My mom doesn’t want anything to do with me, I haven’t seen her in like six years, and she doesn’t even wanna meet her granddaughter, my daughter. I feel so alone and just, like, I don’t know. I don’t have any family who cares. Why are families so [bleeped] up?
Sorry I cussed,
When I was growing up, there was an embroidered proverb hanging in my aunt’s laundry room. Framed in glass. The text read: “You can’t choose your family.”
I remember this because when I was supposed to be folding clothes I would be looking at it, thinking about what it meant. This is one of the first things I learned how to read, ironically.
I always wondered why anyone would go to the trouble of embroidering such an obvious statement.
I mean, hello? People can’t choose their family? This is no newsflash. So why embroider it? This would be like embroidering: “Yes, you can eat pickles.” Or “Your mother’s brother is also your uncle.”
It’s funny what you think about when you’re folding towels. And my aunt was big on folding towels. Her towels had to be just so.
In my life I have since learned that every woman has her own way of folding laundry. My mother, for instance, folded clothes one way. My aunt folded things a different way. And when I got married, I was taught that males should not fold anything because we have the domestic intelligence of lukewarm pizza.
Every time I fold a towel in my house, a random woman appears out of the shadows to unfold my towel and refold it the correct way.
This is also true when it comes to loading the dishwasher.
Dishwasher loading is a sacred art only known by the chosen sages who walk among us. Once, at my in-laws’ house, I literally saw the same dishwasher reloaded five or six times.
It went like this:
My brother-in-law loaded the dishwasher. A few moments later, his wife reloaded it the correct way. Then her sister quietly unloaded it and repositioned everything another way.
Whereupon my mother-in-law unloaded and reloaded the dishwasher according to the official dishwasher-loading guidelines put forth by Emily Post in 1492.
That’s when I entered the picture. I tried to place a dirty plate into this same dishwasher and five women attacked me with meat tenderizers.
So what I’m getting at is that I’ve spent a lot of time around women who fold clothes, use heavy appliances, and live according to embroidered proverbs.
And it is from these needle-point proverbs where I learned that family is not something you can control.
“Nobody can love you harder, or make you feel worse than your own family,” I remember my mother once saying.
It’s no secret that I grew up in a screwed up home. Without getting into any colorful details, for most of my life I, too, have felt almost family-less.
I have spent years wondering what it would be like to have a big, joyous, sappy, Andy-Hardy-style family where everyone is so giddy they all share the same underpants.
You should see my neighbors. Their family is like that. They have ridiculously large, festive family parties every few days. There will be 20 cars parked on the street, and people cackling in the yard. Every time I drive by I see people walking toward the door, carrying gifts.
I’ll often lean my head out the vehicle window and ask what’s going on.
They’ll answer, “Oh, it’s our niece’s first birthday. Or: “Didn’t you hear? One of the grandkids lost her tooth last night.”
This makes me so jealous that I start to look like Kermit the Frog.
Because my family is a splintered mess. My father committed suicide when I was a boy. His family was Catholic. And those two things do not go together.
So I don’t know most of my aunts or uncles. And several relatives don’t even remember who I am.
But here’s the thing. This stuff is nobody’s fault. And there is no one to blame here because people are people. You are you. I am me. We are flawed. Mistakes get made. Families get royally messed up. Some fall apart.
But just because your family tree is cattywampus doesn’t mean you can’t have a rich, full life.
Take me. My life has been full. So full that I can’t even begin to describe its fullness to you.
I may be family-less, but I have known strangers who grew closer to me than blood kin. Old men who took me to ballgames and called me “son” in public. I’ve known elderly church ladies who hemmed my pants and called me “baby.”
Some have brought me into their fold and made me believe I was somebody. Others have taken me to their hometowns and declared me adopted.
On the day of my wedding, I was virtually alone, family-wise. Do you know how many biological family members came to my wedding? Three.
But was our little chapel empty? No sir, it was not. The church was so filled that people were standing in the lobby. My heart has never been so full.
I’m not sure why I’m telling you this except to say that right now I’m looking at a framed piece of embroidery. It’s old. It originally came from my aunt’s laundry room.
“You can’t choose your family” it reads. And the proverb is right, you cannot.
But before you get sad about it, you ought to know that there are millions of us out here who would choose you.
And you don’t have to apologize to me for cussing.