Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Difficult Balancing Act

While at my mother's on Monday evening, we were all sitting around in her den. She is approaching 90 years old, and has had a Life Alert wrist band for a couple of years now, but she has accidently set it off on several occasions, probably from bumping her wrist into things, as she walked about her apartment.

She got a flier in the mail for a new system from another company, and it turned out that they charged less per month for their service, so she ordered their system, and canceled her old service. The trouble is, Mom doesn't have a clue when it comes to anything technical. The equipment that she received in the mail consisted of a base station, that needed to be hooked up to her telephone line, a pendant with a pushbutton to wear around her neck while at home, and a portable device about the size of a cell phone to take with her when she went out. In the event of a fall, all she would have to do is push the button on the pendant around her neck, or on the portable device she took out with her, and they would talk to her on it, and find out whatever kind of help she needed, and send it on it's way. The mobile device had GPS capability, so they could locate her wherever she was. The only problem was, the whole system had to be set up and activated, and she didn't have the slightest idea how to do it. So my sister volunteered to help her. It turned out to be a very convoluted process of making several calls to the company that sold the device, checking that the base station was properly hooked up, then setting it up with a call, then setting up the pendant with another call, then taking the mobile device outside of her 12 story building along with a cell phone, so they could talk to her, and making sure they could communicate with the mobile device, before setting it up as well. The whole process took nearly and hour, and involved several back and forth phone calls! I sat there in amazement during the whole process, and wondered how in the world they expected old people with no technical experience, to understand their complicated set-up? Mom could never have done it by herself. It took her years to learn how to operate the digital timer on her microwave oven. Fortunately, my sister was able to do it for her, and she is now good to go!

I digress. What I really wanted to write about, was not being able to completely relax and be myself, even when I'm with the two people that have given me their loving support. On Monday evening for instance, while we were sitting around in my mother's den, and my sister was trying to activate my mother emergency help system, I just happened to notice that my niece was wearing a pretty new pair of studded red flats. She had her legs crossed, and in a typical female way, she was moving her foot around, and admiring the way they looked on her. I wanted so much to say, "I really like your new flats. Don't you just love pretty red shoes?", but how in the world am I supposed to say that when in male mode, with my macho bother-in-law, who I haven't come out to, sitting right next to her? I'm afraid that would have been far too weird! Not for me, but definitely for him.

In spite of some of my more critical comments about him in past posts, he actually can be a fairly nice guy, when he's on his meds, and he seems to have been doing that for the last several weeks. Other than an incident a couple of weeks ago, where he flung a morsel of food off of his fork into the face of my niece, as he gestured wildly without thinking ,while talking and eating (reminiscent of the time he soaked my pants and place setting at a nice restaurant, when he knocked his full water glass over onto me, while talking and waving his hands about), he's been fairly calm and pleasant, but even so, he is still completely clueless about anything feminine. He was raised with just one brother, and no sisters, and spoiled rotten by his mother, so unfortunately, he never learned to take females very seriously, and he is clearly uncomfortable when the conversation becomes female centric.

Because I live close to an hour west of Richmond, Monday evening is the only time, other than holidays, or tragedies, that I get to see my sister and niece. It's very frustrating to go there, and feel like I have to hold back on my self-expression, for fear of freaking out the one and only macho male in the room. The trouble is, I've always hated to make anyone uncomfortable. I suppose that's the main reason I never pushed my gender identity with my mother, once she made it clear to me early in life, that feminine behavior in boys was unacceptable to her.

When I first started out, at what turned out to be a 37 year career at my last job, I was still carefree, and innocent. I freely expressed my sense of humor, and I emoted without even thinking about it, but I soon found out that sort of liberty of spirit and emotion, alienated me from most of the males I worked with, and I gradually became withdrawn. Where I was once jovial, and felt free to joke and kid, I began to doubt my sense of humor. My humor was met with blank stares, or worse, looks bordering on contempt. Where I was once naturally compassionate, I began to withhold my compassion, for fear of offending their macho sensibilities. I had to shut myself down, and become a completely different person to get along with them. It ruined me, and I just hated it. My brother-in-law, as decent as he can be when he's taking his meds, still reminds me so much of those men I used to have to work with. I had hoped that when I retired, I would be done with those types of males, but now I find that I still have to deal with one every week, when I should be free to be my self around the two people I love most in this world. I'm slowly trying to push the envelope with him, but my need to be polite and accommodating is making it a difficult balancing act. It would be so much easier if I could just ignore his sensibilities, but I can't. If I did that, then I would be just like him, and I would hate myself.

