What to do?
A couple of weeks ago The girl I was dating at the time and I were faced with the difficult decision of whether to get involved with a family situation where we would have to tell a teenager’s parents about their kids behavior. Until today and reading Michael’s post about his dilemma on a similar situation I had forgotten completely that I was faced with this situation before.
My Mom’s side of the family and I are not on speaking terms. It has been a little over 2 years since I have seen most of them, and have only spoken to a couple of them in on a couple of occasions. As far as family is concerned my Sister, my Mom and Dad are the only family I feel I have in the US with the exception of my Great Uncle that I have kept in contact with since I moved up here. He has also had his up’s and down’s with my Mom’s family as a whole.
My Mom has a big family there are 5 kids (3 girls & 2 boys) and 10 grandkids. I was an ‘on and off’ member of the family always feeling like I was the black sheep. A lot of it had to do with my inability to keep my opinions to myself, and even when I learned to do that, it was my lack of control when I was provoked by a comment. I have a very short wick and if you wanted to get me going the smallest spark would unleash my tongue that would not stop moving until I felt my point was not just heard but understood. As you might guess, that did not always work out and I have changed a lot of that. It was always during conversations with the whole family or a lot of them and only on two different occasions did it end in actual arguments. Most of the problems I had was with one of my Aunts and my Uncle’s wife.
After reading Michael’s post I remembered how the whole final fallout with my family started. And it now gives me the clarity to feel better about the decision that Cielo and I made by not getting involved with telling the parents of the teenager about the behavior we found out about and deemed inappropriate.
My parents separated and started the process of getting a divorce around 2000. I was pretty much kicked out into the street since everyone was going their own way and I did not want to take sides. That whole story is another post entirely but a lot of what I am talking about here begins then.
I always felt judged when I was around my family, what I was wearing, who I was dating, heck even my career choice has always been an example of my “failure”. I am not a doctor or a lawyer, so that makes me less than what I “could” have been. I am sure some of you have experienced this on some level, but it was hard to deal with. My Grandmother, when my Grandfather was in the hospital and I was there to visit, had the nerve to start a conversation by saying, “your Grandpa has such handsome doctors, then looks at me, you could have been one of them, not sure why you did not do what you could have done”. I was used to remarks like that and ignored the emotional damage that my family’s constant disapproval was causing to my self-esteem.
After my parents split I started coming back to see my family, mostly because my Mother was staying with my Grandparents. I was finishing college, during college I pretty much just hung out with friends and was never home for anything but special occasions that I could not get out of, even though I always tried. I started hanging out on weekends for get togethers and a lot with one of my Uncles. He is married and has 3 boys and I enjoyed spending time with his family. I would take the boys to the movies, helped them out with their homework; I was almost like an older brother to them.
One day I was super excited to find out that some tickets had just become available for the release of one of the Harry Potter movies. It was a Friday and if I took the afternoon off so I could go pick up my little cousins from school and make it back to the theater for a 4 PM showing. I set off to pick all of them up. Called my Grandfather who usually picked them up from school and told him that I would pick the oldest one up from school and swing by and pick up the two younger ones that he had already picked up. The oldest boy was a freshman at the high school that I had attended. I sat there waiting and figured that maybe he was taking longer than he should, I know my Grandpa and how impatient he is… plus it was not the first time I had picked him up from school.
About 10 minutes past the time when he should have been outside my cousin comes to the car out of breath and sweating. He gets in and tells me, Thank God you came to pick me up today, if Grandpa was here he would have probably come to look for me. I told him what the plans were and asked him where he had been. I should have stopped right there and just minded my own business… As you read the rest of the story, you might feel like I did the right thing but when I am done with my story you might feel a little different. I know I do.
My cousin who at the time is 14 tells me that he had to drive like a mad man to get back to school in time. Then he proceeds to tell me that he was hanging out with some people from school that by his description of them, they were the wrong crowd. Mind you, my cousin does not have a license, to my knowledge has never had drivers Ed, and in my eyes was a pretty straight innocent kid. To hear him talking about girls, cars and ditching school like that was his world was like a cold shower to me. I was picking him up to take him to a Harry Potter movie… that can tell you what level I thought he was at, he was telling me he could not wait until we could hang out with my friends.
I kept on driving and listening to his story without saying much. For anyone that knows me this would come as a shock because I am a never ending well of unwanted advice. I think it was a mix of the shock and confusion that the image I had of my “little” cousin was being shattered to pieces. We picked up his brothers, changed the subject to Harry Potter and went to the movie without bringing up the subject again.
