Thursday, December 21, 2006

"Please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents 'neath the tree..."

I have two brothers.

My little brother is three years younger than me, and is one of my favorite people in the world. He’s smart, cute, funny, wise, and thoughtful. I am always slightly surprised that he is related to me, even though we look enough alike to be mistaken for twins. He is easy to be with, because he truly doesn’t mind doing whatever people feel like doing, or he has some cool ideas of his own; he’s usually up for anything. He’s interested, and interesting.

My older brother is older than me by four years. He is also smart, and I guess he’s cute, but if he were not my brother, I would never ever in a million years want to spend time with him. He is the diametric opposite of my little brother – he is the hardest person to be with I have ever encountered in my life. *He* says he’s laidback; I would argue that he is not, but he IS dull. He also says he’s up for anything, but barring anything else going on, he would sooner go to bed at seven pm and sleep for twelve hours. Not that this sort of activity does not have its place, but not while visiting in a household of three small boys. He is not interested in other people; he’s not even all that interested in his own life.

Some of my and C’s trouble is that he very much takes after my mother, and she and I did not exactly have a stress-free relationship, regardless of how much we may have loved one another. If there is offense to be taken, C takes it, and then he pouts and sulks. If he is angry, he doesn’t talk, he just withdraws.

Last summer he promised my boys he would come meet us down the shore. All day Wednesday I kept reassuring my boys, “Uncle C will be here by naptime/dinner/bedtime/when you wake up.” Until I finally reached the conclusion that 1) he wasn’t coming, and 2) there was nothing to be done about it. I was worried that maybe he’d been in a car wreck, so after repeatedly and to no avail calling his cell phone (which he never answers; if I want to talk to him, I have to leave him a message and wait for him to get back to me) I phoned his workplace; he works overnight, and he had been in the night before. He was fine. I found out months later that his boss at work would not give him the days off he wanted, and instead of calling me and explaining and maybe venting a little bit, he just did not show up, disappointing my three sons and pissing me off. He never returned any of my phone calls that week.

This Thanksgiving he said he was coming. Recalling the beach debacle, I called him to confirm a couple times. Then he called me Wednesday evening and left a message, “I am not coming.” That’s it, no explanation, no apology. When I spoke to my little brother D Thanksgiving day, he told me that C was sick. But not a word of that to me, just an abrupt “I won’t be there.”

If these were anomalies in his behavior, I might react differently, but the fact is that he has always been a difficult person, and a difficult houseguest. Honestly, he’s a bit of a strange agent; he has two broken engagements to his credit because he dates insane women, he works crazy, night-turn hours at a brainless manual-laborer position for which he is amazingly overqualified, because he can’t be bothered to exert the effort a job more befitting his skills and intelligence would demand, and he lives in revolting squalor in a pit of an apartment with his cat. I used to think it was refreshing and honest that he had arranged his entire life so as to enable him to play as much ice hockey as possible; now I just think it’s sort of sad. Especially as he got into a really competitive league but pulled out because it’s “too much hassle” to deal with scheduling the games and his work hours.
If he weren’t my brother, I would probably be even harsher, but since he is, I will just venture my guess that he is clinically depressed at the very least, and possibly a sociopath at the worst.

He says he’s easy-going but to my eyes it’s more that he does whatever he pleases, when he pleases.
He can be charming - when he wants to be.
He can be wonderful with the boys - but makes no bones about the fact that he much prefers babies to older children, because they are pliable.
He could be handsome but he always looks like he needs a good scrub.
It’s hard to believe that at one point, H and I thought it would be a great idea to ask him to come live with us, occupying the third-floor apartment.

Christmas is a time for family. But my extended family unit seems to grow smaller and smaller with each year, as my aunts and uncles, most of whom are in their late eighties, die off, and my cousins move around the country for work and/or spouses. My younger brother lives three hundred miles away, with his wife and baby, and we don’t see each other nearly as much as we would like – he lives much closer to his in-laws,, and they are wonderful people whom I would spend as much time with as possible, too. My older brother is more or less by himself – he has standing invitations to dinner, visit, or trips with a few of my cousins and younger aunts and uncles, but he keeps very much to himself. My cousin P who lives less than ten miles from him and has a son on whom C doted when little M was a baby, has not seen C in close to three years, and not for lack of trying on her part. He has voluntarily - indeed, with seemingly great effort - removed himself from the family sphere.

And he just called – out of the blue, pretty much, the first time since the message bagging out on Thanksgiving – and asked if he could come up Christmas Eve. He is invited to my cousin J’s big family Christmas Eve soiree, and Christmas dinner at P’s. But he wants to drive three hundred miles up here, to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with me and my boys.

