With Thanksgiving approaching, everyone is thinking a lot about family. Sigh.
I love my family sososo much but I’m not gonna lie — I’m really looking forward to giving someone else’s family a try this year.
Someday (when you’re older?) I’ll tell you more laughing-on-the-outside-crying-on-the-inside stories about my family. Sometimes I tell them to Eric and I don’t think he believes me. The Christmas with Alzheimer’s great-grandma and the “they don’t have anywhere else to go!” people my uncle brought home from the group home where he worked? Legendary.
But before I can share gems like that one, I have to explain my family’s structure.
How we’re all related is very confusing to most people. I mean, you don’t even need to know and I’ll bet you’re confused. “She has this little brother…? But I secretly think he’s her illegitimate child…? And there are no father figures present…?”
Yeah. I know. It’s very confusing. There are so many last names involved, I think the mailman thinks we’re actually a law firm.
So…I made a family tree to make it a little easier!
[FYI — This is just my mom’s half of the family. If I were to make it a true family tree with my dad’s side too, everyone’s heads would explode. I’m trying to ease you into this. Also, I used different colors to denote race.]
OK — you ready? Let me talk you through it!
Back in the day, my grandma and grandpa were married. This is my grandma.
They had three kids: Michael, James, and Andrea. Andrea is my mom.
When my mom was 10, my grandparents got divorced. My grandma went back to school and became a nurse (with a perfect 4.0 GPA because my grandma is awesome like that).
When my mom was 18, my grandma got knocked up by Dave, whom she wasn’t married to. I don’t know all the details on this, but I’ve started to figure out that I maybe come from a long line of promiscuous women. Anyway, so my grandma had her last child, Kara, when her other kids were much older. My grandma and Dave never got married and never lived together.
Not too long after this, my mom met my dad.
And shortly thereafter, I came along!
My birth made Kara an aunt; she’s only three-and-half-years older than I am, but she’s still my aunt.
OK — still with me?
So, I was born in Chicago and lived there until I was five, when my mom took me and moved to Grand Blanc, Michigan. We moved in with my grandma because — long story short — my dad wasn’t a very good father and my mom wanted me to have a better life. So I lived with my mom and my grandma — and Kara, who was young at the time, but was still my aunt. This is, by far, the most confusing thing to everyone. Seriously, even my best friends still call Kara my cousin sometimes because we are so close in age. When we were in grade school, people called us sisters, even though Kara had the coloring of a marshmallow and I was more like burnt toast. I’d constantly have to explain, No, she’s my aunt. Even though we are close in age, we’re not sisters or cousins.
In general, when I refer to my family, I’m talking about this unit of four women who lived in that house for most of my life.
My two uncles, Michael and James, are another story for another day. I wish I could get into it now, but certain topics deserve their own posts. A gay trucker who lives in a house with a Buddhist-inspired decor that also happens to feature a ton of Confederate flags? A man who “loaned” his car to a total stranger and was surprised when it didn’t come back…the same man who took out a personal loan to buy teeth for a crackhead hooker and then lost his job shortly thereafter for failing a drug test due to pot?
(Kids…don’t do drugs!)
Anyway. Kara got married to a guy named Mike a few years ago, so he’s my uncle, even though he feels more like a brother-in-law. And their kids, Colin and Ella, are my cousins.
My grandpa got remarried when I was young, so I have a step-grandma, and aunts and cousins through her…again, I’m just trying to keep it simple here, so I left them off the tree too. But they are still a part of my life and I see them on holidays!
Oh, but then there’s one more bastard child in the mix (because Kara and I weren’t enough!) — my brother Preston!
My mom had always wanted to have another baby, but she didn’t get remarried after my dad died and then she put herself through school, so it took her a while to be financially ready. When I was 18, she started seriously considering going to a sperm donor. I had just moved out and was like, “Eh…do what you want.” And so was everyone else, because that’s how my family is. So she did! So she went to a sperm bank and we picked out a baby daddy from a catalog (which I’ve talked about in my comedy routine before) and then Preston came along!
So Preston is my little brother. (My little brother who is a clone of my mom — like, it’s disturbing how much they look alike. But then again, sometimes I see my reflection in a window and think, “What is my mom doing here?” Her genes are…impressive.)
Anyway, despite the age difference between us, Preston and I interact exactly like siblings do. I don’t have any maternal instinct when I look at him. My instinct is to annoy him.
To handle all these unconventional family ties, I’ve had to develop a sense of of humor.
This past spring, one day Preston was just being a total brat. Like, throwing a tantrum and carrying on and my mom was yelling at him and it was just DRAMZ. My grandma was in the living room and I was nearby in the bathroom doing my make-up. As the tantrum continued, I said out loud — without realizing I was saying it out loud — “You just had to have another baby…”
Immediately, I heard my grandma start cracking up in the living room. I realized that I had spoken out loud and even though my mom was not totally pleased by my comment, my grandma and I were kind of howling with laughter — that’ll happen when you accidentally say the same thing someone else is thinking — and my mom couldn’t help but chuckle…and then roll her eyes and get back to threatening time-outs and what not.
OH! One more thing, and this is important: Preston has never referred to me by my real name. When he first started talking, he started calling me “Zsa Zsa.” My mom and grandma swear they don’t know why, even though I’ve told them a million times why. One day, when he was a baby, Preston was sitting on the floor in front of the bathroom door while I blow dried my hair. He was watching me and then he started waving his hand over his head and saying “Zsa Zsa.” To him, it was the sound the blow dryer made. Over the next few weeks, every time I entered the room, he’d make that noise and do the motion. At some point, he just started referring to me as Zsa Zsa, which then got abbreviated when he was about three years old to just “Zsas.” (I’m laughing as I write this because my other family members call me that too. I’m pretty sure if this had happened when I was younger, I would have never been referred to by my real name…I would have been the “Beezus” of my family. Even Eric calls me “Zsas” when he’s trying to get my attention.)
Earlier this year, my mom came home with Preston and there was a box on the front porch. My mom told Preston it was for Rachel and he said in all seriousness, “Who’s Rachel?”
So that’s my family, and really, making this family tree was sort of fun because I’m at a point now where I’m just sort of over it. Growing up, it was really hard not having a nuclear family. I went to a 99.5 percent white Catholic school. Kids weren’t mean, they just didn’t understand. They wanted to know where my dad was, asked me if I was adopted, couldn’t understand how my grandma could be so young and feisty, thought Kara was my sister, and just generally didn’t get it.
Oh wait…people still don’t get it! People who have known me my whole life still don’t know who is who…but you know what? I don’t care. My life is a really good mix of totally unconventional crazy and total suburban white girl upbringing, which has made me exactly who I am today.
That doesn’t mean holidays aren’t filed under “F” for “Fuck, Cluster.” But I’m pretty sure that happens in nuclear families too.