to ask you. That sounds a bit like “I love you but I don’t know how to tell you that right now.” But I could be totally wrong. *Shrugs*

  3. Sometimes a sister just needs to be given a free pass for buttwaddery. Seems like your whole family needs a great big freebie right now… I cannot imagine the stresses and heartbreaks going on over there in Nahm-land. Buuuuuug.

  4. Shit. If it helps any, I’m an asshole too. Ugh. But my sisters are nice at least so now I’m a big asshole? Meh, I knew that already. I’m an all right friend but total shit family member. *shrug*

  5. 1. I ABHOR talking on the phone. Cell phones make it so damn easy to reach people and we all spend our days uber connected to everyone but also deliver the crappiest connection in many instances. And I know what you mean about it being the last thing on your list and usually get avoided. I try to get most of my people to text. That isn’t what she’s looking for, but it might help make her feel connected and is less exhausting to respond to than talking on the phone.
    2. I think you are right, she is reaching out trying to connect, not necessarily be an asshole. It’s also possible that she THINKS she is being supportive by echoing back to you what she thinks is the hard thing you are dealing with. Being sympathetic to how it must feel that something isn’t working out, or that older kids are probably just as shitty in their own way as younger kids. She doesn’t realize it just sounds negative.
    3. I have short hair, I have no idea how to help with hair pulling other than to say keep it out of the way? Pull it up? Shave it off? Not helpful.

  6. ((((Mercy))))

    I’ve been sitting on this email for a while, trying to organize my thoughts. First, so many hugs.

    When my mom and I were ‘hot’ fighting (yelling and screaming rather than current cold war/uneasy truce) she said a couple of times that it would be bad for me if she died while I was still so ambivalent about her. The ‘big’ scary story was the history of Mom’s older brother, H, who was super ambivalent about their father. When their father died unexpectedly, H died within 6 months. My mother thought part of it was the stress of dealing with how much would never be resolved.

    I was really scared by the whole idea, afraid to be mad and afraid to smother my anger. The only thing anyone’s ever told me that made me feel the slightest bit better was a friend whose mother died. The friend also had a very ambivalent relationship. But she said her relationship with the mother continued to grow after the mother died, that with time and distance, my friend was able to understand her mother more, and feel better about her. I asked her how long the relationship continued to grow (naturally, I was already imagining a stop watch and the anxiety inducing idea I’d have 6 months by the clock to make amends or I’d be trapped forever in ambivalence hell.) To my surprise, my friend said it’s still growing. My friend is a grandmother herself.

    Anyway, I don’t know if this helps you, but holy crap, your comment got me right in the tender-scared place. Hugs to your brother too.


  7. I have a sister and she’s a complete asshole (I also have three brothers, but sisters are different). I’m a jerk too. We are very close, but we also push A LOT OF BUTTONS. Sometimes on purpose and sometimes just because those are our personalities.

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