In Which Our Heroine Has More Than One Kind of Headache

15 July 2004

I don't think Mark is going to be put in charge of my mom and me when Daddy's not around again, and from the looks of last night, we're also not really competent to be in charge of ourselves. Everything went beautifully -- dinner at First Course, walk around the Falls, ice cream at Bridgeman's -- until we got back to our house. Then Mom's car viciously attacked Mom and me, smacking me in the back of the head and her in the face. And then the front planters attacked Mom. Yikes. Not the best evening in that regard. Otherwise everything else was good fun.

So I have a headache leftover from that, and I had an extended family situation to deal with on e-mail and the phone this morning. It's frustrating when you can't just step back and assess who's right and who's reasonable because the issue at hand is not that at all but who has their feelings hurt. Because at a certain point, the feelings of loved ones are a fact, and they're something to be dealt with, and you have to ask yourself if it's more important to be right or to be friends (or whatever you call it when you have a good relationship with family members). There's also a level of reasonable at which the answer becomes non-obvious. You don't serve steaks and eggs and nothing else to vegan family members, but if they decide that you deliberately put dill in the cucumber salad because you knew they hated dill, a little relationship reassessment is called for.

It's also sometimes a problem with jokes. I think that no one should be required to find a joke funny. If you don't laugh, you don't laugh; okay. It's not a moral deficiency not to laugh, just a mismatch between you and the person making the joke. And generally people should not have to take teasing they find mean or unpleasant, and generally people should be able to speak up and say, look, that's not amusing to me. In a friend or family relationship, they should feel comfortable enough to do that, and both parties are responsible for that comfort.

But. But but but. (Yes, I'm a journal-writing motorboat.) I also think the phrase "that's not funny!" should be used sparingly. I also think that it's a lot more effective to just refrain from laughing if you don't find something funny. That stretching of lips that doesn't actually look amused but says, "I'm making a smiley face because you have made a joke, but I don't actually find you very clever" -- that can be much more effective than yelling. And I think that we should all have a distinction between "not particularly funny" and "intolerably offensive" -- there should be a line between the two, and it should probably be a fairly wide line. If someone is trying to affectionately tease you and doesn't get the desired laughter or the genuine smile or the horrible juvenile making-faces face or the tickle war they were looking for, that's probably enough for most people. If the person in question has gotten the blank stare numerous times and not changed a thing, it might be time to say, "You know, I wish you wouldn't joke about that; it's not all that funny to me." And then after that hasn't worked, "I feel bad when you joke about X." And then, then maybe it's time for the cold pleasantries. (Cold pleasantries are what ScanAms do instead of yelling. When it comes to yelling, we stink. You will know I'm deeply mad if I become coldly and elaborately polite with you.)

It's a hard line to walk with kids in particular, I think. You want to teach them to stick up for themselves, but not to pick fights. Everybody can live through being addressed as "Marissa Ding-a-Lingen" once or twice, although I admit that it's probably easier for those of us whose names actually bear some resemblance to some of those words. For the rest of you, I expect it'd be more confusing than anything else. But you take my point: some teasing is normal, and taking umbrage just makes it into something it wasn't meant to be; other teasing is deeply painful, and making your kid just "suck it up" is not such a fabulous idea either. And I'm not sure the two don't overlap.

Ahhh, tangents: taking us away from what was actually bothering us.

It's afternoon now, and Iíve kind of settled in. Took the bridesmaid dress to be altered. I'm so happy with it. I know what Michelle wanted was for us to be happy with the dresses, and I can deliver that. It looks purty. (She also wanted us to be decisive about the dresses. At least I'm batting .500....) The tailor swears it'll be done about a month before the wedding. This will make everybody happy, I think: me, Michelle and Scott, Michelle's mom, Scott's mom if she hears of it....

I'm going to sprawl on the couch with the new Kate Wilhelm novel. I haven't finished Libra or even gotten very far with The Grand Ellipse, but I need something relaxing, so Kate Wilhelm it will be.

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