Yup, it’s been that long since I took a break or vacation from blogging here and at Scent Reflections. The long weekend works out nicely, so I’ll see you all next Sunday with the regularly scheduled post.
If you celebrate, happy holiday. If not, I hope you enjoy Sunday in a way that feels right to you.
Disclaimer: this is a place of learning, safety, and hope. Take what you want from the post and forget the rest. Maybe this will help you. Maybe it won’t.
Unnecessary Comparisons & Competitions within Family Traditions
Holidays of any kind are rather stressful and triggering for me. Chinese or Lunar New Year is one that twists me up with glee and anxiety in equal measures and has since I was a kid.
Glee because I got to openly celebrate this part of my culture at home, in school, and pretty much anywhere without the usual jeers and harassment. Plus the food was always incredible and filled with rare treats our grandparents spent weeks making for all of us. The hong bows (red envelopes with money) were less interesting to me, even after I got older and better understood the concept of “free money”.
Anxiety because it meant spending time around relatives, neighbors, and other Chinese people who compared me with my brother and cousins (and found me lacking), treated me poorly because of where my parents were in the family hierarchy, or ignored me completely. I looked younger than my age, was too smart for my own good, and acted clumsy/socially awkward compared to my socially adept, taller cousins who looked and acted more mature than their ages.
Then there are the traditions and rituals involved in preparing for the Chinese New Year holiday – some that stay the same from region to region, and others unique to family mini-cultures – that actually starts on New Years Eve with dinner. That can take up to 3 weeks of advanced preparation with all the cleaning, organizing, decorating, food preparation, and cooking involved. Finally, the celebrations may start on the evening before, but they last for 4 weeks. And each day of the first two weeks have specific traditions involving travel, visiting, receiving guests, and so on.
College Drama: A hick’s traditions passed over for a green card?
Then, once in college, I met a young man from Hong Kong through a college dorm neighbor. I want to say we were friends, but it was more one sided than that. She liked having me around because my “pathetic” existence boosted her self esteem. Plus I was at least as smart as she was so our academic accomplishments became a competition she strived to win. Since I didn’t care, she often did win.
But that’s getting away from the point. She practically worshipped this young man and wanted to stay friends with him, but he was having trouble with his green card and ability to stay in the US. Before I met him, she asked me about my heritage and how I celebrated holidays with my family. I answered her questions and reached out to other family members for more details if I didn’t have an answer. It was a good excuse for me to re-connect with that part of my culture.
A few weeks later, she came back and told me his opinion: my family and I were a bunch of hicks from the country because people in the city don’t celebrate like that. He called us country bumpkins and other terms I can’t remember.
Maybe if she waited until after asking me to go out with him and consider marrying him so he can get a green card and stay in the US before telling me that, I wouldn’t have been so rude to him when we met. Then again, maybe I would have been just as rude – but less annoying and a lot friendlier during his dorm visits.
Either way, that was the beginning of the end our our pseudo-friendship and another reason for me to hate holidays. Not the first time someone proposed marriage that way even if it was for other reasons, but it was the last time. And yes, both experiences soured me on the idea of relationships and marriage – especially with an Asian man.
Celebration with a Twist
I do my best, but cannot follow everything. The traditions I know best have been passed down from my grandparents to their children to their grandchildren (i.e. my brother, cousins, and me). Even within that large circle, some traditions have changed with people marrying in and bringing their own holiday traditions. My father’s side of the family decorates different from my mother’s side of the family. And each of my mother’s married siblings follows a blend of each side’s food and decorating traditions.
Planning my move during Chinese New Year wasn’t intentional. But the apartment came available at the right time and for the right price. I had the money mostly saved up and a plan to cover the rest of my other expenses. Plus the act of packing up my old place to move in to the new one constituted cleaning the whole apartment and discarding anything old, broken, unwanted, or holding me back with the end of the year – part of the holiday preparation 🙂
While I couldn’t decorate the new apartment with traditional good luck and prosperity symbols, I was able to do some laundry, change my sheets, shower, put on clean clothes, and cook a small meal with the basics of a traditional dinner on Friday evening. Then rest quietly until bed time and spend Saturday relaxing or napping as I let my body heal from the physical stress of packing + working + coping with many triggers and 0 down time all week.
In the end, I was able to reclaim another holiday the trauma had taken away from me.
This time next week, I will be back in my home state (the one where I was born) getting ready to celebrate Christmas with my parents, brother, and father’s side of the family for the first time in 7 years. Maybe longer. All of us will get together at an aunt’s house on the morning of Christmas Day to open gifts, hang out, and (later) eat a holiday dinner together. Dinner as in lunch…not the evening meal (aka supper).
I admit to feeling many conflicting emotions. Fear, excitement, guilt, joy, anxiety are a few of them. In terms of my immediate family, I’m excited to see my dad. We’ve been talking (FaceTime) and emailing regularly since August. He’s excited to see me too and has been keeping me updated about the rest of the family. I have mixed feelings about seeing my mom and brother (and his wife) again. We didn’t part on good terms, and my child parts are upset about being close to them again. But the adult parts of me are happy to see them again.
For my Dad’s side of the family, I’m excited and anxious to see them again. We don’t relate very well for a lot of reasons, so sometimes sharing space can be difficult. It’s part of why I choose to stay in a hotel or AirBnB during visits home. We love each other, but live completely different lives. And a lot of my life is not something many of my relatives on either side can acknowledge, approve, or accept. Other than some social topics or basic questions and answers, we don’t have much to talk about.
