I had an abortion last spring. I was very sad about it, but do not regret it in the least, for many reasons. I decided not to tell my mother because she is a fundamentalist Christian and completely anti-abortion. But, thanks to one of my cousins who knew my then-boyfriend, Mom found out a few days after I had it. She actually came to my town—I work about 100 miles away from my parents—to have a big fight with me about it, and we did. In the intervening months we have sent emails and letters back and forth, most of them from her with short responses from me. She told me lots of upsetting, but I suppose understandable, things about how sad she is at losing her grandchild and about her shame that she had raised someone she thinks of as a murderer. But she says that she has worked through all this and has completely forgiven me. She says that she spent a lot of time talking this over with her pastor, who reminded her that even when you hate the sin you must love the sinner. She also said that she misses me and sometimes longs for my company.
I guess I am happy that she has worked all this out in her head, and that she feels a little bit better, but I do not think that I need forgiveness, and I do not feel like a sinner who “must be loved” despite hateful conduct.
She wants me to come for Thanksgiving and Christmas. What should I do? It might help if I tell you that I have four siblings, all of whom will be there at some point over Christmas and probably some for Thanksgiving, and that two of them agree with me where reproductive choices are concerned. The other two are very much my mother’s children. I have no idea what my father thinks. I do know that he loves me and misses me.
–Unrepentant in Union City
I am so sorry that your mother made a bad time in your life even worse.
You strike me as a remarkably fair and empathetic person. I am impressed that you call your mom’s initial feelings “understandable” in light of her beliefs, and that you acknowledge her sense of loss even though she seems to have given little or no thought to your feelings. Many people would not be so forbearing after their mother rushed to their side, unbidden, in a time of trouble in order to scream at them and try to make them feel ashamed.
As for visiting at Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am not sure I know enough about the situation to advise you on whether to go; but I feel very confident in advising you to base your decision on what you think would be best for you, not on any sense of filial or other moral or social obligation. I am not saying that you will never owe anything to your parents or the rest of your family, only that you do not need to subject yourself to their intolerance—or, worse, their sanctimonious tolerance—during holiday visits.
I am not sure how far that advice gets you. Sometimes it is just as hard to figure out what you want to do as what you ought to do. Does any part of you actually want to go home for either of the holidays? I got a hint that you might want to make the trip when you mentioned your father, whom I am guessing you miss. (Have you two been in touch? Has he actually told you he loves and misses you? Do you think he knows about the abortion, and is not bringing it up out of kindness or even a sort of solidarity?) I am also guessing that you might like to see at your more congenial siblings. If you are of two minds about what you want to do—not what you think you should do—I would see if there are ways to proceed that minimize the risk of friction and offer enough chance for actual enjoyment to make a visit worth the gamble. Some ideas: come for Thanksgiving dinner only, and only if at least one of your sympathetic sibs will also be there. (Considering a Christmas visit can wait until you’ve survived Thanksgiving, which I assume is less elaborate and does not involve church.) Drive down—rent a car, if you have to—so you can make a smooth, quick exit if your mom or “her” children misbehave. Bring a friend, if possible. Arrange for a short getaway with your father, like a dog walk or a CVS-run.
And set ground rules with Mom and any of her minions before you say yes. I suggest an email to this effect: “I’m really busy next month, but I’ll be happy to drive down for dinner on Thanksgiving. One condition, though: you are not to mention my abortion or anything related to it. If you do, I will have to leave, probably for quite a while. And neither of us will ever again mention ‘forgiveness.’ As far as I am concerned, I made a difficult and very personal decision, which is not yours to forgive or condone, much less condemn. I love you, and I hope that we can both move on. Are you cool with that? If so, is dinner still at three? And should I bring the green-bean casserole?”
If she balks at your ground rules, or if the situation does not otherwise seem promising—if, for example, it’ll just be you and your folks and the two anti-choice sibs, or if the dinner is scheduled for so late that you feel you’d have to sleep over, but would rather not—stay away, at least for the time being.
