One of my all-time favorite Yo Gabba Gabba songs (shut up) is the song Muno & his slightly dildo-ish family sing about being a family.
The fact that all the males in Muno’s family have bumps and all the females are smooth makes me feel weird. Is it some sort of subtle commentary on hair removal for women? A segue into a birds-and-bees conversation? A cautionary tale about STDs? WHAT IS GOING ON.
The song (of which I can’t find a video anywhere online because it’s 1997 all of a sudden), is really sweet and immensely catchy, and highlights the unique personalities of each of Muno’s family members (“I’m Muno’s Mom! I like chihuahuas and Chinese noodles!”) before returning to the refrain: “1-2-3-4-5 people are in my family/We are best friends/We love each other/That’s my family!” etc., etc., etc., long story short, I’ve been singing this song since January.
OK, maybe just let me put it on for, like, five minutes.
So, here’s where things get weird(-er): When I first heard this song, it made me sad. Granted, this was back when my hormones were going apeshit from weaning (“My boobs are useless AND SO IS LIVING.”), but it still gives me a little twinge in my chest when I hear the “we are best friends, we love each other” part because…well, SO MUCH about my experiences with family falls way short of “best friend” status, and while we do love each other, it’s just so much more complicated than that. In short: WHY CAN’T LIFE BE AS SIMPLE AS YO GABBA GABBA SONGS?
Before I delve any deeper into this subject, allow me to explain to you the kind of family I have, because I think that’s important here. Families come in so many different varieties, and I’m not just referring to the single mom/single dad/ two mommies/two daddies designation.
And Lord forbid you fall into the “My Two Dads” category.
No, the family classification I’m talking about has more to do with things like how you argue, how you spend holidays, how you do (or don’t) stay in touch, and how you all relate to each other as adults. These are the things I think really create a family’s dynamic. I don’t care if you were raised by your queer grandmother and I was raised by a heterosexual married couple; if you ALSO find yourself walking on eggshells to avoid conflict and weathering months- (and sometimes years-) long grudges, WE HAVE MUCH TO DISCUSS, MY FRIEND.
Anyhoo, my family can be summed up thusly:
- We like to ignore messy problems. Actually, scratch that: 50% of us like to ignore messy problems, and the other 50% like to bring up said problems at the worst possible time and get everyone all worked up, which usually results in…
- GRUDGES. There is one main person who holds grudges in our family, and it sucks. Mostly because half the time? You aren’t even aware this person is upset with you until it’s too late. Which is adjacent to another family-wide issue:
- We don’t tell each other when we’re hurt or angry. Instead, we let it fester, come to a head, incite a major fight, get a couple grudges out of it, and then maybe — MAYBE! — temporarily patch things over months and months later, but the root issue is never really resolved. But we’re not all bad. We also…
- Are able to have a good time around each other. We can go on vacations together without wanting to saw off each other’s heads by Day Two. Which is kind of amazing, because…
- We have all cultivated very different belief systems. Well, OK, mostly it’s ME who has the “very different belief system,” but still, even though the other members of my family agree on most major things, they have amongst each other some pretty different opinions on things (see: messy problems, ignoring of; grudges, holding).
- We leave a whole shit-ton unsaid. Because we are all very different people, I don’t think any of us has ever had a really, truly in-depth conversation with another member of the family (save for my parents talking to each other, I’d imagine). There is always so much that has to be hidden in the name of maintaining peace and harmony, and sometimes I think we just plain can’t predict how the other person will react, so we keep it in. And although it’s an unrealistic expectation, I feel disappointed and almost embarrassed that we aren’t all best friends or something. I feel like I should be able to blame this on sitcoms. WE ARE NOT THE HUXTABLES, INTERNET, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE WE DON’T DANCE DOWN STAIRCASES ON SPECIAL OCCASIONS.
- We don’t stay in touch very well. This makes us all a) feel guilty, and b) blame all other parties in the family for their shitty staying-in-touch skills.
- Last but not least, we love each other. I mean, of course we do. And we are able to genuinely enjoy each other’s company (as long as we all take pains to ignore the “messy” topics). Go us!
