Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I'm Calling from a Pole Outside Your Window

Since becoming an adult I set boundaries with my family that have allowed me great freedom that not all of my friends are able to enjoy. I have the ability to say "No. I'm not coming." when invited to family gatherings.

You're probably jealous, I know.

It's no longer an issue as my parents and most of the rest of my family have scattered over the years to various parts around the US. Back in the day though, we all lived within a few hours drive from each other and most of us lived in the same city.

It began with a career in retail when I was in my early twenties and I had the best excuse ever that no parent of a 20 year old could argue with:

I have to work.

It's an especially effective excuse to use on the parents of young adults who are simply thrilled, and quite proud, to have you the hell out of the house, let alone working and supporting yourself. I became the go-to girl for taking over my co-worker's holiday shifts. No problem. You would like to spend the holidays with your family and I would not. Sure! I'll cover for you.

Over time the expectation of my absence or limited attendance at family gatherings was set.

Later, when I started working office jobs I began to plan my own events well in advance of any family gathering my parents were hosting (it was always at their house) and could say, "Oh shoot! I already made plans but I can stop by for awhile." Everyone wins.

I never quite understood why my attendance was so important anyway.

My extended family is huge. My father has 7 brothers and sisters and 10 step-siblings who all have large families of their own. So my parents house on holidays was always brimming over with aunts, uncles, cousins, 2nd cousins, boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances.

It was a noisy, alcohol driven mess and to me not much different than being in a crowded bar, surrounded by merry drunks, when you are sober, unsociable and don't know a soul (not that I knew what that was like back then, except for the unsociable part). Sure the greetings are terrific, I love the hugs and kisses, and I'm certain my family loves me as I do them, but after the exuberant hellos, I was also pretty sure that nobody noticed or gave a crap if I was there or not.

Invariably I would end up just following everyone around and clean up after them, like the dude with the giant shovel at a circus.

Once when I was a teenager with no work excuses I tried a little experiment. I did all of the greetings and huggy stuff that was expected and then took off to the basement with my walkman (remember cassette tapes?) and it took over two and a half hours before anyone noticed I was gone and came looking for me. It was my mother, asking me to take out the trash.

My little sister, wise beyond her disability and years, disliked the noisy family gatherings too and could often be found holed up in her room with her TV at top volume and the door shut tight in an effort to drown out all the noise and escape from the cigarette smoke. She got free a pass from it I guess because she had Down's Syndrome and a nervous condition. Lucky!

My dislike of family gatherings probably started the year that I sang on Christmas Eve in the children's choir of the Methodist church down the street. We weren't members of that church, or any other, but they let me sing there. I don't remember how old I was, but I had my first solo so it was important that I be there.

The same night my family was all gathering at my parents house. My mom came to see me sing, so my dad stayed at home to open the door and greet everyone and take over my mother's duties as hostess for a couple of hours. Well he did a hell of a job.

Every year my aunt Jess, who lived far away, would send a ton of presents for me and my little sister that came in the mail weeks before Christmas. They would sit there, beautifully wrapped, winking at us. We were allowed to open two of them on Christmas Eve. One of our own choosing and the other of Mother's choosing because it contained new pajamas to wear for the Christmas pictures the next morning. Mother was in cahoots with Jess and knew what was in every one of them and enjoyed teasing me about it to no end.

This particular year she gave me hints by telling me the initials of one present that was enormous and oddly shaped. Enormous and oddly shaped presents, especially when beautifully wrapped are the ones I think we all tend to want to open first and get the most excited about.

To my mother's delight, by the time Christmas Eve rolled around I was whipped into a frenzy and nearly frantic with anticipation.

She took me to my Christmas choir concert, leaving Dad alone in the house tending to all of the family guests. Namely, my cousins, whom despite the efforts and protestations of his visiting sisters, my aunts and the mothers of the unruly tots, he allowed to open our presents from aunt Jess. All of them.

My mother and sister and I returned home to find a living room full of joyous mayhem. Wrapping paper and ribbons in shreds falling like confetti, my cousin J lounging empirically on MY Red Bean Bag Chair (the BBC), my little cousin D playing with MY Cher doll and my cousin T holding a pair of "I Dream of Jeannie" pajamas up to her gawky frame as if about to try them on. All of them having a grand old time. It is a vision that (obviously) still haunts my dreams.

Of course my mother privately berated my father mercilessly and made him apologize to us. Apparently, the beautiful presents from aunt Jess were mesmerizing my cousins too, and naturally they wanted to open them. My dad also has a hard time saying no to his family. I had to be a good sport about it and not complain, but the next morning I was still sore (I guess I still am, eh?) and refused to open my presents from Santa. Of course I opened them eventually, begrudgingly.

Anyhoo... the point of this post - and the reason for the title of this post(from an old Jake Johannsen comedy bit): When my friends are suffering through holiday gatherings with their various families in various locations around the US, I am usually safely at home and available as a support line. I'm like a holiday family gathering crisis center. 1-800-LadyHelpMe.

One year my best friend Amy called me in the middle of hosting the family of her ex-husband Assface at her house for a July 4th extended gathering. She called me from her bedroom closet, as she was curled up on the floor, crying. Sobbing really. Her house guests were unruly and she wasn't allowed to say anything or put anything to rights because Assface refused to allow her to do so. He didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings.

