Sorry, but I just need to bitch. Going to get this off my chest and then try to return to our standard semi-positive format!
It’s not that we don’t manage to actually have the family gatherings. We just don’t manage to have them in such a way that everyone goes away happy.
In hindsight, I can see how we got here. We two sisters are the oldest. We became adults first. We got married first. We owned homes and had children first. Those first several years, if Mom and Dad weren’t hosting, one of us sisters did. I don’t know about my sister, but personally, I assumed that somewhere down the road, the brothers and their wives would take a turn hosting a holiday, once they were a little more settled and had homes of their own. But here we all are, well into our forties. The older younger brother usually has everyone over for Fourth of July. My sister and I alternate Christmas, Thanksgiving, milestone birthdays and such. And the youngest brother has yet to host a holiday.
When our family hosts a family party, we try to encourage everyone to contributes a little something. None of us is rich, and we’ve all experienced tough times here and there. But over the years, it was always my sister or me cleaning our homes, buying alcohol and soft drinks, and incurring the cost of the main portion of any meal. A major holiday costs the hosts a couple hundred dollars or so, while the youngest brother, if he contributes anything, might show up with cheese and Ritz crackers. And by the way, could I find a cheese slicer and a cutting board because he couldn’t prepare the cheese ahead of time? And did I have a serving tray he could use too, because he didn’t think to bring one?
Oh, he usually brings some kind of specialty beer. But not to share with everyone else.
I know. This all sounds so very petty. And I’m not sure when I got so bitter about it all. I know it started brewing a few years ago when I realized that if my sister wasn’t hosting Christmas or Thanksgiving, it would be my turn again. Then last Christmas rolled around and the youngest brother said he and his family would be joining us for the family Christmas Eve party but refused to commit to contributing anything. I did all of my grocery shopping for everything that hadn’t been volunteered before his wife texted me one day prior to Christmas to ask what they should bring. And that’s when I think I’d kind of had it. What can we bring? I have almost everything we need but could still use a veggie tray. How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray. Okay, what do you want to bring? Followed by absolutely no response whatsoever.
And then the youngest brother and his family of six showed up 45 minutes earlier than invited bearing a twelve-pack of Pepsi. Was it petty of me to feel insulted? I was stewing even more when, as usual, cleanup time rolled around and the brother and his wife sat comfortably in the living room, drinking wine and beer and enjoying my parents’ company while my family, my sister and I did the dishes and cleaned up. Just once, I’d like to be the one who gets to relax in the living room after a holiday meal and spend time talking with my mom or dad. But the reality is, even when I’m the guest, you can find me in the kitchen helping at cleanup time. Many hands make light work and all that, you know?
Oh, and let’s not forget how the brother thinks he is entitled to complain if he wasn’t offered leftovers to take home. When I am entertaining twenty-five people, I am not planning much more food than is necessary to serve everyone a good meal. Leftovers are a bonus reserved for those who actually purchased and prepared the food, if you ask me.
Christmas was the last straw for me. I’ve had one too many holidays that included rude, disrespectful, even belligerent behavior from this brother. I told my sister I was done. I said if she wanted to keep hosting the rest of the family for every celebratory event, she could. Count me out. I was ready to keep any future celebrations to my immediate family. My parents live a block away. I see them often enough. They could spend the holidays with their other kids and they wouldn’t miss me.
My sister chided me, several times. Mom and Dad may not be around in a few years. These may be our last years with them. Let’s just suck it up for their sake. It’s important to them that we’re all together on the holidays. I let her convince me she was right. And besides, Easter was coming and Mom and Dad always have Easter at their house. Granted, my sister and I have cleaned Mom and Dad’s house and done much of the cooking for Easter over the past few years. Still, somehow I was more okay with doing the family gathering thing at their house than mine. I was fine with it as long as I didn’t have to have it at my house.
Just prior to Easter, my mom asked me if we could do something different this year. She didn’t think she could manage having a houseful of company, even if my sister and I did the cleaning and cooking. I drew the line. I said, Mom, I’d be happy to prepare Easter brunch. You and dad are welcome to come join my family and me. But I’m done having the whole family over. Your youngest son is always rude and disrespectful. (Actually, I said that he is a jerk to me.) I will clean your house and cook the food and join the whole family here. But I won’t invite him to my house.