Melissa XX


Halle said...

Melissa, as usual, you are oh so right! Policing ourselves to prevent slip-ups is a pain. I was at a gathering on the weekend. One of the ladies had her hair cut quite a bit shorter and I had a comment out very quickly about how nicely it framed her face and how much I loved it.

While it hardly outted me, I did get some looks from a couple of the men.

I've never been super macho guy anyway... obviously your brother-in-law doesn't do or understand non-macho. Like I said, a real pain!

Stace said...

This is how I used to act around my parents. It got to the point where my parents thought I didn't like seeing them as I was permanently on edge watching everything I said and did to make sure I didn't give anything away during the two times a year I saw them. They were amazed at the difference me the last time I visited them as I could just be me (albiet in male mode) and they noticed how relaxed I was.

I know that you can't come out to your brother in law. But could you talk to your neice and sister - assuming they know; at least to let them know what you go through?


Veronica said...

You know your own situation best, but speaking of tragedy, it seems tragic to me that you can't be yourself with your own family. And I mean hiding your real self to the point of being stressful. I don't mean dressing en femme. I mean just being you, saying what you think, allowing your own personality to come through.

Am I an idealist? Maybe. I admit that I circumscribed my behaviour around my mother (though not my siblings) for a long time. The result is that she has never known who I am. The upside of that, I guess, is that I'm no more a stranger to her now than I ever was. She just thinks so, because she doesn't realize that she has never known me.

I'd been rather careful in writing to her for a while. Our notes are pretty tenuous (and the only connection we have at the moment). But I told her a few letters ago, after the hurt I felt at her making it clear how she was always going to see me, that I wasn't going to tiptoe any more. I had to treat her like an adult. I haven't heard from her in over a month, so that tactic might have backfired, but I refuse to treat her like a child any longer.

The question is, do we respect our parents more when we contort ourselves to conform to their wishes, or when we treat them like adults and be ourselves? Might be a no-win situation.

alan said...

Never the "macho man" no matter where or what I was doing, I've paid a price for that when it comes to "camaraderie" as well and just dismissed it as the price of being me. At work it didn't bother me; at home it has become a family joke about me picking the "chick" flicks to go see, or how easily I cry at things.

So I do try to "rein things in" a bit when with extended family, but not the immediate one.

I still long for that world in which we can all just "be"!

A side note; Sears service just left from repairing my treadmill and the gentleman was telling me that if you buy a television from Sears with a service policy, they will take all the tech calls or make visits to reset things when they need to for someone who can't deal with them. I get at least two phone calls a week from my Mom about her remote doesn't work, or she can't the the DVD player to play through the TV or she can't change stations, etc.. He said they do those all the time...

Sure a thought for if I move! If you end up getting your Mom a new set, it might save someone a trip...

Veronica said...

Melissa, I'm sorry if I got too personal in my comment. But I really can't see that it's a problem for you to tell your niece that you like her shoes and think they're are pretty. It's not a macho thing to say, but I can't see why it's not a guy thing to say, especially since she's your niece.

Maybe it's cultural. Maybe it's my own peculiar life. I keep wondering where this so-called gender binary is. I've known femme guys and butch women for most of my life, and all kinds of in between.

I just hate to think you of you not being able to relax in such circumstances.

Melissa said...

@ Veronica

No need to apologize sweetie! I absolutely adore you, and always welcome your comments.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that I came from such a repressed background, where female expression was strictly taboo for me. Add to that my brother-in-law's huge macho ego, and it get's difficult to open up when he's in the room. I doing a lot better since I came out to my sister and niece, and even pushing it a bit when he's around, but without coming out to him, I can only push it so far. You would have to meet him to understand how I feel. He hasn't got a feminine bone in his body, and doesn't understand how women think at all. He had no sisters, and was a career US Army Special Forces officer, who retired as a Lt. Col. He prides himself in being all man. I've always had a hard time dealing with men like that.

Thanks for caring!

Melissa XX

Calie said...

Melissa...this comment is short and not so sweet...

I totally relate... At least you express your frustration openly. I tend to keep it within.

Calie xxx

mrslickiv6 said...

I started in last few years to not being embarrassed as in past, when I see a gal with great haircut, style, or Really Cool dress, shoes etc., I’ll walk right up and pour out the complements. If with a guy I’ll be sure address him with “man your so.. lucky to be acquainted with such a pretty girl”. I figure, she’s on cloud nine by now and probably ends up having a great day. Don't assume that every guy considers you comments as hostel I really don't think he would mind.