Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chapter 33, part 1: Family Holiday

When I got back from dropping Brad off at the airport Friday evening, I asked Mom what she thought of him.

“Hmmm… I’m not sure. I didn’t get to know him that well. What does Kirsten say?”

“She’s not around to ask, is she?” Kirsten had been spending every waking moment with Charlie, and was even spending the night at the Neals tonight. “C’mon, you must have formed some impression.”

“Well, first impressions can be misleading. Anyway, my opinion really doesn’t matter, does it? You’re an adult and I have to trust your judgment.”

“So you didn’t like him?”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to. Why is everyone in this family so judgmental? Kirsten hates him because they fought the first time they met, and now you have a grudge against him too?” I stormed up the stairs to my room and wrote a long email to Brad. I missed him so much.

Saturday morning, I came downstairs to find Mom rearranging the furniture in the living room.

“Can you give me a hand, sweetie?” she asked, gesturing to the other end of the long sofa. “I can’t have the house looking like a disaster area for the party tonight.”

“Who’s all coming?” I asked as we set the sofa down in its new location.

“The Neals, a few young couples from our Bible study, Pastor Jim and his family. He’s really looking forward to catching up with you.”

Pastor Jim? He was the last person I wanted to talk to. It was hard enough faking the super-Christian act for my family. My old youth pastor would surely see through the charade.

“I didn’t really plan on sticking around. Alicia’s been wanting me to go down to Balboa to look at Christmas lights, and I told her maybe tonight would work.”

“Of course you can do what you want, but it would mean a lot to me if you’d join us. You’re growing up so fast, and I worry this is one of the last few times we’ll spend the holidays as a family.”

“I guess Alicia and I could reschedule,” I said. I just had to find a way to avoid talking with Pastor Jim at the party.

“Thanks, sweetie. About our talk yesterday—”

“Forget about it. I overreacted.”

“That time of the month?” she asked.

“Maybe,” I said. I didn’t really keep track of that stuff.

Mom spent the rest of the morning trying to get Ruth and I to help her and Daddy clean the house. I didn’t really mean to slack off, but every time I’d start a task, I ended up getting distracted by the piano or the itch to check the computer for messages from Brad. Every time Mom found me dawdling, she got more and more worked up. She was so crabby, I started to wonder if maybe it was her time of the month.

We were all upstairs working on various projects when the meltdown happened.

“Ruth Victoria Gottlieb!” we heard Mom scream at the door to Ruth’s room.

That tone in her voice made me cringe with vivid memories of getting in trouble as a child. So much for the new and improved Mom. Dad and I stopped what we were doing and edged toward Ruth’s room as the rant continued.

“What is wrong with you? I don’t know how many times I’ve already told you to get this room cleaned up,” Mom yelled. “And look, all you’ve done is make a bigger mess.” She gestured to the floor where Ruth had apparently decided to reorganize her entire collection of toys, dolls and accessories by dumping everything out in the middle of the floor. “You’re ten years old, I shouldn’t have to babysit your every move. I’m fed up! If this room isn’t sparkling clean in the next five minutes, you’re going to get it!” She raised her hand as if to demonstrate what she meant.

Tears and terror shone in Ruth’s eyes.

Daddy put a hand on Mom’s shoulder. “Millie, you need to take a break,” he said. “I’ll handle it from here.”

Mom stalked out and slammed the door to the master bedroom. I didn’t know whether to run or stay. What would Daddy do to Ruth?

“Ruth, come sit here by me on the bed,” Daddy said gently. “It looks like you really wanted your room to be clean. You wanted to reorganize all your toys, but you got overwhelmed, is that right?”

Had I heard him correctly? Where was the lecture, the threat of punishment?

Ruth nodded. “I was just trying to do my best like Mom always tells me. Why did she get so mad?” she asked.

“She’s anxious about the party tonight and feeling frustrated. She lost her temper and said things she didn’t mean. Now what are we going to do about this mess? Can you think of a solution?”

“We can shove it under the bed,” she suggested.

“We can just keep the room closed during the party,” I offered.

“But I wanted the kids to come play in here with me.” She sighed. “So ... this all has to be put away. Can you help?” she said.

“We’d be glad to help you,” Daddy said. “Let’s start by finding all the doll clothes.”

The three of us working together quickly got the room back in order.

Mom came back just as we finished. “Everyone, I need to apologize for getting out of control like that. Having a clean house is not more important than treating my family kindly. Can you all forgive me?”

“I forgive you, Mom,” Ruth said.

“Thanks, sweetie. Frank, you were amazing. I know you were so skeptical of changing our style at first and even after you saw how it worked, it was a struggle to break old habits. And look at you now, putting me to shame.”

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” Daddy said as he embraced Mom. “Aren’t you always telling me grace is for parents too?”

“Gigi?” Mom asked. “You haven’t said anything. What are you thinking?”

My swirl of thoughts seemed better left unsaid. The scenes from my childhood evoked by Mom’s rage were still replaying in my mind. The pain of punishment had faded, but the anger at feeling misunderstood and helpless to defend myself sprung back to life. Why did Ruth get better parents than me? No wonder I had such a guilt complex.

“There’s still a lot of cleaning to do,” I said. “How about we get back to work?”