The stuff of families

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My husband’s brother dropped in
this morning, too early for my liking. 
I find myself trying to work off my resentment as I offer him a cup of
tea.  
My husband has gone for a
shower while I make small talk.  My brother in law sits at the table.  his boots scuff at the floor.
My husband supports my wish to
write uninterrupted in the morning. 
He cannot help that his brother arrives early before he, my husband, has even had a
chance to dress.  
My brother in law
knows the drill.  He knows that
after I have said my hellos and poured him a cup of black and sugar free tea, I
will leave the kitchen and escape to my writing room. 
He knows this and seems
sanguine about it but I am troubled by what seems to me like rudeness. 
You do not leave guests
unattended.  
My husband will join
his brother in a few minutes and then I can close the door on them both and get into my
own world, but for a moment I am riddled with the guilt that comes of not being
hospitable.
 
How would it be today had my
husband’s brother not suffered trauma at birth all those years ago?  Had he not been starved of oxygen as he
first entered the world?  Had he
not been born with a mild form of cerebral palsy?
My husband’s brother grew up
the oldest of six children but the responsibilities of first born fell to my
husband who came next.  These
responsibilities continue to this day.  
My brother in law passes all his correspondence onto my husband who
sifts through, sorts out and fills out forms as necessary, ever since their
parents died nearly twenty years ago.
My husband and I laughed when a
bowel cancer test kit arrived earlier week, redirected to my husband by his
brother.
 
‘I can fill out the forms,’ my
husband told his brother on the phone, ‘but I can’t take the test for you.’
‘You’ll have to tell me what to
do then,’ my brother in law said, and my husband groaned at the
thought.
This is the stuff of
families.  The stuff we do without
question even as we might sometimes resent it.
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7 Comments on The stuff of families

  1. Friko
    September 3, 2013 at 11:01 pm (4 years ago)

    I so often wish I had family, with all that entails.
    Someone of my blood, someone who knows family history, family lore, family secrets and family jokes.

    I don’t know what it’s like to have family.

    I wonder if I would put up with being disturbed at an early hour with a good grace?

    Treat your BiL kindly, it’s easy to become selfish and ego-centric. I know all about that only too well.

    Reply
  2. Birdie
    September 4, 2013 at 4:11 am (4 years ago)

    I don't know but I kind of think that there is also a closeness when a family member is in your home and you can feel comfortable leaving them alone.

    Reply
  3. Elizabeth
    September 4, 2013 at 5:49 am (4 years ago)

    This makes me wonder what my own sons will be doing when I am old or gone, particularly what they'll be doing with their sister who thought older than both, is severely disabled.

    Reply
  4. River
    September 4, 2013 at 8:56 am (4 years ago)

    My older sister also suffered lack of oxygen during birth, so first born responsibilities became mine. She's never forgiven me for always being the one to "watch out for your brother and sister". She felt that should be her job, as the eldest, but she would happily accept rides and lollies from strange men, we HAD to look out for her.

    Reply
  5. Jim Murdoch
    September 4, 2013 at 10:04 am (4 years ago)

    I’ve always had a very understanding wife who gets when I have to write. No, that’s not true. That only applies to this wife. None of the other women in my life understood. I never actually planned to remarry but I was damned sure if I was going to I’d pick someone who got the writing and the only people who get writers are other writers and even there you have to be careful because we writers all think we’re the only ones doing it right: I think people who churn out several books a year are off their trolleys; they think me lazy. But I digress, which I enjoy doing.

    Family never interrupts me anymore. In my last life they did. And not just family but the congregation we were a part of was a particularly social bunch and we were always popping in and out of each other’s homes. You simply set aside what you were doing and entertained your guests. It was nice and I miss it. An odd thing for me to say as I’ve become quite the recluse in my old age but I wasn’t always this antisocial. I wanted to be—it was a dream of mine—but I’m also a practical person and considerate. Now I’m self-indulgent and why not? The only family I still have any contact with is my daughter and, as you know, we don’t exactly live in each other’s pockets. When Carrie comes back from the States in a week I’ll make arrangements to have lunch with my daughter and that’ll be the first time we’ll have spoken since we did birthdays in June. And the next time we’ll see each other will most likely be Christmas. It suits us. As it is the conversation usually dries up after an hour and so we generally have enough between the two of us to fill lunch.

    I don’t find you leaving your brother-in-law unattended for a few minutes strange. He is family after all and family let us away with things we wouldn’t try on with strangers. If I got an idea when my daughter was visiting I’d simply excuse myself, go into my office and get it down on paper. That doesn’t happen as much as it used to and usually all I need do is scribble a note and return to what we were doing.

    Families can be a burden. Carrie’s visiting hers at the moment as I said and every time she goes things have disintegrated that bit more—growing old isn’t fun—and it does make wonder what things might be like for my daughter and I in thirty-odd years if I survive that long. Like me she’s dutiful and I know she’d do the right thing but the idea of having to rely on her frightens me and I don’t think that’s too strong a verb. I’ve never been dependent on anyone, at least not since I left home. I’m not saying my family haven’t helped me out—it’s what families do—but usually the support came unbidden.

    Of course if my brother or sister turned up at my door at three in the morning needing my help they’d get it. It doesn’t matter that we’ve not spoken in … as usual I can’t remember … twelve, thirteen years. They’re family and you never turn family away.

    Reply
  6. PhilipH
    September 4, 2013 at 10:52 am (4 years ago)

    You can choose your friends, but … well, you know the rest.

    Family members can be a right pain in the arse, and often are. You have no obligation to put up with dealing with their needs and problems. It's up to you. The fact that you're related does not mean that you are obliged to help in whatever way they seek to ask for it.

    We are ALL selfish. No exceptions. The only family member I want to help is my wife. And she reciprocates.

    Of course, one's own children are of utmost importance when they are kids, and they remain so for ever. BUT, brothers, sisters, aunts uncles etc are still 'family' but not as important.

    Life's too short to be burdened by those who expect to be helped just because there's a family tag. If you let them they'll take advantage of you – so NO, don't bother me!

    Reply
  7. Pam
    September 12, 2013 at 3:22 am (4 years ago)

    Interesting comments.
    I had a retired father-in-law at a loose end when I was home preparing for the birth of a first child. He must have thought I had time on my hands, which I did to a certain extent, but enjoyed my own company and he called in unannounced frequently to sit and chat (drone on endlessly)about himself and his treatments as a depressive. I tried to be gracious, and am glad I did now as he eventually took his own life when our daughter was only a couple of months old. I just wish he could have enjoyed a beautiful new granddaughter who recently wore his university gown and cap for her Bachelor of Nursing degree, and
    Masters in Creative Writing.

    Reply

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