How Was It Again?

Ah, family.

Having been home for two days, I recall now, so clearly, why I only ever invite one of them at a time to visit me. This should be a rule, really, as while I love them dearly, the only thing that keeps us from being a Greek tragedy is monotheism and a distaste for olives.

Before I left for home, I went out with some friends, and they asked a seemingly inevitable and harmless question: are you excited for your trip home? In that moment, I found myself doing what my father does when asked about something uncomfortable. I attempted to re-do whatever I was doing just before the question was asked, only this time slowly and mentally counting off to myself all the details of it.

At least I assume that's what it is my father is doing.

"Yes and no," I finally said. How do you adequately express your love for family - a true social norm - and your distress at the potential of a long-time visit without seeming bitter or mean or spiteful? Maybe it can be done, but it's tough to do over brunch. The very act of going to brunch, I think, is an attempt to put some sheen of civality on that doesn't allow for - or at least doesn't want to recognize - this sort of sentiment. My family, as you may surmise, are not brunchers.

The trip this time is different than usual, and so my apprehension also differs. My crazy Republican uncle is in town, and this adds an entirely different level of madness to the house here. There is a weird dynamic between my mother and uncle. I've spent the last two days trying to come up with an appropriate metaphor for it, but so far nothing quite sticks:
  • They are like East Coast and West Coast gangsta rappers at an awards ceremony. We are the uncomfortable person giving an award in the midst of their meeting on stage. At any moment, homages to "Scarface" will be given; glocks will be drawn, held at absurd Tarantino angles; threats will be issued. It will either end with someone dead and a martyr for subculture or with an awkward acceptance speech.
  • It is like dinner with rival snarky reality-TV judges, except minus the British accents and glossy veneer of metrosexuality to make them more palatable. Each must have the last say. Each spends the evening looking for offense. No one appreciates the pie.

None of these things seems to work, really. Already, barely 48 hours in, most of the family is incapable of speaking directly to each other, and instead must relay messages in an obscene version of Chinese Telephone.

"Tell your uncle I don't feel like going to walk around downtown."

"Let mom know Jessica won't be by to pick up the baby until tomorrow."

"Tell my sister that I've had more interesting pie in math class."

Okay, only I would've made that last statement, but only because I find pi references hysterical when they allow me to escape from my job as familial interventionist. Honestly, I just needed twenty minutes to check out of having to translate and wash away the acid-tongue sensibilities of all these messages.

What is most frustrating to it all is that I'd come up with a quick way out of this for everyone two hours in: an excuse for my uncle to go home early (because he clearly doesn't want to be here), an excuse for my parents to let him without appearing to be bad hosts (because they clearly don't want him here), and an excuse for me to not have to translate for the last hours of their visit. But familial politeness demanded - and ordinarily, I would think this was a Southern trait but the folks in question are both definitely of Yankee persuasion - that any such excuse or use of logic be dismissed.

"Oh, no," my mother said, as I presented the option, "then who knows when we'd get to spend some quality time together?"

I knew I hate the phrase "quality time." Now I know why. When else indeed?

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Brigindo said...

Before the break a colleague asked if I was traveling to my home town. My immediate response was "Oh no, my family lives there you know." By the look on his face I gathered he didn't get it.

December 28, 2008 at 5:17 PM
Dr. Curmudgeon said...

What's awful - and I need to rectify this in the blog-o-sphere - is that there are a lot of great things about being home and about my family.

I do keep coming back, after all. But it's often - maybe always - an exercise as much as a vacation.

December 29, 2008 at 11:54 PM