sisyphus apologizes, tantalus drinks


I am lying on a foldout couch bed in my sister’s apartment in Santa Cruz, CA, having just driven from Los Angeles on the barren, post-apocalyptic surface of Mercury known as Interstate 5. The winds over the Grapevine (the tortuous path through the mountains that leads out of Southern California) had blasts of 70mph winds that asked, quite powerfully, if the car and I would like to be tossed 14,000 feet into the troposphere. I am feeling my age; there was a time when I would think nothing of 21-day jaunts across the country in a shitty car, and now my lower back wants revenge.

My family is all gathering here for Michelle and Jon’s wedding on Saturday, one of those rare occasions when all of us, both my parents, everyone who grew up together in the 1970s and 80s is together again. It makes for the occasional odd dynamic, to be sure, but mostly we have the kind of rapport reserved for those who served on the same ship back in the War of 1812.

We have our mythologies, the so-called defining aspects of our character, that still haunt us like an old injury, even if it hasn’t been true in decades. But what fun would it be if suddenly all of us were all completely self-actualized and utterly self-contented? BO-RING! Gimme old resentments and quick-fuse frustrations ANY DAY OF THE WEEK over pleasantries and demurring!

Do you have a mythology placed on you in your family, and what is it?

0 thoughts on “sisyphus apologizes, tantalus drinks

  1. Salem's Little Sister

    Back during my UNC days, I received an invitation to make my debut which to my mom was the final bright and shining moment that she had made it in Charlotte society. I turned it down because that’s just not my thing and I wanted to spend the summer backpacking in Europe. Although she won’t actually admit it, she has never forgiven me. She has decided that I wouldn’t fit in to “society” and seems genuinely shocked anytime I talk about people wanting me on school committees or boards. And although she raised me in an affluent neighborhood, she justifies my not having a house there now by saying “You wouldn’t fit in to MP anyway.” Nice. Thanks Mom. WTF? Fortunately about two years ago, I quit feeling bad about not being the daughter she wanted and I’m hoping she can do the same. I love her to death but I’m not holding my breath.

  2. LFMD

    Oh God! SLS – your mom situation sounds a lot like mine.
    Our family mythology is that I am the difficult child, and my brother is the favored, more agreeable child. Actually, much of this is true. My brother is a nicer, kinder, more pleasant person than I, and I don’t hold it against him. HOWEVER, my mother and I have always had this spoken and unspoken friction. Nothing I do, wear, think, say is good enough for her. Our home, choice of child care, my career decisions, etc. are met with criticism. Whenever I see my mom after a long time, she always greets me with a limp hug and gives me a visual once over that says it all (I’ve gained weight, I look like a slob, etc.) She has this horrible habit of saying things to me that cut me to the core and haunt me for years. Examples: “Laurie, I don’t think you should have any more children because you can’t handle it.” “When you have your baby, you better not stay home after all that money your father and I spent to send you to college and law school!” “Why do you keep gaining weight? Tim (my husband) is so handsome. You better be careful that his attention does not go elsewhere.” “Is that what you wear to work?” “You are home with your sick child again? How do you manage to keep your job?” On and on and on. I basically tell her to SHUT UP, but all of the comments are still hurtful. I don’t recall her ever telling me that she loves me or is proud of me. As a result, I tell my own daughter how proud I am and how much I love her everyday, AD NAUSEUM.
    I have noticed that she does not interact with my brother this way. Everything with him and his little family is perfect.
    I have also noticed that my mom is a doting grandmother to my daughter. She is very loving, encouraging, etc. to my daughter, and the fact that Mom is such a wonderful grandparent has caused me to be more accepting of her.
    My dad is the opposite of my mom. Totally encouraging and accepting of me. He has been the buffer all these years.
    Sorry for the rambling. Obviously, your post touched a nerve! That is my family mythology in a nutshell. My mother and I are like oil and water. I have a few theories as to why this is, but I won’t bore you further.


    My mythology? I built these bitchin’ wings out of wax but on my inaugural flight it was too sunny and my wings melted. I fell. I gave up trying to fly.

  4. josie

    The only family mythology I can think of is one I foisted upon myself.
    I went through jr. and high school bewildered at why the adults treated me like a smart kid, when I knew I was really a lazy smart ass.
    I was certain that my status among the teaching staff was merely me absorbing the goodwill forged by my hard-working, studious and straight-arrow sister who had gone through the system six years prior. For years, I silently feared exposure as a fraud.
    A little perspective has allowed me to see that mania and anxiety do not equal brainpower. Thank God.
    LFMD, Does you mom have any clue that she is being hurtful? I am always surprised at what little self-awareness my mom has about herself. I am drowning in daily revelations about my own weaknesses and foibles, and as Ian addressed yesterday, flashbacks of the oafish me often make me cringe. My friends discover themselves more each day, too. So my question is – Is there a time in one’s life where she de-evolves back into the self-absorbed space of her youth?
    Food for thought.

  5. Ehren

    I think that growing up, I was always the shy, quiet, polite one, and the one most likely to agreeably play in my room for hours without troubling anyone. My brother, was my athletic, restless, complaining foil, much less polite and responsible.
    These days, my brother has a wife, house and two kids, and it has really made (quite understandably) him closer to my parents. My mom, especially, seems to really “get” his life better than she does mine — unmarried, childless, renting in Brooklyn, and constantly traveling. And my girlfriends have always been sorta punk and stridently feminist, which my mom just can’t identify with. So it’s strange to find myself the slightly favored, but outsider, son.

