I made my usual trip back to Texas over the winter holiday. The first thing I saw after landing in George Bush International Airport was a Fox News Store, and I just about got back on the plane and asked to be taken home.
As the season keeps reminding us, what’s important is the people important to us, so instead of talking about what we did (which was attend a lot of holiday dinners), here’s an update on my family.
After some initial resistance, my mom has settled into retirement. She’s spends her time making sure family is taken care of and then enjoying herself. For my dad (B) it’s just one crisis after another. Every time I’ve seen him for the past decade, he’s never failed to impress upon everyone how little sleep he’s getting or what he’s had to do because something has gone wrong or someone is trying to scam him. There is always a crisis, or otherwise he and his outdated knowledge and skills would no longer be relevant. What would be nice if people actually wanted his help, instead of having to tell each other, “he means well” or “just humor him.”
When he and my brother (S) talk, B will lecture for several minutes until S interjects with a comment or anecdote. You know, like how some people have a conversation. But B isn’t really interested in a conversation or dialogue. Instead, he’ll nod and say, “All right, let me talk.” Other people’s input — whether additional information he might be aware of, different perspectives, or opinions / suggestions about the problem at hand — only interferes with the goal, which is to proclaim what he has decided and why it’s right. People may read that and think it’s exaggeration, but unfortunately it’s not.
S sometimes goes into mentor mode. I think it may be because his daughters aren’t interested in the same things he is, so he has limited opportunities to talk about things like Raleigh scattering or a mathematical proof he once did. That must feel isolating, when there is no one in your family you can speak to naturally. He works some pretty crappy hours too, but it means his family doesn’t have money worries.
His wife (I) also works hard. She spends most of the day taking care of two girls and the house. When the girls are finally asleep, only then does she have time to practice (she’s a pianist). I heard her stay up til 2 or 3 am practicing, only to wake up early to take care of the girls. Insert comment about women making concessions with their career in order to raise a family or in deference to their husband’s job.
But when we drove to the airport to send me off, I surprised the girls by saying they were going on an impromptu trip to Disneyland. I planned the whole trip since S works crazy hours, even during the holiday. She’s all right in my book. S says he’s usually so tired after work that, if it were up to him, they wouldn’t do much, just eat dinner then watch TV, so it’s good that I is spontaneous and keeps the family active.
My eldest niece (E, 11 years) spent most of the break reading. I’m assuming it’s because she likes reading and not just for the reading points she logged (or whatever they’re called these days). This year, she says she wants to be a professional violinist, but it’s clear she isn’t currently practicing hard enough to make that happen (it doesn’t take conservatory-trained I to see that). I did get to talk some math with E, but it appears the cursory understanding that passes for math education in most schools is good enough for her right now. S notes that she is very much about following directions (E follows recipes or doesn’t cook at all. Lego means instructions you follow to get the designed product; it’s not a kit for imagination.), which unfortunately means she doesn’t really think for herself or follow her curiosity. But she’s still young, so maybe she will grow out of it. Or maybe the family’s affluence shelters her.
If my elder niece is about following rules, the younger one (M, 7 years) is about pushing the limits. She’s the baby, and plays to “the cute one” role by talking in baby voice and acting for the audience. M gets away with a lot, pretty much as soon as people’s backs are turned, and has started treating most directions as mere suggestions (use your indoor voice, shut the door when using the bathroom, don’t play with mom’s phone, etc.) and generally ignores them until an adult raises their voice. The one person she does listen to is her older sister because she looks up to E and wants to be like her.
The story is that M’s piano teacher is quite famous and sought after, the sort whose students train for competition. Meanwhile, when the teacher tries to show M how to play, M pushes her away and goes on playing how she wants. The teacher says she generally drops students like M, but she keeps teaching her because it’s clear that M genuinely has fun playing the piano. And I just realized this sounds like Nodame Cantabile. Perhaps M’s willful impetuosity will be her strength one day.
Being around my nieces meant being subjected to a lot of bad children’s programming. There was an old Strawberry Shortcake where sounded like the director told the voice actors to talk down to particular dumb four year olds. And then there was the incredibly trite Disney special called Santa Paws that shouted, “We couldn’t think of anything original, so here are some talking animals and a slice of Annie.” Makes me appreciate shows that don’t treat kids as mindless sheep who need to be distracted.
They say it’s not really a trip unless it changes you. (And if they don’t say it, then I say, so there.) The holidays have generally been a time for introspection for me, a time to reflect on not the year ahead or the year behind, but on my life and how it’s going. And I would really like someone to share my life with, someone to come home to and make plans with.
And it’s not because several people asked me if I had a girlfriend (M asks “when,” not “if,” I’m getting married). Or that my cousins all have spouses and babies. Or that most of my coworkers are either married or in stable relationships. But, as much as I like being in charge of my own life, it feels like there’s something missing, something that can’t be filled with games or even a bunny (though he is adorable). So maybe it’s time to stop using, “I’m busy. I just bought property,” as an excuse and get out there.