Case of the Coveted Parrots
Dear Ask Micah,
I am feeling hurt and betrayed by my family. 7 months ago my grandmother died. She was a very special woman to all of us and the glue that held our family together. We all respected her. No matter what problems we might have with each other, everyone came together around her. When she passed she didn’t leave much money but she did leave a treasure trove of sentimental trinkets. For me, I felt connected to a pair of ceramic parrots that always sat on her mantelpiece. They may sound like an odd kind of inheritance, but they represent my grandmother to me. I wanted them and made no bones about it. I didn’t get them, plus I was told that my aunt who lives out of state was the one who took them. I let it go there because I am a granddaughter and she was the daughter, so I felt like her claim on them was more legitimate. Here’s the betrayal part. I went to my sister’s house recently and saw them sitting on her dresser in her bedroom. Those very parrots. I have not said anything yet to her or anybody else. I was so hurt I made an excuse to leave. My sister, my mother, my aunts–they all lied to me about the parrots. They knew how much I wanted them, and they gave them to my sister instead. I feel hurt and betrayed. Do I let this go or confront them on it?
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You let it go, and I will try to explain why. I, too, come from a family where my grandparents had nothing monetary to leave us when they died, but they did have some belongings that were nostalgic to us and each of us wanted a specific thing. I understand the emotional pull and object can have on your heart and how you can connect that one object to a loved one. So I get it: those parrots really truly mean something to you. However, they obviously mean something to your sister, too. In fact, their sentimental importance is so relevant to all of you that several family members have been willing to go along with a little white lie to cover their actual whereabouts. This tells me as an outsider observing that your family members–mother included–felt like your sister had a stronger claim to them than you did, but no one wanted to hurt your feelings, so they lied and said Aunt Jane took them back to Poughkeepsie or wherever she’s from.
I do not have enough info on your family dynamic to say anything with certainty, but if I were guessing, I’d say that your sister was either closer to your grandmother than you were, or at least did more for her. Maybe she took her to doctor appointments, or cleaned her house, or went to the grocery store every week for her. Maybe she sat at her bed side in the hospital more than you. I don’t know. But clearly something pushed her in front of you in line of picking and choosing sentimental trinkets from Grandma’s house. I also get the impression from your email that your family isn’t very close on its own. You said that your grandmother “was the glue that held our family together” and “no matter what problems we might have with each other, we all came together around her.” Well, that doesn’t sound like a very close knit family; it sounds more fractured to me. Broken things require glue, so apparently your larger family group has splintered off a bit from each other over the years. It makes me wonder how often you have actually visited your sister. If your grandmother has been dead 7 months, and you just now saw the parrots, it makes me wonder. But then again you did say they were in her bedroom, so it’s possible you see your sister often and just don’t go into the bedroom.
However, if you were close to her, and there was a large chance you’d be visiting frequently, I don’t understand why they would lie to you about the parrots, especially if your sister planned to have them out in plain sight. It all just makes me think that no one really expected you’d ever find out about who really had them, and that leads me to think that you don’t have a very close relationship with your sister on a regular basis. Again, I am making assumptions, observations, and guesses based on the little info in your question. So to make a long winded answer longer, let it go and leave it alone. I think that your sister had a stronger claim on the parrots than you did. They obviously mean as much to her as they did you. And if you were visiting your sister, it sounds like you and she might be beginning to have a revived relationship, or perhaps continuing an already good relationship—don’t muck it up with a squabble over ceramic parrots. They aren’t yours and they aren’t going to be in the future. All you can possibly do by bringing this up is make everyone uncomfortable around you. There is a reason why you didn’t get the parrots–does it really matter if you know it or not? If they have tried to spare your feelings or to make this matter disappear quietly, let it remain that way.
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The Tantrum Tension
My son is very destructive. He has occasional outbursts of anger, and he has real control issues. We have him in therapy for this. Whenever we are around other families I am on edge, worrying and waiting for one of his outbursts and tantrums. I am always embarrassed when they happen and emotionally spent when they don’t because I have been anticipating them. It makes me want to say “no” to playdate offers and party invitations. It makes me so nervous to take him around others because I never know when or if he’ll have an outburst. I find myself now turning down invitations more often than we accept them. I worry that this is setting us up to look bad as parents, or in some way like we feel too good to socialize with the other families. I don’t know if I should be honest about my son’s behavior or let them just think I’m a stuck-up mom. Any advice would be appreciated.