I had a sleepless night over the situation. The next day I called my sister and told her my dilemma because I did not know if I should get involved and tell my uncle. She did not have an answer either but told me to come over and talk about it some more. After we had a long conversation about the subject I made the decision to tell my uncle and let him decide what he would do with the knowledge. I called him and told him to meet me at my sisters and we sat outside against his car as I told him what I learned. I was very troubled by the thought of losing my cousin’s trust during this, we were like brothers, and even though I obviously did not know him he did confide in me even if he never said don’t mention anything.
My uncle asked me to get involved by going to his school and talking to his teachers. My uncle is not fluent in English and I agreed. I contacted the school and got a letter from them for my uncle to sign giving me permission to go talk on his behalf. To even a greater shock my cousin was in a lot of trouble at school, he was not just cutting class but had been previously suspended and was about to get suspended for 3 days for getting caught with someone else’s ID after many other offenses. Our school had designated lunch times that were displayed on your ID.
When I talked to my uncle another surprise came to surface, his wife knew about all the stuff that was going on and was covering for my cousin. That created a problem inside their household but I am not sure to what extent. Some things did change. My cousin could not wear the baggy clothes that he had been allowed to wear, and he was being watched closely. I had taken time off from work to go to the school and talk to the teachers.
The following weekend I went to my uncle’s house to find that they had just taken my cousin shopping. They had just bought him $120 dollar pair of new shoes and he was wearing the clothes that I though he could not wear anymore. I took my uncle aside and asked him what was going on. He said to me that they were going to take a new approach to grounding him. He then told me thanks but they could handle it from now on. I was furious but hey, not my call right. I took a step back and stopped my involvement all together.
I have always been very opinionated, and this situation was no different. Time passed and I started distancing myself even more. I had grown used to being part of the family and was even going to buy a house closer to the area to be close to my whole family. I was invited to one of Aunt’s house for lunch (I was moving very close to her house) and we started a conversation. In the past I had discussions with her where we did not see eye to eye, but my Aunt never agrees with anyone. We touched many topics that day and even though it was just the two of us, it seems like we did a tour of the family discussing different situations. One of them was that of my cousin’s behavior and my Uncle and his wife choice to ignore the situation. It was not a bad argument, we did not end up in bad terms that day, I said some of my opinions about things and so did she. I never expected anything to come out of it.
That happened on a Saturday. Sunday afternoon I get a phone call from my uncle, he asked me what the heck did you tell your Aunt?… I asked why? he said we need to talk. I got in my car and drove to his house to find him waiting outside for me. Like we had done that night, we leaned on the car and talked. He said that my Aunt had called people in the family and told them that what I had said, while I was a little surprised it was not a shock. I told him that I stood by what I had said but was curious to know what exactly was said. When he proceeded the tell me what my aunt had said I was angry, while some of it was true, there was a lot of stuff that I had never said. My uncle invited me in, his wife was furious with me over the things that I had “said”. I apologized to her, and told her what I had said and asked if we could call my aunt to set things straight. My aunt came over and after confronting her, she admitted that some of the stuff that said was not my words but hers, and that she did not really care about any of it. My uncle dismissed the situation as, you know who your Aunt is, she is not going to change, and you just learned a lesson on how not to talk to her. The damage was done, and my whole family believed that I was the bad one in the situation. I chose not to call every single person my Aunt had called and set things straight. The backlash was pretty harsh. Weeks from that episode I moved close to the area and had a house warming party. No one from my Mom’s family showed up. As I heard it afterward, they were teaching me a lesson… that was pretty much the end of my relationship with my family.
While there was a lot of other issues discussed that day and a lot more people hurt by the things said, I have had enough, I was tired of the gossip and the constant feeling of being judged. I still remember the first words from my other Aunt when I moved up here from Colombia, I heard you are smart, lets see what you are going to do here in the US. It was not an encouraging comment but condescending and mean spirited. I have countless stories of the mental abuse by them and while I don’t harbor resentment towards them anymore I don’t feel like a relationship with them brings anything positive into my life.
I do wonder though, if me getting involved in that situation with my cousin was the right decision. If I could do it again I probably would not, and as hard as it is for me to admit since I hate regret, I do regret getting involved. I heard afterwards that my cousin almost did not graduate high school because of missing credits and bad grades. I feel like what I did made no difference in his life, however that event sparked the wick that eventually lit up the bomb that blew to pieces the relationship I had with my family.