Monday, 21 November 2011

Happy Families

"Oh dear", I said.

"What is it?" Beloved asked.

"Nothing. Everything"' I replied.

"That's sad", he said.

I was sitting at the kitchen table. We'd finished a simple supper, but there had been a glass of wine. The kitchen was warm and still, the lamp was pulled low over the table and we sat in a cosy pool of light. I had the perpetual birthday calendar in front of me. It's gardener's birthday in the next few days and I was making sure that I wouldn't miss it. At the hairdresser's this morning two women were talking about the imminent arrival of Christmas. "Less than five weeks to go," one of them said. "I know. Have you got a lot left to do?" the other one said. "No, I'm all finished. I've done most of it over the internet. John's girls want money, my sister's kid is six and you can get a six year old anything; my mum and dad were easy, so was my sister, and I've got a few bits and pieces from the shops for hubby and the boys, mainly vouchers and stuff. The boys want to do their own shopping."

Studying the calendar, this overheard conversation came into my head. I scanned the next two months ahead for birthday dates. "Do you realise Jack will be eighteen in January?" "No, really? Golly, that's amazing." "Will you do something special?" "I shouldn't think so."

When my grandsons turned eighteen I gave them a larger money present than usual. "I think I'll stop sending them money once they're twenty-one; they're hardly aware of my existence, they rarely say thank you and they've certainly never given me anything."

We have six children between us, all adults, and no really meaningful contact with any of them. Christmas and birthday cards, a few phone calls, and the odd duty visit from three of them, that's about it. Two of them we haven't seen for years. It's nobody's fault, it just happened. Divorce, moving house, jobs, imagined slights, a grudge having taken hold, even differing attitudes to life, religion, etc., but mainly a general lack of closeness. It never used to bother me, but now it breaks my heart when I think of it.

We already have tentative plans for the festive season, we are sure to see friends, we always do. We may  have an email nearer the time from one of the sons announcing a flying visit; on the other hand, we may not. I'd prefer not, I hate duty visits.

"Oh dear."

"Still sad?"

"Yes, I want to pull the roof over my head and not hear or see anything any more. Just wait for death."

"Yes, my dear, I know. It's November. November makes everybody feel sad."

I got up and put the calendar back on its nail.

"Will you get a card for gardener in the morning?"


  1. i understand that drift that happens...i am sure the gardner will appreciate the card as well...ugh time flies...

  2. I'm so sorry that you feel sad today. Sometimes, when one feels low, it does seem as if it is too late to change things but the game isn't up and there are always new possibilities of change as long as there is life. When the sun shines again, things will seem better.

    I do agree about November - my bugbear of a month is February but
    I think there is something to be said for just getting out of these dour Northern places at certain times of the year!

  3. The shorter days, the clouds, the lack of sun, the approaching holidays where everyone is supposed to make fun/fun memories. A real burden for us all. You either have to accept the situation or see if you can change by calling, skyping, Facebooking or whatever to reach out to those worth reaching. Sometimes the burden of relating rests on one family member.

  4. Christmas talk leaves me cold, really cold. I have offended and upset numerous people (always mums) over the years with my lack of enthusiasm for celebration. Birthdays are not terribly special, neither is Christmas, it's all an act, I love to act, but only when I feel like it. Spending money on rubbish and false sentiments are depressing, not November, or the natural drift which so often happens in families. A big HO HUM from me, I apologise.

  5. Oh dear, that is a sad post about lack of closeness. Perhaps there is some one thing you can do, to move a step closer to one person. I hope your day is brighter; just think about all your bloggy friends all around the world, including me in California.

  6. Families interact in different ways. I'm sorry you are feeling unhappy with your own situation. No advice here, just know that someone, albeit someone you've never met, cares.

  7. Oh, I hope your sadness passes soon.
    I have not yet reached the stage of feeling sad that I consider myself family-less. When I feel regret coming near, I remember just what it was like before I stopped playing that game. Lord, it was exhausting!
    Perhaps it's different if one has offspring. I don't.

