When I was a child, we went to visit my mother's sister and her family in Maryland every Christmas and every summer. I always loved the visits, except for one thing. My mother would change from the competent, active, intelligent woman I knew into an insecure younger sister. For at least part of the time, my mother would turn into a ten year old, her sister would turn 15 and her brother would turn 5. It wasn't pretty.
It isn't pretty when it happens to me either. Even though I spend more time with my father and siblings than Mom did with her family, I still have a role and I don't play it so well. Instead of being an intelligent woman, a good mother, a competent & knowledgeable accountant, a problem-solver, I become the bright but flaky and slightly unstable sister. Even though I haven't thrown an object at anyone in over 20 years, I am the fish-wife, the temper-tantrum thrower.
My brother and sister don't pin me to these roles as much as my parents did, and my father continues to do. Sometimes, I sense that they are disappointed in me and my choices, but it isn't crippling. However, I have realized that it is a waste of time for me to talk to my father about anything that is important to me. When I talk about the charter school which I helped start and for which I serve as board chair, he says, "why do you waste your time on that?" Recently he asked me about the tax consequences of selling his house and when I tried to explain, he picked up a magazine and sighed, "Never mind, I'll ask Pete (the non-relative he pays to prepare his taxes.)" I spend a good part of my days making tax consequences understandable to people who don't do math. I am known as someone who can explain accounting principles in English. But not to my father, who only hears an 8 year old who wants to watch the Monkees when everyone else wants to watch something else.
I would like to say that it doesn't matter, but it continues to haunt me. When I need to ask for something or stand up for a point of view, I hear a voice telling me that I am a fish-wife and I am never satisfied. When I succeed, the voice points out how lucky I am and that luck can change. My inner sound track is "don't get too full of yourself." It plays in chorus with "pretty is as pretty does."
I can work on changing the song, but I'm not going to change my father's picture of me. Since there are more good things about visiting than bad things, I'll continue to visit. But I will check myself at the door, and not make the mistake of sharing hopes or fears only to have them used as further examples of my foolish inability to deal with the world. But I really really need a new theme song.