In years past, the average family fit nicely into one of those shape sorter toys that all toddlers love to play with. Mom, dad, two kids, two-car garage, picket fence. It slipped easily into a perfect square.
Today, families come in all shapes and sizes. The two mom, one sperm donor family is like a triangle trying desperately to fit into that square.
Step families with kids from various marriages are like rectangles trying to slip into seamless circles where everyone gets along.
The single parent with one, two, three kids tries to squeeze itself into whatever shape works best.
I’ve come to accept all of these variations. And I thought I knew about all of them. That was until last year, when I spent Christmas with my machatanista’s family. In Yiddish this word means “your child’s mother-in-law.” Yiddish is one of the only languages to have a word for this relationship.
But even having a label didn’t make the time spent with her family any more pleasant.
I have to say that it was an unforgettable weekend at that. And not in the memorable Hallmark movie way. But more like a frightening Twilight Zone episode. One in which the main character gets caught in a never-ending loop.
Upon our arrival, I was welcomed into the family. Hugged. Kissed. Given a job in the kitchen. All good so far.
But as an outsider, I soon became privy to everyone’s secret. As I sat there, sipping my Mimosa, which I might add, soon became straight champagne, one by one the family members would sit next to me and confess their dislike of that sister. Their disappoint in this cousin. The ways in which they were a better daughter.
I kept thinking it would get better, but it never did.
During dinner (which was hours later than originally planned) voices were raised, accusations made, fingers pointed. I cringed more than one time expecting a glass to go flying. Eventually, the whole evening turned into one big cry fest.
Somewhere along the way, I traded my champagne in for straight vodka.
This went on for two days until finally it was Christmas morning. And wouldn’t you know it? Santa hadn’t arrived yet. So, the little ones were forced to wait hours upon hours while frantic parents hid upstairs supposedly calling the North Pole.
And to top off the weekend (as if it wasn’t already overflowing with disasters ) there wasn’t any toilet paper in the entire house. I soon invented a new use for a coffee filter.
On the way home, I reflected on the weekend. I suppose an outsider spending time with my family might think that we were a bit dysfunctional, too. Not everyone always gets along. But in the end, we always accept each other.
And they did, too. My last memory of this family was of them standing on their porch waving goodbye. Almost like a Norman Rockwell painting.
They certainly gave a new meaning to the word “shape-shifter.”
And by the time I got home, I was in no shape to return for another holiday celebration.
At least not this year.