My sister comes in like a fucking hurricane. It’s like the world has to stop because she has three kids. My mother can use a break during the holidays after working her shifts at the plant. But no. The world apparently revolves around my sister and her three kids and her dick husband who can’t find it in his tiny heart to lift a finger. The calls start coming two weeks before Christmas:
“Did you put up the gate by the stairs?”
“Did you put the locks on the cabinets and drawers in the kitchen?”
“Did you take the chemicals out of the bathroom?”
“Don’t forget to move the coffee table down to the basement.”
Move the coffee table down to the basement? What the fuck?
And when she finally comes it’s like the entrance of the Pope. Thankfully she didn’t bring her nanny this time, so at least she shed the entourage. But instead, as a little fucking holiday surprise, she brought a small, brown child whose name no one can pronounce and who doesn’t understand a word any of us say. Because it makes total sense for her—my sister who is overwhelmed by the fact that the sun comes up—to rent yet another child for the holidays.
“Stevie, she’s not renting the child, it’s a program run by the church. I think,” my mother said in response to my outrage.
“What is she trying to prove? Who is she trying to impress?”
“Leave her alone. It’s a good thing she’s doing. That child has no family,” my mother said, not really meaning it. When she doesn’t understand something, my mother has a dead-giveaway look on her face. I see it often when she looks at my art quizzically and tries to convince me she understands and appreciates it.
The kids have to eat at all separate times. None of them eat anything my mother cooks. My sister takes up the fucking kitchen making each separate dish for her kids. One can’t eat milk. One can’t eat eggs. One can’t eat meat. One can’t eat something called gluten, whatever the fuck that is. One’s got allergies to the carpet. One’s got allergies to the dog. One’s got allergies to fucking strawberries. Where the fuck did these kids come from?
And the shit she brings; it’s unreal. She puts her entire fucking house in that minivan. She is a caricature of the suburban mom and it is repulsive. The kids don’t stop jumping and running and there’s so many toys she brings the house is unrecognizable.
She brings her own sheets, blankets, towels and pillows. She brings her own soap. She brings her own fucking water. Water? Then she spends each late night scrubbing the kitchen, bathroom, and she brings her high-powered vacuum and does the house top to bottom. Like as if her kids will die of dustballs. She makes it so conspicuous. The gap between us is gargantuan and just keeps getting wider.
My poor mom tries to accommodate, but each year it’s something different. One year the kids wanted to play outside but my mom had no toys for them. My sister pouted the whole weekend and made backhanded comments about how my mother didn’t prepare and what were the kids supposed to do. So this year my mother gets all these outdoor toys for the kids to play with. My sister contends that the yard is too close to the main road and that the air isn’t healthy for the kids to breathe with the trucks driving by.
She makes no effort to find out how everyone else is doing. Never asks me about my art. Never asks my mother about her job and if she’ll be cutting down her hours anytime soon. She’s a selfish prick and makes me want to go back to drugs.
Another year at the depressing outpost of my mother and brother. You’d think there would be some joy in their lives at this time of year—the plant closes for two weeks so my mother finally gets to rest; and as for my brother, at least it’s the one time of year someone comes to visit him and tries to have a conversation with the hermit.
It’s agonizing to step into the house. It is dark and it smells. My mother never has time to take care of herself or the house with her schedule, and my goddamned brother is a self-serving pig. I spend hours cleaning their house and I honestly think it’s the only time of year the house gets a good run-through. The kids love their grandma and their weird uncle, so I’m glad we come. But it’s really difficult.
I try to get my mother and brother excited about the weekend, so I call in advance so they can get ready and interested. But walking into that house is like a pall of depression. Curtains are drawn, and so is the tone. I always tell the kids to smile and jump and play because I hope it will bring some life into the house. I bring a lot of their colorful toys in the hopes that the brown paneling, brown rug, brown cabinets, brown furniture and brown everything will have a touch of sweetness.
I know it doesn’t work. But each year I try.
My brother is so critical. In addition to being strange, he is morose and down. He has nothing in his life because he’s pushed it all away. He used to be attractive, funny, and artistic. Now he’s drawn, cynical, and too depressed to draw anything other than images that mirror his own outlook. My mother is tired. Her entire disposition is tired. After so many years with my raging stepdad, and my miserable brother, life hasn’t even brought her the gumption to be energized about her grandkids—and that’s the most disheartening thing about the whole charade.
They live in a cycle of sullen monotony but for the one weekend a year we come to visit. And though I’m sure there’s some degree of excitement on their part, I’m sure they just view us all as interlopers and chaos. My husband says I should just leave them to their tedium and stop shaking things up. He can’t deal with the horror of that house so he shuts everything out for the short time we’re there. That doesn’t look so great, either, but he’s a saint for putting up with it at all.
It’s just that I’ve always enjoyed Christmastime and when my father was around I had wonderful memories. Then came my stepfather and the love, sharing, and fun came to a screeching halt. Maybe I’m trying to recreate the good times for my own kids in the same house in which I grew up. Or maybe I’m trying to erase the bad memories by pasting over them with new ones.
I’ll keep coming and turning their little world upside down because they deserve it.