  8. Friko,
    Your lives are not over. You could take an emotional risk and try to change things.
    A Christmas wish announced to all that a fresh beginning and more family closeness will lie ahead. Pick another pagan festival, like Easter, and ask them to hunt Easter eggs in your garden.
    Achievable goal? Only you can say.

  9. The world is an odd place, sometimes, and families can be among the oddest things on our old planet. In my imagination, your place would the one not to miss over the Christmas holidays--festive and full of delights (I remember your advent calendar). It's hard to imagine anyone passing it up. But that's family for you--an odd sort of "institution" that doesn't work the way "they say" it should more often than not.

    Happy birthday to gardener!

  10. Dear Friko,
    Two and a half years ago I moved back to where I had grown up. Back to where my brother and his family and their children lived. I thought I was coming home.

    But what I discovered is that the word "family" can mean many different things at every stage of our life.
    And so can the word "home."

    I've realized that the friends I left behind in Minnesota are my closest family. They are my kindred spirits. Where they are is where home is.

    This says nothing about the love we have for family members. It is so possible to love and not to like particularly. What it says to me is that I'm choosing to come home to myself--to what it is that brings contentment. For me, that will be moving back to the place I left. I think I'm wiser now and have come--at last--to know what it is my heart longs for.

    I hope these days in which the sun even while shining seems overcast will soon offer you a big helping of graciousness to yourself.


  11. I've felt these things(though not so much as sadness, but with more of a bent toward my particular disorder), but now I try to redirect(no, not always possible) to the light from the moon & the ocean. I forgive my complicity in certain things. Try not to deal myself a decisive, negative blow.

    But I also see getting gardener the card as a big piece of the positive part of the puzzle of life.~Mary

  12. The gift of age is to live life on our own terms. We have done our duty. Now it is "damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead." Jim

  13. I still remember and cherish certain cards, given and received.

    I feel close to some of my Internet pals. I get real joy and laughter and shared sadness from them. But thats bound to happen when you've shared a couple thousand words back and forth in posts and comments, words from your depth, inner core.

  14. Somehow, I just found you and your profile sounds like me...seems like blogging has taken over my life, either reading others or writing mine. Enjoyed your post.

  15. Well Friko, I will add the topic of this post to a growing collection that I do hope we will have the opportunity to talk about, face to face, some day.

    Meanwhile. My obvious, antique suggestion is to enjoy what you have to enjoy, remain open to future windows, but do not fret over what you cannot change.

    (Let me also tell you how much I enjoyed your fairytale in the prior post.)


  16. As always, Friko, I appreciate your raw honesty. You are a truth speaker, which is all too rare in our society.

    As for those happy families—wherever they are—I suspect that none of us end up with the family we once imagined for ourselves. Perhaps the best that we can do is to be honorable, kind, and tolerant of one another's differences. Above all, I abhor the notion of obligatory time spent together. In the name of "family," we should not become inauthentic and feign more closeness than is natural.

  17. I do hope your sadness will pass, Friko, knowing that such a thing sometimes takes time - or new kinds of happy fill in. I will say that I am enjoying getting to know you through your blog, and through mine.

    Some of my best friends are gardeners. I hope yours will enjoy getting a card.

  18. Oh, Friko. I can so understand and relate to your sadness, wistfulness and general seasonal malaise. I think each one of us has an ideal vision of how we would like to be a family and how a holiday should go and it's sad when others we love don't share that vision. My siblings and my husband are considerably less sentimental about the holidays than I am -- and so I'm often having to moderate my desire for holiday revelry and family time to make a compromise. And sometimes it means holidays alone. It's important, then, to create rituals meaningful to you and your Beloved. To make your own holiday special. I think lack of family closeness is especially noticeable this time of year, but it can certainly hurt year around. Building a family of friends can help a great deal. Some of those closest to me are family by choice, not chance. I hope it helps to know that you have people all over the world who read your blog and care very much for you!

