Collecting Afternoons

Yesterday, my family had our first cookout of the year. This followed a brief stay in the hospital for my father following hip surgery to remove a 6.5 centimeter cancerous mass.

Normally, we fight like cats and dogs. We spit venom and barbed comments like it’s our native language. One insult deserves another and suddenly, the room is full of thrown shade.

We are really good at slighting one another. There is no need to imagine someone has unintentionally been gnarly – it was on purpose, I promise. And in the midst of this constant nit picking is a gaggle of children who are blissfully unaware. For now.

I painted this picture of what our normal interactions are like so I can describe more accurately how weird yesterday was.

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No one fought. No one growled or grouched. No one got fiesty, rude, or nasty. In a two bedroom home with eleven people – five kids (one toddler included) and six volatile adults, not an angry word was spoken. There was laughter and bonding. We joked about the nephews playing too many video games and how Dad would really like Risk and how Monopoly finally made a version for him (Cheaters Edition). We enjoyed burgers and hotdogs without a single tense moment. The afternoon was gold and silver.

And it makes me wonder why all days spent with my family can’t be like this. What message are we sending to my nieces and nephews about how family interacts?

Growing up, I was constantly told that family will always be there for you after everyone else is gone. To be perfectly honest, I hated that thought. I didn’t get along with my siblings and I fought near constantly with my dad. Mom and I often felt like we were on our own side, our own mini team.

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I didn’t want that family to be all I had for a support system. If I was abandoned by everyone else I cared for and my family was all I had left, I would rather just be on my own. I couldn’t count on that family to be there for me because they had proven they couldn’t be there for themselves or each other. Instead, I based my foundation on my mother because she had shown me she was willing and able to pull through on tough times.

I began to build my own family, made of impossibly broken individuals who did not allow chips and dents in their armor to keep them from persevering. We ebbed and flowed like the ocean tides, drawing closer to certain friends and then ebbing away but never breaking ties. It was natural and easy. At a moment’s notice, any one of them could be called on for emotional support.

These people became the family that would be there after everyone else left. They were what I expected of a family. Maybe a little dysfunctional, but they were family.

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We still ebb and flow for the most part. Some have drifted to a different sea and we have new currents mingling in. But I can still count on these people to be there. I know them. I trust them. I love them.

To see my blood family act like the family I spent years trying to cultivate was bizarre. I appreciated them for pulling it together. I appreciated that in the days after Dad’s surgery, we could be amiable. Hell, it almost felt like we didn’t use to be that family that picked at each constantly.

Thinking back, I recognize that there were brief bubbles of time that my blood family was able to co-exist. Mind you, only one or two at a time. Never all at once. That would be pushing our luck with the Gods of Chaos and Trickery. Like the ride back from the hospital after Dad’s surgery, for example. My eldest brother (fifteen years my senior) and I talked at length about music (he prefers Prince over Bowie and I am aghast), significant others, and making the most of the time we have. Specifically, he brought up one of his exes and the way she couldn’t cope with the family.

No one understands as well as we do how hard it can be to put up with our family. We know that we struggle to deal with each other and asking a stranger to not only accept our messed up ways but to get along with us is a lot. At a certain point, my brother admitted that he knew if he and his ex stayed together, the relationship would always suffer because of our inability to get along.

For now, I intend to take those afternoons as they come. I want to remember the gold and silver days because the next one may not be so peaceful. Not that our storms aren’t a wonder to behold, mind you. But it can’t rain all the time.

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Until next time.

With love,

Nicole

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