Take my word for it when I say he is rude and disrespectful. Not only is he a bad guest, but he has belittled my husband, he has belittled my husband to my kids, (Your dad’s an idiot) and verbally attacked my son over a difference of opinion in truck brands. (I can only guess that alcohol and low self-esteem justify this behavior in his mind. I honestly do not know what I’ve done to earn such disdain from him.) He proudly told me on Christmas that he told Dad he had a crappy childhood because our parents didn’t take us on vacations or let him play hockey. Nevermind the fact that we had no money. Nevermind the fact that we were loved, had beds to sleep in and food to eat. But he is still holding a grudge for what he didn’t have. This is not a person I would choose to associate with if he weren’t family. I’m finding it harder and harder to figure out why I feel compelled to play along with the myth of the happy family celebration.
Mom agreed maybe it was time to quit trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. I told her to let me know what she decided. Her house with everyone, or my house with just us and Mom and Dad. Two days later, I got a text from my sister. Mom wants to know if one of us will host Easter this year.
I called my sister and asked what this was all about. I said I’d already had this conversation with Mom and I was not willing to host Easter for the entire family. My sister gave me the speech again about how we never know when it’s the last holiday with Mom and Dad. She said she would host Easter – in the house she just moved into with the many boxes she isn’t nearly done unpacking. Guilt kicked in and I said I would host Easter. She was in no position to do it. We went round and round but she finally insisted she really didn’t mind having it. I was relieved and told myself for the millionth time to quit holding grudges and just try to enjoy my family for who we are.
My sister and I decided to be smarter this time. Instead of asking everyone if they could bring a dish to share, she sent out a message that included the menu and asked everyone to pick an item to contribute. Youngest brother – all 43 years old of him – immediately called mom to complain that he was being told what to bring and he didn’t want to be told what to bring. Mom told him that no one should be telling him what to bring and he should just bring whatever he wants.
Do you see the problem here? Can you say enabling?
Also, Mom apparently mentioned to my sister, my brother’s verbal attack on Jake last summer. Long story short, she mentioned that Jake should be prepared for my brother to give him a hard time about the new truck Jake just bought. Even though I might think this is wrong, even though any sane person would think this is wrong, in my parents’ opinion, my brother is Jake’s elder and Jake should just keep his mouth shut and accept whatever my brother might have to say. Bottom line, Jake might be made to feel bad, but no one should stand up against this.
Over my dead body. Who are these people? And why do they think it’s okay for family to be hateful to each other and pretend it didn’t happen?
And still we planned to attend Easter, probably because I had responsibility for some of the main dishes and didn’t want to leave my sister in the lurch. In the end, we told Jake to stick near us and not to engage in any conversation about the truck with my youngest brother. Luckily the topic wasn’t brought up. Although I was glad when my older-younger brother asked Jake about it and expressed sincere happiness for him. That was good for Jake.
Meanwhile, youngest brother arrived with his family of six and dumped his Target bag of coffee cakes in the kitchen for someone else to slice up and find a serving tray on which to serve them. And I have to admit he was fairly well-behaved except for the part where my sister mentioned that one of the dishes she made was from a Pioneer Woman recipe and youngest brother had to announce to everyone that the Pioneer Woman’s food is disgusting because it’s all made with lard and fat and it’s unhealthy. And did he mention disgusting? I said that it is southern comfort food and my sister said that it’s not like they eat food like that every day and still he had to have the last word which was disgusting.
Did I mention that the first thing I did upon arriving at my sister’s house at 10:00 am was to start drinking? Can you blame me?
We finally had all of the food prepared and sat down to eat. Youngest brother’s wife immediately left with two of their kids the minute they were done eating. No one quite knows why. Mark, my sister, our kids and I cleaned up the mess and did dishes while youngest brother sat in the living room, drinking beer and conversing with Mom and Dad.
And Dad said to me, You’re awfully quiet today. And all I could say is, I guess I just don’t have much new to talk about. Because really, what am I going to say? That after years of not having a healthy conversation about how much I hate the way we handle holidays, I am beyond reason and ready to explode? I don’t think so.
In two weeks, we have another family celebration, this time in honor of Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. I will hold my tongue and I will play nice and I will get through it because I refuse to be responsible for putting a black mark on something this big.
And then I am done. Because I can’t help but feel that my parents choose my youngest brother over anyone else’s feelings, have always chosen him. We should not hurt his feelings, but we should just understand that he can’t help but hurt ours. It’s always been that way. He’s the baby of the family. His life is tough. (Not really. First world problems, believe me.) God help me if I repeat this cycle with my own kids. So I am done.
So I say now. Or until my sister convinces me again that if I make such a choice, I will not be proud of myself when Mom and Dad are no longer here to celebrate with, dysfunctional or not.
I would like to think that what we have is some kind of twisted family normal. Is it too late to move out-of-state? Would it be wrong to fake my own death just for the duration of the next holiday?
And in spite of everything I just said here, I’ll bet you twenty bucks I’ll be hosting a family celebration again before the year is done. Because clearly, I am insane.