  19. A couple of things to figure out:
    1. Is it the talk of other families' closeness that make you want it, or do you generally want more closeness regardless of how other families behave.
    2. Do you enjoy time spent with your children/grandchildren and like them for who they are, or is it that you want them to want to spend time with you? Are they the type of people like to spend time with. Do you have things in common other than the genetics?
    If you were to go and visit them, would it be for pleasure or from a sense of duty?

    I can't answer these questions for you, but these are the questions I'm asking myself with respect to my relationships with my parents and with my children. It helps me to look at it from both sides of the generational fence.

  20. "November makes everybody feel sad."

    What perfect words for such a moment, and I do think it is true for many of us. I always know the shortest day of the year and this year it is December 22, which is also a solstice day. It gives me something to look forward to because then the days begin to get longer and spring is closer.

    This year my Thanksgiving is within the community here and I believe it will be good because there will be no pretenses and no acting.

    And, yes, life goes on doesn't it?

  21. You know, there was a time, in this country at least, when kids would grow up and leave home and parents would never ever see or hear from them again. I imagine it's been like that throughout a lot of history and I imagine just the opposite as well, peasants in a small village that never leave. Not that I am calling you a peasant, small village notwithstanding. One of my kids has moved very far away. It will be years before we see him again if we do. Our daughter and grandkids are still close by, they will be arriving here on Thursday and the grandkids will stay til Sunday.

    I would hate duty visits too.

  22. I have no experience with grandchildren, although I do have some nieces and nephews who ignore me... What I really want to say here is how much I enjoy your style of writing. It progresses so naturally, circling back -- so concise, so appealing.

    Hope you have a lovely day, Friko.


  23. Don't feel sad, Fri. I couldn't decide whether to respond to your email or to your post, first-- since they bore a certain similarity. I never knew anyone else who consulted a perpetual birthday calendar but I knew there must be others.

    Sending you my love.

  24. I hate Christmas. Gosh, I feel so much better having said that. And liberated.

  25. Oh, Friko, I hate to think of you being sad, although I get that way myself from time to time. I don't have children of my own, and my stepdaughters pay little if any attention to me, and sometimes I get to feeling lonely.
    My husband is Jewish, so Christmas means nothing to him, although he buys presents for his daughters and grandchildren (and he delivers them in January or February or even later).
    Tomorrow I'm going out to the west coast to see my youngest brother, and also my eldest niece. They're the ones I consider "my kids" and I know they want to see me. My niece phones me several times a week and my brothers phone if they haven't heard from me for a while. My sister hasn't spoken to me since Dad died two years ago this week.
    Families are strange. There's no doubt about it, and the thing they call "the family dynamic" gets talked to death on radio, TV and everywhere else.
    There's an expression I used to hate when people said it to me: "This, too, shall pass." Maybe I hated it because I knew it was true? I don't know. I do know I try not to use it casually, if ever.
    I think your beloved is right, however. November is no one's favourite month. It might be particularly hard for you if you're writing a memoir and you suspect no one will care about it.
    Luv, K

  26. These long dark days make it easy to be gloomy -- one good reason to put up holiday lights -- or flee southwards.

  27. I don't have a lot to add to all the good things that have been said already. I'm sorry to read about the drift that happens in so many families. It comes on one so sneakily. This year we'll be without the grandchildren and one of our children - for the first time in this 31 years. That makes me sad, but just for me. He's making his own memories and traditions with his little family. TGD and I will have to develop a new tradition or two, I guess. I'm not terribly enthusiastic.
    I'd love to sit across the table from you for a good long chat.

  28. I know the feeling well, Friko dear, having a daughter estranged from all of us for years now.

    One of the best pieces of advice ever given to me was:
    "Stay where your hands are" and I practise that and staying in the day also.

    It sure helps. Love is where our hearts are.


