Carolyn Hax: Her sister planned a mom-and-daughters trip without her

Dear Carolyn: Some months ago, my 79-year-old mother mentioned that her neighbor left for a gals’ trip with her two adult daughters, and Mom expressed how much she wished she could do a trip like that with me and my older sister. I agreed. We chatted through a few fun options and I said I would talk with my sister.

When I mentioned this to my sister, she asked, “What about the girls?” referring to her two adult children. I explained that mom just wanted it to be us three. I told her to start brainstorming and we could make a plan with mom.

A month or so later, my sister and her daughters presented a surprise birthday gift to my mom: a gals’ trip, excluding me, in front of me.

My husband squeezed my hand, my mom shot me an uncomfortable glance, all the air sucked out of the room and I almost cried. My mom talked to me the next day and said she was so sorry, that she had no idea and the two of us will do our own trip soon.

My sister and I typically get along well, but she doesn’t do much without her adult daughters. It is actually quite an odd closeness. They live in the same city, spend most weekends together, text all night and day. The kids are super-dependent on them still for everything.

It has been a few months since this incident, and it still really bothers me. I am not sure how to get past it. Help?!

— Excluded, Sad and Stewing

Excluded, Sad and Stewing: Your sister did a thoughtless, selfish thing. I want to say that upfront to make sure it doesn’t get buried in anything else I say.

Starting with this: What she did to you is small beans compared with the grave disservice she appears to have done her daughters. One trip without them, at her octogenarian mother’s behest, is inconceivable? I am here for close families, truly — but not stunted ones.

I know I am only taking your word for it. But about that: I’m the one who incorporated the “quite an odd closeness” information into your letter. You threw it in after signing off, as a postscript. So I’m inclined to believe that if I have the wrong impression of your sister, it’s because you’ve underplayed, not overplayed, her attachments.

And if that’s true, then that’s your missing step: to look at your exclusion in the full context of your sister’s radical inclusion of her adult daughters. In that bigger picture, excluding you was still a bad thing, but also a predictable one, within the range of what is apparently normal for her.

That is useful information. It suggests she didn’t walk up and slap you in the face on purpose so much as she was flailing her arms at face level just as you happened by. Figuratively speaking.

It still hurts, undeniably, but did she mean it? Could she help herself? Does she ever break type? Given her quite-oddness, was she ever going to slip cheerfully into the role your mom (and you) had in mind for her?

About your mom, while I’m here: She let you down, too. She could have talked to your sister herself at any point in the planning stages. That she hasn’t suggests your mom is either part of why your sister is unusually self-involved, or she’s wise to the hopelessness of wanting her to be otherwise. I hope for your sake it’s the latter. Then, too, she could be the right person to help you reach the same point of acceptance.

It’s also not over yet. If you’re determined to be hardy souls who can handle it if your sister flakes out again — if — you and your mom can proceed as if it wouldn’t occur to any of you that the gift trip was intended to replace the trip your mom wanted.

Right? Your sister stole this trip out from under you only if you take her word, her trip, as the last one. You can decide instead that more calendar pages will come, and with them presumably the good fortune of more opportunities to travel together.

Then, you can start planning your mom’s intended trip again, with or without Sis, wiser for the prior misfire. You can also say to your sister that surprising everyone with a her-girls’ trip when she knew you were planning one with her and mom was hurtful to you, but you’d like to continue with the original plan as well.

Go into both of these knowing not only that your mom really wants the trip she asked for, but also that your sister might be too odd a duck to comply. And that’s something you can anticipate, plan to offset, and even thicken your skin to withstand. If this is who she is, then at least it’s not about you.