After 3 days of soaking wet bathing suited adults and children sitting on her sofa, chocolate covered children wiping their mouths on white seat cushions, and backwoods hoo-haws not knowing how to or refusing to use the garbage disposal so that her dogs were constantly digging into the trash barrel and carting around chicken bones, poor Amy was at her wit's end. Or so she thought.

The final straw, resulting in her fetal positioned, tearful phone call to me from the bedroom closet, the only refuge she was able to find in her own home, was having gone into the one bathroom in their home and finding shit, as in human feces, smeared on the wall.

She has called me from any other number of family gatherings at her mother's house when she gets together with her own family as well. Not from incidents with feces, although I'm sure she's wanted to throw some, but more from a controlling (pre and eventually post) menopausal mother throwing inappropriate and hurtful barbs. The shit on the wall was really the climax of the family gathering incidents and will most likely, hopefully, never be topped. In the age of cell phones, she has been known to call me from her car or other various locations where she has managed to escape.

It has become the tradition between Amy and me, at the end of the last phone call we have before she leaves to spend a holiday gathering with her family, for me to say, "Call me from the closet if you need to!"

I am happy to help.

Above is a picture of me, in better days, when the presents were all mine and I was too little to get drunk or hold a broom. Somehow I still managed to look irritated.


evil-e said...

I am I guess fortunate to have a relatively (no pun intended) small family. We are an informal bunch who basically ditched traditions years ago. Holidays tend to be more relaxed these days and the time spent is with people you actually like.

Not bad.

Anonymous said...

well I can't believe your rotton cousins opened your presents. I would be spitting fiery chips, ya hear me? fiery chips! smoke would be burning from my ears and they were a little bit when I read that.

No wonder you were pissed!

I laughed at the whole post, I can relate to quite a lot of it. But luckily, the days of having fifty family members in our house are over...everybody has moved to other ends of the country.

You keep on doing what you are doing girl, it's keeping you sane. :)

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Hi Evil - I enjoy my family in small doses and am more likely to get together with them individually rather than all at once. I like to spend the holidays quietly with my darling husband.

Betty - The first thing my mother did was calm me down so I didn't blow up in front of everyone. It was my dads doing. He felt bad that we had so much and they had so little. He thought he was being charitable.

Discovering blogging is one of the best things that's happened to me in awhile. I never knew writing could be so freeing. It' like therapy without the tears :) It totally keeps me sane and it makes me feel good that people are laughing.

Chaylene said...

Fantastic story!

I would kicked those cousins' asses right then and there. And then Dad's ass for good measure.

And yes, I completely envy your ability to ditch family functions.
Now that I have bred, I can't get out of much even though I know they really only want to see the kids and simply pretend to want to see my husband and I.

Michelle said...

Hmmm, I don't think you look irritated in that picture, you look cute!

i am playing outside said...

well i was going to come and say that i am shocked that anyone couldn't love their big family get togethers, but then i kept reading, and now i'm here to give you a big hug that i know you'll love *BIG HUG*

Anonymous said...

The moral of the story is: Just when you think your holidays are the worst, remember someone is out there with poop on their wall, crying inside a closet.

Lady, I cannot believe you contained yourself after seeing all your gifts opened! Cousin or no cousin, there would have been a fist fight in that living room if I was there.

Kerstin said...

There are days I wish I had a large family just so we could have big get togethers...and then I hear stories like this and thank my lucky stars I never had to deal with rotten cousins!

CDP said...

I agree, you showed self-control WAY beyond your years by not pitching a fit over the presents.

Anonymous said...

Excellent picture cowgirl!

pistols at dawn said...

I'm glad my family isn't much interested in each other. We have these other people called "friends" that are waaaaay more interesting.

Churlita said...

Can you give me your number so I can call you from a closet next week?

Leonesse said...

Family gatherings. UGH.

constant_drama said...

I dont celebrate Xmas so I cant relate to the whole-gift-opening thing but what I can relate to is HUGE families. My dad have 5 sibling and my mom 8 and all my aunts and uncles have at least 3 children of their own.

HUGE family.

Family gathering is such a nightmare.

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Chaylene - hey! Welcome to my blog! I'm glad you liked my story. You have to start early in life with the good excuses to make a lasting affect.

Hi Michelle! - What 3 year old lady isn't cute in a cowgirl outfit?

Player - I'll take that hug! I simply don't enjoy noisy crowds, even if I'm related.

SRU - the poop smearing was horrifying, much worse than the floor urine you might normally find in the bathroom during a gathering.

Kerstin - Thanks for stopping by! Being second youngest in the bunch, I've got cousin stories galore!

CDP - I've always been more the pouting type. Passive aggressive, you see.

Suze - why don't more people dress their children this way anymore?instead of like little hookers and pimps?

Pistols - I always wished for a more intellectual crowd of relations like in a Woody Allen movie.

Churlita - If you're serious I totally will.

Leo - yepper!

Drama - I'm sure you have all kinds of other holidays to be annoyed :)

SkylersDad said...

Hey, I had that same trike!

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Skydad - I actually remember riding it in circles in our basment and getting into trouble for riding it over the laundry pile :)

Dale said...

Awesome photo and excellent story, in fact, had your photo met mine, the world might be a bit different by now. I'm one of 9 rotten kids. Ugh.

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