There’s a poem by Robert Frost that contains a line or phrase often quoted in the United States (and possibly elsewhere), “Good fences make good neighbors.” How true is that? Without clear boundaries, it seems like we humans have trouble negotiating our way through this life. Boundaries can come in many forms, but the ones I am most familiar with are physical and personal. Physical boundaries are easy to spot and are generally visible to the naked eye. Personal boundaries are another matter altogether. Many of us are taught what we should and should not do with regard to how we interact with others but that can vary greatly depending on where we grow up and who teaches us. Parents and/or parental figures typically introduce us to ‘the basics’ of boundaries. An example of a ‘basic’ boundary is, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Once we leave ‘the nest’, we may discover that what we were taught wasn’t necessarily appropriate or acceptable, especially as we encounter more and more people (from different cultures and/or with different values) throughout our lives.
I grew up in a home without boundaries (until my stepdad entered the picture). For the most part, it was ‘anything goes’. There were no expectations or consequences. I remember drawing on the walls with crayon with wild abandon and going wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted, as young as age 5. I can still hear the sounds of Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin blasting through the house, the volume dial cranked all the way to the right. My siblings came and went at all hours, as the doors to our home were never locked and there was no curfew. And all the stray kids and stray animals in the neighborhood seemed to wind up in our home because my mom could never say, “No”. I’ll put it this way, there was a lot of ‘delinquency’ and the cops had us on their radar. Since my mother didn’t have the ability to establish boundaries, my brothers and sisters and I grew up without them. We didn’t have boundaries with one another and we didn’t have them with anyone else either. I can tell you from personal experience, it sucks growing up that way. It made for a tough transition into adulthood.
Why do I feel compelled to discuss ‘boundaries’? I communicated with two of my brothers today (Turtle and Dapper Dan), both of whom are among the worst when it comes to respecting personal boundaries. I also had an opportunity to spend some quality time with my friend ‘M’. Turtle called me not once, but twice. The first time he called, I was enjoying a cup of tea with my friend ‘M’, and engaged in a lovely and a lively conversation. I don’t typically answer the phone when I am with another individual. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems rude. After we were done visiting, I got in my car and headed to the grocery store. I was beginning to get ‘hangry’ and just wanted to make my purchases, head home, and get started on dinner. I considered calling my brother Turtle back on the way to the store, but thought it best to wait until after I’d had supper, at which time, I’d be in a much better frame of mind. If I don’t eat every couple of hours, I don’t do well physically or mentally, and it had been nearly five.
Once I knocked out the grocery shopping, I climbed into my car, and headed straight home. A minute or two after I left the store, my phone rang again. I glanced at it to see if it was my husband. Sometimes he calls to request an item or two if he knows I’m going to be at the store. It wasn’t my husband on the other end of the line, it was my brother Turtle (again). “Again?” I thought to myself, “I just talked to him yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.” I let it go to voicemail. When I arrived home, I carried all of the groceries inside but I didn’t even put everything away. I was so damn hungry that I just commenced chopping up vegetables. I decided to ‘make’ pizza and salad because that’s one meal I can prepare in a hurry. The pizza comes frozen and with only a meager amount of toppings, so I add a bunch of extra stuff (olives, mushrooms, pepperoni, cheese, spices) in order to make it more filling and palatable; however, the salad I insist on making from ‘scratch’.
A heaping bowl of salad and three slices of pizza later, my body and mind felt light years better. I sat down in the recliner, elevated my feet, and proceeded to call my brother Turtle back. If it had been anyone else, I probably would have been concerned if I had received two phone calls back to back in under two hours. With my brother Turtle, that’s a common occurrence. He’ll just keep calling until I answer. I don’t mind talking to him once in a while, but not every single day. My friends, the man is ‘long winded’! I used to love to spend countless hours on the phone but not any longer. I have too much to do! I rarely even call my really dear friends. I’d just rather spend my waking hours being more productive. When my brother calls, he can talk for 2 hours without coming up for air. Two hours is an hour and a half too many. Thirty minutes of talking and/or listening is my capacity these days, especially when I have a sink full of dirty dishes calling my name as well as a husband in the other room, waiting to start a movie.
