I'm going to attempt to kill two birds with one stone today, primarily because the time that I get to peck away at an actual keyboard is so fleeting these days that I have to try and make the most of it. If this child has done nothing else for my writing career, he's made me infinitely more efficient, that is certain.
I was asked earlier this week to write about familial dysfunction around the holidays. The person who requested that I write on this topic may be submitting a guest post in the coming days or weeks, which I will gladly feature here upon its arrival.
This time of year always makes me think about family, as I'm sure it does for most people, at least in this country. The tail end of November has always firmly belonged to my father, as his birthday is the 27th. Was the 27th.
Death is so pesky that way. He may not be here anymore, but there is a part of me that still thinks of certain things in a present tense, as though his birthday still falls on the 27th even though he hasn't been here to celebrate it in years now.
This year, his birthday will fall on Thanksgiving Day for the first time since his death. I hate that, though I am sure that it will just work itself out to be more efficient this year, the grief and all that comes with it. We aren't actually celebrating the holiday on that day and have nowhere to be. We'll be spending the following day with my inlaws instead.
To be completely honest, I am glad to not have anywhere to be that day, glad not to have a laundry list of tasks to complete, glad not to be cooking for a small army all day. I think we may just buy some pizzas to throw in the oven and a 6 pack of Coors Light, park ourselves in front of the television and call it a day.
I'll just be home with my husband and our kids that day, which ironically is something I longed for back when I still had both of my parents and every holiday was filled with chaos and expectation and obligation.
Be careful what you wish for, my friends, because one day you'll find that you have nowhere to go on that holiday and you'll long for the days of holidays past.
Since I'm going to try and combine the quote with the topic request, here is the quote I have chosen:
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
~ Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina
Tolstoy was, of course, a famous Russian novelist. The book from which this quote was taken, Anna Karenina, was one of his most popular, alongside War and Peace. One of these days, I mean to re-read them both as an adult. I have this habit of loathing some books when I was assigned to read them in the past, but falling deeply in love with them upon revisiting them with the perspective I have on life these days.
When I read this quote again yesterday, I knew that it would be perfect for this series, and for this topic about family dysfunction, because it is one filled with so much simple truth. We are all messed up in our own ways, certainly, and our issues had to come from somewhere.
Damned apple trees.
To me, this quote seems to say that we are all indeed screwed up, even those who appear from the outside to be stable and happy, perhaps even more so.
I can only speak from my personal experiences, of course, but I can tell you that what others see is hardly ever a true full picture of what reality is. Almost never. Those who have family problems that play out for the world to see are called names in our society, accused of being dramatic and worse. Most of us keep it all hidden, behind closed doors, behind those perfectly manicured lawns and bright white picket fences.
Things in my family were never perfect growing up. They didn't get better as I aged. In most ways, they got worse. Either that or I just became more aware of the dysfunction as I got older. From the outside, though, things never seemed so bad. In my adult life, with my own husband and children, I think the illusion was even grander at times because it wasn't just the outside world being snowed, it was us too. We'd fallen for the idea that things were fine when they weren't.
We put on the fancy clothes and the happy faces and pretended splendidly.
It's easy to believe that other people have their shit together. It's easy to see what is displayed to the world and believe it to be the entirety of someone.
It's just not true.
It's easy to believe that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, but you should never make the climb over that fence on the assumption that your beliefs are accurate ones. The grass isn't greener, it almost never is, and even if it seems to be for a while, it might only be because it ends up being astroturf. A fake construct that you had in your head, revealed for what it truly is only once you've scaled that fence to the other side.
We've all got problems. Even and especially those of us who seem not to.
Some of us are just better at hiding it.
The trouble comes when all those people with all those problems are thrust into the same dining room for holidays such as the one coming up next week. We build up the expectations so high, we hope that everything will be wonderful, we intend to make only good memories, and then we are slammed back down to earth when reality hits and we occupy the same space as all those people we are related to.
Sure, some people have Rockweillian holidays. They take the gorgeous family photos, they have spirited but civil conversations, they catch up with one another, they leave on good terms. Some people have that.
At least I assume some people have that.
Not everyone does.
Not everyone can engage their family without flinching. Not everyone can get past the past. Sometimes the passive aggressiveness takes over, the snide remarks pile up too high. Sometimes the hurts are just too big. There's always someone drinking too much in the corner. Someone avoiding everyone else by staying busy in the kitchen. Someone who volunteers a little too quickly to try and find a store open somewhere in town because we've run out of butter or need a turkey baster.
I've been that someone. More than once.
Oh god, there are times I've been all those someones.
Holidays are hard because we want them so desperately to be good. We want to believe in our hearts that we can overlook all the bad things about ourselves and each other for just that one day, except that sometimes we just can't.
Perhaps if we didn't create these expectations in our minds, if we didn't wish for things to suddenly be rosy and perfect just because of the date on the calendar, if we gave everyone else and especially ourselves a break, it wouldn't be this way.
What I wouldn't give for the chance to find out.
That ship, though, has sailed. My parents are both gone.
Believe me when I say that as hard as the holidays are with your family, as much as you may wish to be without them at times, as much as you may want to stay home and refuse to engage them...once you don't have any other options, you will wish that you did. You'll miss them in ways you never imagined, and you'll always wonder what could have been.
Once they are gone, so is the hope that things could ever be better.
This Thanksgiving, I wish for each of you out there reading this to find some peace and solace. Be gentle on yourself. Lower the expectations you put on yourselves and on everyone else. It doesn't have to be perfect to be beautiful.
And know that sometimes, on some years, pizza and beer can make the best Thanksgiving dinner.
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