My friend has invited me to come out to the West Coast this holiday. Normally, I would spend the holidays making a ten to twelve hour (one way) bus and train ride to visit with my uncle, cousins and sister on the East Coast, but after the past few years, I've had enough. I'm going to sunny (or at least temperate) California and the rest of them can enjoy the holidays without me.
Now, I have enjoyed the holidays with them in the past, particularly since my mother moved to Florida (and expected me to fly down there whenever she wanted me to because it was cheap from airports I did not live near), and after mom died, but since my aunt also passed away, the holidays went from a nice break from work to a hell to endure with family. I thus bring you the top four reasons why I will be happy to spend the holidays AWAY from family this year. (Some I have related already, but I'm sure everyone is up for a few outrageous reruns).
1. The Flu Incident: When my aunt was alive, she was vigilant about flu shots. She was immune-compromised due to treatment for lupus and Autistic Cousin was diabetic. They could not afford to get the flu. After she died, we learned my uncle, who claims to be a reasonable person, apparently does not believe in the germ theory of disease. Two years ago I get there for Christmas very late at night and he tells me to go up to the guest room (Sister was living there at the time) and go to sleep. Sister, who so enjoys playing the martyr she should have it tattooed on her forehead, insists I take the bed, because she has laid out a bedroll. At midnight, after 12 hours of travel I'm not going to argue. I get into bed.
5 minutes elapse.
Suddenly, Sister says, "Wait, switch pillows with me."
Suspicious, I ask why.
The reply: "I had stomach flu last week."
Yes, stomach flu. Last week. And she has not changed the sheets but insists I take the bed. I insist she take the bed but now my alternative is the dubious bedroll that she has already slobbered all over for ten minutes on the floor. The next morning I find out that not only did Sister have the stomach flu, so did Uncle and both cousins, but no one saw fit to tell me, much less give me the option of coming for New Years, because Christmas was about FAAAAAAMILY and of course I'd just come anyway. Uncle also felt this wasn't a big deal because she was my sister and it wasn't some stranger's germs and at least she wanted to switch the pillow. (Uncle basically decided Sister was some sort of saint when she decided to take over Cousin's care out of guilt, but that's another thread. Needless to say, Sister has Uncle's permission to treat me like dog doo, and I have his permission to take it and take his criticism when I express my dislike of this arrangement. He also thinks it's very 'sad' that I'm not proud of the fact that she has finally learned to do chores. Sister was 24 at the time.)
Three days later I was on my way home on what turned into a 14 hour bus ride due to construction when the nausea hit. Due to the delay, we arrived in Home City long after the city busses stopped running and I got to stay up all night in the bus terminal, with mild but unrelenting nausea which lasted at least until I got home and fell asleep sometime around 6 am. Merry Christmas. (The next year I was told after I got there that everyone had colds, and of course I went home sick. At least there was no nausea last year.)
2. Unrelenting Assault of Muppets: As I mentioned above, one of my cousins is autistic. There are/were several people on these boards who were self-described as high-functioning autistics. To be clear, my cousin is NOT one of these. Since my aunt died, he has been placed in a residential school far from home (due to his special diabetic needs making closer placement more difficult), and frankly, he needed residential care since he became totally unmanageable at puberty. That being said, he is relatively easy to buy gifts for. He enjoys videos and plastic dinosaurs, and it doesn't matter if he has them already because sooner or later he will break or lose the one he has.
Last year, my sister told me she was getting Cousin a dvd/VCR to take back to his residential school because it had finally become impossible for her to find a VCR unit. (He goes through about 3 a year, so for a while Aunt had just stockpiled VCRs in the basement). Out doing last minute Christmas shopping, I spot a 25th Anniversary DVD (or whatever number) for Sesame Street. The perfect gift, I think, especially as the dvd player will be going to school with him and he can enjoy it there. The unknown flaw in my plan? The vcr in the family room (that Cousin basically considered his and his alone) had been replaced with a dvd player while Cousin was at school.
(I should of course add, that while I am comfortable watching my cousin for short periods of time, and had done so while my aunt was alive, I do not know how to monitor his blood sugar, give him insulin injections, or handle his meds. I visit once or twice a year for four days, while my sister lived in the house for almost 2 years. Also, when my aunt was alive, she could monitor him almost exclusively by sound, as she could tell what he was getting up to, and when I visited, she asked me if I minded watching Cousin for an hour or so while she did errands, and was always prompt about coming back. And left a cell phone number. Uncle is far less considerate. He prefers making statements like 'I'm taking a nap' or not saying anything at all, and then holing up somewhere else in the house, leaving whoever is 'around' to watch Cousin. Needless to say, pretty soon the only one around is me.)
