Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The day of family bonding, or why looking like Jimand isn't the only reason I should spend time with him.

So I had one of those experiences over the holidays where I became a REAL BLOGGER. Something happened when I was with my family, and Jimand said, "You're going to blog about this, aren't you?" And I was like MUAHAHAHA YES I AM. I AM A BLOGGER AND WILL UNABASHEDLY USE YOUR REAL LIFE AS STORY FODDER. (Sidenote: you know what's great? The word "fodder." Fodder fodder fodder.) Anyway, back to the story. For Christmas, my aunt made this slideshow of family Christmas photos--kind of like the ghost of Christmas past, except happy. Anyway, I spent Christmas Day with Jimmifer's family, so I didn't see the slideshow with the rest of my family. So one evening my mom (Mad) decided to show it to Jimmifer and me, despite the fact that Jimand said we wouldn't want to see it (foreshadowing! FORESHADOWING!) So we're watching the slideshow and it's a cute and funny trip down memory lane...and then. And then. And then there appears this picture of Jimand and his siblings sitting around their Christmas tree as children. Jimand, the oldest, is about fifteen or so and has this long hair, probably just longer than shoulder-length. Kind of the same length my hair is now. And holy shit. HOLY SHIT. People have told me my entire life that I looked like Jimand. I'm sure most of you have been told you look like someone in your family before, but you never really see it for yourself, right? But this picture...I looked at Jimand, and I saw me. I got slapped in the face with a good ol' dose of HOLY FUCK I LOOK LIKE MY DAD.

Jimand seems to think I was completely traumatized by this event, which I'm fairly certain he takes as an insult (okay, who wouldn't?), and Mad seems to think that now I'm going to grow up and look like a man. Thanks, mommy dearest.

Anyway, this event, and the spirit of the holiday season in general, got me thinking a lot about family, and what family is and what it means and if there is even a remotely easy answer to these questions that doesn't devolve into some abstract nature versus nurture debate that I am so not equipped to deal with. Anyway, for a lot of us, the past few weeks were a time for "family." But what does that mean? Clearly not all of us spend this family time in the same way. In fact, I spent my "family time" with four different variations of "family" over the holidays. Maybe you could make an argument for five. Or actually six. And that doesn't even cover everyone that is a close blood relative of mine, and that does cover a number of people I am not *technically* related to.

There has been so much talk in North American politics in recent years--and pretty much ever since feminist backlash and gay rights backlash and *insert progressive movement here* backlash has existed, which is like FOREVER--about preserving the "family" and doing what good for the "family" and making sure "families" can be economically self-sufficient, but I'm still unsure what this "family" looks like. I mean, I assume we're talking "traditional" families here--you know, heterosexual couple with two and three-quarters kids or whatever that live in a suburban home all by themselves, just the 4.75 of them. And this preservation of "tradition" is complete bullshit to me and I have so much I could say about how this is clearly homophobic and also classist and racist and sexist (I mean, it's not NECESSARILY sexist but this preservation of the "traditional family" usually requires a mom that stays at home for at least a few years or at the very least expects the family to follow certain traditional gender roles and it's cool if that's what you WANT to do but it's kind of forced on people sooo yeah...sexist) and ableist and pretty much everything else. I admit I spent a considerable amount of time on Saturday night ranting about how the NHL's practice of inviting the team's fathers to go on a trip with the team to an away game is just reinforcing the idea that if your family doesn't fit the traditional idea of what a family is then you're not "normal" and you have to "come out" about why your family isn't the way it "should be." There may have been red wine and ouzo involved in this rant, but still. (NOT mixed together!!! Ew. Ew ew ew.)

However, this isn't specifically what I wanted to talk about. What I've been thinking about is how "family" doesn't even mean what we're told it means WITHIN these so-called traditional families. And about how we try to figure out what our own roles are within our families. Because I've noticed a lot of stuff. I can't speak from experience on what it's like to have a family that doesn't look "normal." (I know pretty much all of my relatives just burst out laughing right now, but I don't mean normal in THAT way--trust me, I've noticed the lack of normalcy--I mean STRUCTURALLY normal. I'm not so maladjusted that I don't recognize batshit crazy when I see it.) My family, particularly my immediate family, is more or less traditional in structure. Jimand and Mad are a cisgendered, heterosexual couple and they were officially married in a church and they bought a home in the suburbs and then had a kid (ME!) and Jimand continued to work full time and Mad stayed home with me for about 10 years before going back to work. And both Jimand and Mad came from fairly similar family structures, with some variations and also quite a few more children. And our little three-person family is awesome. And we see each other a lot, because we're buddies like that (even when Jimand retroactively causes childhood trauma), but that isn't all our family is--we're not some sort of self-sufficient unit. Over the past six years, we've expanded our family and let Jimmifer in, to the point where Jimand mentioned Jimmifer in his retirement speech and my parents get Christmas cards addressed to the four of us and Jimand even buys Jimmifer groceries when we come home to visit...and, come to think of it, he has routinely bought Jimmifer iced tea and orange juice and forgot to buy ME anything...most people aren't aware that when you're an only child, you're still not always the favourite. BEWARE, ONLY CHILDREN. Your partner may replace you in your parents' eyes.

