In about three weeks I'll be an aunt (by marriage) again, and I've been having dreams that, while not precisely nightmares, are not the sort of dreams a doting aunt should have about her future niece.
Let's take a little trip back in time--and brace yourself, this is likely to get long, but I need to get this family history out so you can understand my current reactions.
I have not always had the best relationship with my brother- and sister-in-law. In fact, for many years I would say I had a terrible relationship with them, one of the worst in-law relationships I've seen. When I met Lawyer Guy ten years ago, he was in the middle of a two-year spell of not speaking to his older brother (let's call him J.). Literally, no words exchanged but "hello" and "goodbye" at the (numerous) family gatherings they both attended. They lived five blocks from each other. Their paths never crossed.
And no one knew why. Not even my husband. J. had slowly stopped speaking to him over a series of months. Had stopped returning phone calls. Had shrugged off invitations. Had quietly but inexorably pushed Lawyer Guy out of his life. There was no fight, no conflagration. He never even mentioned my husband's name to his other family. There was no explanation for this cruel behavior.
Which he soon extended to me, the twenty-year-old, sophomore-in-college girlfriend. For years, I tried to make small talk with this hostile person almost ten years my senior, my palms sweating, my legs shaking, and was favored with responses just barely above the level of grunts. But I kept trying. And when J met my sister-in-law, S (a reasonable and polite, if somewhat self-centered, person), I tried even harder to make the situation better. I would e-mail them invitations to events (like a concert I was singing in, or a picnic in the park on a nice day) only to receive one-line responses: "We can't make it." "We're busy."
Events came to their crisis (as they must) five years in, after Lawyer Guy and I became engaged. Following a series of hurtful actions on J's part, I snapped. I'd had enough. (And let me explain, that I am a hugely patient and tolerant person, but when I reach my breaking point, you know it.) I stopped making even the bare minimum effort with J-- I nodded across the room instead of greeting him at events; I avoided him and his wife at all costs; I fumed in my anger.
And the entire time I was tortured with guilt and anxiety. I began having panic attacks and had to go on medication. I hate interpersonal strife, particularly familial. I can't abide it when people don't like me. When I see a stressful situation, all I want to do it make it better, not worse. So eventually, my kinder self woke up again and I decided to try to improve matters.
I reached out to J's wife, arranged to meet her for dinner. We spoke for two hours about the situation. And I bit my tongue. I recognized that she would never see her husband as responsible for what had happened, she would never agree, "Yeah, he's a jerk." The important thing was to begin the reconciliation. So I didn't defend myself or Lawyer Guy. I just focused on how to go forward.
I think that by making that gesture and controlling my anger I allowed the reunion to take place, and I will always be proud of myself for that. Slowly, over the subsequent five years, the relationship improved. J began speaking to both of us again. Then they had their daughter two years ago. I started visiting S in New Jersey while she was on her maternity leave. And J is very invested in Lawyer Guy's role as uncle to the little girl, so he sends my husband videos and phone messages of her and always encourages them to see each other more.
This is still not the relationship of my dreams, and certainly nothing similar to the relationship Lawyer Guy has with my three sisters. While J will speak with me, he has still never (not once) asked me a question about my life in all the time I've known him (not, "How's school going?" or "How are your sisters?" or even "What's new?"). We meet up nearly always at Lawyer Guy or my instigation, and in two years, J and S have visited us in Brooklyn once (we have met them in New Jersey a dozen or so times).
I can (and do) accept all this. All I ever wanted was a reasonable, polite, adult relationship. I am very different in many ways from the two of them. We will never be intimate. That's okay, I'm genuinely fine with how things are now.
But I'm also still angry. I'm still hurt, and resentful, and aggrieved. And I have a block on my heart where my niece is concerned. She's sweet and cute and I enjoy spending time with her. But I don't love her.
Isn't that a terrible thing to say?
I don't mean that I dislike her or wish her ill or have no affection for her. I do have affection for her. She's a two-year-old kid, what's not to like? But I have no more affection for her than I do for my friends' babies, and in some cases I feel more like an aunt to my friends' children. Maybe this is a common way to feel about nieces and nephews related to you through your husband. Maybe I'm a terrible person. But these are my honest emotions.
And now, very soon, there will be another baby girl. I sobbed my heart out after they told us they were expecting again. But when I was pregnant with the m&m and due just three months after S, I told myself that our children would be friends, that this would be wonderful, that I'd finally feel a real family connection to my nieces.
After losing the baby, I stopped thinking about S's pregnancy. Internally, I pretended that she wasn't pregnant. I didn't look at her belly. I didn't speak about it with her or anyone else (and no one mentioned it to me). I rarely even brought her up here! I could socialize with her without it hurting because I resolutely ignored the elephant (or developing fetus) in the room.
Well, obviously my subconscious is displeased with this course of events. I get the message, loud and clear: THERE'S A BABY COMING AND YOU CAN'T IGNORE IT ANYMORE.
There's a baby coming and I can't ignore it anymore.
(PS: Because I am--deep down--a bit of a spiteful person, I need to share that J's behavior in sum hasn't changed, it's just no longer targeted at Lawyer Guy and me. He now refuses to speak to his stepfather and stepsisters. And because I am also--deep down--a fair person, I have to point out that both J and S were very kind and very sad after we lost the baby).