Combine lax supervision with a brand new Sesame Street dvd and you get 'C is for Cookie' on repeat. For 6 and a half hours. (Occaissionally interspersed with 'Rubber Duckie,' to actually prevent your brain from mercifully exploding. Followed of course by 'C is for Cookie'. Again.)
After the first ninety minutes, Sister announces that she is 'going out.' It's Christmas Day, she begged me to come and told me for weeks how she couldn't wait to see me, but come the holiday, she ditches me to go out with her friends from high school, the same friends she sees every weekend because they all live in the area with their parents. Other cousin slips off to play video games in his room. Uncle is 'napping.' I am alone, tied to the family room to supervise 'C is for Cookie' for the rest of the afternoon. After being out for four hours, Sister returns, happy and gleeful and laughs, commenting 'oh, is he watching [C is for Cookie] again?' I reply that 'no, he is still watching it.' She is unfazed by my lack of a pleasant afternoon.
I should also mention that because Cousin is a disabled but hormonal teenage boy, he also spent much of the previous six hours pleasuring himself to 'C is for Cookie'. I will never be able to watch Sesame Street in exactly the same way again. His other hobbies, besides self-pleasure and repetitive video watching include never handwashing and touching every other surface in the house. Uncle, who rarely cleans, keeps berating me about my germ-phobia. I am thus far too polite to explain that my 'germ phobia' only crops up at his house.
3. The Terribly Awkward Christmas Dinner: Christmas Eve dinner is spent at Uncle's brother's house. I have been there the past few years, and while they are nice and hospitable, there is always the feeling of being an outsider because it is his family, not mine, and while Uncle is uncle by marriage, his brothers and other nieces and nephews etc. are not much more than people I see every Christmas Eve when I invade their house and am mostly left out. (I also got to see them at Aunt's funeral service, which they spent sitting in the back, playing card games with Cousin, while Sister and I took turns watching Autistic Cousin. Bear in mind, Autistic Cousin is their cousin too, and since it was Aunt who had died, it would have been nice to have a little more freedom to talk to some of my relatives too. But that's another thread). It's somewhat less of an issue for Sister as these people are relatively local (and she lived in Uncle's house for 2 years), but I'm about ten years older than Cousin (so 8-15 years older than his cousins) so the adults try to include late 20 something me into their conversations about retirement planning and the NRA and his cousins basically ignore my presence totally. At least the food is good and Sister and I were finally moved to the adult table, since the kids were clearly ignoring us.
Last year was made much more awkward by the untimely death of one of these cousins earlier in the year. Details are sketchy. All I know is that it was a suicide, but I don't know the means, so I spend most of the dinner hoping I don't unknowingly say something that will be terribly hurtful because I don't know what might trigger an association. I say little, but imagine all the ways an innocent comment can go wrong. "Is that a new gravy boat?" "You horrible witch, don't you know Dead Cousin died by melting down the old gravy boat and drinking the molten mass?" Not that I expect that he died by gravy boat, but since conversations around the house tended to center around guns, knives, hunting, and being grateful none of the children were g*a*y, I was really hoping to avoid stepping into anything.
To complete the total alienation experience in the dinner, Dead Cousin's father proceeded to hand out a token gift to everyone in his family in remeberance of his son. And he did so, and while I didn't mind the exclusion of Sister and myself (Sister was tending Autistic Cousin and missed it), it was really awkward to hear his touching tribute to his son as he broke down relating references I didn't know, while it was made quite plain that I was not the intended audience. Basically, it felt like I was intruding on a private moment and would have quietly given the family alone time if anyone had mentioned this private moment was coming. Not rude, but just terribly awkward.
However, the best part was Sister asking on the way over if I knew that Other Uncle (see below)'s Catholic Sister In law's Illegitimate Child (concieved while barely legal AND in the Navy) was biracial.
I have no problem with biracial children. I'll even tolerate Illegitimate Children with barely legal mother's. It's not the child's fault. It's not shocking to me. At most I could see myself wondering whose kid this was if the biracial aspect makes it hard to pick out her mother as the pale bottle blond. But the child was almost 3 years old by this point. Aunt (while still alive) had already related the scandal of the illegitimate, Catholic barely legal while in the Navy event to me sometime before, including the biracial part, not as a slam against diversity, but in conveying exactly what level of parental ire this inspired in Other Uncle's inlaws. Not to mention we were not set to see them at this time due to sister not calling them back. I do not know why she felt she had to mention it.
