Sunday, June 27, 2010

Relating to Relations

"You are not judged by the heights to which you have risen, but the depths from which you have climbed."

- Frederick Douglass

Family gatherings. Every family’s got ‘em. At one time or another (or all times or anothers), every person dreads them.

There’s always someone who shows up begging the question:

Why did she give birth to/marry/invite him?

And there’s always at least one who’s so embarrassing that you dread seeing her – let alone engaging in conversation.

Then there’s the relation (or two or more) with a drinking problem. If that person drove, is anyone brave enough to take away the keys?

Why is there always an unruly pet or child? Haven’t they ever heard of setting limits?

And why is he always so late/early/rude to say he’ll come but then doesn't show up/thoughtless when he doesn’t RSVP?

Then there’s the person who thinks he’s too good for this family. Of course, you do too, but you’re not so obvious about it. I mean, really.

Try to avoid the jokester:

“No, I will not pull your finger."

"You told me the one about the maiden and the goat last time.”

Why is there someone who always equates success with money?

“He made six figures last year? You must be soooo proud.”

Is this a conversation or an interrogation?

“YES, I’m exercising/looking for a job/thinking about taking that class.”

“Yep, we’re both graduate students. How many years? Five, so far. A PhD takes a long time. When will he get a real job? Umm...”

Then there are those who don’t have a clue:

“I’m still writing. What kind? Children’s books. No, not picture books. Uh, no, you don’t need to be an illustrator to write a picture book. I write mostly for older children and teenagers. No, I don't have any books published yet. Right now? I’m trying to get an agent. Well, it’s really competitive. I enjoy writing. Yes, I’ve heard all about the success story the women who wrote the Harry Potter books. Mmm hmm, she wrote her idea right on a napkin. Oh really - she had only seventeen rejections? How many do I have? Uh yeah I did hear she’s the richest woman in England next to the queen.”

While others want to know why you haven’t succeeded, others want to ensure you feel like a failure:

"You never bought maternity clothes, preferring to wear your husband’s clothes? Wow, that is a small amount of weight-gain. And you lost the baby weight in two weeks. How lovely.”

Then there are the judgmental ones:

“Yes, that is my second piece of cake.”

Which is why you shouldn’t (outwardly) judge others:

“Training to become an Ultimate Fighting Champion sounds like a fine idea!”

And then there are the "race" relations who think life is all about jumping over the next hurdle. I wish she’d stop pestering her to get a boyfriend. Then to get married. Next to have children. And what after that? "When are you buying a burial plot? You really should get on that before the best spaces are taken."

Discussions to avoid with family members (unless you know beyond a reasonable doubt their philosophies are the same as yours):




Sexual Preference


You won’t convince them.

No. you. won’t.

Then there’s the frail person sitting in the corner who always seems too old for proper conversation. And when she’s gone, you’ll lament that you didn’t ask her to tell more stories about the old days. And maybe you should’ve written them down…

Big gift? Showoff. Little gift? Cheapskate.

And if it’s your party, a guest or two will be sure to mention what a hardship it was getting there. Whether it’s the distance/date/time/other. Why didn’t you send tentative dates and let everyone take a vote for the best one? And why not get consensus on other details? Shouldn’t planning a party be a democracy?

Why does everyone insist on destination weddings these days? As if the grand day itself were the point of the marriage. Besides the cost (airfare, hotel, meals, GIFT), you’re stuck with these relatives - not for four or five hours – but for two or three DAYS.

But then, sometimes, you spend all this time eating meals, taking walks, and having conversations. Real conversations. And you find you never knew this much about that person. Small talk never covered these kinds of topics. You realize, these people aren't so bad. Maybe outside of this crazy, mixed-up family, if you met each person on the street, maybe you’d become friends. Okay, maybe not friends, but at least acquaintances.

Look at it this way:

Plane tickets, $1000

Hotel room, $200 per night (EUROS!)

