I'm heading home for the holidays. As I get off the phone with
my travel agent, I feel nothing but joy and goodwill toward my family. But the
closer the departure date looms, the greater my worries grow.
My anxieties start with what to wear. I look through my closet
and imagine my mother narrowing her eyes and frowning. Do I own anything she'd
approve of? "That's a nice dress," I hear her say. "Why don't you
wear that one?" I'm just going for the weekend, yet my bag might as well
contain a 50-pound turkey. My clothing needs are few, but I'm packing a
lifetime of resentments. Lingering grudges, stale spites, and smoldering
indignities jostle for space among the toiletries and socks.
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Why travel light when I can burden myself with memories and
fears? I seethe over the injustices and slights I remember -- or imagine -- as
I dread the inevitable irritations to come. Will my father ask me -- as always
-- if I have health insurance yet, though I've been paying my premiums for 15
years? Will my mother hitch her glasses up, zoom in, and comment on the state
of my complexion, even though my acne faded alongside disco and polyester?
Families. What big opinions they have, the better to judge you
by. I spend the eight-hour flight from San Francisco to New Jersey perfecting
my responses to every conceivable attack on the imperfections of my life. By
the time I arrive, I'm ready to defend myself on all fronts. Woe to the
careless relative who questions my job, appearance, home, or life! All guns are
loaded, and all safeties are off.
My parents are at the airport, emanating love and warmth,
welcoming their eldest daughter home, home, home. We hug and we kiss. My mother
hovers close, peers in, and says my skin looks good. I sigh. The ride home is a
time warp. I sit in back just as I did as a child, while my parents, up front
in the adult seats, squabble on cue. "Right lane, there's the exit,"
yells my mother. I silently recite her next line with her. "If you're going
to drive, then drive." My father swerves toward the exit and says as
always, "Stop controlling me. I know where I'm going." I sigh
I sleep in my brother's old room, kept company by his Ping-Pong
trophies and dinosaur statuettes. My room has long since been converted
to an office. In the morning, jet-lagged and lizard-eyed, I slump downstairs
and into pre-holiday chaos. My mother itemizes which dishes she's already
prepared and which she's saved for me to do with her. My father announces
grandly that he'll be setting the table, and my mother replies that she hopes
he'll do it in the morning and not leave it to the last minute as he always
does. I wonder if two days was a little overoptimistic as to how much of this I
But by midday the holiday is in high gear. The table is
gloriously set, and more important, my mother has approved of my dress.
Everyone arrives and the house is delirious with food, banter, and a swarm of
toddlers. We take our traditional places at the table, and we recreate the old
dynamics, too. Who says you can't recapture youth? We instantly revert to the
same old jokes, same old barbs, and same old competitions of yore. Under the
witty repartee, there's a definite whiff of "I'm right and you're wrong,
nyah, nyah, nyah!"