How To Find What You Came Here For

Welcome to the worlds that populate my brain!
The short stories you find here are the product
of a vastly overactive imagination
powered by coffee and M&Ms.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nothing Like Family

“Hey, can we come get the boys for a play date?”

A simple request from my husband's sister-in-law, one we were eager to agree to.  The next day was Michael’s third birthday party, and we still had some things to pick up—which meant a long walk to the store in cold January weather.

We got home exactly at 7:00pm.  The kids were supposed to be back at 7:00, so we were expecting to see my brother-in-law or his wife waiting for us.  We called to see if we’d missed them.

Dan’s brother answered the phone.

“No, we’re not quite done yet.  We’ll have them back in a little bit.”

When the knock came, Dan opened to door to see his brother and our two boys standing on our step.  Aaron’s little five-year-old face was streaked with tears, and his breathing was jagged.  In front of them was a stack of toys…the obvious detritus of a birthday party.

Dan sent the kids upstairs.  When he turned back to his brother, I saw the unfamiliar flush of anger on his face.

“We’re having a birthday party tomorrow—we’ve already got the cake made.”

His brother shrugged.  “We took care of it,” he remarked, and walked away.

Later, after the worst of the anger and hurt burned away, cold reality set in.  Our oldest had begged to call us, upset that everyone was at a party his mom and dad weren’t invited to…they’d ignored him.
“I’m done,” I said.  “I’m sorry.  You can keep dealing with these people, they’re your family—I won’t stop you—but the boys and I can’t.  Not after this.  I can’t trust them, and that’s not healthy.”

“I know.  I never thought they’d do anything to hurt the boys, but they just did.”  Dan met my eyes.  “We’re all done.”

This post is a response to a prompt from Write On Edge to write a memoir piece about cleaning house, figuratively speaking.

Up until this incident, everything my husband’s family had done had been directed at me or Dan, and we thought we were handling it.  (We were SO wrong!)  This opened our eyes.  Aaron’s tears started up again the next night when we had the birthday party we’d planned, and it was just us and a LOT of homemade cake and ice cream (we'd planned on having Dan's parents, his grandfather, his brothers, and his sister-in-law there, but of course, they'd all been at the other party).  It seems so minor, I suppose, but we weren’t waiting around for major.

We were done…for a long time.  We cut off all contact with my husband’s family.  We moved from Wyoming to North Carolina without telling anyone except my family.  It wasn’t until my husband’s grandfather passed away a few years ago that lines of communication were opened again.  We’ve forgiven them, even though they've never apologized and I doubt they see anything wrong in what they did that night...much less everything that happened before.  We will never trust them completely.  We can’t.

People ask, “How can you just cut yourself off from family like that?”

Simple.  You clean house.  We wouldn’t keep toxic mold around our kids, why would we keep a toxic relationship around them?  My only regret is that we gave them the opportunity to hurt our kids first.

Once again, thank you for stopping by and sharing my life with me!  Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.  Have you had to clean house to evict a toxic family member or friend?


  1. Lucky that I do not have a toxic family, but I would have done the same thing. We don't need to be hurt by the folks that are suppose to love us.

  2. Wow. I'm so sorry that this happened to your children.

    How appalling. And the analogy about mold is apt. Sometimes, you simply need a clean start.

  3. The way you wrote the story- beginning with a happy balloon and happy thoughts- left me unprepared for what actually happened. That, in turn, left me feeling gut-punched at the end.

    I agree, sometimes you need to clean house-- even if it concerns family. I'm not a believer in the 'blood is thicker than water' mentality.

  4. Powerful telling of a powerful story. I've cleaned house to. Choices have to be made, and when my parents refused to stop inviting the rapist to holidays I recused myself from them. Like you, it probably took me too long, but it had to be done.

    Thanks for visiting and commenting. Those old memories are very much like the bogey man. Shining a light on them and calling them by name seems the only way to control them.

  5. This doesn't seem small at all! I'm so sorry it happened and that you had to see those tears.

    I adore the way that you wrote this with the small moment in the beginning, and the explanation following.

    I loved being in the moment with you, and for the record- would have so had your back! :)

  6. Oh my gosh. I would have been SOOO furious. How thoughtless, I can't even imagine. And the poor child. Ugh. Well done. This really brought out some emotion in me! BTW, I live in NC too! :)

  7. Tough call but what a horrible situation for your boys to be put in. :)

  8. I don't think it's a tough call at all. I'd do it twice on Sunday. What sort of person does something like that? To a child? Nicely written piece by the way. I like how the drama built.

  9. I'm absolutely amazed you were able to condense this incident so well. With memoir, there is always SO much more to the story!

    You're not alone in breaking ties with family, esp when it begins to negatively affect the kids. For me, the worst part is that people like that never think that there was anything wrong with what they did.

  10. Ooh, I'm having flashbacks. Your in-laws and my paternal family might actually be related. I'd never tell my dad that of course, it would just hurt his feelings. I don't have anything to do with them though unless it's by divine mandate, and even then I try to negotiate terms of service. Well executed, both in writing and in action.