  6. julie

    Iwas donned the moniker of “wizard” as a child b/c I could answer trivia questions that came from left field and always seemed to have an answer for everything. I still get called that today and my sister, especially, comes to me for an answer to her every question or concern. It is flattering but really half the time I just don’t have an answer (or the answer she wants to hear).
    As an adult child, my parents see me more as the responsible one (probably due to my profession in financial services) so I don’t get harassed by my dad (also in financial services and seemingly not willing to retire any time soon) nearly as much as my sister for saving, stock market investing, spending habits and the like (we both are married with 2 kids).
    However, to LFMD’s point my mother still laments about my “choices” in life — I didn’t join a sorority, I work, my kids were in daycare, my choice in clothes, even my hairstyle (don’t you think you should cut your hair short now that you’re nearing 40 – no lie I just heard that over Christmas). My mother and I have a rickety relationship as she did with her own mother. It is these relationships that make me very happy to have my sons. No daughters means a break in that vicious cycle.

  7. Rebecca

    I have 10 cousins. All ten have blue or green eyes, and 9 out of 10 are blondes. So in my family, I’m the ugly one. My uncle said to me after my daughter Sarah was born, “Did you ever think you’d have a baby that was that pretty?” It took me almost 40 years to realize I’m really not that ugly. Plain maybe, but not really unattractive.

  8. Lee

    My grandmother moved in with us after a major stroke. She had one arm in a sling and shuffled around and mumbled. But she loved to play cards. So we made her a card holder and I would play cards with her for hours. We’d play “go fish”-i was maybe 10?- and I’d say “gimme all your nines”. and she’d say Go fish. Then she’d say “gimme all your nines”. and she’d swear somehow it was all a big mistake and we’d laugh and laugh. But eventually, since she was a big cheater, I realized I could see her cards magnified in her trifocals. So when I’d say “Gimme all your nines” and I KNEW she had one, I wouldn’t let her go and I’d say “I SEE IT IN YOUR GLASSES!!”
    somehow, after that, i was always considered a cheater at cards. and the irony is, that i never ever cheat. even when playing solitaire.
    But that’s my mythology. My brother or sis in law will say “don’t play cards with Lee, she cheats.” But i don’t.
    It still makes me laugh that everyone thinks that though!
    And to everyone else- don’t we all disappoint our parents?? i wonder what kind of things my daughter will think she doesn’t live up to for me? I pray the day never comes where I pop up on her caller ID and she just sends me to voice mail while rolling her eyes.

  9. Megan

    I was the well-behaved, smart one who always did things my mom could be proud of. The one whose rebellions were socially acceptable and never brought public shame on the family. The good girl who could handle anything and still ace high school: my parents’ rotten marriage, my dad’s drinking, the divorce and subsequent economic hardships.
    My poor younger brother was the one who struggled with an undiagnosed learning disability, got caught doing everything I got away with, and clashed with my mom to the point of driving them into joint therapy.
    There are obvious advantages to this scenario. The disadvantages are more subtle: I’ve had more than my share of struggles with depression and substance abuse, and my mom tends to assume I get through them with no trouble because I’m good at putting up a front. She (and by extension, the rest of the family) are invested in the mythology of me as the perfect, dependable one who never screws up. I have to wonder if they’ll ever find out how far from the truth that is.

  10. Salem's Little Sister

    As far as self reflection, I know that my mom and my friend’s mothers would not even know how to start down that path nor do they know the path even exists. They have zero interest in going below the surface because they might find something “ugly” and being or acting “ugly” is about the worst thing you can be. It baffles the mind how unaware they are and how as they age, history seems to be re-writing itself. At least my mom’s history is. She claims I was never a latch key kid because that doesn’t fit the story she has created for us. I am pretty sure I was the only kid at my school with a skeleton key to let myself into the back door after carpool. You know, to that house in that neighborhood where I could never fit in. Barf.

  11. Anne

    In my family of birth, I was the golden-haired first child who was (thought to be) brilliant, artistic, athletic, musical, and the future author of prize-winning novels. Was it Linus who said “There is no heavier burden than a great potential”? It’s taken me decades to realize I don’t have to be The Best at any of those things or even pursue them unless I want, and that it’s OK to be simply above-average and a good person.
    In my current family (husband, kids, etc.), I am fun/crazy young-at-heart Mom, a Star Wars, rock music, animal, photography, and gardening freak. I am the writer-editor whom EVERYONE asks to copyedit their stuff.
    (In a wonderful reversal, last week I asked our 17 year old son, already a superb writer and copyeditor, to proof and suggest changes to an article I’d just written about college hockey. He caught an error, a misspelling, and an awkward locution. So proud! – *passes the baton*)

  12. Anne

    OK, now I’ve read others’ comments, above. As one of the elders at Ian’s blog comment page, I have to wonder what neuroses I’ve inflicted on OUR kids, and how they will describe me someday when they’re older.
    I guess we all do the best we can, but we do come with baggage from our childhoods and cultures.

  13. Lee

    btw, SLS, i think that there’s something funny about MP altogether. it’s like it’s own tv show. WE not only wouldn’t fit in in MP, but all of CLT, we’ve been told by the in-laws. how ya like that? ha!


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