With my family, the best damage control is to avoid introducing them to your significant other at all costs. Although, if I were forced to, I would take it very slow and have my partner meet them one at a time. Individually they are all mild-mannered people and tolerable to outsiders, but together it can be deadly. They are a lot like LSD. You take one hit and it can be fun, but when you take the whole sheet, you might be mentally messed up forever. In my world, the success of a relationship is the ability to keep my significant other away from the whole family at once. The same can be said about introducing my family to the future in-laws.
This is the strategy my sister overlooked when she decided to combine family Thanksgiving celebrations. I always believed if you are going to have the parents meet, it should be in a neutral setting. A lot like a breakup, it should always be in the middle of the day at public meeting place. That way, it minimizes the chances of a giant freak-out, and it makes it significantly harder to take hostages. Combining two families Thanksgivings is a terrible idea alone. When you add in the fact that those families have never met one another, it was the combination that might rival the top spot on my list of bad ideas. After four years on top of the list, eating a hot dog at a Chippendale show now had some competition.
The reason this was such a bad proposal is that people act neurotic around holidays. I know my family does. Spend a holiday with my family and you are guaranteed to see someone cry, something large being thrown at another person, or a trip to the hospital. They are very far from white trash, but are extremely close to white recyclables, very middle-class and very dysfunctional. I was envisioning this Thanksgiving in movie format in my mind. The first scene was my family walking into my sister’s future in-laws house all wearing smiles. The next scene is my family walking out of the house in slow motion in Reservoir Dog formation, still smiling, while behind them, the house is engulfed in red and orange flames.
Although, we all knew that my sister’s suggestion was a terrible idea, we also knew why it had to happen. With a wedding fast approaching, and the parents living in separate states, it would be hard to find a time to meet and discuss the details of the wedding. Avoiding the meeting was pointless and that is why I kept my mouth shut. However, I knew that the last Thursday in November, would always be remembered as, “the day that should have never been.” A debacle rivaling only the day JFK was shot and the day Snapple stopped making strawberry/peach.
Luckily for my sister, our two brothers declined the invitation. Their reason they gave was, “the travel was too far.” I knew this was the nice way of saying, “I would rather be water boarded than to show up.” Their decision to pass was probably the best thanksgiving gift my sister could have asked for. It significantly decreased the chances of the house blowing up like a scene out of Die Hard 2, but still the chance existed. Granted, two ingredients of the bomb were missing, but you still had the person my mom refers to as, “the fuse that ignites the whole explosion” which was me! The reason she calls me that is, I will say anything and do anything regardless of the scenario. If I feel it, I say it. I can’t hold anything back. I am like Michael Moore with Turrets Syndrome. The rest of my family has a censor switch that they can turn on and off. I was not made with the same switch. If I did have a switch, its only function would be to adjust my liberalness. It has two settings, the normal liberal setting or the crazy liberal setting. The crazy liberal lever is most often cranked up when I am around conservative people. It seems as if every time I get around “button-downs” I am playing a character in a play and every major liberal trait is magnified for the stage.
When the dreaded week arrived, I fielded calls from everyone in my family asking me to be on my best behavior. Everyone wanted to make sure that the meeting went as smoothly as possible and they knew I held the keys. The desire to make the meeting a success was magnified by the fact that my sister was the first in my family to get married, and probably the last. My parent’s especially cautioned me, because to them, this might be their only shot at having a grandkid within wedlock. To them, my sister was like the Virgin Mary in Star Wars. She was the one who would bring a balanced child to the force. My mom pleaded, “Please don’t ruin this.” I told her and all of my skeptics the same thing, “I promise to do my best not to tarnish the Baker image.” That all changed when I arrived at my sister’s soon to be in-law’s house.
I only needed one minute to realize that I hated our hosts. As we pulled up to their giant house, they raced out of their house to meet us. Their excitement for our visit was so over the top it makes William Shatner’s acting seem quit demure. We were greeted with smiles as big as Ron Jeremy’s mustache, and hugs that almost made me throw up. Not just individual hugs, but they demanded a group hug. My family complied and embraced our hosts. Once we were all awkwardly holding each other, our hosts said, “thank you Lord for bringing these wonderful people to our house.” I wanted to leave, but the night had just begun.
My hatred for them grew as I walked through their house. Everywhere you walked there was some sort of cookie cutter sign to greet you. Signs perfectly placed above the stove and stairs were reminders about the life we should all strive for. “Love your brother and you will be loved.” “A loving family is all you need in the world.” “A house is built by love.” My favorite one was the one right over the toilet that said, “Jesus died for you”, in case you forgot while you were taking a shit. The house possessed everything wrong with America. Fake, Ignorant and trinkets everywhere. Dolls, porcelain animals and hand-sewn girls in bonnets and potholders haunted my every step. I knew one of two things were true as I surveyed the house. These people were either truly a happy family or, they were a family of serial killers secretly plotting to massacre the entire town. Either way, I knew I was going to find out one way or another.
It is eerie to be around people who try so hard to be nice. Their smiles were as awkward as the family portraits peppering the walls. Their questions were as bland and generic as a John Kerry and Jennifer Anniston lovechild. “How was your drive?” “What is the weather like in Seattle?” “ Oh, isn’t this a beautiful day?” These are all questions they tried pulling on me, in hopes of making me feel comfortable in their home. To say the least, their attempts to make me feel comfortable made me feel even more uncomfortable and agitated.
One thing I have learned over the years is the more uncomfortable I am, the more sarcastic I become. I began throwing out some jeering remarks as I strolled through the house. Stuff like, “I love what you have done with the place. It’s very Christian Science Reading Room.” And, “Wow! I have never been inside a Harry and David catalogue.” I have never seen people deflect my sarcasm as well as they did. It seemed like our hosts had been briefed on me prior to my arrival. It was as if they were wearing some sort of invisible condescending proof shield. Nothing I said affected them. They swept my remarks under the rug as they laughed and said, “Oh, you are, a funny man.” They were immune to my comic jabs, and my blood boiled because I knew I had met my match.
