I love this time of year. It’s a time for crunchy leaves, hot chocolate and rain boots, and it is generally characterized as a time to think of others and show compassion and kindness for your fellow man. It’s hard to not get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when you think about the season. There is no end to perfect rainy days, rest and relaxation (at least after finals are over) and most of all, family.
I’m sure there are some of you who are saying, “I spend time with my family all year long. I don’t need a specific holiday or season to think about them.“ I congratulate you lucky few who seem to have escaped with the last normal relations on the planet.
To everyone else, I feel your pain.
I’m not saying that I don’t love my family. On the contrary, I love them very much. In fact, if I were given the choice of any group of people to be related to, I would pick every single one of them over again. (But I’d also add Ellen DeGeneres in there – because, let’s face it, how could you not want to be related to Ellen?)
Anyway, the point is that families can be a loving, supportive, dysfunctional mess. Let me give you an example.
My mother’s side of the family can’t seem to comprehend the idea of having a pleasant and calm holiday. As far back as I can remember, we’ve had some disruption or confrontation during our Thanksgiving dinners. One of my earliest memories of these festivities is of my family sitting down to enjoy our feast of turkey, stuffing and all of those holiday staples.
The next thing I know, my head is being forced down into the pile of mashed potatoes on my plate. Even at that young age, I knew who was responsible for covering my face in my own dinner: Uncle John. As I blink through the warm, mushy vegetable that impedes my vision, my mischievous (for lack of an appropriate word) uncle flashes me a smile that is still ingrained in my memory for evoking an emotion I didn’t have the vocabulary to express at that age.
Of course, I tried to return the gesture, my small, feeble hands grasping for the top of my uncle’s 6-foot-plus frame. However, my grandmother, in her selectively observant genius, calls me out on my ridiculous attempts to overpower my uncle at the dinner table, putting a stop to all efforts at revenge. I’m still looking for an opportunity to get back at him.
This Thanksgiving was not much different. Sure, my uncle didn’t try to shove my face in my food, but I’m pretty sure that the desire wasn’t completely absent from other members of my family. As usual, politics became a point of discussion. You would think that after years of family gatherings we would learn that a group of people whose beliefs run the gamut of political views really shouldn’t discuss certain things. The argument – or “discussion,” as my grandmother insisted – that took up most of our Thanksgiving probably would have been better suited for a playground brawl, not a dinner table.
But it is the season for forgiveness, so in order to try to put any animosity behind us, my family always turns to playing cards. Of course, a competition really isn’t the best way to restore that warm, loving feeling. We all eventually wound up resorting to name-calling, the most common being “cheater,” but I can assure you that more colorful ones slipped out when my grandmother wasn’t paying attention. These games usually end with my Uncle John winning or claiming that the last three hours were simply “practice rounds.“
As we headed to our cars, there were hugs and many emphatic “I love yous,“ mostly in earnest warmth with a tinge of a wine-induced apology. On the ride home, we replayed the night in order to learn from our mistakes and establish a new game plan: “OK, at Christmas don’t bring up Prop 8 and if grandma starts talking about immigration, distract her with your latest school project.“
Although family time can be difficult, I wouldn’t give it up for the world. Where else can you receive such absolute support, or call someone narrow-minded and hear that person respond with an affirmation of unconditional love?
DANIELLE RAMIREZ wants to hear other people’s stories of family dysfunction. To share your holiday memories e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.