  29. I appreciate your honesty, Friko, as others have commented. I think it's the rare person who truly is satisfied with family relationships. It's always a challenge, in one way or another I think, for families. There are real or imagined expectations of behaviors that don't come naturally. Or, there is the loss of family, through death or estrangement, that saddens us, and probably affects most folks.

    Isn't it just human nature to want things to be different than they are?

    As always, you've written a thoughtful and thought provoking post.

  30. Isn't it weird how people feel they MUST catch up at Xmas?? It's almost right up there with only giving Mum a prez on Mother's Day and only remembering your loved one on Valentine's Day! If you're only going to make an effort because it's Xmas, don't bother, I say!! Harsh, yes - but actually easier all round in the long run! That way you're free to enjoy the company of those you DO want to see!

  31. Life happens and families drift. In my own situation, my only sibling, my younger sister and her family emigrated from SA twenty years ago. My parents followed a few years later. We were a close knit family and it was hard in the beginning, but we grew accustomed to the reality. We stay in touch through emails and Skype chats and visits when possible. My husband has two considerably older sisters. They emigrated from SA many years ago (way more than thirty in the case of the elder sister), but were never particularly close before that due to the age differences. We count ourselves fortunate that our own two children, both adult, still live close by and we see each other often and chat almost daily. This can of course change if either or both of them moves away. I understand your sadness, as I feel that way too, sometimes, when watching large family gatherings, but I do not dwell on it as I cannot do anything to change the choices others make. You and your beloved sound so well matched and happy together. You have good friends and a rich life. Focus on that at times when you feel sad. Offer your love and friendship where it is readily received and appreciated, as in the case of your gardener's upcoming birthday. I think Dee and many of your other commentators have summed things up wisely. I do hope you'll soon be feeling happier, Friko! Big hug xoxo

  32. My GP insists that we have God to thank for our friends, but the devil will have a hand in our families.

  33. I don't know, but I think a breaking heart means change is coming.

  34. When my mother died I was awfully sad - a well meaning woman came up to me and said in her Jolly Hockey Sticks Voice "My dear girl, dreadfully sorry to hear your news, but pecker up, best foot forward and all that stuff!" I laughed because my mother would have cringed and because a "pecker" was also a pet name for penis - in my inadequate way just trying to say sorry your not feeling so good at the moment.

  35. it's amazing how much things drift - i have friends that i've lost contact with just because i got tired of being the one who always had to make the effort

    Families are the same - just because you are related to someone doesn't mean an easy relationship. Perhaps it is worth trying to make the first move?

  36. "Yes, I want to pull the roof over my head and not hear or see anything any more. Just wait for death."

    Thank you Friko for being so candid about how you feel, this struck a cord with me, not being able to share these thoughts with anyone, I dont get the response, but seeing your husbands nice, calm, clear answer to you and then being able to read the comments to your post has comforted me, as if I were sitting across the table from my beloved.

  37. Families are so hard..and so complicated. Sometimes - too much to take in and understand. At least - you haven't lost your sense of humor. You left me with a bittersweet' smile...

  38. Wow. Heavy post, and very interesting comments. Took me awhile to make my way to the bottom here, but it was worth it.

    I have lots of family that I don't worry about, most of them are busy not thinking about me, either. All my favorite people are either right here around me or available on Facebook, so I can wish a happy birthday or remember an anniversary without guilt.

    November is a real bear of a month, I'll give you that. :-)

  39. Ah, yes. Reflects my own doldrums of late.


  40. It is sad the way our kids seem to forget we exist when they are grown. Deep down we know they love us but they are too busy to show it. I hope today is a happy one for you!!

  41. It was expected of all my maternal grandmother's children and grandchildren that they should visit every weekend , at least . And that we all were friendly and kind to each other , while in her house .
    But , once we'd all spread far and wide , she'd write and send recipes , knit awful jumpers and phone and wish us well in every endeavour .
    And we loved her for it , even from the other side of the world . Your children probably all feel much the same !

