Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Why I Love the Olympics

1. The favoured athletes don't alway win. Sometimes they trip up and less well known and financed teams get through.

2. Now that doping is policed better (remember East German women athletes?), I find it refreshing to see these men and women who work so hard at their sport competing and succeeding.

3. There are some strange bodies on this planet, but the Olympics finds a home for them. Witness the amazonian volleyball players or Michael Phelps. Thank God, he found swimming.

4. There are always poignant stories in the background. Remember the female gymnast who competed for Germany this year? She left Russia because her little boy needed treatment for leukemia. She's competed in something like three or four Games under the flag of three or four countries.

5. This was one of the best Games ever for Great Britain. I was cheering more for the Brits than I was for the Americans. I can't wait for 2012.

And now for something completely different:

My mother has done a lot of genealogy work on her side of the family. My mother-in-law has done it for her and her husband's sides. But for me, my dad's side of the family is question mark. I have a Germanic maiden name that is quite common and spelled a million different ways. I know that one of my ancestors on my dad's side came over from Russia. I thought it would be next to impossible to find out about our family history, especially since my dad shows zero interest in his forebears. Then my mother told me about a book she had that she thought she gave to me and I gave to my dad. She actually gave it to my nephew and he gave it to my dad. I borrowed it from my dad, who hadn't even looked at it.

It's about Germans who were recruited by Catherine the Great to settle in Russia along the Volga River. I know that my dad's grandfather was born in Russia and moved as a boy to the U.S. I asked my dad where his father and grandfather grew up. Lincoln, Nebraska. Well, guess what? When the tsar in 1864 issued an edict that all Germans in Russia would be drafted, a group of them came over to the U.S. and South America and explored where the Germans who wanted to move should go. And Lincoln, Nebraska, is one of the communities named. This book also lists the German names in each community in Russia. So it's not entirely impossible now to trace my father's side. This can be another project for me in my spare time.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Does Anyone Have a More Dysfunctional Family?

Ah, I'm back in good old sunny England. But wait. What happened to the sun? I expected to come home and find the garden in full bloom. Instead, it's in full flop thanks to the rain and wind. And experiencing a 30 degree F drop in temperature upon disembarking in Manchester does strange things to the body.

But enough of the whining. How was my trip? Well, I am pleased to report that my stepfather has made an amazing turnaround. He can not only dress himself, but he gets out of chairs more easily than my mother, no longer uses a cane to get around, and is talking of driving the car again. Levadopa is a miracle drug. Will it last? If he has PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy), most likely not. If he has Parkinson's, the prognosis is more positive. My mother has let herself go a bit. No, a lot. Her twin sister, while weighing 20-30 pounds more, looks much better. She colors her hair, gets it permed, and her face is unlined. My mother's hair, on the other hand, is a wiry, gray mess. Her face, while not overly wrinkled, shows the stress of the past few years of looking after my stepfather. Not that I told her this.

While in Wyoming we took a road trip to the Black Hills of South Dakota. What a beautiful place! The roads were clogged with middle-aged and older motorcyclists on their way to Sturgis, the Mecca for bikers. There's a certain style that goes with riding a motorcycle -- call it biker chic. The men for the most part had to have facial hair, though it was mostly gray or white. The women wore form-fitting tops (and the forms weren't very fit) and shorts or jeans. Both sexes wore bandanas of some form. The motorcycles were mostly of the Harley Hog variety. We saw one group stopped by the side of the road. The men rode their bikes. The women followed in their cars. Quite sensible, I think. I saw very few wearing helmets or protective clothing. Not that those make a difference if a semi-truck decides to make an illegal turn and takes them out in the process.

But back to the Black Hills. We went to Mount Rushmore. Wish I could have stayed longer but we had Crazy Horse to see next. And what a contrast. Mount Rushmore took 14 years to complete. After 50 years, Crazy Horse's head is complete. It cost $10 to park at Mount Rushmore and admission was free. It cost $27 to park at the Crazy Horse monument. Then they want a further $10 for the bus up to the monument. We were fuming about the ripoff cost as we went into the guest center. I fumed a bit more while looking at the pictures of the "progress" of the monument. Then I started to explore the center and realized that the Crazy Horse monument has been mismarketed. It is much, much more than a monument of Crazy Horse. It is a monument to the Native Peoples of North America. Again, we didn't have enough time so I didn't get round the entire center. But in the car I looked at the brochure and saw that this is quite an ambitious undertaking, with plans for a university on the grounds. But it appears disorganized. They should concentrate on finishing the monument before starting up another phase of the project. They need to market it differently and put up a sign advertising the cost of getting in so people don't feel so ripped off when they get there. The Crazy Horse monument isn't a national park and doesn't get national funds as Mount Rushmore does. It is reliant on donations. But why can't they get some of the money going into the casinos on the reservations?

We also toodled round Custer State Park (it was an action-packed day). We took the wildlife loop and felt ripped off again because all we saw were white-tailed deer. Then, on our way out, the traffic was stopped. We peered out the window to see why. A herd of buffalo were crossing the road was why. They came straight past the cars with no cares or worries. It was truly an amazing sight. I've been to Yellowstone many a time and never saw anything as incredible as this. I leaned out my window taking pictures of these magnificent creatures till one came towards me. I rolled that window up pronto. The human response to this was also amazing. One fellow in his giant SUV decided he'd seen enough and wanted to leave so he flashed his lights and tooted his horn at the buffalo in his way, as if that would make them move. It didn't, but one did decide to leave some buffalo chips in front of his car. Another woman, also impatient to move, actually bumped a buffalo with her car. Eventually, the road cleared and we drove on. As we came past cars parked on the other side of the road, we heard one biker say loudly about us, "They don't care; they're not on vacation." Ah, ignorance!

