I had a friend tell me recently that he has no positive memories of Christmas. I told my mom this as we rushed through the house getting ready for Thanksgiving, intermittently bickering and laughing together the way that only best friends do. My mom laughed, “well, who has good memories of the holidays?” She didn’t mean that our holidays are always filled with non-stop anguish, for we had lots of good memories of holidays together during my youth, but those holidays also had their tense moments as we attempted to cook and clean and organize and make ourselves presentable and make our bilingual hodge-podge of cultures and neuroses into a cohesive family unit by the time the football game ended and it was time for dinner. Not an easy task, and one that was bound to be remembered both positively and negatively, depending on the breadth of your focus, and, of course, perspective.
As an only child with a small extended family, my parents are my closest relatives, and I love them very much. My experiences with them have changed, slightly, as they’ve divorced and begun relationships with other people, but I still love my parents as individuals, as parts of my nuclear family. My parents may shave years off my life with their driving, wound me with their occasional expressions of disapproval, find unique ways to make me grind my teeth in frustration and anxiety, but really, it’s only because I care so much.
In reality, no one drives you crazy like people you love. I believe that even the most well-intentioned parents will, even as they make their best efforts to shape their children into wonderful citizens of the world, incidentally and repeatedly pass on little traumas and neuroses that those children will carry forward with them as the wonderful cycle of human kinks and quirks continues. I embrace this idea as the truth, and revel in it.
I like being my parents’ child and all the implications that come with my position. I don’t mind, for instance, having a crippling fear of cockroaches, that I’m pretty sure comes from seeing my parents get trapped in a doorway as they both attempted to flee a cockroach on a shower curtain. I don’t mind because I know that, in one way or another, the two people responsible for my existence would have left all manner of marks on me, no matter what they so happened to be afraid of. That’s why this season presents such an interesting exhibition in human behavior for me, both as spectator and subject, as I visit not only my own childhood home, but also those of my friends, witnessing the return of my friends to their families.
I guess you never know what normal is. Whatever you live with is normal, even if you question how great “normal,” really is if it makes your family run around the house yelling and starts a fire in your oven, but it’s only after you get a taste of the outside world that you find out that other people’s normal might not be yours.
Some families raise their voices easily and comfortably. Other families don’t. Some families have oyster stuffing. Other families don’t. However, I’ve noticed that, by and large, a lot of my friends find their families just a little infuriating. I smiled as I watched my friends’ Snap stories from Thanksgiving weekend. So many of them overjoyed to be home, but the background of each video was filled with relatives lovingly but crabbily snapping at each other, “Mom, Mom,” and “yes, for Christ’s sake, it’s cooked.” I could feel the collective blood pressure of my peer group rising as meals were prepared and trees were decorated.
I appreciate that nowadays the media has begun to celebrate the fact that many of us are at least a little incompetent when it comes to cooking large poultry, putting up Christmas trees, and maintaining our composure around relatives who know exactly how to push our buttons. I like this display of human imperfection. I like the gathering of distinct, strong personalities, even though they may clash. I feel endeared to people when I see them sweat a little bit as they introduce me to the family friends who are wont to make off-color jokes. I let my guard down when my friends’ parents bicker as they serve pie after Thanksgiving dinner. Maybe your family doesn’t do that. Maybe everyone in your family gets along and no one in your family has ever told the person they love the most to fuck off. And that’s fine, I like an episode of “Leave it to Beaver,” as much as the next kid with a foreign mom just trying to find out how America works. But, with all due respect, I reject the invitation to your holiday table. I’ll take each holiday meal with a healthy side of dysfunction.