By The Wiz
Guest Post from Naddin J
“You need to get more exercise!”
“You’re looking chubby lately.”
“I like your hair cut short. When it’s long it makes your face look fat.”
“Yeah, what a great kid,” as I try to pacify my screaming six-month-old. “Why don’t you have 12 more just like her?”
I kid you not – these are real-life examples of the rudeness of my relatives. I have long tried to figure out the reason why family members feel the need to make unwanted observations about us, our bodies, our children, our homes, our lives. What exactly are they thinking? Is it a personality flaw? Are we hypersensitive? More important, how do some people simply let it roll off their backs while others hold on to every word forever?
This weekend I was on the phone with my well-meaning but tactless grandmother and she said she wished I would start going to a gym. Completely from out of nowhere. This is not the first comment she’s made about my size. I’m overweight, and yes, I should be doing more about it. I like to eat, and I don’t like to exercise. I hate pictures of myself and I feel ugly. It’s not a happy situation, and I’d like to get out of it, but hearing a remark that mean almost makes me want to go on a spiteful Twinkie-eating rampage.
I hated the way I reacted to her comment. I first made sure she was talking about what I THOUGHT she was talking about - yes, she meant a gym, with the treadmills and the weight-lifting. She did not mean (as I hoped) a spa with facials and massages. Once I was sure I understood, I totally caved. I said something about how expensive gyms were and that instead, I ought to go outside and go walking - we have a nice park next door with lovely paved paths, but the bad winter weather has kept me indoors. I AGREED with her (I wish I could go back in time and slap myself silly).
In my defense, rude comments always shock me, and I never know how to respond. I can always think of 100 things to say once I get my wits about me again - “Have you looked in the mirror lately, Grandma?” or “You wish I would join a gym? I wish you would buy a muzzle!”
Later, my sister called and when I related this not-so-amusing anecdote, lo and behold, she had similar stories about our father saying the same things to HER. Again, this is a pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation. Dad was just diagnosed with diabetes and has been dealing with high blood pressure for years at the ripe old age of 63. The guy lives on Diet Rite soda and jalapeno poppers. He had me pegged as “hypersensitive” a long time ago, so that’s probably why I’ve escaped his nasty remarks.
Amazingly, family members will say things ruder than any stranger on the street could possibly think of. It’s a sick, twisted comfort level - they think they can say anything, whether it’s rude or not. It’s a line some never cross that others not only march through, but seem blissfully unaware of. In some families, the lack of tact becomes a long-standing joke – “She came, she criticized, she left.”
Try an experiment. Pick a name, any name, and casually mention to the nearest fellow bus rider or couple in the pew next to you in Sacrament meeting that you (or your wife, your daughter, your sister) are expecting a baby and trying to get ideas for names… how does Chlotilde sound? Most people will smile and congratulate you and say something polite like, “That’s pretty,” even though they loathe the name Chlotilde and think it should be abolished. Some less poker-faced folks might wince a little and say, “Wow, that’s different,” but most people will rein in their negativity. Strangers do that because most people want you to like them.
Not so with family - they think you already love them (ha) and are therefore free game. When we told my husband’s parents and sister we were naming our unborn daughter Isabella, they went off. “That’s an old lady name!” “She’ll get teased!” And my personal favorite - “You can name her that, but I’ll NEVER call her that.” After that, no matter how much they asked, we never again divulged our unborn baby’s name until he/she was actually out of the womb and branded.
How do we fix this? As the old saying goes, “You can’t change anyone but yourself.” We cannot, sadly, wave a magic wand and make these people into caring, sensitive, or at least polite individuals who think before they speak. No, we cannot tame them. We can only put them in their place. We must be brave and stand up for ourselves. If I’d said, “Why exactly do I need to join a gym, Grandma?” and let her continue to shove that foot farther inside her mouth, I’d probably have made her think twice about making rude comments in the future.
Some will disagree with me and say I need to forget it. They’re right. But my soul cries out for justice and some good old-fashioned Golden Rule. I can’t say how I’ll react to the next negative observation that comes – probably the same way. Take it, be polite, hurt, rant. But I hope that someday, I will be brave enough to say, in the words of Twisted Sister, “We’re not gonna take it… anymoooooooore….”
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