We decided to go back next year to the Black Hills. There's so much more to see. And my mother enjoyed getting away for a few days. I also decided to organize a family reunion of my mother's side next year (I'd better get on it too). I told my aunt about it and I think she'll be taking over. That's fine by me. I would like to see family I haven't seen in years, and my kids expressed an interest in meeting up with more of the American side.

Now for the Florida ordeal. OK, it wasn't that bad, but it was close. Why? Because of the family in Florida. The Wyoming part of the trip is all about hiking and playing tennis and bonding with the kids. The Florida part is all about theme parks, the beach and endless streams of dysfunctional family.

I came to a few conclusions: 1) My sister and stepmother have more in common than meets the eye. They both have dysfunctional adult children whose dysfunction they encourage; 2) My stepmother sets the parameters of the relationship my dad has with us, he allows it, and we go along with it because we're afraid we'll have no relationship with him unless we do; 3) I am sick and tired of sleeping on uncomfortable beds in cramped rooms and my kids sleeping on blow-up mattresses when we visit the family. I want to buy a house in Florida when and if we're able to afford it; 4) The Florida side of my family have no clue about my life.

I'll start with No. 2. We had rented a beach house from a school friend of mine for two nights and invited my dad and stepmother to join us. My stepmother took two hours to get ready to go, packing the entire contents of her refrigerator for seven meals. I gave them the master bedroom and their own bathroom. Everything seemed hunky-dory till we came in for lunch on the second day. My stepmother announced that she had a client making an offer on a foreclosed property she had listed and she HAD to GET BACK that day as soon as possible to fax him something. I assumed she was going on her own. No. She then informed me that my dad had forgotten to bring his diuretics and his feet were swelling. I looked down. They didn't look swollen to me. I asked if they were coming back. No. She might have another showing the following morning. We had lunch. My stepmother twittered on about having palpitations because it had been 18 months since she'd had a closing on a house. I glowered at the two of them. I finished lunch and cleared up the kitchen. My dad disappeared upstairs and came back down five minutes later with all their stuff packed. He loaded up the car, she took a few things out of the refrigerator, and they were gone. He never even came back in to say goodbye. I was spitting mad, but didn't want to ruin the rest of our time there. I decided I'm not inviting them next year if we do the same thing. Yes, I know the real estate market has been difficult in Florida. But she just got on the foreclosure bandwagon that other real estate agents seem to have been on for quite a while.

This woman has been, at best, a thorn in my side for 33 years. I could devote an entire blog to her. She also has been told she has calcification in her breast that is either cancerous or pre-cancerous. So I sound like an insensitive wretch complaining about the beach house. Also, her drug-addicted, alcoholic daughter is back on the scene, and my stepmother, for all her going on about tough love, has fallen back into the same routine of rescuing the ungrateful bitch. Did I mention my stepsister has two children being raised by her brother because she was such a lousy, negligent parent?

Now, let's tackle No. 1. My sister, the one who wouldn't go out and take care of my mother when she was ill but took credit for helping her because she sent one son (whose way was paid and to whom my mother gave $250) and she sends her vitamins, seems to be on the phone with my stepmother every day. My stepmother emails her for information to pass on to her errant daughter. My sister, when I met up with her, went on about how my stepmother was two-faced and she doesn't trust her. Yet when I saw them together, as they carried on a conversation I was not included in, my sister acted like she was my stepmother's best friend. So who is being two-faced? She criticized my stepmother for bailing out my stepsister all the time. Yet who is supporting all four of her adult children, none of whom work?

As for No.4, the proof of the pudding was when we met up with my sister, one of her sons, and her latest grandchild. We met in a mall and ate lunch. My sister had asked me to ask my dad to come along. My dad wasn't going to come because he disapproves of that particular son for not working and fathering a child out of wedlock. We had quite an altercation because I can't see why he disapproves so strongly of this son when we have others just as bad or worse in the family. It's the out-of-wedlock that bothers him most apparently. He went on about how responsible the woman my nephew got pregnant is. So responsible she got herself pregnant when she wasn't married, I replied. That shut him up. Anyway, he talked with the Lord and decided he was no one to judge others (Uh, duh!)

Back to lunch. We ate. My nephew regaled my kids with stories of how he got himself and his son ejected from Toys R Us five times (that's something to brag about?). The bill came. No one made a move for it. Not my sister. Not my dad. Finally, I did. OK, they're in bad financial straits. But we're not exactly rolling in it. We paid the bill for all of us. My sister made a very weak attempt to pay her share. My dad said nothing. OK, we're staying and eating at his house. We'd planned to take him and my stepmother out when we were staying on the beach, but they scuppered those plans. Instead, we took ourselves out.

Perhaps the worst crime my dad and stepmother committed was to make my kids feel less than welcome and to show their obvious favoritism toward my stepbrother's and stepsister's kids. I was stewing about it when my dad brought the subject up. He asked if there was any way he was deficient in his relationship with us. Well, I'd still be there if I was completely honest. But I did say he'd made my son feel bad by ignoring him when the stepgrandkids were around. My dad was shocked and went and apologized to my son, who then got mad at me for bringing it up. But I felt I had to. If I hadn't, I'd have kept that poison inside of me and spread it to my kids (which I've already done a bit of).

It occurred to me that having us stay for 10 days was maybe a bit much for them (though my stepmother is not above telling me we can't stay, as she has in the past). And so we decided No. 3, if we can swing it one day, would be a sensible option.

So I felt a lot of anger and hurt this visit. But when I explored those feelings, I discovered underlying them are disappointment and sadness. I would like to be closer to everyone in my family but the extent of their self-involvement disappoints me and that saddens me. There is no one in my family I would turn to in times of need. Someone else will always be more dysfunctional, more in need.

So it was, so it is, so it will ever be.