Long before the 2016 political season punched its meaty fist
into the guts of families across the country, my family was dealing with a deep
rift. The details of the schism are
unimportant and not mine to divulge, but it started at a family wedding back in
2004 and culminated in a near fistfight at a Little League T-ball game in 2013. The bad feelings have lingered like the Sharpie design my son drew on the
couch when he was a baby.
When the chasm between my brother and sister (and then, later,
my sister and my parents) began, my kids were too young to notice that we never
saw certain family members at the same time.
They had no idea how much work I put into shuttling around from house to
house, splitting up our visits so that each faction got equal time. As the only sister who still gets along with all
of the rival parties, I have to maneuver through the hurt feelings and emotional
landmines with my kids in tow whenever we visit my family.
I’m not saying I pretended that everything was peachy keen,
but I didn’t volunteer details because the kids weren’t asking. I promised myself I would give them straight
answers when they figured out that I had blood relatives who refused to stand
in the same room with each other.
My daughter said what I was dreading the most: 'I wish we
could be like other families.'
This year, my daughter is in second grade. She has begun to notice that my side of the
family isn’t as cohesive as my husband’s. As she so eloquently put it: “Mommy, how
come we can’t all be together with your family like we are with Daddy’s?” As soon as she noticed, she decided we should
all get together for the holidays so she can play with all of her cousins at
I stalled on the invitations, knowing that my brother and
sister would never sit at the same table together, no matter how much it meant
to my daughter. My daughter stayed on
me though. “Who’s going to come?” she wanted to know.
I dodged and evaded her questions until my non-answers made
me feel too guilty. I had to tell her
the truth: My family doesn’t get along and hasn’t for a long time. She could have my sister and her kids or my
brother and his, but she couldn’t have both.
Her eyes grew huge in surprise when I finally told her the
truth. “They both have hurt feelings and
don’t want to be together.”
“Forever?” She asked.
“At least for right now.”
She clearly couldn’t imagine that siblings would go years
without speaking. She looked at her
younger brother, no doubt trying to imagine what it would feel like to refuse him
love and company for a week, much less for nearly a decade. She said she felt sad that she couldn’t enjoy
her cousins all at one time.
And then she said what I was dreading the most: “I wish we
could be like other families.”
That was the heartbreaker.
Because that’s what I wish, too. I’m
pretty sure that’s what everyone in my family wishes—that the pain of longtime hurts and insults no longer stung. I can’t
speak for any of them, but I can speak for myself. It’s embarrassing to explain that members of
my family haven’t spoken in years. It
makes me sad that we somehow lack the tools to climb over the resentments and
long-festering disagreements that other families navigate well enough to sit
down to a turkey dinner together. I feel
helpless in the face of my siblings’ ever-widening rift.
Explaining the situation to my daughter stirred my sadness
about our fractured family, which is broken in ways I can’t fix. It’s a sadness that I’d hoped to spare her,
but that’s not possible.
Now she knows
that being family isn’t always enough to guarantee a lifetime of connection,
nor is it enough to save a relationship. And all I can do is hope that I’m
giving her and her brother tools to work through the difficulties they face so
they can sidestep the legacy of pain and separation.