Don’t touch the gate

It is the expectations I find difficult. It has been some years since I have had my family “home” for Christmas. And by family, I mean my husband and two daughters, no extras. I have been trumped by my ex-husband who, having remarried a younger woman, had a child and will soon have another. Everyone assumes that my daughters should spend Christmas with his family. My daughters think I should still put up a Christmas tree. My husband thinks we shouldn’t bother. How many people need to be present before one puts up a tree, especially if the one responsible for hauling the tree in hates the process and two others will be 700 miles away? Can I hang ornaments from the chandeliers and decorate every flat surface to compensate?  The last few years have felt ill-defined.

This year I announced we should fly to California to see his son and granddaughter, which we have never done before at Christmas and will make me feel useless and out of place. One child, not mine, plenty of rules, also not mine and no job to do.

This week I received an invitation from the pastor of my church (a place I haven’t been in a couple years) to speak to a group of LGBTs.  What I felt was something roughly analogous to what a Border Collie must feel when the gate is opened and he is whistled up to work. It’s not so much the work ethic as the appreciation for direction.

We watched a tribute to Johnny Carson the other night, how he would fully engage an audience while leaning back, as though he was holding them at bay. I understand this. In my personal relationships I must fully engage so we can be fully ourselves. In front of an audience I must fully engage my topic so that I can stand apart. Middle grounds are awkward, family visits, social occasions, the approach after a talk, for example, when I may think I have closed the gate and am standing on one side “them” on the other and “they” think the gate is part way open, slide on through before I can whistle up the herding dogs to gather them back. And there I am, before I know, trying to sort out what role I’m playing professional or personal. If I were your mechanic would you ask me out for coffee? If I, as mother-in-law, were a plumber, would I find myself bringing a wrench on visits to fix your plumbing?


2 thoughts on “Don’t touch the gate

  1. annewlindsay says:

    Interesting topic Laurie — professional distance/personal closeness. Boundaries are not easy to define to yet most of us know at an intuitive level when they’ve been breached. There are cultural differences too I think. People in Scotland I find more authentic than folk from the south (I’m generalizing you understand) and then there are the family ‘rules’ for closeness/distance, and, on a personal level we invite closeness in our demeanor/stance or conversely we repel. I’m usually in favor of dis-inhibition. I don’t care too much what people think. LIfe is short. As for Christmas arghhh. This year plan to do what I most love to do at Christmas, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, etc. I’ll be working as a waitress for a charity for the homeless over Christmas. I get great street cred for my ‘charitable’ work. I try and tell people I am being entirely selfish! Of course I plan to get a bit drunk after my Christmas day shift. Also, a treat of the season for me: a performance of Messiah (hoping). Hope you get to do what you love best!

  2. My daughter will be here, alone, over the holidays. She will feed the hungry – which includes my dogs and the homeless! Enjoy your performance of the Messiah. I once had the fortune of seeing a beautiful performance Christmas Eve, midnight, at the Cathedral of Peter and Paul across from the hospital where I worked as a nurse right after I got off from my shift. It still sends shivers down my spine thinking about it.

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