I have a giant family. Like, huge. No, I don't mean there are 20 people in one room for holidays, I mean there are twenty people in one room, fifteen in another, ten in a third, and five either smoking or peeing. There are sixty some-odd people in my extended family, and we still gather as a group for The Major Holidays. Easter. Camping. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Usually at my mother's house, as that's traditionally the largest of the lot.
(Please bear in mind that the story below may be triggering to some readers. I have, at this time, no concrete plan for going forward, though I am open to suggestion. It is not my intent to trigger anyone, so please let the reader beware: verbal abuse)
Camping, because it's camping, doesn't happen at home. It doesn't even usually happen at anywhere close to home. This year, it wasn't even anywhere even close to Hammie's home. We went camping in the UP of Michigan, at a series of little lakes with gorgeous beaches, swimming, and even a rented pontoon boat. It was a fantastic weekend. Mad Natter's favorite cousin (who calls him her "other brother" and therefore shall be referred to as his sorta sister, or SS) wasn't there this time, but many of his other cousins (who are actually his second cousins, being MY cousin's children!) were. We all pitched our tents on Friday, and spent the weekend doing the usual camping things - we went out on the pontoon boat, ate our meals at picnic tables, had hot cocoa (and chai lattes) for breakfast, looked at how many stars there are when there is no light pollution, talked about light pollution and bugs and loons and lily pads, went fishing, built sand castles, had campfires, had a big potluck, and learned to deal with hole-in-the-ground potties, and how to read the maps to find the potties that flush. We had a wonderful time, talking and playing, eating and just being family.
Then Saturday late-night rolled around. One of my cousins was playing with Mad Natter, who was tired. Mad Natter didn't realize all was in play, and came to me to tell me he wanted to go to bed. Once away from the fire, floodgates opened. He didn't know what happened, why cousin took his glowstick belt, why cousin was angry with him, or how to get the belt back, and he was sobbing. So we went to bed, I tucked him in and promised I'd talk to cousin about what happened. Cousin was two of three sheets to the wind, and had no idea Mad Natter was so upset, and volunteered new glow stick pieces to make a new belt, and apologized for making him so sad. By now, Mad Natter was out like a light, so I sat at the fire, kept warm (who would expect forty degree nights in August?!?), and eventually turned in.
The next morning wasn't any much better. He realized shortly after the morning trip to the flushing toilets that it was Sunday, and everyone was packing up to go home. And that this meant WE would be packing up to leave as well. More sadness. Then, his sand castle got squashed, likely by a combination of chipmunks, raccoons, and geese. Add to that, by the time he was ready for a second cup of cocoa, the milk and the stove, AND the cocoa were all packed up... It was a meltdown waiting to happen. I have three aunties to thank for keeping things together at this point. Auntie gave him a job gathering the little garbage while we finished up the table. Then Aunt M gave him a job of cleaning tent stakes while Aunt R hung the tent fly, and Aunt M and I pulled the tent down. Then, he and Aunt M gathered tent poles while Auntie and Mad Natter's Uncle J and I worked on folding and rolling up the tent. All was going fairly well, though he wanted to play with a tent pole despite it being the last one needing to go into the bag. Shortly before this is when C came on the scene. He stood back, watching, and as Aunt M asked Mad Natter for the pole, he commented under his breath that Mad Natter needed "a good smack." Apparently, a weekend of pointedly ignoring his unsolicited, crappy parenting advice wasn't making it clear enough that I do not want his suggestions. Aunt M asked once again for Mad Natter to please give her the pole, and was in the middle of explaining that we were almost done rolling the tent, and the poles needed to go into the tent bag, and C decided that Mad Natter didn't "hop to" fast enough. The 300+ pound man, not much taller than Mad Natter's mama, charged him, and while I was on the ground a) rolling a tent, and b) in shock, grabbed the tent pole, shouted at Mad Natter, including the line "you're lucky you're not my son - or grandson!"
Two pieces of background: Mad Natter turned six a week and a half before. C is a former Chicago Police Officer. Mad Natter, all the more credit to him, held onto that tent pole until C finally managed to actually yank it from him. I'm livid at myself that it took me so long to react, but this is the point where I rushed to Mad Natter and scooped him up. I explained to him what I've known my entire life - since this same man threatened to arrest me at Mad Natter's age. C is an angry, mean, old man. We just need to stay away from him.
What happened after this shows the stark dichotomy between the way I raise my son, and the way C would prefer I do so: Mad Natter walked up to C, looked him in the eye, and said "That wasn't funny." In our lives, if we lose our temper, we apologize for it. We acknowledge this was not the ideal way to do things, and we work together to come up with ideas how to do things better in the future. In C's world, the appropriate response to Mad Natter was "No, it wasn't." and to turn his back on the boy.
I have to work on a way to handle this in the future. I'm not throwing my child under the bus to keep C happy. Looking backward, I've come to realize that a large portion of my parents' time at family gatherings was spent keeping their three children well away from C. Just as C is an angry, mean, old man, he was an angry, mean, young man as well. I have long thought of my family as the one group of people who would be there for me regardless of whatever life through our way. It's only since Mad Natter came on the scene that I've learned to appreciate the hard work my grandparents, their children, and their children's spouses put into making that family work, regardless of disparate personalities. And now, I have to find my own way to make it work. I have to find my own way to support my "Jack" as he grows and encounters more people who aren't so willing to support him as they would be if his gift were not in questioning and curiosity but in sports or the arts.