My wife and I used to watch Criminal Minds. She recorded it and we’d settle onto our plush little corner of the couch, remote in hand, to view it after the kids went to bed. Each episode began and ended with some obscure quote by Yeats or Coleridge or some other literary figure. It set the philosophical tone of the episode.
Here’s an example: “The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary. Men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.” Joseph Conrad said that.
I’d like to offer my own quote to set the tone for today’s blog: “Any man who does not embrace death has never been on vacation with his in-laws.”
In every interview with an uber-successful woman I’ve ever seen or read, the interviewer inevitably asks some version of what I believe is a rather insulting question: “How do you balance work and family?” It’s insulting because it’s a question rarely, if ever, asked of a successful man.
Trust me; the battle to earn an income and raise children well is gender neutral. And like most people, I always want what I don’t have. When I’m writing, and writing intensely, that’s when I want to be with family most…until I start spending time with them.
By “them,” I mean my in-laws. I’m not talking about my wife’s immediate family: mom, dad, sister, two brothers and their wives and kids. I’m talking about all them plus close to 50 more relatives. As people all over the world have said, “There ought to be a law.”
My wife and I have had this discussion a number of times. Granted neither one of us is a trained sociologist, but here’s the point I’ve made to her repeatedly (usually during or right after a family vacation): You spend the first 18 years of your life trying to get away from these people. Why, then, do you spend the next 40 trying to “get the family together?” It’s like a forced marriage. No way am I getting my thousand words written today or, most likely, this week.
Her counter is that I’m male, and therefore stupid, and should just shut up.
“It destroys one’s nerves to be amiable every day to the same human being.”—Benjamin Disraeli.
The vacation rules, as I understood them, were that we would say, “Tuesday at 10 a.m., we’re going to the Washington Monument.” Others could join us at the monument or not. The choice is entirely theirs.
Seems to me if you’ve thrown the plan out there and all 50 billion of your relatives have traveled from their home galaxy to be with family, we’re likely gonna have a crowd. So here, my friends, is the salient question:
How does one get 50 trillion in-laws to move at the same time, in the same direction, toward the same destination?
The answer: The same way you divide any number by zero: It is a mathematical impossibility. IT CAN’T BE DONE!
My family gatherings are much simpler. First off, as my daughter summed up one day, “So, Daddy, let me get this straight. Other than you, Uncle Mike, and Aunt Cathy, pretty much everybody in your family is dead?” Bingo, kid. Other than about a dozen aunts, uncles, and cousins, she hit the nail on the head.
I have one cousin who “don’t take to people.” The last family reunion we had, he climbed up a tree and “throwed up.”
When I was a kid, the reunions were fun because we had this older relative who had Tourette’s syndrome. In the middle of a sentence, he’d throw his head back and let out a sound like a whooping crane. Everybody called him “Whoop.” These were simple affairs—Big K Cola, large bags of generic grocery store cookies, potato salad, and ham and cheese roll-ups. “Hon, the hardest part is takin’ the plastic off the cheese!”
Even Whoop probably wouldn’t come to a reunion with people throwing up from the trees. And he damn sure wouldn’t come to one with 50 gazillion people trying to be at the same place at the same time. Just an observation.
“The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together.”—Erma Bombeck.
As the comedians say, “You can’t make this stuff up.” And it makes great material to write about…if I only had the time.