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I think this question is probably best answered by the therapist you have been taking your son to. The therapist understands your sons “outbursts” more than I do. But since you wrote to me, I will give you an opinion based on the little info I have. In my opinion, it all depends on these outbursts. Are they violent and placing other kids in danger? Is he trying to harm people? When you say “destructive,” do you mean he maliciously and purposefully tries to destroy people’s property, or other kids’ toys, or tries to put a hole in the wall? If so, then yes, you probably should limit his appearances until this behavioral issue gets under control.
But, if you are just talking about outbursts of anger and temper tantrums when things do not go his own way and using “destructive” figuratively to describe what his behavior does to his personal progression, then maybe limiting his socializing isn’t the best choice. My kid isn’t the best sharer in the world. He’s gotten better and more thoughtful, but for a while he wasn’t. It was the “only child” syndrome, and it took some work to improve. I know I get embarrassed when he isn’t being gracious or sharing; I cringe when he wants to be stubborn about what to play when other kids want to do something else. These issues sound much smaller than what you are describing, I realize—I am not saying that I understand what toll this is all taking on you. Clearly you are going through bigger issues. I am just using my own son to illustrate that sometimes kids behave badly, and I don’t always think it’s a good idea for the parent to swoop in and fix it.
I think sometimes it’s more beneficial for the kid to receive the backlash of his actions by allowing the other kids to show him how that behavior doesn’t work with them. If my kid digs his heels into the ground that he wants to swing on a swing set and the other kids want to play on the slide, my kid learns a lesson about rigidity when he is left all alone on a swing and has to watch the others having fun together on the slide. If your child is temperamental and throws a tantrum at a birthday party, maybe it takes all the other kids looking at him like he’s crazy to make him realize that behavior doesn’t get him the result he wanted in social settings. Of course, that is only the case if your son’s issues are behavioral. He could have something chemical happening in the brain that does this to him, and it isn’t something he can just self-correct. But your therapist will know the answer to that. If all brain functions are normal, and unless your son is actually dangerous to other kids, I don’t think you are serving his best interests by keeping him away from others in social situations. He has to learn how to navigate these situations in life, and he has to learn how to modify his reactions if he wants to be accepted by his peers. We adults have to do this each day and we got our start learning how at parties and playgrounds as children. We are still learning, even as adults.
So if he’s not violent, don’t restrict him just because it embarrasses you. Own it in front of people. Things like that are only awkward when it looks like the parent of the child in question is in denial that her son is having a fit. We have all had our moments when our kid is embarrassing to us. Real friends will understand and sympathize, not judge you. Just be really open about things if and when your son has a fit. Tell the people you need to step aside and calm him, or even leave if necessary, or if possible sit back and allow the other kids to correct his behavior themselves and you explain to the parents watching that you are purposefully letting the kids teach him his behavior isn’t okay.
You should not have to feel so anxiety ridden at social engagements. You might even be adding to the drama by being so uptight. Don’t exacerbate the problem with your own dread and tension. I am in no way trying to diminish what your family is going through with your son, but experience and observation at parties has taught me that most of the time when a parent gets embarrassed by their kid, nobody else thinks much of the situation. It is a much bigger scene to the parent than it is to anyone else. And it will be forgotten as quickly as it happened. Also, keep in mind the more you turn down party invites your kid receives, the less likely that he will receive any in the future. And at school, it matters to the kids who came and who didn’t. If your son becomes the guy who never comes to a party—or worse, stops getting invited to any–that isn’t going to help him socially. That could set him up to be a bit of an outcast in his school’s society. That will not help his behavioral issues at all. He needs to attend things he’s invited to, even if only to maintain a place in their social structure. And he can’t be all that bad if the invitations keep coming in.
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Bye Bye Kitty Litter
My girlfriend is moving in soon. We have a perfect relationship with one big exception: She has a cat. I don’t dislike cats. I just hate the smell of kitty litter. I could go with the cat being in the garage but not in the house with that litter stinking up the place. I have hinted at this, but she says her cat isn’t going into the garage. She thinks I’ve been joking. Is it awful if I ask her to give the cat to her sister?
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Install a doggy door. Take the litter box and sit it by the door. Then, a week later, sit it just outside the doggy door and show her how to go through it. Then after a week move it further into the yard, little by little every day until it’s in the shrubs or under a tree or something. Then throw the little box away and your cat will start going outside to use the bathroom. Our cat has never had an accident inside, and I don’t have to buy litter. Of course, you have to be okay with an indoor outdoor cat. I don’t know how your girlfriend feels about that. We love it and our cat loves it. She is very happy.