As hard as it’s going to be, I know I’m going to have to say something at some point about his excessive calls. I need to establish some boundaries. But it’s not going to be easy! He’s very sensitive like me and he likely won’t take it well. I also think he’s either got Asperger’s or some form of autism because he doesn’t seem to understand nonverbals very well. I have a doozy of a story to share about taking a family vacation in Oahu (with my husband and three kids) and how the whole thing went to hell in a handbasket when my brother Turtle showed up. Sigh. If it were only Turtle that had issues with boundaries, it’d be one thing, but it’s nearly all of my siblings! Speaking of, Dapper Dan and his wife are coming to town tomorrow to do some sightseeing as well as enjoy a late lunch at a nearby Mexican restaurant. Dapper Dan is usually a no-notice ‘drop in’ or ‘drop by’ kind of guy but he has recently learned that that methodology doesn’t fly in my household.
I cannot say much because I used to be the same way. I was a no-notice ‘drop in’ or ‘drop by’ person myself back in the day. As harmless as I thought it was (because I grew up in a household where that practice was commonplace), I guess not everybody is a fan. A particular person who isn’t a fan of people unexpectedly ‘dropping by’ is my husband. According to him, it’s extremely rude. He likes to be notified or warned or made aware so that he can decide whether or not he wants to spend time with that person in the first place. He also likes the opportunity to adequately ‘prepare’. As you folks probably know, we have very different standards when it comes to the upkeep of our home. I keep it ‘generally’ clean by staying on top of the laundry and dishes and not cluttering up the countertops. A few cobwebs and/or dog hairs don’t get me too worked up. Not so much with my husband. He likes everything to sparkle. Every countertop must be wiped down, every floor must be either swept and mopped or vacuumed, every mirror must be spotless, and every toilet must be scrubbed.
‘Cleaning the house’ is an all day affair! It takes me back to when I was a kid and how my stepdad had these lofty expectations that I could never reach. Nowadays, I bust my hump each time we have company, and for what? Most people could care less how ‘spotless’ it is. I cannot put all the blame on my husband though, I’m a willing participant in the decision. And as ‘wrong’ as it sounds, I actually prefer that my brother not drop by. The last time he did, my husband was so infuriated that he almost told him off. His reaction sounds extreme but if you knew the circumstances at the time, you’d probably better understand why he was so upset. Long story short, it was just before I had my kidney transplant and my health was r-e-a-l-l-y bad. In fact, I had spent most of the day on the couch. Out of the blue, the doorbell rang, and when I opened the door, there stood my brother in his motorcycle gear. He was hungry and tired and implied that he could use a meal and a bed for the night.
I went into instant ‘hostess’ mode because that’s just what I do, but my husband knew how lousy I felt. My brother was clueless. I made him dinner and then we watched a movie together and he later slept in one of our guest rooms. He hadn’t brought any toiletries, so I supplied him with a toothbrush and everything he needed to ‘make himself presentable’ the following day. The next morning, after I prepared him breakfast, he went on his way. After he left, my husband didn’t hesitate to share his displeasure about the situation and he told me my brother better not ‘drop by’ again. If he did, my husband intended to give/tell him ‘what for’. There were other circumstances that contributed to my husband’s anger over the situation but it’s much too complicated to talk about now. I recognized that the only option going forward was to establish boundaries with my brother, which I promptly did. I sent him a text afterward and asked him to please let me know in advance if he intended to stop by and the reasons why ‘dropping by’ weren’t ideal (primarily citing my poor health).
He never acknowledged the text. Whenever I tell him something he doesn’t like, he doesn’t respond. It’s complete ‘radio silence’. However, he hasn’t done a ‘drop by’ since, so apparently he got the message ‘loud and clear’. Anyway, I’m planning on joining him (and his wife) for lunch tomorrow. It’s always awkward when we get together but I figure, what’s the harm? They aren’t coming to the house, we’re just meeting at a restaurant for a meal. They’re not bad people, we just have so little in common and really see things from different perspectives. As long as we stay off the topics of politics, religion, or the Covid vaccination (none of which we agree on), it should be a peaceful encounter. Thank you so much for stopping by. For the folks that are ‘following’ me, I am grateful for you and the continued interest you have in reading my blog. I’m no poet laureate, but I love to write and I enjoy the opportunity to share stories about my life and family or to just make simple random observations. If all goes well and I haven’t run you off, I trust you will return tomorrow as will I.