I don’t really fit well within my family – queer, introverted, feminist that I am.
And I realize this is not the most wholesome topic for Christmas Eve, but I have only been on winter break for a week and I find my patience growing thin.
I don’t want to sound ungrateful by any means, either. I am very fortunate to have two loving parents who are engaged in a positive relationship. While my brother, sister, and I will squabble or snipe on occasion we certainly don’t have the distance some siblings do. On break my parents splurge on exotic vacations and for the most part we all get along.
We all get along so long as I don’t say what is on my mind.
I often steel myself before going to see my family. I love all four of them very deeply and can enjoy their company in short spurts. But my brother has a fondness for board games that can encompass hours – hours that drain my introvert battery like streaming Netflix on a hot day. My sister is passionate about social change but this will often incite heated debate and discussion in my family, it is educational but not always enjoyable. Especially since, when I try to add my two-cents on many topics, it becomes clear that I know less on the subject than everyone else at the table.
Being the youngest doesn’t go away, even when you grow up.
I envy my dad most often. On our family vacations while Mom figures out how to fit a hundred famous sights and twenty miles of walking into eight hours, Dad sneaks off to a coffee house to work on his iPad. Or else he takes a nap, or reads a book. He gets his chance to recharge, to reject games, to just sit in the same room as the family without interacting. No one challenges this because Dad is in charge. Every time I try to politely – and later on less politely – wriggle out of a game or a hike or some family time, I am chastised and admonished until I give in.
I consider it a miracle that I found the time to write this blog post.
I enjoy my family, but I find them more draining than school. I don’t think they realize that, as an introvert, even family time is people time, even commute time is people time, and it leaves me returning home from vacations with the thought: I need a damn vacation.
Rip up my planner; give me a book; give me some music; give me two glasses of wine; give me a really comfy bed. Then leave me alone for forty-eight hours. There’s my vacation.
This must seem so bitter and ungrateful, and I truly don’t mean it to be. I recognize where I am fortunate and lucky, my life is glamorous and exotic and I have had some very neat and unique experiences. But it is so unfortunate that when I look back on family vacations I feel a small ball of stress and exhaustion in my stomach. I feel the need to gear up for the next one. And I mean, no one is utterly themselves in front of their family members. There’s some stuff that just doesn’t come up with family, because it doesn’t and things are better off that way. But for me it feels like there are many many things I don’t bring up.
While my parents know I’m queer, no one ever talks about it. While my parents know I struggle with my faith, no one ever talks about it. And on the one hand this is probably healthy, just that type of stuff you don’t discuss with family. But sometimes it seems like I can’t be myself. I can’t ever say what is on my mind, I am under the constant threat of being ridiculed or undermined by my older, smarter, better siblings.
My best friend came to visit us for Christmas last year, and after a four-hour car ride in which my family engaged in discussion on the ethics of dropping the atom bomb and then America’s problems with systemic racism, my friend commented: “your family’s intense.”
That sort of baffled me. But then I realized, not every family discusses politics at the dinner table and competes to see just how aggressively and factually they can agree with one another. I’m sure I’m smarter for it, but yeah, it can get to be a lot. And it means my family can get intense.
My best friend was one thing, she sort of knew what to expect – she’d known them all for years. But I can’t imagine bringing a partner home to meet my family. What would I say?
“Heads up, my family talks about really big intense issues and compares all the facts they know about it.”
I love my parents and my brother and sister.
That doesn’t make spending time with them any less exhausting.
-Grace T, December 2017