Dress, $60

All that writing fodder… Priceless


  1. hahaha brilliant post!! :o)

  2. Oh my gosh! Are we related? I was grinning all the way through this! I'll tell you, you're braver than I am. I avoid most of my extended family like the plague, sad, huh? When my grandparents were alive, everyone made an effort to get along and be somewhat nice to each other. Now, not so much...There are some of us to still get together when we can and we figure that's good enough. At least you have perspective, not to mention writing fodder!!! Loved it!

  3. All these sound like my mum.

    She is that frightening. She is all these and then some. I am being so honest and serious here. I have her on one side and I'm going through your list and I'm ticking them going, yep, that's my mama - oh yes!!!


    I'm yet to use her as a writing inspiration though... I need distance! :-)

    Take care

  4. The trials of family relations... Was this post inspired by something specific or is just a commentary about how your family works?

  5. I love it! a couple of years ago we did the 'family Christmas' (extended family..) NEVER AGAIN.

    Best one was when my cousin. She's studying politics at Uni and so I suggested she go for an admin job in government as her 'part time' job because they love hiring their own.
    At the time I myself was working as a PA to three top managers in CYF.

    She gave me a look of contempt (nothing veiled with this look!) and said in the sniffiest tone you can imagine.
    "Oh I'd never be a PA...."
    my brothers GF just gaped at her then at me in horror.. Gd i can't WAIT till my books published *hee*

  6. @ Niki, thanks!

    @ The Words Crafter, thank you. I actually like seeing my family (most of them) but there's still something about it that's less relaxing then hanging with friends.

    @ Old Kitty, sorry about your colorful mom.

    My mother is writing inspiration for all of my books, even if it's indirectly. Complicated relationships and the feelings they generate help me with my characters.

  7. @ Alesa, I wrote this post because there have been a lot of family gatherings lately, but also because other people tell me their family woes. I figured most people could relate to this post.

    @ Nicole, I want you to get published to show up that cousin of yours too! What is wrong with people?

  8. This made me laugh out loud Theresa! Families are full of everything - from all parts of the spectrum. You're so right about them being fodder - sometimes thinking that is the ONLY way to get through an event :)

  9. So so so true!! And funny!

    I get the whole what are you doing with your life/majoring in what/what kind of money does that make scenario a lot.

    Perfectly put. :)

  10. nodding nodding nodding. I just spent 3 days in an interstate hotel with rellies from both sides of the family (and my sister's new in-laws). LOTS of writing fodder let me tell you !!! ;)

  11. What a great way to look at it! I totally agree. And I have my fair share of pets that cross the line at my family gatherings. Should they really be allowed to sit under the table and eat scraps? Not when a 70 pound dog is sitting on my feet!

  12. And that writing fodder makes it all worthwhile, interesting, and inspiring. Life is the best muse :)

  13. @ Jemi, I also think of it as character study.

    @ Tiffany, my sister is a freelancer, and I don't think some family members believe she makes money.

    @ Clutterbug, 3 days sounds like a lot of writing fodder!

    @ Aubrie, your poor feet! I had an aunt who had a dog I wasn't fond of, staring at me while I ate. And I went to a party once with a dog that kept stealing food and running around in circles.

    @ Joanne, I agree - life is the best muse.

  14. I'm in drive-by mode, here... :)
    So, just a quick "You have an award on my blog"!

    Sorry I couldn't stay longer. :(

  15. This is such a spot-on post! I'm still considered a "child" in the family, but with big family gatherings, there's always one of the above.

    (Sometimes, though, I do wonder which category I unwittingly fall under.)

  16. That was super! But I'm wondering where my invitation was??? It sounds like we are related.

  17. I try to lay low at family gatherings because they are folks from my marital side and not the blood side and I let the Mrs. handle all of these issues (and I think you cover all the problems we encounter as well) while I look for a second piece of cake.

  18. The interrogator person? That's my mom. You literally just captured her phone conversations with me, only she's asking about my son or husband's job status. And she wonders why I rarely answer my phone.

  19. Great post! Best to be seen and not heard at large family gatherings at times. I have a magnet on my fridge: 'Friends are the family you choose for yourself' and I often think of that...:)
    I'm a new follower who just popped in...