However, I did discover upon arrival to First Uncle's brother's house that Sister had totally failed to mention Uncle's Niece's teenage pregnancy. Not only was the evening dominated by the 'hope I don't traumatize the mourning' caution, but I was treated to hear about how Niece couldn't eat or do whatever she wanted 'because of the fetus'. One wonders what kind of restrictions she was expecting when 'the fetus' became 'the baby.'
4. The Herpes Dinner Party: The Aunt previously mentioned is my late father's sister. My late father's brother also lives in the same area and has two kids (Other Uncle, Other Aunt, Other Cousins 1 & 2). Due to estrangement over Aunt's death, Sister and I have to visit Other Uncle and Family seperately, specifically at his mother in law's house. Bear in mind that as before in the previously mentioned Awkward Dinner, we are not at the home of blood relatives, but the home of their inlaws. Once again, we are outsiders.
Two years ago, the visit consisted of a charming service at Other Aunt's church (which she attends so regularly that it took us 40 minutes to determine that we were waiting for the service in Spanish and the regular service would be in another half hour), where I, the agnostic guest of the church member who was only there to keep family peace during the holiday, got to join all the real Catholics in being berated by the miffed priest who subjected us to a sermon about not attending church the rest of the year. Apparently it never occurred to him that some of the 'strange faces I never see' are never seen because they live elsewhere and are only in the area for holidays. We were also called upon to pray for the many murdered fetuses and the war and other controversial issues. I am not complaining about a religious leader's right to pray for what he believes in in his house of worship, but I do think that he would have been better served by not starting out the service (and ending it) by insulting those in attendance and then perhaps sermonizing on something actually relevant to the holiday (peace? brotherhood? charity? service?) as opposed to dictating church politics. And he wonders why people don't come the rest of the year. I had been embarassed that I had forgotten my wallet when we left, but after 90 minutes of aggressive berating priest on a guilt trip, I stopped feeling bad about not donating.
This year, we were off to Uncle's Judgemental MIL's house for dinner/appetizers. Throughout the appetizer driven open house, I witnessed the many finger foods and other delights MIL personally prepared, cutting, chopping, heating, all while she complained about being sick and constantly touching her face and mouth while talking, eating and yes, cooking. After an hour or two of picking at the food, she reveals that she feels so awful, her whole mouth area is tingly as if it's about to break out in 'fever blisters' and 'does it look red?' and 'oh my, it's all around my lips and mouth and lower face,' repeatedly described as she rubs her hand all over her mouth, then goes back to cooking and serving. Her elderly mother tells her to stop touching her face, others offer to help, but no, she has to cook, and of course, continue to tell us the saga of how her face will break out tomorrow in fever blisters and it's all because she is coming down with a cold. But she's been a nurse or nurses aid or worked as a secretary for a psychiatrist or something, so she knows the cold isn't contagious.
I realize about this time that even though I am a biologist, that does not excuse the ludicrous fact that I'm the only person in this crowded house of 30 or more people who seems to realize that 'fever blisters' are not caused by the common cold, they are caused by HERPES! My uncle's MIL has been fingering her impending HERPES outbreak while preparing and serving food to the guests, then relating to all of us, her captive audience, exactly how bad her HERPES outbreak will be and 'oh no, I don't need help, oh, is my face red?' all through dinner and dessert. Yum, yum, that communicable, incurable virus gives the cheesecake just the right touch, wouldn't you say?
And to add insult to potential infection, she also asked me when I was planning on having kids.
This would be normally rude in and of itself, but bear in mind, I don't have a boyfriend or any other significant other, I have never had a significant other, and I never mentioned having a significant other. But apparently, even though by her own religion (she attends the same church with Father Chip On my Shoulder), it's a sin to concieve children out of wedlock, I, the liberal non-Catholic should be eager to do just that because I am a woman and my uterus cries out to expel babies or something. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, and while I don't look down from my superior morals on unwed mothers, I really don't appreciate the implication that I should just have a baby without a partner because 'I can.'
I argued that I had 'no men in my life' so of course I wasn't having children. By Now Legal Navy Baby's Mother thought this was a good plan, commenting that not having the father around made it 'really hard'. Yes dear, I did reason that one out by myself, but thanks for the support. If I weren't so worried about the Herpes, I'd have muzzled your mother by now.
So this year I'm taking a break from family and heading out to visit friends who want to see me. (How novel.) Sister attempted a guilt trip about 'have fun while you visit your friends (instead of us)' but I suspect someone has reminded her that she ditches me every year for her friends and maybe I wasn't a horrible sister for doing something different.
(And my friend has assurred me that she will NOT ask me when I'm having children.)