Thanksgiving is stupid. Thank you, see you at the bar, wait hold up that’s not my topic ok fine. I shall extrapolate further upon this blisteringly hot take of a thesis statement. The reason Thanksgiving is stupid - aside from its woefully inaccurate origins of some made-up Happy Meal right before we committed mass genocide on some “backwards”“foreigners” whose land we invaded and stole and Jesus Christ we cannot even VISIT nice things let alone have them - is family.
I’m supposed to defend family and I’ll get to that. Not mine, of course. They’re crazy or dead or both and the nice ones don’t talk to me often so we will NOT be holding them as an example. And not I’m not defending yours either, because your Aunt Karen’s love for The Today show and all things J. Jill makes me a little nervous. Plus she excitedly tweets about “Hillary 2020” while guzzling white wine. It’s all a little on the nose.
And we will not talk about Uncle Mark. We will not engage with Uncle Mark. I will not macerate Aunt Gail’s crumbly-ass stuffing into a paste using only sheer will and the booze in my mouth while my ears are assaulted by another Infowars sermon from that manchild Uncle Mark. We will politely not stare at his mouth pocket of chaw and we will invent an interest in football for a few hours, never once mentioning the boycott of the NFL, so as to avoid conversation and direct eye contact with your family, Uncle Mark.
But if I say to you: over 63,000 family units sought asylum in the US this year, the picture changes. You see strong and desperate people, clutching their small children who are either blissfully unaware or frightened and hot, tangled in the belongings their parents could fit on their backs. You see people loving one another so fiercely that they would leave their war and gang-torn homes, travel on foot to safety, even when that safety is precarious and uncertain at best. You see a group of people you want to feed, to shelter, to fight for. To hold tightly together so those same children aren’t torn from their parents in the name of “protecting” a country they ran toward, yet I am ashamed to call home.
You forgot all about Uncle Mark.
You forgot that the idea of getting in a car - a climate controlled and safe car - to see family is almost too much to ask. You forgot about long lines at the airport, crammed with too damn many people who can afford to travel by air to see family. Now, sure, that’s mostly cause they don’t do that shit for you. When’s the last time your sister brought all 7 of her Kaytlins to your one-bedroom and guilt-baked you a pie? Never, that’s when.
Family as a concept is so potent, it is classified as weaponry. By me, just now. We all long for the idea of Family - the one with a capital F - so intensely, we’ll believe anything the name implies, even as it belies our own experience with the actual people surrounding our upbringing. If I say “family gathering” with disdain, you know it’s the generation before me and the tertiary characters of my childhood. If I say “family night” with a smile, it’s the one I chose and made my own. It’s malleable, but we don’t always get to sculpt it ourselves.
You tell me to hold my family close and I’m squeezing the bejeezus out of my 6-year-old and my husband. You tell me Focus on the Family is close and I’m taking those same beloved people and running away. Conservative Christians scare me.
Family Fun Center means blinking lights and rides and tickets to buy plastic crap. Family Friendly is a nice way of saying this movie will be trash. We all know that isn’t always true, but the second you see a Hallmark Family Christmas special come on, you know it’s gonna be terrible - and you are making popcorn. Sure, a Family Vacation sounds nice, but a Family Affair sounds like a Lifetime movie with a lot of broken glass for some reason.
Around the holidays, we will watch “Family” movies, and we will take the word to mean People Who Love Each Other Despite Their Differences...but we HAVE families. We COME FROM families. We KNOW THAT ISN’T WHAT THAT MEANS. We have empirical knowledge of screaming about voter disenfranchisement over a ham, vivid memories of our own family horrors, and yet we cannot WAIT for Trisha Yearwood to share her family sweet potato pie recipe on the Food Network because the holidays are about FAMILY. Someone convinced us of that. Us. The people who KNOW better. We’ve grown up in a family. Mine was a fight for survival by sarcasm and never showing the weakness that is emotion. My siblings, who fought with me in the trenches of parental oppression and rules, are now strangers. But I’ll be goddamned if the unrelenting lure of Family with a Capital F doesn’t make me all misty eyed.
I once decorated our temporary apartment for Christmas. My mom made a move to leave her boyfriend, but it was only a move in gesture so she moved a few blocks away. This was a very expensive gesture, and the apartment had all our stuff in boxes, ready to move back whenever she decided it was time. I sat in front of the tv, watching a rerun of Wings - remember that show that was always on and then disappeared into the ether? - where they decorated the airport cause people were stuck and couldn’t get to their families. FAMILIES. WITH A BIG F. THE KIND I HAD HEARD WAS REALLY NICE AND WORTH SAVING. So I threw Christmas decorations all over the boxes and even wrapped some of them like presents (“it’s the kitchen utensils!”) to surprise my family. So they would be just as pleased as the weary travelers on tv. I mean. They liked it ok. But I didn’t SAVE Christmas. No one saves Christmas in family with a small f unless you remembered to also buy batteries. Big F family hugs and cries and makes some pithy reference to a childhood game to remind you that those who saw you in diapers are somehow the ones who know you best. Small f says, “aww,” and then smokes in the house with the windows closed.
The concept of Family, with a capital F, is so powerful, it makes us believe in something bigger than ourselves. Better than our own families. It is a liquor that we guzzle in our eggnog. A siren’s call we crash our Pinterest ships into, wrecking dessert by trying for perfection. We will follow the concept wherever it tells us to go.
I believe in this concept as a parent. My little family is the one I want decorating a tree and singing songs and sharing meals. Someday, this will be too much to ask of my child, who will see these aspirations of Family with a big F as too cumbersome for the reality that is family with a little f. But when you would take them across a desert to safety, when you would do anything to protect them, when you work 5 jobs to feed and clothe them, all for the privilege of snuggling them at night by their request, there is no F big enough to encompass that feeling of family. Except, maybe for the F that starts your greeting to Uncle Mark.