Too Polite to Ask


Our Teeny Cabin.

Our Teeny Cabin.

They took a family photo yesterday, the first with all of us. The grandparents, and their three children with their families. I feel bad about the photo.

My husband’s people are a good bunch. All of them, save Gus and I, live together in a serene little desert compound. Their three comfortable, sprawling California ranch-houses share connecting gates and butt up against the privacy of an orange orchard.  They are secluded and monastic, right up to their high iron gates and a tendency toward long loose robes.

The only ones in the photo not smiling are me and my terminally melancholy faux-hawked 13-year-old nephew. He’s not smiling for the aforementioned reasons. But I don’t have an excuse.

There were no guest rooms in any of the houses, so Gus’ Dad built us a teeny house of our own…sturdy and sweet. His mother decorated it very cleverly, with a horse motif, TV, a small library and twin beds. How could I be sullen in the face of that generosity?

But I was, the whole weekend. In a state of permanent exhaustion. My daughter mostly flew between her aunts and grandma and cousins, which was good and healthy. I should have accompanied her tho, and repaid their generosity with conversation full of wit and interest.

But I didn’t. I slept. I played on my phone. I was able to spur myself to life occasionally, usually with the help of a tranquilizer. It loosed my tongue and gave the blackout shades around my mind a good spinning yank-up.  Every time that happened, every time I allowed it, I connected really well with those dear people. But I couldn’t keep it up.

Mostly, it was because of…family. All of them together, comfortable, sharing their waspish love (waspish = always knock before entering for your scheduled visit). My family of origin is dead or unavailable to me. I miss them. My mother’s absence was an aching cavity the whole time. Having to hear the word “Mom” over and over but knowing I’ll never again be the one to say it.

And as open-armed as Gus’s family is, they are not mine. Their rhythm is energetic, streamlined and guarded. They don’t wade in the slow sprawl of chaos I associate with home and happiness. They speak respectfully, in erudite sitcom patter, not in slangs and swears that have traveled unchanged down the centuries parent to child. They are too polite to ever ask many questions. Which, no matter how much my brain knows is their version of kindness, my heart translates as indifference.

So mostly, I lay. On their couches, barely talking to them and sometimes forgetting to slide off my shoes. In the cabin with the sun curtained out and unnecessary pink earplugs screwed in my ears. Or sprawled on beach towels alone, in the dis-used portion of the yard, relentlessly Text-Twisting my cell’s battery to death. It was beach towels because none of them owned a blanket that could go on the ground. That’s what civilized people have lawn chairs were for.

While I did that, to my everlasting gratitude, they tended to my daughter, tucking her in with their daughters, feeding her and entertaining her. She is more of their blood than even Gus is. Tidy, roiling with energy, she bounced from cousin to aunt to Grandma, endless Uno games and art projects and freeze tag, flourishing in a place she belonged.

I had no right to wilt. They sowed that desert with every mineral and fecundity a growing thing could ask for. But I am stubborn, and I fade in the sun.

9 thoughts on “Too Polite to Ask

  1. Therese, this is a great piece of personal narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed how you were able to conjure up feelings that are typically hard to talk about (your guilt, and the family that doesn’t really feel like your own). I can relate on so much of what you talked about – not that I miss my own family, but not quite feeling like my husband’s family is somewhere I belong even though they are quite *nice* to me, using their own methods. That cabin is actually quite adorable and your humor is sprinkled about, just perfectly. Thanks for this.


  2. I, too, loved this piece. But don’t be too hard on yourself, okay? I think grandparents and extended family (especially in-laws) are for EXACTLY what you describe: allowing mom to withdraw into herself while the kids are nurtured and loved. Grandparents love that stuff and parents NEED a break. I bet if your daughter wasn’t so fulfilled, you wouldn’t have been able to cocoon so effectively. I call it a success, Therese!


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