Next weekend is my graduation ceremony - my second - the first was a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in English, this is a Bachelor of Laws, also with first class Honours.
The university is some distance away - about 7 hours drive. For months we have been planning to make a family holiday of it - Yeti, Wombat and I. We have discussed, made lists, planned, booked and paid for accommodation. We were going to make the trip easier and more fun for Wombat by stopping half way and staying at the beach, and taking an extra day to go a little further north to look at one of the places we are thinking of moving to when we eventually leave here. I have family living near the university itself - an aunt and uncle, a cousin and his young family, and another cousin back for a short holiday from England where he has been working. I haven't seen my cousins for 18 years, and last saw my aunt and uncle at my sister's wedding, which was also quite a while ago. Dad had not been invited to my first graduation, as places were limited, so he had been promised an invite to this one and had been making a big deal about being there.
For those who don't know, my mother-in-law lives with us. She is 86 and usually very healthy and active. For the past week or so, she has been feeling unwell, though. It is quite obvious that when she bends over to talk to Wombat she gets very dizzy, and though she refuses to slow down and is as busy cleaning and gardening as ever, we are quite worried about her. We can tell she is not feeling her best. Not wanting to be alone when we went away, she organized for her cousin to stay with her. He is nearly 90, but also active and strong.
Then for three days he went missing and we couldn't contact him. He rang on Friday - Wombat's first birthday - to say that he'd been in hospital with extremely high blood pressure and they didn't know what was wrong. There have been a number of deaths in the family lately - my mother-in-law has lost two close friends - a husband and wife who passed away within weeks of each other, and Yeti's aunt has very recently passed away - the last member of his father's family who bothered to keep in touch with us. All were younger than MIL. Her cousin's wife died suddenly a few months ago, less than a week after finding out she had cancer, and MIL's older (and only) sister has also been diagnosed with stomach cancer and is rapidly losing her sight. Understandably, MIL has been a bit knocked down by all of this.
Under the circumstances, what would you do? Leave two ailing, elderly people alone together to look after a country property, in wild stormy weather, with an unreliable phone service and no hot water (turns out the insurance doesn't cover lightning strikes - we have to replace the hot water system ourselves) where an ambulance takes over half-an-hour to arrive (on a good day)?
Obviously, we cancelled our holiday. I had already paid for cabins at the caravan parks, and since we couldn't give 30 days notice of cancellation, we lost our money at several of them. I also cancelled my attendance at the graduation. Although I admit this was a disappointment, I think it was the right thing to do. For me, the achievement was in completing the work successfully, not in being handed the bit of paper in a boring ceremony. The thing I was really looking forward to (apart from the holiday) was the professional family portrait of myself in academic dress with Wombat and Yeti.
However, my father and other family don't see it that way. Instead of acknowledging where my priorities lay, my father got all upset about how terrible it was that I wouldn't be able to collect my degree in person. Sure I can understand that he has been planning his attendance for quite a while, and that he is now committed to being at the University on that day, having arranged to give a lecture there. My aunt rang just after I spoke to Dad, all bubbly and enthusiastic about seeing us, so I had to explain and disappoint her too. She and Dad both encouraged me to fly up for the day. Dad even offered to pay for the tickets - but when I checked the flights, there were only two on that day - one up that wouldn't get there until after the ceremony started, and one back that would get me home after Wombat's dinner time. No problem, they said. Come the day before, and bring Wombat.
This would sound easy to most people, but they can't seem to understand that it's not how I do things. For a start, I would take no pleasure in being at the ceremony without Yeti - what is the point in celebrating the triumph without the one who has stood by me through all the troubles and long years of getting there? But I was willing to make the effort for their sakes, and because I wanted to see my cousins again. That was if the planes had worked out for me - Yeti was even willing to take Wombat out for the day and distract him so he wouldn't be too upset by my being away.
However, Wombat is just 12 months old. He is teething and easily upset in strange situations. I am not going to drag him across the country, risk him flying in a small, crowded plane, force him to sit with people he doesn't know during a long and boring ceremony, and then expect him to listen to adults talking, just on the off-chance that he will enjoy the chance to interact with my cousin's kids! It's too far to go, and too much stress just for a playdate!
To me, it feels like a recipe for disaster - especially as we have just got the potty training going well - everytime he poops in his nappy, he refuses to go for a few days and ends up getting constipated. I have been making an extra effort to make sure he has regular opportunities to sit on potty, and it is paying off in his happiness. I can't take the potty on the plane, for a start! If he were even a year older, I could try to explain what was happening, and it might not be so bad, but in the circumstances, it's just not fair on him.
I try and explain all this to my father and aunt, and somehow, my aunt gets offended because I don't want to see them, and my father decides that my evil husband is brainwashing me and forcing me to stay home. Excuse me?
Yeti has paid for this degree both financially and emotionally. If anyone wants to see me reap the rewards and feel proud of me, he does. He is also as disappointed as I am that we had to cancel the holiday - even moreso, because he feels that he has failed me. So I am trying to put a brave face on it for his benefit, because I fully agree, we have no choice in the matter, and sulking about it is not going to help anyone. It's just one of those things and we will get our holiday soon enough. Meanwhile, my father rings while we are out and harrasses MIL. He is rude to Yeti when he answers the phone, and he holds me on the phone for over an hour while Yeti looks after Wombat, trying to convince me that I am missing the opportunity of a lifetime by not attending the stupid ceremony. Gee, thanks for the support, Dad. I'm glad you think so low of me that you think personal aggrandisement is more important to me than my family's health and happiness.
When I explained that I wasn't going to take Wombat on the plane, and that I couldn't leave him to come up overnight because he still wakes crying for me every morning at 6am, Dad made a snide comment about Yeti needing to share more of the parenting burden. My teeth are still grinding over that one. Yeti is always willing to play with Wombat or take him for a walk whenever I need a break, but Wombat is going through that clingy-Mummy stage when no-one else will do (and as frustrating as it can be, I wouldn't change it for the world!) It really irks me that my father wants to give out parenting advice, considering his abysmal track record.
I really really really want to say to him, "so, you're telling me you took over the 6am BREASTFEED when I was twelve months old???"
To make things more difficult, Dad's attitude has upset Yeti - who already felt bad enough, so he spent several days ranting and yelling about having spent $300,000 on my education when my father never spent a cent, and yet I care more about what my father thinks blah blah blah... I think he was afraid that I was going to take Wombat and leave him, never to come back.
There are times when trying to keep my family and my husband both happy makes me feel like a swirling black hole with a thin shell (Schelle) of sanity holding it all together, and desperately trying to keep cheerful and optimistic for the sake of Wombat's sense of normality while everyone else blows up around me.
Thankfully, Yeti's depression seems to have calmed down (so long as Dad doesn't call again for a few days) and while I still feel dreadful about disappointing everyone else, I am happy in myself that I made the right decision.
It was nice that when I explained the situation to my mother (who admittedly attended my first graduation ceremony, so doesn't feel so personally disappointed) she agreed that it was a shame I wouldn't be able to collect my degree in person, but supported my decision.
Sorry about the long-windedness of this rant - but I had to get it out of my system as otherwise I would want to write to Dad to try and explain myself yet again, and I am far too tired to be attempting that particular impossibility.