  42. Eight grown children between us, occasional talk or visit but not the Waltons, for sure. I wish it were so but we raised them to be independent and they are. We did not raise them to be thoughtless or clueless, however. That's disappointing.

    For November, I spend 30 minutes every morning in front of a bright light box, and I take 4000 units of vitamin D3. So far, so good - even with five inches of rain forecast for the next 36 hours!

  43. A poignant post -- I think most of us feel that way. I suspect my family did about my lack of interest in them once I discovered myself. Retired now, I know I need to be working on redefining myself and perhaps redefining what family means to me.

  44. es ist wirklich eigenartig, dass Weihnachten so intensive Gefühle bei fast allen Menschen auslöst. Es ist ein Familienfest, ein "Muss", "duty", wie Du sagst...und doch spielt es nur in den Köpfen der Leute.
    Ich bin befreit von dem Familiengedanken und so auch von dem Weihnachtsgedanken, eine Idee, ein Hirngespinst (denn mit Religion hat es ja noch kaum etwas zu tun), so denke ich schon fast.
    Ich wünsche Dir viel Freude mit den Freunden, Beloved und dem lieben Benno und wünsche Dir ein helles gutes restliches Jahr.
    Bis bald!Ich schicke Dir ein Lächeln!

  45. Dear Friko: The way of the nuclear family I suppose. Leaves one feeling empty and missing the closeness of family. A fabulous piece of writing prowess.

  46. I am sorry for your sadness. I am not a believer in the after life but I am a strong believer in this one. Soon you will be dead. Try a rapprochement maybe. I have friends who are not close to their parents and as time passes that saddens them. Or stick to beloved. That is one of the best responses I have ever heard.

  47. I used to think November was the grimmest month, before I had two children born that month.

    I make duty visits to my father. I wonder if he dreads them as much as I do... But because I am not sure, I still go. And I expect my stepmother, nearly 20 years his junior and almost too young to be my mother, is glad I do. I think I don't agree with you. There is a lot to be said for duty.

    I grumble if I go for more than a month or two without seeing at least one of my four children. I can barely imagine your sadness. I am so sorry.

  48. Oh Friko, how time does fly right by us!!! I do love your black and white photo, reminds me of a Monet. May this reach you in good health and spirits :)

  49. Families are the most complex of groups I feel. I am sorry that you are feeling sadness.
    Happy birthday to gardener.

  50. Hi Friko .. I can echo your sentiments - though we have no children .. it'd be lovely if they'd think of others and their needs, rather than just accommodate me - because they need to. Sad - but such is life .. and get on with it - give to others ...

    Gardener deserves a card and a few thoughts methinks - he's done you good in blog posts - and probably the garden too! Cheers Hilary

  51. Sigh!! I feel your pain! It is happening all over. Families fragmented and distant in life and in love! It is sad!
    Breaks my heart too
    Hugging you

  52. November is a cruel month: dark and dank - it plunges us into limbo between a golden autumn and a gaudy Christmas. No wonder you are feeling low.

    Then, there are families: some work and some don't and judging by all these comments families are the cause of many heartaches.

    So, in this time of thanksgiving, it must be good to have true friends.


  53. As this wonderful cascade of
    beautiful comments attest,
    somehow there at Valley's
    End, sitting with your beloved,
    staring at the calendar, your
    world, Friko's world of bright
    cyber light, images, poetry,
    and affection comes winging
    in like a flock of doves. You
    are a talented and wonderfully
    opinionated lady, and from all
    over the globe, we come to you
    for your wisdom, and yes, we
    are willing to share your sadness
    too; but remember, we come and
    go alone on this plane of existence,
    and only family, mired in stress,
    emotion, distance, and tradition,
    is the true mark of what we truly
    have, and will leave behind.

  54. I have a perpetual calendar on a nail in my pantry. Small world. We don't chose our families but we do choose our friends. Happy Thanksgiving Friko. Dianne


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