Monday, January 08, 2007

thicker than water, but not champagne


I promised I wouldn't write about my family on my blog. But this weekend was apparently designed to test that promise in every way possible.

Look, it's not my fault if most of my extended family is wonderful and the remaining people are completely, one hundred percent without the ability to function in society.

The people who are wonderful are really, really wonderful. The kind of wonderful that family members only occasionally achieve, when you would want to be their friends even if you weren't related to them. They are the ones who are goofy and warm and start conversations with "So this one time in Kuala Lampur, when were on top of an elephant..." and not, for example, with pursed lips, raised eyebrows and "Wow, EJ, that sure is an interesting dress. Be careful you don't fall out there."

THANKS. Because when I've been on a plane for the last ten hours, I LOVE being greeted by you telling me that I look like a slut.

Flying to a family wedding this weekend, my flights were ridiculously messed up, and I enjoyed an unscheduled three-hour visit to the airport in Columbia, South Carolina that caused me to miss the actual ceremony. My mother's cousin picked me up at the airport, I threw on my ("interesting") dress and we booked it to the church in time for photos, the first and hopefully only time I will be in pictures for a wedding that I did not actually attend.

I went into this weekend prepared to judge. I mean, it was a wedding that basically joined their frat and their sorority. There were something like ten attendants on each side. I hadn't seen that relative getting married in five years, and the wedding was in Wichita, which, while it is home to both excellent steaks and Kirstie Alley, is not known for being a huge party town. Once we got to the reception, my judgmental predictions seemed to be coming true. Guests were drinking Bud from plastic cups and the DJ interrupted a Hootie and the Blowfish song to announce "John Smith, please come to the bar, John Smith, your shots are ready."

I also went in with clear expectations about how some of my family members would treat me. As my mother put it when we dissected the weekend later on, "Sweetie, it's not that they don't like you, it's that you represent all the choices that they prayed their children wouldn't make." You'd think I'd be offended by this, but it's so true. I don't want to get married and have lots of babies, I don't live a 15-minute drive from home and I vastly prefer the easy delights of indie pop to the coolie labor of Gilbert and Sullivan. My entire life, I've played the role of the loud bitchy single city girl who has an opinion about everything. They'll never see me as anything else and I can never make them accept me or care about me because they're too busy judging my every move.

But something strange happened this weekend. For the first time ever at a family gathering, I decided I didn't give a crap what those people thought of me. Somewhere in between the bacon-wrapped cheese cubes and my aunt wandering around with her fingers stuck in her ears to display her displeasure with the music, I stopped caring and I stopped judging my surroundings. Okay, so, if I ever get married, I strongly doubt that my husband and our bridal party will enter the reception to the dulcet strains of "In da Club," but the couple seemed to like it. So who gives a crap? What, only the people behaving like petulant children in the throes of a temper tantrum? Well, I'm not going to be associated with them, that's for damn sure.

The wedding definitely took a turn for the ridiculous after that epiphany, made all the more so because my mother was at my side about eighty percent of the time. It's one thing to acknowledge to your mother that you are human, that yes, you smoke and drink and make out with inappropriate people. I've only become comfortable admitting these activities in the last year. It's entirely another to perform them all in front of her, particularly when she is in the kitchen of the hotel room holding the afterparty, watching your uncle shotgun a Bud Lite at 4 AM. After the events of that night, there are not a whole lot of boundaries left between my mom and me. Not that there were a whole ton before.

Looking back on the wedding and the entire weekend, I feel like a line has been crossed. In some ways, I regret that my mom has now witnessed me at my most ridiculous behavior. Just as it's nice to idealize your parents as infalliable creatures, it's nice to have them think of you as somehow being untainted by life. Plus, fair or not, it's different for daughters than for sons. My male cousins have no problem palling around with their dads, and I'm pretty sure that they aren't writing diary entries or blog posts about their conflicting emotions over substance consumption in front of former authority figures.

But the thing is, she doesn't care. Most of my family members didn't care that I was out all night partying. They were just glad that I eventually made it there and wound up having a good time. Empahsis on there-- most of the snotty people in the family were too busy being snotty to even both to attend the event, and the ones that did stayed only enough to criticize everything from the flowers to the band. I may have been a silly drunk, but I was a silly drunk there celebrating the choices of a family member, which is more than can be said for the people riding their high horses into bed at 9:30. It's certainly more than they've ever done for me.

They chose to remain on the fringes the entire weekend, looking on as the rest of us hugged and gossiped and talked travel and food and wine and film. They were concerned with "propriety" and "decency" and "appropriateness," but I can't resent them because they're too lonely and angry to resent. I finally stopped taking it personally.

No, I didn't like it when one of them marched into the kitchen and acidly announced "So, EJ, I hear you had a good time with one of the groomsmen last night," in front of the entire extended family at brunch the next day. But instead of getting mad and stumbling for words , I smiled a Cheshire Cat smile and beatifically answered "It was a terrific party, thanks for including me," turned on my heel and walked away. And got some Advil. Because Lordy, did I need it.


kate said...

ha, ha. Told you you'd find a cute groomsman!

Law-Rah said...

Props to you for maintaining your politeness. I woulda gotten crass with "actually, we had a good time this morning too."

Ryane said...

OMG--I had a similar experience at my college roomate's wedding. I was actually in the wedding party and i KNEW things were going to be bad when, at the hair salon, I looked at every other bridesmaid (and, umm..sadly, the bride) and saw teased bangs circa 1985 heavy metal videos.

Things just went downhill from there, and then I decided to throw myself down the hill after it all w/vodka, which resulted in my landing at the bottom of said hill with--what else--a groomsman.

Ahh...that actually ended up being a rather fun party after all. ;-)

E :) said...

That is a brilliant post. I think I'm just now coming to the same realisation that I don't have to impress my family so long as I'm happy with myself. Took me a while...