Courtesy of my sister, by way of Martha Stewart, by way of the PomWonderful people, I have a new way to open pomegranates - score on quarters, cut out the flower end, pop the sections apart, turn face down on your hand, whack back firmly with a wooden spoon. And, er, watch out for a bit of splatter - keep them deep in the bowl. Still about five times faster than my old method. Cooool.
Speaking of pomegranates, my relatives...
And yes, that will actually make sense in a moment. It isn't about whacking them with spoons, though I've been tempted a time or two (as I'm sure they have been with me, plenty back). It's that pomegranates are intricately woven into my childhood. My grandparents had a tree in their yard in southern California. We would get a box every year stuffed with the fruits, sometimes ripe to splitting, full of flavor, tart and a little sweet and tasting like I was sure rubies would taste if we could eat them.
That box was one of the things that proved to me as a child that my grandparents were somehow, in some way, even if just a small way, normal human beings. In person, they were pretty nuts. My grandmother on that side was the prototypical cat lady, fifteen or more cats at a go, some who could only be inside, some only outside, some could only live in one room of their house because they fought with the others, some would try to escape but weren't allowed, others had freedom to come and go... and that was just the cats in the house. She also took care of cats in alleys and parking lots, behind grocery stores and in parks for all I know. She was a bit daft. She didn't seem to see anyone clearly - she looked from a distance at all other humans, held her love apart from others, didn't offer herself fully to anyone, seemed clouded and uncertain when it came to matters of affection, even for herself.
It was only when she was dying from congestive heart failure (irony of ironies) that she opened up, offered her love to her step-daughters, got her heart clear and working. After all, she was the step-mother, and knew without being told that she could never replace their departed mother... she'd bought the fairy tales, hook, line, and sinker, and was certain that the small love she could offer - even if it was everything she could give - would never be enough, so she declined to express it at all, and kept it to herself. Everyone say ARGH! When she was dying, everyone got honest, and asked the unasked questions, and she was honest enough when she was trapped by her body on the sofa, immobilized by her failing heart, and so finally un-failed emotionally. Rather spectacularly, I hear - true and pure and powerful, in the end. I'm sorry I missed it, but glad I knew.
She was the source of the pomegranates, packed in uncracked nuts of various sorts. Certainly, it was unlikely to be my grandfather's idea. It was a benign and generous act, that I could see came from some hidden flicker of affection that was beyond the half-present smiles and hugs we would get in person.
My grandfather was not benign, however. He was a good example of what happens when you take someone with substantial Asperger's symptoms, physically and probably sexually abuse them, deny them a diagnosis or treatment (though this wasn't out of cruelty, just the era), and then expect them to function out in the world on their own. He was asocial, related only through information transfer (yeah, I got that brain-dump thing downstream from him), and was an abuser himself. He at least had limited understanding of the implications, he knew it was wrong, and his little social function went into not getting caught. Still, nearly everyone in the neighborhood knew, and did nothing - my mom's friends weren't allowed to play at her house, in case he might be home.
Not exactly the models I want for grandparents for the next generation. Fortunately, my mom decided to make her own models.
I also learned some things from my grandparents (that set - other stuff from others) that are important around the holidays, I think. I learned these things in the process of their lives, but they crystallized as each was dying in their own slow and difficult way.
- Don't waste time not loving where you could love. It doesn't pay to hold back, because it holds you back from honesty and living fully. Yeah, it might hurt, you could be rejected, it might not work out. But I'd rather be burned by dancing too near the fire than sit stubbornly (or fearfully) still in the cold.
- Don't waste energy hurting when you could spend it healing. I had a lot of work to do to heal from the things my grandfather and great uncle did. I had plenty of work to do to heal from the mistakes my parents made while stumbling toward a greater life for themselves and us. There were difficult talks and phone calls made when the anger had passed and stubborn refusal to let relationships sag. Also confused backing off and uncertainty where to try again, but always willingness to look for the next opening. I don't always get it right, I don't always get back up right away, sometimes I do need to rest and lick my wounds. But if I get stuck in the ruminating on the pain, the pain starts to take on life of its own. If I get moving again, shine bright lights all over the injury, and look closely at the injury of the party who injured me, likely we can see how we both hurt, and why we both lashed out, and then can move toward healing, from which comes forgiveness, in which ground affection can grow back.
It isn't easy. I try to not make it look easy or sound easy, either. It takes time, and a jaw-clenching will, and determination, patience, and faith.
Getting into the old pain is one of the tricky ones, too. Grandparents, siblings, steps and halfs and in-laws, they all have done or said something at some point that stung, implied something, or left something important unsaid, or even just because of a dynamic that wasn't of their making (especially with sibs) left a wound that even in healing left a sore spot behind. It can feel weird to bring out the old injury, something they may well have forgotten so far that they can't remember it happening, or that they have grown past so far that they can't imagine ever having said or done.
The process of handling these old pains (and new ones) ends up being very much the same as the 'reporting' pattern for kids. Instead of tattle-taling/tattling, we call the kids reporting on each other 'reporting' (after a great article on it on Storknet). There's a hierarchy of reporting - first to self, then to the person who was involved, then to higher and higher authorities.