I realize that my family is not unique in many (or most) of these ways, but I’ve always felt that — I don’t know — we could be enjoying each other more? Trying to understand each other more? A little slower to shut down whenever someone says something that falls beyond the parameters of what we’re comfortable with? Something like that. And, of course, having Sadie has brought this stuff to the forefront of my mind, because I sure as hell don’t want HER to feel as though she has to keep things from me, or that she can’t be her real self around me for fear that I won’t understand, or — worse — that I’ll judge her. Honestly, the thought of that fucking kills me, Internet.
I’m not saying I want my daughter to be one of those people [I never, ever believe] who say “my mom is my best friend!” because, NO, I do not want that. I’m not her best friend, I’m her mother. We’re not peers. I was alive 32 years before she came along, and I don’t know about you, but most of my BFFs did not pass me through their genitals. I want her to share things with me and enjoy spending time with me, sure, but I’m not looking to redefine the mother-daughter relationship here.
I won’t (or will try not to) guilt-trip her into calling me or visiting me, because I want her to want to call me and visit me. I don’t want her to feel like she has obligations to me (well, besides the obligation of maybe picking a half-decent nursing home for my old, incontinent ass to play Scrabble in), because frankly, I’ve never really understood the whole “obligation” aspect of family. Perhaps the Internet can clear this up for me…
I remember watching an episode of the Golden Girls (not sure which one — maybe the one where Blanche had sex and they all ate cheesecake? Yeah, that one) in which Sophia tells Dorothy “We do for family.” That has always stuck in my head — probably because I don’t understand (or don’t like) what it means. I just have a hard time with the whole “duty to family” thing. Sure, I cut my family a whole hell of a lot more slack than I ever would a friend or coworker, and I can’t ever imagine extracting myself from their lives altogether…but where does it stop? Do you have to stand by family members even when they’re being abusive and destructive (or self-destructive)? Do you owe them X amount of loyalty just because you share blood and a childhood? How far does the obligation go?
Just so we’re clear, I’m not necessarily referring to situations like, say, caring for an elderly parent, or giving your ancient Aunt Yvonne a lift to the podiatrist every week. I absolutely feel a sense of duty towards older family members who are lonely and/or need extra help in certain areas, but I also want to be there for them. I don’t have any grandparents still living, but if they were, I might not consider a 3pm dinner with them the most scintillating time I’ve ever had, but I’d want to do it.
I suppose I’m referring to family members who are of (theoretically) sound mind and body, but who seem to be constantly bringing The Shit down upon themselves and — in most cases — distributing it among family members so that everyone is suddenly fucking miserable as a result of one person’s drama. YOU KNOW those relatives. The perpetual victims who constantly turn to brothers, sisters, parents, even children for whatever the Need o’ the Day is (usually money, head-patting, and sympathy). I have a relative like this in the outer orbit of my family, and Internet, I’m just about fucking done. Because the selfishness and disrespect and — without revealing too much — the certain activities that are not on the up-and-up are fucking constant with this person. But this person is also a part of a family, and as such, deserves some loyalty, protection, and love, right? If your family won’t give you a second (and third, and FIVE-MILLIONTH) chance, who will?
This is veering precariously close to Intervention territory (which is, uh, no small coincidence), and having watched my fair share of episodes, the whole “enabling” aspect of family is something I think about regularly. Of course, having Sadie has given a whole new dimension to the parents I see on that show struggling to kick their addict children out onto the streets FOR THEIR OWN GOOD. They have to shun them as a last resort to save them, making tough love seem like the polar opposite of “doing for family.” But when a person has become toxic and manipulative and destructive in that many ways, what choice do you have? Even if it is a person you’ve known since the first breath they drew on Earth?
I am not generally a person who thinks in black and white. I believe the entire fucking experience of living is one giant shade of gray, and I like it that way. But for whatever reason, the realm of family dynamics is the one area where I want the rules to be clear. Here are my obligations, here’s when it’s OK to ignore them. Here’s permission to believe that your own daughter won’t feel similarly conflicted about you.
Wow. I think this is the most scatterbrained Deep Thoughts I’ve ever posted. Apologies if it’s not making any sense to you, because I’m not sure it’s making any sense to me. At any rate, please tell me your thoughts in the comments, Internet.
“If you don’t, that’s fine. I understand. You know, some blogs have readers who comment EVERY TIME, but you’re busy, I understand that. Did I mention the doctor told me there might be something wrong with my heart? Oh, but you don’t need to be bothered with such details. *siiiiiigh*”