My parents were not dealing with our hosts much better. The expressions on my folks face suggested they were as uncomfortable and agitated as I was. However, they did a much better job of hiding it. There were a few moments when I saw my mom having to stop herself from leaping over the counter and slapping the happiness out of them. My mom leaned over to me and said, “Dinner can’t come soon enough.” To speed up the process, I offered to help cook. After they respectfully declined my offer, my eyes met my mom’s gaze. She put a fake gun to her head and shot herself.
After two hours of awkward conversation, we finally sat down for dinner. I was not surprised to find out that everyone had assigned seats. I got the privilege of sitting at the teenager table. I was wedged in-between their two overly behaved teenage daughters, who were a whopping 28 years old combined. I was furious, because I was in the middle of a compliancy sandwich. It was like I was being smothered with a blanket of reverence. I assumed they had assigned me between two kids who have never done anything wrong in hopes of keeping me quiet. I thought to myself, “I will show them.”
When the food came out, a feeling of relief rushed over me. Finally there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I felt like I had been stranded on a desert island and after three years, I was finally being rescued. I was so overwhelmed with excitement that I reached for the potatoes and was immediately stopped by Mama Stepford. She said, “Before we eat, I think everyone should share why you are thankful.” My excitement quickly dissipated as I watched my rescue helicopter fly by my island without seeing me. I was destined for what felt like another three years of insanity.
As I slowly drew back my arm, I snidely said to her, “I am sorry for my reach. I guess it’s a habit, because in my family, we think it is ridiculous to pause and force ourselves to be sentimental for something so absurd.” As the words left my mouth, I thought, this was it. This was the comment that would finally do the damage I had been trying to inflict with my unjustified spiteful assaults. Surely, this blatant insult would wipe the smile off of her face, but I was wrong. She was too good to get derailed from my stupid comments. She just spun right off my quip like a whirling dervish and said, “In our family, it is not ridiculous to be thankful for the life god has given us. Maybe, it would not hurt you to think about how blessed you are to have the life you have.” Her glowing red eyes never straying from mine. I was about to fire back, but my mother had the wherewithal to step in and stop me. She said, “Matthew, today we are here for your sister and it will be a nice change of pace to try something different.” I could sense in her tone that she was pleading with me to not ruin this for my sister anymore than I already had. So I complied, briefly.
My mother and father did their best to play the game of respectfulness. They put their sarcasm aside to try and salvage an image of decency for my family. My Dad did the best job of building back the bridge I was trying to burn by saying, “I am grateful to be able to finally meet our only daughter’s future in-laws. It is a blessing to know that my daughter will be part of such a loving family. I am also grateful to spend this holiday with my son Matt for the first time in 7 years.” He brought down the house. His acting was superb. I could see James Lipton asking my dad, “How did you find the strength to pull off such a daring performance?” It was so good and it should have been the finale of the “what we are grateful for” game, but for some reason I was set to be the last person to speak.
Everyone took their turn at following my dad, but all paled in comparison; until me. I looked around the table, and I could see the in-laws holding their breath. I met my mother’s eyes and I could tell they were soliciting peace, but something caught my eye behind her. My eyes strayed to a sign hanging behind my mothers head that read, “When the Lord speaks the servants listen.” I was suddenly inspired. Forgetting about my mother’s plea to act civil, I stood up to address the table. I knew this was my last stand; my final liberal stronghold and I was determined to go out with a bang. I said, “I would like to thank the Native American’s who gave their lives so that we could have their land. I am grateful that they were gullible, and believed the lies our ancestors told them. Who knows what type of mess our lives would be today, if the natives of this land had not taken the crappy land we designated to them? Today is a day to celebrate the overtaking of a country and the segregation of an entire people. If only we had more days to celebrate the eradication of such an amazing and spiritual culture. Thank you!”
Silence fell over the table. I began to relish in my breakthrough, but was interrupted by my parent’s sudden eruption of laughter. They were laughing because, they also despised this perfect little family and I was showing the spite they were not allowed to show. They were laughing because they knew I was trying to send a message to these folks. I was trying to say I would not stand for your cuteness and your perfect little life.
After my family’s laughter subsided, the host mother said, “Thank you Matt, for your reminder of why we are really here. It is easy to forget the atrocities some of our people committed on the natives of this land. We should never forget what happened and only strive to be better and make sure things like that do not ever happen again. Thank you for your honesty and thank you for being here.” A great play. She was good. As I realized my comments did not affect them, an overwhelming sense of douche bagginess rushed over me. In my attempts to flex my liberal muscle I just made myself look like Kanye West.
As I ate in silence, I wondered to myself if I was really the “free thinker” I made myself out to be. From the moment I walked in their flowered pattern door, I judged them and resented their ability to be nice. I presented myself to them, as they type of person who would throw paint on a fur wearer, light a car on fire and would picket a kids baptism. I tried to make them believe that I was the type of anti-American person they told their children not to associate with. The type of person they told their kids not to get rides home from or take candy from. Every step of the way, my hosts welcomed me, my opinions and absorbed my cutting remarks without batting an eye. They accepted the differences in my beliefs and still welcomed me without judgment. I did not understand how someone could be so nice, so I treated our hosts poorly because I feared what I did not understand.
When the wedding day came, it was my turn to speak and I received a great introduction. My sisters father in-law said, “the next toaster, has a great head on his shoulders and I am grateful for him to be part of this ceremony.” As I grabbed the microphone, I took my parent’s approach and dulled it down, for my sister.