Reporting to oneself is often a skipped step, especially for extroverts. Miss R likes to report everything, and she needs a witness to the report. As adults, I do this when I call a friend just to tell them what's going on (like, oh, epeepunk was laid off yesterday - and no, that's not a random example, that actually happened yesterday). I just need to tell SOMEONE that something uncomfortable happened. I'm not seeking more than a listening ear, in general, and neither is Miss R. Taking a moment to report to oneself even before doing the 'just need a witness' can help clarify if the witness is needed. And for some people, it really is required - but should still be assessed, to prevent a tendency to blather endlessly. (cough-me-cough)
Then, the next commonly skipped step - reporting to the other party. Calling after getting back from the party to say, hey, you know, when you said that about my boyfriend, it really hurt my feelings. I'd like you to respect my choices in my relationships, and while I don't mind at all you being protective of me, being dismissive of them - especially for the things I find admirable - is disrespectful to both of us, and injures our relationship. I love you, I like our relationship, I want to keep it, and I need for you to work on being respectful of the people I love. Can you do that? (again, actual example paraphrased out of distant memory, directed at a relative, who was relieved that I didn't just say 'screw it, you're not worth being around'.)
Reporting to the other party while we're still wounded is difficult. I have to do a quick self-check, triage my emotions and get myself to a stable condition before I can do it. If I do it still bleeding or raging, I'll screw it up. Again, ruminating has its limits. I can only stew for about an hour before it starts being a problem for me. Not that I don't stew for longer than that! I do. It just becomes a problem. I've learned (and so have my family and friends) that I need to stop so I can solve problems instead of just sit in them. I also need to just sit in them for a bit - I take a little time with my feelings. Miss R takes much longer with hers (which drives me nuts, though it also helps me understand why my own stewing drives others nuts, and so I try to hold myself clear of her timing).
Anyway, next step in reporting is talking to the other party. Using words, out loud or on paper or electronic, whatever works. I've mainly done out loud or electronic. Sometimes one works better than the other, and I don't always know which will be which.
BUT, note here - sometimes you stop at the first step. If talking to myself about how I didn't like something, but recognizing it as a problem that is personal and not repeating and not reflecting a deeper issue in the relationship, that can be all I need to do. It's like a ladder, where you stop when you can reach what it was you were trying to get.
And then reporting up to a higher level. For kids, that's coming to a grownup, a teacher, a guidance counselor, mom and dad -for help (we try to avoid the 'getting him in trouble' thing, but lean on the 'do you need help resolving this?' and 'do you think the other person needs help remembering what the rules are?' angles). Surprisingly, kids tend to not report very often to higher-ups compared to the actual incidents that happen, and only when they've tried to solve it and were unable to, and generally when it is for things they know their parents care about (property damage, safety, respect). That's from some research (that I can't find right now, sigh) indicating that for every 'tattle' there are (if I recall correctly) approximately 15 incidents that went unreported that the kids tried to resolve on their own. (Sibling tattling may have a higher rate, but that may also be because they understand the moral underpinnings of the family.) The rate brings a little perspective to the incident situation, and highlights that when we go to a higher level, it is generally for things for which we either have no skills or no authority. Most of the time, with our kids, it is skills issue - I don't know how to handle this. As adults, this is where therapists, counselors, experienced friends, self-help books, and the internet come in. (The no tattling rules may also encourage adults raised under those rules to NOT tell when telling or reporting would be useful. We carry the shame reaction from being called names for trying to resolve a problem we didn't know how to handle, instead of learning that we're supposed to look for more skills or some assistance if we are unsure how to proceed.)
This level is also where three-sided conversations come in, to usually not good effect (can you tell Suzie that she hurt my feelings? she likes you better, it might come better from you). Skip that, and go straight in, if you can. If you can't, use due caution finding the right higher authority to talk to - sometimes it really is best to find a professional. I know more than one family who has called in family counselors to handle a reporting catastrophe - usually when there was no reporting going on at all from at least one party. Silence in pain doesn't help (and even though so-so counselors can be a problem, even just taking the step of calling one in can signal clarity of intention and willingness to dig down and do the work - the one we had when I was younger pissed me off and was waaaay out of his depth with our melange of a family, but yes, just calling him in at least signaled that the adults took this seriously and intended for it to be solved, even if it wasn't solved well or permanently that time).
That brings me back around to the grandparents again. Watching my grandparents and great aunt slowly drift into old age (quite old age - mainly well into their 90's) was illuminating. It taught me how important it is to be here, to address things directly, to listen to ourselves and each other. Okay, I already knew those were important, but it served as an object lesson, an illustration of the truth of that. Time slips away, and our minds change function, and our bodies decline. Yes it was powerful for my grandmother to finally offer her full and unfettered love to her step-daughters, just months before she died. It was also a waste of decades and decades of time that could have been spent fully encircled in each-others' lives and affection. Good that it happened, important that it happened, at last. But my grandmother's choice to not speak the pain she felt, ever - that she could never be good enough in their hearts, that she could not replace, or even stand in, for the love of a 'real' mother - that unspoken hurt ended up being a hurt for everyone else, equally much or more. At least she knew where it came from, but everyone else was left to guess why there was that distance there, why they were held at arms length by the woman who had raised them from early childhood.
And back around to pomegranates, too. They still make the season for me. It isn't possible to have Christmas if I haven't had a pomegranate yet. Messy to get into, and they'll stain and leave marks on everything they touch, especially if handled roughly - the rind stains things brown, the juice stains things blue-purple. But just giving them a good whack with a spoon loosens everything up so you can get to the good stuff. Just be prepared for a little splatter. (and oh, how nice it would be if it was just as simple as whacking the relatives with a spoon, no?)