You dream that yours could be just like that TV-perfect family: Sunday dinner get-togethers, always cheering each other on, always helping each other out…
Ahhh, if only.
Because your family is dysfunctional, right?
Well, mine is.
My parents are married. I think it’s going on 40 years. Not sure. But, they can’t take offence – neither of them remembers my age. I’m lucky if one of them even gets my name right - on the second try.
(I often confuse my brother Shy, with my dad. It’s not that they look alike. It’s that my brother acts like my father. Not my father. But a father, over me.)
Anyhoo, my older brother is nothing like my baby brother. And though they are complete opposites, I would not call my baby brother mother, but he can be a mother of a brother sometimes – especially when I call him my “baby” brother. (Sorry, Adley.)
This is the nucleus of my family, or as I sometimes feel, this is my nuclear family.
Things can explode at any time.
Even when things are great, they may not always seem good.
You see, we are all nutjobs. Some nuttier than others. Some jobbier than others. Some bs-ier than others.
Since I was a little girl I would look at other families, and yearn for my mishpucha to be a famiglia. It’s not that I wanted to be Italian, it’s just that I wanted the stereotype of that tight knit Italian family – or just a tight knit family, period.
Then the other day my father had quadruple bypass surgery. As I sat in the ICU waiting room with my mother and baby brother (or mother brother, as it were), I saw La Famiglia – not the movie – the stereotype.
You should have been there…
The patriarch was in the ICU. The rest of the family gathered in the waiting room: the mama, the siblings, the husbands, the wives… the laughter.
And, as if to rub it in my face, they got the prime seats in the middle of the room. The cushy seats in front of the 17-inch big screen.
Perfect lives. Perfect seats. Of course.
Meanwhile, if we were scored for waiting room attendance, their family would have beaten my family quite handedly. And for some reason that really bothered me.
(Maybe more bothersome however, why would I even think that is something to score?)
Several hours passed. Nurses brought them blankets. Their family just seemed to grow.
Mine shrunk more and more into our less cushy, blanketless seats.
Finally, we went in to visit my dad. He was unconscious, but on target and doing well for someone who just had his chest sawed open and heart refurbished.
He kind of looked like he does as he “watches” TV, while sleeping on the couch. The biggest difference was that he was intubated and had tubes sticking in and out of him.
It was sad to see.
But they did get here – together – more than 40 years later.
Somehow we started talking.
He planned to stay overnight – his third night in a row in the ICU, on his luxurious, cushy chair.
A few days earlier, his 56-year-old father went in for a routine bypass and a valve replacement.
“It was supposed to be a walk in the park,” the son told me.
Turned out, his father had many complications. Things weren’t looking good.
And I remembered that amid all his family’s laughter, I saw his mother’s tears. And I saw the son’s fears. I was just too busy being jealous to actually notice the difference between reality and what was real.
The next day, when we went back to the ICU, the famiglia was not there.
The day after, the famiglia was not in the unit where heart patients are moved either.
Now, the famiglia is often in my thoughts, but not because I wish my family was more like theirs.
They may have seemed perfect, but never in a million years would I want to change my mishpucha for their famiglia.
My family may be nuclear, but nuclear energy isn’t always so bad. A nuclear force can be 100 times stronger than conventional energies, and it can provide much more power than the alternative.
Most important, despite things not always seeming good even when they're great, we always have each other, and accept each other as no one else would.
After all, we are a bunch of crazies.
Someone once told me, if everybody got to put their biggest problems in the middle of a circle, and then got to choose any problem to draw from that as their own, each person would take back the very problems he or she put in.
And let me tell you, depending on the day, I may want to toss a family member or three into that circle. But I would always be the first to draw them back out.