For my Mom’s side, the timing worked to visit with one group of cousins the day before I leave. As I’m only staying for 4 days, I’m grateful for that much and excited to see them. Yes I’m also nervous, but that’s mostly because it’s a new relationship with all of us being adults now. Luckily, we are all foodies and can spend a few hours chatting and enjoying good food.
Have you noticed the food theme? A lot of my family gatherings revolve around food – it was how different generations came together to prepare food, set tables, cook, share stories, and enjoy conversations while eating – as a party or event was often how my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and parents brought us together.
Why do this?
The simple answer is closure.
I’m in a positive, healing place that allows me to open up and face some of the scariest parts of my past so that moving forward is less stressful. Plus, I do miss my family. I love them and want the best for them – best as in what works for and with their current goals and lifestyles. Closure allows my heart wounds to finally drain and start to heal.
The complicated answer is more nuanced.
I am going to visit my grandmother. She hasn’t been doing well since her accident back in January. If I can give her anything, it’s one holiday with all of us together like before. We can spend some time together, and I can reassure her that I’m happy, healthy, and safe even if I live all the way across the country.
I’m going for my father. Seeing him in person, giving and receiving a real hug is a gift in itself. We don’t have a lot in common, but we are interested in each other’s lives and actively listen, accept and respect each others choices. Besides that, my Dad is really funny and always finds a way to share his fatherly wisdom with humor.
I’m going for myself, to prove that I can spend time with them as an adult whose triggers don’t get in the way and cause problems. We can be ourselves, share space together, and enjoy the holiday time with less tension and negativity. I don’t have to hide parts of myself and can accept that different relatives will and do hide behind masks – but the hiding is not personal. And I won’t get in trouble for being me. Or cause problems by being me.
In doing this, I can
try to resolve my conflicting feelings about letting any family into my life and being part of their lives.
Conflict part 1: I am happy as I am now being connected again, was happy before reconnecting with any family at all, and am not sure how much I want to be connected with any of them. If I want to be connected at all.
Conflict part 2: I love my family and am happy to be peripherally connected to some of them. But I’ve left behind the dreams of being close with them or having a strong connection where we keep in touch regularly, etc.
In other words, I’m facing some of my biggest fears in less than a week. Wish me luck?
And luck to any and all of you who might be in similar situations with the holiday season.
HAPPY HOLIDAY WEEKEND to everyone who celebrates a holiday this season. Holiday season because so many people celebrate Solstice, Christmas, Hanukkah, etc. during this time of year. I am thankful for all of the many people who have passed through my life this year. Thank you for being part of this blog.
This year was a year of renewing connections. Scary as it is and was, I’ve started to let more family back into my life. Some have stayed, some have left again. In the end, the ones who stayed truly want to be involved and work out a new relationship. The others are happy to know I exist and go on with their lives.
Yesterday, I was in California visiting family for the day. It was a great relief from the living situation issues occurring right now. Except the owner interrupted our day because she couldn’t get in for the inspection; also my smoke alarm was beeping. An inspection that she gave notice of the day before, so my evening was spent cleaning and documenting the apartment instead of relaxing before the visit.
And of course, when I left everything was quiet. Coming home, the flight was delayed; I got home close to midnight. The apartment cold because I turned off the heat for the day. The neighbor complaining because I turned up the heat to warm it up; then turned it down once the apartment felt less cold. And a smoke alarm chirping because the battery was dying.
But today, my goals changed. I was so tired from traveling and other stuff that I slept until late afternoon today. Then went out in the snow for a quick trip to the grocery store, lunch, and batteries. Batteries to fix the beeping smoke alarm. Lunch because I didn’t feel like cooking after I woke up. Groceries to complete what I missed for Christmas dinner tomorrow.
The apartment is still freezing cold, but that’s not going to stop me from enjoying today and tomorrow. Besides cooking will help warm up the place :).
The owner gave notice of an apartment inspection earlier this week and entered yesterday while I was out. For safety measures, I took photos of the place after cleaning it up. So here are a few photos of my first, official, decorated home. Enjoy!
I am almost at my wit’s end with this living situation. Dealing with the upstairs neighbor and the owner is so triggering that I am back in survival mode right now. It’s snowing this Christmas. Unusual for my new city home, but welcome too. The cold has me shivering even inside, but extra layers help a lot. And not having to play with the heat sort of, maybe reduces some triggers.
The neighbor reminds me of the bullies I encountered in school and how helpless I was to fight back and feel safe. The owner reminds me of the emotionally abusive, shaming, manipulative female care-takers from childhood and adolescence. They controlled everything about my living situation and never let me feel safe or secure wherever I happened to be.
Home doesn’t always feel safe with the intermittent noise and heat changes. REM sleep is rare these days too. Hallucinations have started up again. If the visual hallucinations become auditory ones, I’ll be visiting the ER. (fingers crossed that doesn’t happen). Anxiety and hyper-vigilance are increasing. Paranoia and feeling crazy are close companions. In my present mind, I know that I’m not being paranoid and that I’m not crazy. But that doesn’t stop the feelings.
On the good side, there are only 4 days left until my meeting with the attorney. Then there will be some progress and less feelings of frustration or helplessness. Between now and then, all I have to do is keep my head down, enjoy vacation, and survive. All of this designed to keep me out of the apartment and in a happy state of mind.