Happy Holidays, I Don’t Speak to Most of My Family!
Folks, it’s here. The holiday season is upon us. I spent my Friday evening listening to 106.7 Lite FM turn from regular pop music to 24/7 Christmas songs like the almost-30-year-old woman I am (what’s a boyfriend? Sounds gross). My soul died a little but it was fun to hear some of the classics: Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, The Christmas Song, Open Your Mouth So I Can Shove All This Christmas Down Your Throat. But before we jingle those bells and dash those halls, we all have to survive Thanksgiving. Or, YOU have to survive Thanksgiving. I have chosen to stay home on that ultra-American Thursday in November because, you guessed it, I don’t have a relationship with almost any of my family.
It was not always like that. I grew up around my mom’s family. When I was a toddler until elementary school, I spent all holidays, a lot of weekends, and summer vacations surrounded by two aunts (my mom’s sisters) and their kids, which totalled 3 girls and 3 boys. They were all older than me and I was THE baby. Being an only child in my own household, I was always in shock that there were these young people who wanted to play with me, pick me up, torture me in various ways, and just generally give me attention. I thought it was dope. I thought I had all of these older siblings. I felt very safe and very loved.
But then something happened that threw my little world into a tail-spin: I got older, entered an awkward phase, and my cousins all started high school and college. I wasn’t this porcelain doll anymore that they could pick up and show off. I was a 7-year-old with a bowl cut and a very unhealthy obsession with the Irish pop band, B*Witched.
I remember one of the first moments I knew things changed. We were at my aunt’s house outside of Hartford, CT and in my cousin Elizabeth’s room. I put a song on the stereo and said to Elizabeth and my other female cousins, a set of twins named Kelly and Kathy, “Listen, isn’t this song great!” They looked at me and said “Yeah, sure Becca,” and then went back to talking about whatever it is high school girls talk about. It took me a minute to process. Usually, I just had to blink and they thought I was the cutest. It rapidly dawned on me that a valley was forming between myself and the people I wanted to adore me the most, no matter who I was.
From the ages of about 9 to 25, whenever I saw my cousins or aunts or went to holidays at my grandmother’s house, I didn’t speak. Witnessing your older cousins grow up and be interested in the same things, like college and getting married, while you are still trying to navigate a middle school cafeteria doesn’t leave a lot of room for conversation and relating to each other. I stopped trying to contribute because I thought nobody would care. And I think my cousins didn’t ask because they thought I physically couldn’t speak and when I did it was in one-word answers. They were all so great at talking about themselves and their lives and I wasn’t. They’d make plans in front of me and I just had to assume I was too little to be invited to long weekends and late-night cousin gossip sessions. But what I really thought was that they didn’t like me and I was weird.
I can still remember the hours before a holiday dinner at my grandmother’s house. I would be at home, picking out a dress, figuring out how to do my make-up or my hair, thinking of scenarios that would impress all of my cousins. Funny things I could say that would make them laugh and think, “Wow, Becca is different! She’s really coming out of her shell.” But when the time to go to my grandmother’s would arrive, my anxiety would go into overdrive and I’d sit silently with tears in my eyes as everyone talked and laughed and I pretended I didn’t exist and was somewhere far away from that lace-tablecloth covered dinner table.
I would like to say that as I entered my 20s, things got better. But they didn’t. One of the last times I saw my cousins was at one of their homes in Rhode Island. It was a long summer weekend and it became clear to my mom and me that her two sisters and their daughters had planned a spa weekend with each other which they cancelled and invited my Mom and me to spend the night instead. For 48 hours, I sat around another dining room table and listened to my cousins (who are all in their late 30s and 40s at this point) reminisce about prom and their high school boyfriends and the dresses they wore. Not once did anyone ask about my prom, or my high school boyfriend (who doesn’t exist but ANYWAY) or anything about me and my life. My cousin Liz actually said that my town, Greenwich, embarrassed her because “it’s so rich and not the blue-collar Connecticut she was raised in.” I think I lost a brain cell as I tried to process that all of my female cousins in the room, including Liz, had trust funds, while I made my way through school with loans. As we all got ready for bed, I noticed my three cousins go into one room while I was sent to sleep in the same room as my Mom. I smiled because some things don’t change, ya know?
Last year, a flurry of events happened and now my Mom doesn’t speak with her sisters. I think she realized that they treated her the way my cousins treated me. For so long we were made to feel like our emotions and feelings weren’t valid or important because we don’t let people in who disappoint us over and over, time and time again. We aren’t “too sensitive;” we are human.
This will be the second Thanksgiving I’m not spending with my grandmother even though she is 97 and lives 5 minutes from me. And it hurts. Because I don’t know how many Thanksgiving’s I have left with her. My grandmother, or Mama as I call her, is the greatest woman I know besides my Mom. I’m not sure how she produced two more daughters who are frustratingly dull, self-centered and ignorant, but she did. And because of that, I don’t feel comfortable rocking up to my Mama’s house and sitting amongst people who made me feel like a freak for 28 years. People who when told about the sexual assault that happened to me didn’t ask if I was ok, but asked why I was getting upset about it a year after it happened (Women’s March participants and self-proclaimed feminists, ladies and gentlemen)? Those people, I’ve realized, aren’t my family.
To be honest, the only thing I have in common with those people is some genes. Over the last 10 years, I have found five female friends who are the greatest people I know. They are the definition of sisters. They tell me when I mess up, and then help me figure out what to do next. When I tell them I’m hurting, they feel it too. If I could gather them from their respective homes across the globe so we could all share some wine and food and tell stories on Thanksgiving, I would. They are the family I am grateful for.
So, if you are going home this Thanksgiving to a place you don’t like or where you don’t feel understood, don’t worry. My Mom’s family is Italian-American. Family always came first. And that’s fine. But I say, you can choose who your family is. And you have every right to shed the people who are toxic and make you feel anything less than the beautiful, wonderful human you are.
I’ll spend another day with my Mama and we will have our own Thanksgiving. She will tell me about my grandpa, Nuni, and how he asked her to marry him on a dancefloor in the middle of a song. She will go on to tell me her sisters-in-law were all bonkers. I’ll tell her about my friends and she will tell me about hers, including Fran who she has known since they were both 6 years old and who she continues to have monthly lunch dates with.
And it will be great because let’s be real… I was always her favorite, anyway.
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