How To Love Your Family
Hate them. Eat ramen with your mother in some restaurant and feel disgust when she starts slurping the broth. Her mouth hangs agape, her eyes are bulging: she looks so old and pathetic. You just want to go across the table and shake her violently. “Stop slurping! You look like a sad, droopy woman!’
Flashes of anger happen like this often. One moment you’re looking at your parents and wanting to crawl into bed with them. In that moment, all you’d like to do is disregard your age and ask for endless scalp massages and a fort made out of pillows. You need immediacy because, even when you’re hugging, you can feel them slowly getting pulled away by age, by long plane rides, by missed phone calls. You want to hold them forever and apologize for every churlish thing you did to them when you were a teenager. “I’m sorry for calling you a b-tch and making you cry tears of menopause into your ice cream sundae. I was 17 then and… I’m not like that now. I see you as a fully formed human rather than a heinous life-ruiner. Let me prove it to you that I’m better now.”
Be better. Show your love; gift it to them on a silver platter of positive affirmations and kisses. Be mature and understanding. Then, watch the anger build quickly inside of you again and regress back to being 17. Anything can trigger the regression: the slurping broth incident, a mispronunciation of words (“Dad, it’s called Robertson Drive. Not Robertson’s, Jesus Christ. How many times do I have to tell you?”), or an embarrassing outfit choice. (“Mom, you can’t go out dressed like that. You look like a depressed cupcake.”) Suddenly every choice they make offends you deeply. You fault them for aging, you fault them for having to sit down for a minute while you’re walking to lunch, you fault them for all the pills they have to take just to stay alive. Can’t you just stay as beautiful as you did in those old family movies? Can’t you just suck it up and walk a little further? Can’t you stop taking so many pills and just be alive on your own?
Realize that all of this bothers you because it reminds you that they’re getting older. Growing up, you always saw them as strong and all-knowing. Now you’re watching their brain slowly turn into a stale bowl of oatmeal and their body become wrinkly and tired. You hate it. You hate all of it. Most of all though, you hate yourself for hating them.
Watch a documentary with your mother at 1:30 in the morning in a warm, dimly lit room and feel overwhelmed by the connection you’re both feeling. Spend your days wanting to feel close to your peers, wasting money to appear attractive, waiting for a text message that will never come. And then here’s you and your mom on a couch at 1:30 in the morning and you’ve never felt so loved, so adored, and so safe. Want to replicate the love you’re feeling with a lover or a best friend and realize that would be impossible.
Go on your first family vacation in years. Maybe to the Cape, maybe to Europe, maybe to some depressing landscape in the Midwest. Approach this trip with equal amounts of dread and excitement. You know you can love your family for eight hours straight but you’re not quite sure about four days. Pray that your anger doesn’t ruin things. Pray that your love can last.
Thankfully, it does. It lasts. It lasts even when your mother mispronounces the name of the town you’re staying in, it lasts even when your brother says something borderline misogynistic, it lasts even when your sister gets too drunk and eats all of your guacamole. Stay in a big house together and be committed to cultivating your love for one another. Let it grow and don’t disrupt it. Be on the same page about wanting to care for each other. Take deep breaths when you feel the familiar rage rise up inside of you. Don’t let it out. The rage can come in but it can’t come out.
Loving your family is also about hating your family. The two are inextricably linked. You can see that now. You can’t love a group of people that much without some hate bleeding into it. Just don’t let it bleed over too much and always remember this: Nobody’s going to love you like they do.
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