Family is the thing that gets your blood pumping, in anger or in splendid, blissful love. I’m sure everyone can tell stories on both ends of the spectrum. Perhaps it’s my Irish-Scottish heritage, but there have been plenty of days when I wanted to trade in my family. And there was even a period of time when I did not speak to members of my family. Not for weeks. Not for months. But for years. In my case, that wasn’t maybe the most productive use of my time on earth. But it’s part of my path.
Christmastime can really drive home some of the desperate nostalgia we feel for a more cohesive, happier, functional, attractive family. The kind that they show on loop on the Hallmark channel. One of my favorite Christmas movies of all time is The Family Stone. There are some scenes so thick with awkward tension that it still makes me squirm after ten years of watching it. And yet, this is the movie that I come back to every year because it’s real. The subject of discord may be different for each family, but the feelings of dysfunction and frustration are universal. I’ve written before about the 5 different personality types (and their quirks) you can find at family functions if you need a funny refresher on how trying they can be.
It was during that period of time in my life where I was at odds with my parents that I first saw the Family Stone. I saw it in the movie theatre with my now-husband who was not even my then-boyfriend yet. And I balled at the end of the movie. Like wiping my face with falling-apart napkins level crying. My sweet date sat with me until the theatre cleared out so I could try to collect myself. A man and young girl remained in the row behind me. He stood and handed me napkins and said, “Did you lose someone too? I’m so sorry, so did I.” What could I say to that? I felt even worse that I was crying my 23 year old eyes out for my estrangement and this kind man and his daughter were offering me a gesture of comfort in their own time of grief. I just nodded my head.
I promise I’m getting to a point.
Family is not a Hallmark channel movie. The whole reason those movies do so well is because viewers want to escape into a world in which they have gloriously functional relationships with their moms, kind and loving fathers, or gorgeous and successful children who come home every year for Christmas. But sometimes those damn Hallmark movies make you cry your damn eyes out and feel depressed because your family looks nothing like that. Fret not. Your family situation is probably far more common than the myth playing on TV. Embrace your family’s awkward and infuriating and laughable dynamics. You sure as hell aren’t going to change them.
What I have learned over the years is that even if you make friends who become family, there should always be room for your blood family. I mean, what the hell would you complain to your friends about if your family was perfect? I’m not saying they aren’t going to piss you off, or hurt you. But family members are also purveyors of great love and family history and your own personal history. They may not say they love you, you may have to read between the lines, but they do.
Probably one of the greatest tasks of a child is to grow up and transition from being someone’s child, to being an adult who accepts their parents as fellow flawed adults who try and fail at many activities, parenting included.
If you are feeling low that your family doesn’t look like a sappy holiday movie, take heart. Your story is more genuine and hilarious and full of life than any of those movies anyway.
The story that I heard this year that really drove home how long lasting the effects of family love can be comes from a friend of mine. His uncle died 6 years ago. This uncle, Uncle Oly, bought him his first shotgun and taught him how to duck hunt. They did not sit and talk about how much they appreciated each other. They did not discuss the uncle’s indulgence in drink. They did not discuss the family discord of the month. They hunted ducks together using his uncle’s decoys, my friend’s gifted gun and a love for the outdoors together. And as time does, it passed, and so did the uncle. Sadly, at a relatively young age.
That young boy graduated high school, graduated college and moved 3 hours away from his hometown of Eugene to start his first career job. His days no longer absorbed with studying, and with a little extra money in his pocket, he decided to pick up his duck hunting again, still with the original gun his uncle had given him all those years ago.
He found some used decoys posted for sale online and arranged to meet the seller and purchase the decoys. He met with the stranger, looked over the decoys and paid the man. They all had the name “Olson” written on the bottom of them. He asked the seller if his last name was Olson.
The guy told him no, that had been the name of the guy he had purchased the decoys from down in Eugene ten years earlier. Mike Olson was the guy’s name, though he hadn’t gone by that. He had gone by something weird.
“Was it Oly?” My friend asked.
“Yeah, that was his name. How did you know?”
“He was my uncle.”
Those decoys, that made their way to the northern most coast of Oregon and originally belonged to the uncle all those duck hunting years before, were now back in the possession of the boy who learned to hunt with them.
I don’t know any other name for this series of events than divine intervention.
And I don’t know a stronger pull than love.
And in families, there is great love.
Great pain, and frustration and dysfunction. But also great love.
I hope your holiday season is filled with great love. And family. Those are my Christmas wishes for you.
Want to expand your online family? Follow me on Facebook. I promise to never ask for money, or ask why you aren’t married yet, or don’t have kids….