Time seems to always stand still when it comes to your family, doesn’t it? No matter how many personal and professional changes you undergo, you can rest assured that everything will feel exactly the same at Thanksgiving dinner. Your grandfather will make the same borderline-racist comments (“THE MEXICANS ARE TAKING OVER THE NEIGHBORHOOD!”), your mother and your aunt will have the same fight about who gets the last slice of pumpkin pie (it’s always a joke until someone starts crying!) and, at some point during the festivities, you’ll try to sneak away to smoke weed with your cool cousin, the one you have the most in common with and makes the entire experience bearable.
It’s both frustrating and comforting how familiar it all feels. The second you enter a family gathering, you become a more watered-down version of yourself. It’s almost as if you’re following a script. You want to hit your marks, say your lines, and then get the hell out so you can resume your regular life. “Now that the holidays are over, it’s back to your regular scheduled programming…”
There was a time when who you were in the context of your family wasn’t so far from the actual truth but, as you got older and collected more life experiences, the disconnect became wider. Look at your grandmother, for example. She has an image of you in her brain that will never change. In her eyes, you will always be five years old, you will always be a virgin, you will always be kind, you will never do drugs, you will cry if you don’t get ice cream, you hate Algebra, you want your back tickled and to stick your feet out the window.
Your family freezes you in time because it’s easier that way. Opinions and judgments, both good and bad, are fixed and nearly impossible to change. Certain members of your family will only see you on certain days of the year in the same rooms, in the same cities. It’s like they’re replaying a scene of you over and over again.
Imagine your uncle seeing you stumble home drunk from a bar and talk to an old friend on the phone. Imagine your cousin, who you aren’t very close to, comforting you after a gnarly break up. Visualize your aunt being able to watch you succeed at work or in school. It’s weird, isn’t it? It’s strange having them see something so honest.
You grow and grow and grow with each passing year. But during the holidays, you are someone who doesn’t change, who doesn’t evolve, who doesn’t have all of these subtle nuances to their personality. Sometimes it feels like you’re suffocating during these family gatherings but then at other times, you bask in the sameness. You relish the fact that you don’t have to be anyone else but who they want you to be. Of course, with some families, there is no censorship, there is no watered-down version of yourself having to be offered. You can be exactly who you are because you’re thicker than thieves! However, that’s not the case for most.
Go to Thanksgiving this year and try to enjoy the things that would usually give you anxiety or piss you off. Your life is changing at a rapid pace but for one day, you can take a break from it all and have yourself a little Groundhog’s Day. Smile when the conversation veers into the mundane. Laugh when the same passive-agressive comments are made over and over again. Try not to gasp when your grandmother tells you, offhandedly, that you’ve gained some weight. Instead, marvel at the honesty! “You’re right, Grandma! I’ve had a rough year and have been stress-eating. Wanna talk about it?!” No. Family doesn’t want to talk about anything that’s real. Family doesn’t want you to change the script so just go along with it.
Eat that turkey, smoke that pot, feel vaguely offended at the correct times. Allow it to all feel comfortable rather than agonizing. After all, these are the people who’ve known you the longest but still somehow understand you the least. Isn’t that funny in a devastating way? No? Ha ha?
Family will always confuse you and make you sad, hurt, euphoric, safe, and angry—often at the same time—but it will also be the one constant in your ever-changing life which, at this point, is something to be very thankful for.