And I am conflicted.
Relations between H and me are decent, humming along fairly nicely, due to hard work and lots of communication effort. I’d rather not jeopardize the fragile peace we have achieved by adding the strain of socializing with my misfit brother to H’s tasks.
I have no interest in setting up my children for another round of disappointment, lest Uncle C not show – as seems to be quickly becoming his habit.
And Christmas Eve at my in-laws is the most stressful day of the year for me; I need some serious alcohol and maybe a Valium to get through it relatively unscathed.
I don’t want to add C to the mix.
I DON”T WANT to add C to the mix.
It’s that simple.
I just don’t want to.

I called my little brother’s wife, who is a generous and sweet woman, to discuss my feelings with her. She is nice enough to want to do the right thing, but smart enough to understand the dynamic in our family. She is the objective outsider with the inside track. I knew she could guide me a little bit. She thinks I should tell C that he is welcome anytime after Christmas, anytime that whole week, but Christmas Eve is going to be stressful enough, and we have all been ill, and he should come up at the earliest Christmas night.

I want to accept this verdict. If only I were not so conflicted. I trust her, and her instincts, and what she proposes is reasonable. (Chances are distinctly good that just my hesitation, my “Let me check and call you back” rather than my usual, “We would love to see you anytime!” already told the tale to C, and he is possibly already in a snit, and won’t show up or call for months again now.)

I don’t WANT him here for Christmas.

And yet – Christmas is a time for family.

And yet…

And yet…

And yet.

13 comments:

Sarah Louise said...

Sounds like your younger brother married well. Her advice seems very balanced.

Hope everything works out well.

Katy said...

I hope to someday be as wise and well-spoken of a woman as your younger brother's wife. Go with what she said.

what SL said, and that this all leads to a very Merry Christmas!

MsCellania said...

Wow. Sorry he is a schmuck.
This would be a no-brainer for me. I would call him and say he is welcome to come after the 26th. Give no explanation, offer no excuses. He would do the same for you.
It's not all about HIM. You have 5 people to make peace and a life with, every day. That is the family you have to put foremost. Not the extended family of your parents' creation.
And you are lucky to have your younger brother and his great wife.
Really, really lucky.

Lazy cow said...

Exactly what McCellania said. Please don't beat yourself up over this (but I understand if you do, I'd be the same!)

ssheers said...

I agree with the others. You know what you want.

Christmas may be a time for family, but it doesn't have to be a time for you to let anybody who's family impose on you any time they want.

And next time you plan to get together with him, don't tell the kids until he's actually there. Then they won't be disappointed if he doesn't show up.

Good luck.

Badger said...

What they all said. Especially about the boys being your primary family concern now, and about not telling them he's coming until he's there.

And also, DH's brother D is the one in our family who does this and it SUCKS. He's the only one who didn't show up for the family Christmas thing this year. And it's not like something came up -- he told us MONTHS ago that he wasn't coming. No explanation. Last year he came but his wife and daughters (teens/20s) didn't.

Fuck 'em.

delta said...

Your brother's wife spoke words of wisdom. She had the distance and the confidence to tell you what you already know and feel is right and true.

hungry in LA said...

Yes, it is Christmas, but it also the winter solstice (says the neo-pagan) and it is a time to reflect on what you want for yourself in the next year as compared to this year. So if you don't want him Christmas Eve, invite him for later, and absolutely don't tell the boys. He can be the surprise visitor, if he can get out of his selfcentredness and actually show. Which would be wonderful, but not expected. Expectations is a four letter word this time of year. As is family. Take care of yourself and your own and don't overextend. And you of all people can always blame it on the inlaws.

Joke said...

Let me tell you WHY your SiL is dead-on.

While Christmas is a time for family, "family" is prioritized from the core outward. After marriage and children, one's siblings move outward, i.e. one notch below in the priority list.

Therefore, keeping things on an even keel with H and keeping your boys from being singed with disappointment is, relative to this scenario, a far more important priority than having your somewhat difficult brother over.

It's no different than if your brother had some icky, contagious thing. You keep him at bay until a convenient time, for the protection of your immediatefamily.

And hiLA is so-o-o-o-o right. Blame your MiL...heaven knows she's bound to have done SOMETHING.

-J.

P.S. Could you have C stay at your MiL's? [Insert evil grin here.]

Paula said...

Follow your instincts.

Amy said...

There is too much here for an outsider to actually say something worthy, so I'll just say this: I wouldn't tell the kids, no matter what you decide. If he says he's coming, it can just be a surprise. That way, no disappointments if he doesn't. Also, I'd be honest with your brother. Sometimes tough love is necessary. And yet, if he called and initiated the idea, I'd take him up on it. To me, the season is about Love, even when we feel they aren't deserving (I don't know your religious affiliation, but as a Christian, I certainly wasn't worthy of the gift God gave to the world on that first Christmas). But, those are just my two cents. Take them for less than their are worth.

Joke said...

Amy,

I think the issue is not so much what C "deserves" but rather, C's potential for causing turmoil at Chez BabBab. If BabBab were a single, childless person, then things would be different. However, she is not and must consider the possible repercussions of C's visit on her husband and her sons.

Just one man's opinion,

-J.

Sharon said...

Joke = One Wise Man. Now if I could only find another two.