What I understand to be my "family" has entered a sort of grey area. Are Jimmifer and I "family"? Technically, we're not married. But we live together and go to pretty much every family event together and have for years. So is his extended family my family now too? Is your family defined by who you spend the holidays and special occasions with? Like I mentioned previously, that means I have six different families. I think a lot of people would agree that Jimand and Mad and my aunts and uncles and cousins are definitely my family, and Jimmifer's family probably is too at this point. But what about my super awesome friend whom I see only a few times a year (due to geographical and financial issues) but whom I saw nearly every day over the holidays? (Did I use "whom" properly? I always have issues with "who" and "whom"...) I helped her family decorate their Christmas tree and spent the night of Christmas Day with them too. Is she my family? And what about Jimmifer's very tight-nit group of friends from back home? I would argue that they are loyal like a family, they argue like a family and they welcome Jimmifer and I back home every time we visit just like a family would (or should, I suppose). Are they our family? And what about Jimand's best friend and his family? I've known them my entire life and have probably actually spent more time with them than with my *real* family. I realize that's only five. I was separating Jimand's relatives from Mad's relatives because we saw them at different times.

But I think a lot people would still argue that our blood relatives (and those blood relatives we inherit through marriage and other committed partnerships) should still be privileged over friends who we choose as our family. And I don't one hundred per cent disagree, but I'm still not sure. Now here's my nature/nurture confusion. Do we spend time with our families because we're actually genetically connected in some way? How much are we REALLY like our families? Sure, clearly I look a lot like Jimand, and it's funny when I hug my cousin on Mad's side because we have pretty much the EXACT same bodies, so it's like hugging ourselves, but does that mean we're REALLY alike? Or just physically alike? A lot of the time, I find various members of my family grasping at straws, attempting to find things we have in common. Sometimes, I think they probably have a point. Other times...well, let's just say that I'm not so sure that a fondness for salami and dijon mustard sandwiches is something that was passed down from Jimand's ancestors. It MAY have something to do with the fact that everyone on that side of the family grew up eating it together... And sometimes, we end up finding out that things "the family" has in common cross those blood lines. What about when Jimand has something in common with Mad's brother's kids? Or when I have something in common with Jimand's sister's husband? We all look kind of stumped when that happens. Flabbergasted, even! (Okay, no we don't, I just wanted to say "flabbergasted.") But really, do we NEED to validate our relationships with our various family members with some sort of genetic connection? Do we NEED to create some sort of "family obligation" out of these blood ties in order to still see one another?

Instead, let's say:
Hey, I want to continue spending holidays and other occasions with you, because you have been an important part of my life, and you were there as I grew up (or maybe I was there as you grew up), and I want to continue to know you and be there for you. And we have a lot of overlapping memories and stories--even if we weren't actually, we've all heard the same stories about 'back in the day.' But you know what, due to geographical or generational or whatever issues, it's not realistic that we're going to spend ALL our time together, so a handful of times a year is good, and I also want to expand my 'family' to include other people I love and want to share my life experiences with, even if we have no genetic connection. Sure, as a *real* family, we may all like the same movies or sandwiches or beer, but I also have this habit of buying the same clothes as one of my best friends, despite the fact that we live really far away from each and never really shop together. So I don't know which is 'nature' and which is 'nurture,' and I don't care. We have important, and less important, stuff in common. And I love that. I need that.
I love my family, in all its various forms, and I love spending time with them. ALL of them. The ones I picked, and the ones I didn't.

Either way...I LOOK LIKE JIMAND. WTF. (The picture isn't Jimand. I just included it because it was relevant to the theme of this post and Jimand quotes that song. Don't worry.)

UPDATED! (January 12, 2012)

Here is the photo I was talking about, provided by my lovely aunt:

So that's Jimand, by the Christmas tree. And here's me, looking like a Christmas tree:

DO YOU SEE WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT. YES. Yes you do. Because it's impossible to miss.

1 comment:

  1. My parents always say the same thing, "you're going to blog this aren't you?"

    haha, love this!