Tuesday, November 23, 2010


I don't know anyone who would say that their family is anything but dysfunctional.  If they said that, they would probably be lying -- either to you, or to themselves.  All families are a little nuts.  Families are great at things like criticism, guilt, denial, etc.  My family of origin is no exception.

Popular wisdom tells us that this is because our parents messed us up.  Then, we mess our kids up in similar ways.  It's a cycle of dysfunction.  But, with the help of my brother and sister, I am bound and determined not to let this be the case for us.  And after today, I think we might finally be making some progress on breaking the mold when it comes to my family of origin's dysfunction cycle.

This is us, circa 1989. 
I am the one rocking the mullet with my hand on my hip in a really sassy kind of way. 
Yes, we are wearing matching shirts.

My family is not great at communicating.  It's our Achilles' heel.  Most of the time, when someone is mad, the person that they are actually mad at is the last person to know.  But today, my siblings and I had a breakthrough, I think.

It started with me being mad at my sister.  I thought she was going to help me with the moving out aspect of moving in.  Throw in there the fact that she and her husband stayed at my apartment and left me with a dirty bathroom and that we recently argued about money, and I was not all that pleased with her.  I didn't say anything.  My sister is generally wonderful, although we had our moments of not getting along while growing up.  But I was reluctant to tell her I was mad at her because it sounds a little petty.  I mean, she doesn't have to help me move, and whatever, a dirty bathroom isn't that big of a deal.  But still, I was irritated.  The thing is, I worry a lot about hurting my sister's feelings.  I don't know why.  She's actually pretty tough, not what I would call fragile.  She loves me no matter what so it's not like saying "I'm irritated you left the bathroom dirty" would make her stop speaking to me.  I don't know why I was afraid.  But I was.  Today, I sucked it up and sent her an email about it (hooray for hiding behind technology!).

She replied and said she already knew I was mad at her, but thanks for bringing it up.  She said she was sorry for the dirty bathroom, she meant to clean it and must have overlooked it.  She offered to do a gross task around my house to make up for it (which of course I am not holding her to, because ew).  She explained her position on the money thing (which, turns out, was just a miscommunication on both of our parts, not that shockingly), and said she really wanted to help me move out and be there for me, but she had a friend in from out of town and didn't know what to do.  All completely reasonable.  Then she said thanks for not unfriending her on facebook over it.  Ha.  In short, everything I wanted to hear.  My dad has said that if you make a mistake, you should (1) apologize, and (2) do what you can to correct it.  I try really hard to live by this.  It appears my sister does too.  Whew.

Now, I was so emboldened by this wonderful experience that I decided to talk to my brother too.  A bit about my brother.  My brother is Jewish.  I am not.  The rest of the family is not.  He's a convert (gasp).  The result is that in spite of some of our best efforts (well, ok, my best efforts - there are plenty in the family who make no effort whatsoever to understand), we don't always know what to do with him.  Especially around Christmas.  Recently, I invited by Jewish brother, his Jewish wife, and their Jewish kids to our house for Christmas.  I though I was being really nice.  Obviously I know they don't celebrate Christmas.  But I've never hosted before, and he has turned up on occasion at Christmas festivities.  The thing is, after the invite went out, I didn't hear back from him.  My sister, in the course of our emailing back and forth about our family, said, about my brother, "Yeah, he said they don't celebrate Christmas.  Which includes sitting around watching other people celebrate it."  Whoops.  I suddenly realized that the radio silence from my brother could be because I had offended him.  Of course, he and his wife also have 10 week old twins.  So it could also be that.

Rather than sit around feeling feeling bad and second guessing myself, I just went ahead and emailed him.  I said, in a way that involved an inordinate amount of parenthetical expressions, for some reason, that I was sorry if I had offended him, but I just wanted him to know he was welcome.  I said I didn't want him to feel left out (like, oh, what's that, you're Jewish? Have fun being kicked out of the family).  But that of course I respected the fact that they didn't celebrate Christmas.  I also sent him a youtube video of Adam Sandler singing that ridiculous Hanukkah song.  He wrote back that of course they're not offended, my sister and I are among the few that actually make an effort with them about the whole respecting Judaism thing.  Air = cleared.  He also included all kinds of little tidbits about Hanukkah and some words in Hebrew (!).  That's the amazing thing about family.  I fully agree that you can't expect people of other cultures/races/minority statuses to take the time to educate your ignorant self.  But family doesn't really mind so much, because they know your heart's in the right place.

So it turns out the communicating bit wasn't so bad after all.  Thanks, sibs, for a lesson well-learned.  It all sounds so wild when I put it in writing.  Like we are actually this family:

Brothers and Sisters: The Complete Second Season

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