My family would never make it onto a cereal box, but, despite lacking excessive designer clothes and expert contouring skills, we’d give the Kardashians a run for their money on reality television. We bicker over ridiculous things, discuss topics that most people would consider inappropriate in any setting at the dinner table, and generally don’t put on a lot of airs—mainly because we’re incapable of doing so, though not for lack of trying.
We often lament this inability, as the reality is that many areas of life reward people for their ability to “put on,” or, more bluntly, sit down and shut the fuck up. But that’s a challenge for us, as we all hold strong opinions seemingly unwilling to remain safely within our individual brain space. Instead, we like to fling these opinions at each other, mostly in good spirits, with discussions ranging from the completely inane—like my Dad’s belief that he knows a lot about classic ballet (e.g. “You guys just do not understand how hard those dancers work,” he’ll say, as if he somehow does)—to the very, very uncomfortable (the other night we somehow vacillated from a vaguely intellectual chat about Israel vs. Gaza to a heated discussion about the size of a man’s, well, you know what).
Like families are known to do, we also pick on each other endlessly. We’ve inexplicably been calling my poor little brother Ophelia for days, surely feeding into future therapy bills; we joke that my older brother doesn’t know how to read (“Fraught? Is that…German?” he joked last night); and the family has been singing a song called “Happy Jessie” for years to highlight my tendency to not want to do anything fun. “If we were characters on Family Guy, you’d definitely be the writer dog that no one listens to,” they kindly pointed out recently.
There may be a little truth to all of these silly jabs—like, in Ophelia’s case, the reality that our little bro can act a bit like a baby, being that he’s, you know, the actual baby of our family—but they mostly stem from places of love. My dad’s dangerous driving and regular inability to remember which child he’s speaking to (“Zach, Gabe, Annie, Zoe…I mean, Jess!”) may drive us crazy, but we also appreciate it—it’s what makes him him. My stepmom’s love of cornier family bonding experiences such as board games, and her greater overall interest in us spending alone time together, is a fun target, too. Her insistence on these things, though, works as part of our glue, and I think we all know deep down that, without it, we’d be a very different, and probably lesser, family.
Of course, sometimes our conversations can spin into grumpier territory, if someone’s feeling particularly sensitive (never, ever me), or perhaps tired, or hangry. That said, we’re pretty good at keeping things light hearted, and moving on quickly from any of the more-serious road bumps. I’ve always known this on some level, but it’s been nice to be reminded of it on this current family trip. We harbor a lot of what you might call “Jewish guilt” for being this very imperfect family—nothing like the quaint, storybook ones we grow up hearing about. Curse words slip out far too often, and topics like constipation make their way to mealtimes with an ease that would unnerve most people. But, for all these little cracks in the façade, we really do enjoy spending time with each other, and we tend to have a lot of fun in each other’s twisted company. I’m certain that I’d take this reality over the better-mannered, stuffier version of us any day.