Joy, and the thousand other emotions of spending time with family.
If You Think You’re Enlightened, Go Spend a Week with Your Family.Ram Dass
Family, I whisper to myself as I sit here, back home, eight meters away from all of them who are having something to eat and laughing out loud. My four cousins, my aunties & their girlfriends; Mumma is somewhere washing dishes and I’m waiting for the coffee to brew. My family is Latin, and this may explain part of the reason why we have (not always want but have) to spend so much time together; because if not it is just weird. Because, how can you be around for one celebration and not spend the week leading up to it and after it together?… preparing, gossiping, laughing, fighting, hugging, discussing… Yes, we -Latins- are not exactly the cliché they’ve made of us, but quite close. More complex and yet quite close. And because this is my reality, it is the only place from which I can write, biased despite my desire to be impartial.
And I sit here, my usual weird self, eight meters away from them, enjoying their laughter almost as much as this tropical rain that parts us allowing me to write and be here by myself. I love my family, but ooh, I adore my alone time, and when I can have a bit of both is when holidays just work out perfectly. Eighty, twenty -exactly as the Pareto Principle-… the first being -naturally- the rain, and alone time; books, writing, walks, podcasts & black coffee.
It is hard: coming back home and suddenly feeling a teenage again -our worst and very probably most insecure years-. You’ve changed and reshaped your life at least twenty times, nonetheless, everything here seems to be stuck in time. So, of course, you are the one who is different, ungrateful, changed. But, aren’t we all changing? Isn’t change good? It obviously is scary.
As time has passed, I’ve come to understand that this feeling is not inherent only to me. I’ve come to learn, listen and experience how every single one of us has a complicated, eccentric, unique family relationship, and each one has also found different ways to cope, love, be present and also allow themselves alone time, rest time, recharge time. Family, if we were a bit wiser and more eloquent, should be a concept with thousand different words to explain it. Each one with its nuances; like there are “whites” for Eskimos. Maybe that would free us from fitting in in one single familiar arrangement; from feeling odd, left out, alone. We could choose something that would mean helicopter-family, dysfunctional-family, happy-but-with-tendencies-to-depression-family, overachiever-family, etc. There is no fixed concept for family, as there is none for being ok, for feeling happy, sad & joy. There are so many ways and shapes to these emotions.
Family, I repeat to myself as I turn around to look at them -all so different- as I hold back from walking there to hug them. Family, and I can already feel a tumultuous array of emotions surging from deep within my body and crawling all the way up trying to get out, to say it all: to compress in a couple of words all the love I’ve ever felt but also all the fear, all the sadness, all the frustration. Family is a powerful word because it has no defined meaning, because it may as well be empty for some or full of grudge for others; because it is a movable concept which depends on thousands of tiny circumstances that start shaping it since before we are born.
Family celebrations and relationships are a tricky subject to write about because each experience is so different, that having a single concept to encapsulate it is quite frankly simplistic and a bit strange. There must be someone in the world -in some awesome language- a word that means, loving and hating your family all at the same time: longing to be with your family and dreading to be with them, in the exact same minute. Especially when you are back for a major celebration and you haven’t seen them in a while. When you can look back to everything you’ve missed about them, but also fear everything you’ve managed to get away from in order to become who you are. If that concept existed, it would have been the title of this piece.
Celebrations spent with family
Celebrations spent with family are more than a double-edged sword; they are like one of those ninja stars: sleek and beautiful, but also incredibly sharp and deadly in so many ways.
I’m always marvelled by the power the people closest to our heart exert upon us. How they give us so much, shaping who we become, but can also leave us with deep routed wounds that are so hard to heal.
I’ve grown surrounded by family celebrations, Sunday lunch with my grandparents and cousins, and summers spent in a full house twenty-four seven. Now I live 17,000 km away from them and often I wonder what the meaning of these oceans I decided to put between us is. I’ve been lucky enough and more than privileged to grow up in a “normal” household, full of laughter, hugs, hard work and discipline (so much of it). And I can say, without having to lie, that I love my family deeply, so much that it often hurts in places I still don’t know how to heal.
So here I am, back home for my parents 60th birthday and visiting most of my cousins. I’m here to enjoy being surrounded by them, but also -and some of you might understand this too well-, to show them who have I become, to answer questions and try to clear their doubts. I am back, a self-assured-happy-woman when I’m at home and the same insecure full-of-doubts-girl that left. Trying to prove herself, feeling an indecent need to convince everyone -especially myself-, that I am enough, that what I do is valid, that the life I’ve chosen is also ok.
And between our conversations, I can truly feel their care but also the doubts around the life I’ve chosen to live. Because they remember when I used to pee my knickers and hide them behind doors, but they do not adhere to my current views of the world, nor do they want to sit down and discuss them. It’s about being together. And trying to get closer to me, they might recommend new diets or new ways to approach my work; and trying to feel safer I sometimes have to walk away. We are both, stupidly so, trying to connect in our awkward ways, in the only way we know… Trying to say “I love you” utilizing a million more unnecessary words. Focusing on things that are not even important. It is not what we’ve decided to do that matters, but the fact that we are here, that we still enjoy being together, that we have shared a history and there are things that connect us in deeper ways than our jobs, hairstyles, gender preferences or any of those visual superficialities we’ve put so much weight on. Because maybe that is the dream: family as a place of solace, safety, love, acceptance. And it will start when someone decides to rise above (or to the side to reject social structures) and truly see the humans they have grown with -it tied by blood-; standing strong in their truths, having worked and discovered who they are, who they are being; becoming. Learning to be with the trouble, which is sometimes so beautiful and others so messy.
So maybe the gist to family celebrations, and family in general, lies as always in us. In the individual, in spending time with ourselves, in truly nurturing that eighty per cent I treasure so much, which is what allows us to get to know who we are and make peace with who we are becoming. The time spent with ourselves, reaffirming our values, our beliefs, what moves us; is what may allow us to come back to these people who saw us when we were peeing ourselves and face them strong but also full of compassion. Soft enough to let everything that doesn’t serve us slip down and fall to the ground, and compassionate enough to truly listen, to open our arms and give them all that they have given us and more.
Family as a tool for personal growth and deep understanding. Family as a school for difference, for acceptance and peace. Maybe it is exactly there that everything starts; where we can go back to learn, to challenge ourselves, to actually check how enlightened we have become… and keep working on it.
Text by Eda Sofia C.B (A.KA: me) for Gippslandia
Gippslandia is a quarterly magazine in newspaper format, for, and about, the Latrobe Valley & Gippsland. It’s an ever-optimistic take on regional, national and global issues, in a local context. Oh, and it’s free.