  20. You've hit the nail on the head.
    Priceless indeed!

  21. Loved that post, Theresa, I nodded at every point.

    I agree with you about the fodder.
    If I had the nerve to write a true story based on my family, I would have a bestseller, the litigation puts me off.
    Instead, I use little snippets of them everywhere, my girl standing up to the governess in my magpie piece, that was me a long time ago.
    Hey, it's cheaper and more fun than therapy.

  22. Brilliant post Theresa!! The whole writing fodder description was spot on...I have said that so many times to my family that has these grandiose delusions of me completing my book and becoming a millionaire....Um. Yeah...not gonna happen :)

  23. @ Suzie, thank you! I'll go check it out.

    @ Sandy, my sister feels like the child too. It's funny you funny you wonder which category you fall under because as I wrote it, I wonder how my family perceived me as well!

    @ Sharon K. Mayhew, you are invited to any of my family gatherings. I think families all have the same characters!

  24. @ Slamdunk, I like your strategy.

    @ Mary McDonald, I'm sorry the interrogator is your mom. While I don't have that specific problem with my mother, I am selective about which calls I take from her.

    @ L'Aussie, thanks for becoming a follower. I'll check out your blog.

    One of my favorite quotes:

    “The family you have come from isn’t as important as the family you’re going to have.”

    - Ring Lardner

  25. @ Al, thanks!

    @ Brigid, I don't write about my family for a similar reason! I remember the Magpie piece, but now I'll have to go back and look at it.

    @ Slushpile Slut, look at this way, at least they believe in you.

  26. Teehee, your post made me laugh. :) And a joke about a maiden and a goat? Interesting.
    I think a lot of people could relate to your post. It does seem like big family gatherings often turn into a competition. I wonder why?

  27. Amazing how all families have these same characters!!!

  28. Amazing post, I never doubt your writing talent but today was exceptionally amazing!! Families make for amazing characters and you are right there is always a few people who hang around and you wonder who invited them!

  29. @ Neurotic Workaholic, I made up the maiden and goat. If you come up with a joke, let me know.

    Yes, families are competitive, but I don't know why.

    @ Bossy Betty, I agree. You'd think rich, poor, different regions of a country, different countries - but no, all similar.

    @ Jen, thanks. I think most family members think, "This party would've been better if ***** hadn't been invited."

  30. Ha! That's a good one. And one we can all relate to. (Umm... that pun was unintentional....)

  31. @ Jackee, thanks for the comment... and the pun.

  32. This post captures so well the anxiety around large family gatherings and the typical character types one confronts.

  33. @ Paul C, thank you. It is all about character types.

  34. Some universal family themes How much we all have in common when it comes to our families!

  35. Family get-togethers are always funny. My great aunt and her son, who is a schizophrenic, will be coming down from Tennessee for the Fourth of July, the first time in a long time they've been down to Georgia. That should be interesting... and priceless writing fodder, as you said!

  36. Brilliant. Brilliant. Brilliant. You nailed everything. I think my favorite was this:
    "Then there’s the person who thinks he’s too good for this family. Of course, you do too, but you’re not so obvious about it."

    So true!

  37. @ Amanda, spending a time with a schizophrenic IS interesting. I know from experience. Hope it's fun.

    @ MIss Periods, thank you. I'm partial to that part too.

  38. There are crazy relatives everywhere. I first wondered if my Uncle was an alien. The scary stare and the same boring talk. He ruined all the parties.
    This was a funny post. Loved the quote at the top.

  39. this is so fantastic! I got out of a family party last weekend by going to baltimore, and this makes me so glad I did!

  40. @ Mr. Stupid, I've heard about your relatives. You should be able to relate most of all.

    I loved the quote too.

    @ Lora, family gatherings are stressful to some degree, but I like them. But some families are more to deal with than others. And sometimes I don't feel like dealing with my family, so it's nice to take a break.

  41. Oh sigh! I SO hear this! Luckily I have a great family and my relative are all so nice, but sometimes I really don't think they realise how their words are coming out!

  42. Talli, I agree. Sometimes, I want to ask, "Do you hear yourself?"

  43. This was so funny Theresa!

    I completely relate. It's amazing how some things never change or get old!