I have a gigantic family: four siblings, a zillion cousins, several sisters-in-law, numerous nieces and nephews and lots of aunts and uncles. My husband has four sisters, two sets of parents, two brothers-in-law and eight nieces and nephews. My kids are two of nearly 20 kids in their generation. We see almost every one of those people a lot, and the interpersonal relationships (for better or, often, for worse) and the conversational landmines to avoid and the old arguments and the taboo subjects get overwhelming and quite tiresome. When they do, I usually feel an urge to take my little group of four and move to an island and change our last name to Smith.
Some people think even being one of five kids is pretty cool. Several friends commented to me that the five of us walking down the aisle at my dad’s funeral mass painted a striking picture. One friend even said we made her want to have more kids. I responded, mostly in my head, with, “What the hell are you talking about? Do you know what it’s like to be one of five? We beat the crap out of each other until we moved away from home. With four siblings, you’re always mad at one, and usually talking behind his or her back. Your parents totally have a favorite and a least favorite and you always know where you stand. You get one twentieth of the parental attention and you always get compared to someone else. Having a pretty picture at a funeral just isn’t worth it, trust me.”
On Saturday night, I had an interesting group (some would say a motley crew) around my dining room table. Me and my husband. My sister. One sister in law. My father’s brother’s wife. My mother’s brother and his wife.
We had a ball. We ate and we drank and we laughed and we talked and it didn’t occur to me until much later that it was an odd assortment of people. I mean, there were five different last names, and different ages and backgrounds and financial situations and marital situations and political perspectives, and yet we’re all related somehow or another.
Yesterday, I realized that it was one of the most effortless dinner parties I’ve ever thrown. It didn’t matter who sat where, or if the napkins were perfectly ironed. It didn’t matter if you wanted to talk about religion or politics or some other forbidden topic. It didn’t matter if your child screamed bloody murder from the kitchen (not mine, I must point out) or if you wanted to put your elbows on the table.
It mattered that there was a lot of food (check), a lot of wine (duh…check) and tons of laughter (check).
And I realized that’s the upside of family. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about people who know you and accept you. It’s about people you don’t have to impress. It’s about people you can’t really offend. It’s about people who live in different states and have totally different life experiences and yet can sit around one table and have an endless stream of conversations about a crazy range of topics that are oddly applicable to everyone.
It’s about my aunt sitting up until almost midnight telling me stories about my mom, or my uncle stopping by to say hi and staying for dinner. It’s about my sister stopping for something I forgot at the store even though she had three kids with her. It’s about the fact that I could’ve screwed the whole night up, and they’re still stuck with me, or they could have (HAD KIDS WHO THREW OREOS ALL OVER MY KITCHEN AND THEN STEPPED ON THEM) screwed it all up and they’d still be invited back.
Yes, it’s about age-old wars and one-upmanship and hurt feelings and gossip (by about 10 p.m., I bet ears were burning up and down the East Coast and even across the ocean) but it’s a gift. And, at least this past weekend, it’s not one I felt the need to return.