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Is there anyone among us whose family dynamics at one time or other haven't made us consider moving for good to a remote mountain village in Uruguay? No matter how many times I tell myself I'm 50 years old dang it!, I can become 10 in a flash when mingling with the family. Those pattern things we lay down in childhood are powerful juju! But they are my family, and I love them.
Our member, Valerie Bean, shares a wry, introspective look at how she took a vacation and did a complete makeover of her family relationships. If not in midlife, when?
When it comes to vacations, some of us enjoy a weeklong getaway with our life partners, while others escape for a couple of hours by inventing a last-minute appointments, or head out of town for a girls’ weekend.
Last year I did something different. I took a vacation from my family.
Sure, a 12-month exile may be considered extreme therapy and it’s unlikely a licensed professional would advise it, but When I found myself at odds, yet again, with my adult siblings and mother, I decided I needed a break.
I called the break a “vacation” because I returned from this year-long sabbatical feeling relaxed, refreshed, and ready to reconnect.
Besides, “estranged” has such an irrevocable sound to it.
Friction began, as it sometimes does with a simple email, a misplaced word or its tone mistakenly construed by the reader as hypercritical.
After exchanging a couple of heated emails with one sibling, while the others followed along on their own copies, I could feel the energy building, my body ready to fight. I could actually feel my biochemistry changing as I banged out increasingly irrational responses to what I perceived as an attack. I was rapidly transforming, like one of those human to alien-reptilian creatures in a sci-fi movie.
My emotional energy charged to unprecedented voltage; it vibrated throughout my body. Amped-up on anger, I banged out a nasty comeback and declared my intention: I would be incommunicado for the next twelve months.
Nothing personal, I claimed. I just needed a break.
In a family made up of black sheep, I am the oddball.
Over the last decade, relationships with my sisters and mother were showing signs of strain. I’d noticed it, but ignored it. I continued to stay in touch; I’d fire off emails, with regularity, despite terse responses and make frequent telephone calls, even though they were met with mild intolerance. If I persisted, I reasoned, things would improve. After all, my lifestyle is different than my older siblings.
Our minor age differences aside (2, 4, and 5 years), the wider gap was our children, spaced 16-18 years apart, putting us at very different stages of life. This June, my son will graduate from grade six; in April, one sister became a grandmother.
This gap widened further when I decided to step out of the writer’s closet.
Although I’d been hinting at my close-guarded secret for some time, the results of my “outing” were less than spectacular.
I made my announcement when my work was short-listed in a respected competition for small poetry collections. In receipt of $50 cheque and on a high from my first poetry reading – all finalists were invited on stage for their troubles, to read from their work – I created several chapbooks and sent the handmade booklets to family members.
How surprised I was to discover that I failed to impress anyone with my achievement. This contest gave my work and me, by extension, merit and somehow I’d expected a reward for this, and for bravely exiting the poet’s closet.
Apparently, it had been no big deal to anyone but me.
When I announced that I’d exchanged my corporate lifestyle for one of a freelancer, the reaction was the same.
Sure, they were happy for me, they said as much. But, where was the fanfare?