Why do I visit my family for the holidays?

The neurotic aunt. The Obama-bashing cousin. The bickering, the fights, the tears -- and that's all before dinner

Published December 25, 2014 10:00PM (EST)

Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation"
Chevy Chase in "Christmas Vacation"

This piece originally appeared on DAME.

Dame Magazine

Why do moths go to a flame?

I researched this briefly—for about 53 seconds, on my phone. Here's basically what I learned, without going into too much detail, because that might take up to four minutes of research, and who's got that kind of … Wait. I just got a text.

Okay. Back again.

So, scientists believe that moths aren’t really so much attracted to the light of a flame; instead, they are actually disoriented by it. It has to do with the light source, the flame, being very close as opposed to distant, and this affects the way the moths sense it, assimilate it. Then, in this state of disorientation, they end up placing themselves in harm’s way.

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This may explain why we keep going to visit our families on the holidays, even though we mostly know that we are, inevitably, entering a shitstorm, but not until we become inexorably drawn into the vortex, from which, at a certain point, there is no escape without significant damage done.

I love my family, and I miss seeing them. I now live on the opposite coast of the country, and going back and forth takes planning, time, and money. This scenario is both difficult and delightful. It's the ol' love/hate.

It's difficult because sometimes I don't get to see them for happy events, like the birth of my nephew's baby, or getting together with all of my cousins for a reunion dinner in Queens at some great Italian restaurant.

But, it also means that I get to miss the baby’s bris, the circumcision that occurs on a male baby’s eighth day of life, a Jewish tradition which I believe to be archaic and barbaric and horrifying, and which would no doubt lead me to say, at some point, how I loathe organized religion, how I find it to be ridiculous, at best, and sexist and divisive, at worst, and why can't we just get together and have bagels with lox and cream cheese and egg salad, etc., without the crazy stuff and without inflicting your superstitions on a defenseless little baby boy?

And that would, undoubtedly, be hurtful to my nephew and his wife, something I wouldn’t want to do, and make my sister and brother-in-law, and my 92-year-old mother, angry. Then, I’d end up taking a plate of food to a bedroom upstairs and wondering why the hell I spent close to $500 to fly in for this crap.

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Oh, for the love of something!

Plus, if I’m not there, I won't have to get into the inescapable argument with my Republican cousin who will, within minutes, begin bashing Obama and lauding guys like Mitch McConnell, and then I'd be so upset and furious, I wouldn't even be able to eat a bagel if I wanted to. You can’t swallow bagel when there’s anger in your throat. Too dry.

So, I’d go into the room where the little baby was sleeping. Sweet little boy. I’d look at him with wonder and awe, and my heart would soften. I'd tell him who I am, his dad’s unpopular aunt, how happy I am to meet him, and I'm so sorry that some guy made him suck on some overly sweet wine in order to dull his senses, and then that guy cut a piece of his penis off, all the while trying to sell him some bill of goods about what a wonderful, happy, and holy event this was. And I would assure him that it was just a load of crap, and to get his bullshit detector calibrated for more of this to come along in the near future. And then, dammit, I'd be angry all over again.

But on the other hand, there are the times when I love to be back home, when I get to hang with my sister, whom I adore, and whom I miss so much that I could cry sometimes. We laugh so hard together and, although our lives are so very different, we are simpatico in the most meaningful ways. I don't get to see her nearly enough, and, when I do, it is so much better when there is no penis-snipping to sully the good times we have.

I didn’t travel back East for Thanksgiving this year, and I know that I missed out on some fun. I know that the food my sister and brother-in-law prepared was delicious and gorgeous, and that, at some point, my sister and I would have been drinking wine together in the kitchen, rolling our eyes about something that some relative said that we knew he was going to say because he always says this, but it still makes us roll our eyes. And we would have been laughing so hard, crossing our legs so that we wouldn’t pee ourselves.

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But, then again, I wouldn’t have to have put up with the rampant displays of enmeshment, manipulation, and passive-aggressive behavior that usually start sometime during hors d’oeuvres.

It’s always so fascinating that we have very high, hopeful expectations for the holidays with our families, that we think that, somehow, this time, this time, will be different.

But, it’s probably because the closer we get to home, the more disoriented we become, and we are drawn in the welcoming, but ultimately, painful, flame.

Or we’re just stupid. One of those two.


By Cathy Ladman

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Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Christmas Circumcision Dame Family Holidays Judaism Religion