I hope you will forgive me for saying that your mother’s behavioral health sounds a bit sketchy—not because she opposes abortion or has fundamentalist beliefs, but because she appears to have driven a hundred miles, well after the fact of your procedure, for the sole apparent purpose of picking a fight. No matter what you decide to do for the holidays, be careful how you tread with this volatile and self-absorbed woman.
And I probably don’t have to tell you this, but: whether or not you see your folks over the holidays, don’t neglect the people you think you can really count on. Think about developing your own holiday traditions. Watch the Alastair Sim Christmas Carol and eat sticky plum pudding with your best local friends before you drive home, if you do; or get drunk and weepy with them over It’s a Wonderful Life while you trim your own tree. Celebrate the Solstice or Isaac Newton’s birthday or Twelfth Night or MLK Day of Service. The possibilities are endless.
What is your position on people’s saying “no problem” instead of “you’re welcome?” I can’t make myself stand it.
–Fussbudget in Frankfort
Dear FBin F,
I, too, dislike it (as Marianne Moore once said, in a wildly different context). When you thank people and they say “no problem,” it can be hard not to think: “Of course there’s no problem, why on earth would there be, what are you TALKING about?”
I find the expression annoying enough when the person you are thanking has just done something totally routine for you, often as part of their job, like busing your table or making change. But it’s even more irritating when the person or his or her principal has actually messed up in some way (I still struggle with the singular “they”—hope that’s not a problem.)
To take one instance among many, I remember spending over half an hour getting shunted from person to person and line to line in order to correct an overcharge at the supermarket. It was one of those unanticipated morasses where each step takes about five minutes, and you keep getting sucked into the next step, and you get madder and madder because you are wasting more and more time to recoup $2.75 for that salad dressing they billed you twice for, but you suppose it’s the principle of the thing, but then again perhaps you should rethink your hierarchy of principles since presumably your time has some value—when finally the Customer Service supervisor checks your receipt and, after making you sign two forms, hands you two dollars and three quarters, whereupon you mutter “Thank you” and she gives you a big gracious smile and says “No problem!” in this bright voice that, to you, sounds both vacant and patronizing, and it is all you can do not to jump up and down and shout “There was TOO a problem, but it was not YOUR problem, so where do YOU come off telling ME that YOU have no problem when YOU are not the one who just got shunted around for a half hour to correct YOUR mistake??!?”
Of course, being June, I simply returned the rep’s smile with a somewhat chillier one of my own. Nor did I wince when she told me, with utter indifference in her eyes, to have a nice day.
So I do feel for you. But I think that you and I both just have to get over it. “No problem” is said almost everywhere and has pretty much lost its literal meaning. When people use the expression in everyday conversation, they are no more reassuring us about some difficulty they, or we, might have thought they had with us than we are consciously asking God to be with people when we say “Goodbye” to them. As far as I can tell, “No problem” can mean either “You’re welcome” or—if said jauntily or repeatedly, especially when not in response to an expression of thanks—“At your service.” Unless the context is one of obstacles and issues, the expression no longer has anything to do with problems.
In fact, “No problem” is so ubiquitous that I feel like a rather predictable old fart for even discussing it, much less objecting to it. I am sorry, my fussy friend, but we just have to let it go.
I do draw the line, though, at “No problemo,” unless used with deep irony. Although, for all I know, it may work in Esperanto, “No problemo” is not a Spanish expression, and “problemo” isn’t even a Spanish word—which, I think, makes the expression quite irritating and possibly offensive when English speakers use it. But time may not be on my side even here; I read on some website that “No problemo” is “accepted English.” We should be grateful for our dynamic language, I suppose.
Cleaver’s in-house advice columnist opines on matters punctuational, interpersonal, and philosophical, spinning wit and literary wisdom in response to your ethical quandaries. Write to her at [email protected]. Find more columns by June in her attic.