This postcard was sent to PostSecret, and I guess it really struck a chord with me.
I have lived on my own, away from my family, since I was 18. I have a life: friends, pets, car, apartment, job. “Home” is where I get up in the morning, return at the end of the day, where I wallow in misery when I’m sick, where my pets live and my car is parked.
Since I went to college, my parents have not exactly been parked in the same house in which I grew up. They divorced when I was in 8 th grade. During the time I was in high school, my dad had two addresses and my mom had three. After I moved out, my mom and stepfather moved to Chicago, then back to Houston (to a completely different house) and have since downsized and moved again; my dad was transferred to the Seattle area. The point is, neither of their houses could be called “home.” I don’t really have any memories associated with those houses…sure, some furniture and pictures and ugly-ass dishes have survived the moves, but the rooms themselves are devoid of any associations for me.
So when people ask me if I’m going “home” for Christmas, I know what they mean…and I sometimes answer yes without thinking…but it’s really not “home” I’m visiting. What, does being single and childless = parents’ house is still officially your home? The place you live, where you spend your time…that’s just a temporary address?
I’m going to have to agree with the writer of this postcard and call bullshit on that.
When I was a kid (I think it was the summer I was 11, when I spent one of the best months of my life at my gramma’s house without my parents or brother), I went with my gramma to a family reunion. This was not a usual occurrence. We lived in Texas, and my extended family (both sides) mostly lived in Michigan. We sometimes went there for the holidays or in the summer, but it wasn’t every year, and when we did go, we only saw the “immediate” extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, first cousins. So being at a gathering with a zillion people I didn’t know but was somehow related to was a bit of a shock. What I remember most about it, though, was how they all identified me as my mom’s daughter: “[Name]’s girl.” It totally pissed me off. I remember talking to my mom and grandma about it, and telling them that I was a SEPARATE PERSON WITH A NAME and wasn’t just someone’s kid.
They just laughed and said that because there were so many relatives (white trash is very good at breeding), they just did it to keep everyone straight. My mom laughed because she remembered thinking the same thing when she was at reunions as a child and everyone identified her as my grandma’s kid.
Seems like in my family, until you reproduce….you will still be identified as a part of something else rather than as your own person. And maybe that’s ok, in a way…family reunions are about reconnecting, after all, knowing that you’re not entirely alone in the world…but somehow, to me, being identified as someone’s offspring and not being recognized for who I am, feels kind of lonely…like they’re saying “until you have a husband and kids, none of the life you’ve made for yourself matters.”
Having a husband and/or kids does not automatically make you a grown-up…in fact, one cousin with kids spent an inordinate amount of time living in my grandma’s basement. But I don’t think he gets asked if he’s going “home” for Christmas.
What’s almost worse, though, is my parents’ expectation that I will be traveling to their residences on Christmas and/or Thanksgiving. Last year, I finally put my foot down with my dad, and told him that I was tired of spending the fucking holidays in a fucking airport, and if he wanted to see me, he knew where I lived and had far more money and vacation time than I did. I went there last Thanksgiving, but not this year. My mom basically knows how I feel about the holiday shuffle, but she still has enough guilt-trip power that I go there. Plus, since my brother’s in the area too, he’s usually there.
All this talk of home and family reminds me of a conversation I had a long time ago with BFRB2. She was married at the time (no kids) and I asked if she considered her husband to be her “family.” That may sound like a weird question, but when you are at the point in your life where you’re still caught between kid and adult, feeling like everything is temporary, watching your friends get married but feeling weird about it, like they’re just pretending and we’re all really still 10, it’s good to hear how people already more established feel about it. (I’m sure BFRB2 will laugh at that. She and her husband, while older than I was, had actually both gone back to school and were just as nomadic and unsettled as any of my other friends. But she was the first person that really showed me what it meant to be a grown-up without having all the parental expectations pinned on the definition.)
Most of the time, when I go to my mom’s for Christmas, it’s good…despite the occasional annoyance or drama, there are enough moments (like my brother and my grandma and I all trying to make each other laugh during the blessing before dinner) to make me glad I went. This year was pretty good, although I did miss Lando….I knew I would miss him, because I’m used to spending weekends with him and we only got a little time together before I left…but it sucked just the same.
Strangely, even though the stepfamily/parents in two different states thing has always been a little weird, or awkward (the parents got remarried my senior year in high school and freshman year in college, and some of the step-siblings were long gone from the house, so it’s not like we know all of them very well), there was none of this “you’re not my real family so I’m not gonna try” thing. My mom spent an inordinate amount of time this year stressing about who was coming to dinner what day because of all of our stupid picky food things…mine, my brother’s, my stepsister’s, and her live-in’s. My stepmother, while she has issues, included us in her family gatherings over holidays. (They make weird food. Have I written about this before? The first few times we had holidays with her, which was really not many before she married my dad, because they dated off and on for four years and broke up every year right after Thanksgiving and got back together before Valentine’s day, her family did not make any mashed potatoes. Dude. Those are a staple. EVERYONE has mashed potatoes. WTF?) So it was weird for me hearing Lando’s tale of drama regarding his stepmother.(I guess she tries to just feed his dad’s relatives snacky food, and makes her own blood relatives actual meals.)Whatever annoyances I have with the multiple relative gift-buying pretending-to-be-nice horseshit, there’s never been a question of “yours” or “mine.” Part of that is my mom. She went out of her way to ask everyone what they liked, buy all the weird hippie food that my stepsiblings seem to eat, buy the strange shit that my stepfather likes (herring. VOMIT-O-RAMA.), and cater to various picky eating tendencies of myself and my brother. (Me=no pink food. Him=ketchup on everything; no potatoes unless they are French fries.) When I’m at my dad’s, I think my stepmother is so grateful to have a buffer that she’ll cook any fucking thing any of us want.
How the hell did I get off on this food topic? Guess my Pop Tarts weren’t filling enough this morning. I was talking about how when you’re single, no one seems to acknowledge that the place you live by yourself is “home.”
A few days after I got back from Houston, BFRB2 called to catch up on the holidays. Apparently, hers were mostly good, but she said that by about the 4th day, she wanted to be at HOME. Her house. Her pet. Her peace and quiet.