Tuesday, January 02, 2007

New Year, Old Dilemma

The waning days of '06 found me stopping in Mesa to visit my grandparents. I try to avoid this for a number of small reasons that crystallize into one big Just Plain Uncomfortable scene. Guilt at not visiting them more spars with the desire to claw my way out of the double-wide for supremacy; guilt maintains just enough of an edge to keep me going back.

My granddad is pretty cool. He turns 87 in a couple of weeks but I've never really thought of him as an old guy. He's just a guy. No mental slowdowns, pretty genial, treats store clerks and counter help politely, likes to talk baseball and basketball and the stock market, likes playing pool with my son and cards with everyone. My grandmother can be very sweet. She can also be incredibly judgmental, petty, nasty, and rude regarding people who do not measure up to her standards. The disjuncture makes me nuts.

The dilemma is finding that line between accepting her as she is and refusing to accept bad behavior I sure as hell wouldn't accept in anyone else. It's a nebulous field for sure, one whose only redeeming quality is honing my ability to rationalize just about anything. Which, when I think about it too much, feels increasingly like a skill I don't want to have. Where does wisely choosing your battles morph into rolling over, where does standing on principle for a noble but unwinnable cause become futile head-banging against a brick wall?

She loves me, which maybe should be enough, but she generally refuses to acknowledge my partner. Well, I tell myself, better she should ignore the existence of my woman than to make disparaging comments about her or try to convince me I'm making bad choices. I don't particularly like forcing my son to come with me on thses visits to be bored off his ass, especially when the conversation is guaranteed to include at least one cringe-inducing reference to non-white people. Well, I tell myself, he's the only great-grandchild and they're old white people who grew up in exclusively white small towns in the midwest; they can't help it and at least they don't say that shit in public.

The line falls in there somewhere.

My dad has a natural disinclination for shades of gray. His reaction is simple--being old doesn't give you license to be rude or demanding. Behavior that's unacceptable at 30 doesn't magically become okay at 80 just because you've managed to survive that long. At some point, "But they paid off my truck loan five years ago" fails to justify staying silent in the face of racist remarks or judgmental comments.

I try to be gentle while hoping that the velvet on the hammer is thin enough that they might eventually get the idea that certain subjects are not going to elicit a positive response from me.
Part of that comes from my intense dislike of confrontation, although I like to think the greater part of it comes from the sense that staying subtle and civil affords the chance that they will eventually recognize the bits of their discourse that put me off and at least understand why, even if they'll never agree with me.

No, I am not holding my breath. Each visit brings its moments, this last one a concerned query to my son about the relative numbers of black and white students in his school (which he answered, visibly annoyed, with, "I don't know. Why does it matter?") and the observation that it's a strange arrangement, don't I think, for me, my partner, and the two kids to have had Thanksgiving dinner with the boy's dad and dad's new wife--to which I calmly replied that I don't think it's strange at all for families to have a holiday dinner together. Each of those responses immediately ended the discussion, so maybe some lights started flickering on in her head, however dimly.

At least this year they didn't repeat last year's gift of Bill O'Reilly's book for kids.

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