Today was my first of two days off from my retail job, peddling the devil’s brew. Instead of staying in bed as long as possible, having all the kitten cuddles the always sleepy Bowser Kitten had to offer and then making a big pot of Christmas Coffee, I got up at 7am to shower and get ready for my ride. It was the annual Christmas Homes Tour out in the county today and every year we hit that tour for mum’s birthday. So myself, mum, my sister, and my cousin piled into my sister’s car and went out in the pouring rain to walk through strangers’ homes, gawk at their decorations, and then buy a bunch of wine.
Every year it’s the same thing: we see a bunch of different random people’s homes; stop into the same church to see the dozens of nativity scenes on display and buy a bunch of baked goods; hit the winery for a free sample and to shop; then to the garden store and novelty shop for a little Christmas shopping. We sit around together, catching up and munching on fresh baked goods made by little old church ladies and drinking fruit punch made from bulk store crystals, and then sip free wine and nibble on tiny cucumber slices and date squares and talk some more. For the most part, it’s quite an enjoyable day.
This year, this day fell right as I came off a 30-day stretch, as I mentioned yesterday. I was exhausted this morning and didn’t want to get out of bed. To top it off, the super cuddly Bowser Kitten mad made a beautifully soft next in the blankets around my knees. I had to squirm and slide out of bed in order to not disturb his nest. Hell, it’s 12 hours later and the bed still hasn’t been fully made! I smoothed out the blankets around the nest but left it perfectly intact. Bowser Kitten is curled up in it at this very moment, in fact!
After literally dragging myself out of bed as to not disturb an already pissed off Bowser Kitten, I shower, poured some coffee down my throat, slapped on some eyebrows, and got my slip on boots ready to go. By the time our festive team assembled at my parents’ place (to cuddle their cats before we left), the skies had opened up and unleashed a torrent of rain that made it almost impossible to drive through at times. We had to make an emergency stop at a dollar store near our starting point of the tour to get umbrellas (and a few snacks for the car).
Riding around the county, dipping into our little snack bags of cookies, laughing about stupid things we’ve done lately, it was a really enjoyable day. I was really having fun, catching up with everyone, hearing all the gossip from that cousin’s side of the family that I’ve missed out on. We all bonded over our love of Christmas decorating, and the fact that I am the only one in the car who only puts up one Christmas tree every year (but I technically own two, thanks to a former roommate who left one behind).
Maybe it was the lack of sleep lately. Maybe it was the fact that I had to wake up pretty early on my first day off in 30 days. Maybe it was the fact that I had to piss of barely cheerful Bowser Kitten by leaving him home alone on my day off. Whatever it was, that creeping feeling that I don’t belong came faster this year.
Everyone else in the family seems to get along, and like a lot of the same things. They all follow the “there is a timeline your life is supposed to follow so you have things done at a certain point in your life” mentality. That was the first thing that opened the floodgates for the awkwardness today. My cousin was talking about her and her boyfriend, who have been dating almost 3 years now. She was saying that once you hit 30, dating is completely different and should move a lot faster because you have your life totally together. In her words, you have your life together once you’re in your 30s. You own a home or have a really nice apartment, don’t have any student loans left to pay off, are established in your career, and have time for hobbies and “grown-up things”. She’s in a book club, where they read Oprah-approved books and then sit around talking about how much they loved them. She gets up early on Saturday mornings to go to brunch with the girls. She counts calories, and every time she eats something “bad” she has to talk about how her diet is ruined for the day. And everyone over the age of 30 is supposed to do these things.
Now, everyone in that car today knows what my life is like. I’m 35 years old. I’m drowning in credit card and student loan debt I’m slowly chipping away at. I work retail, on my feet in steel-toe shoes all day, and rent a room in a house with a bunch of strangers. I am the exact opposite of everything she just said I’m supposed to be. But she still kept talking to me like my life is exactly like hers. Not just that, but everyone seemed to go along with it like I was supposed to fake another lifestyle for a day just to fit in.
I’m almost used to this by now. I always seem to get this weird combination of “good for you, not letting your age stop you” and “you still have to live up to our expectations of a person your age” from people when I make decisions in my life. And everyone has different expectations for me, but I’m supposed to live up to all of them. I am somehow supposed to live at home until I’m married, plus get a kick-ass apartment full of cool stuff from catalogues, plus cultivate my own style, plus date around and sow my wild oats while also being in a steady and monogamous relationship long enough to lead to an engagement and marriage so I can start having kids by my late-20s or early-30s. I am somehow expected to do all of this at once, in order to live up to a dream that various family members have for themselves, which then gets passed on to me.
This random “failing everyone’s expectations entirely, all at the same time” phenomenon is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to interactions with my family. In almost every way, I am very much different from my family. I know, I sound like some angsty teen who wears too much black eyeliner and ironically listens to Marilyn Manson because he’s “hardcore” and “speaks to me”. This is something that I’ve come to embrace over the years, and most of the time it’s something I really enjoy. I’ve always been a little off compared to my cousins, and a little backwards at times. I’m a writer, a confused little lost girl who bounced from job to education to job, with ever-changing goals. I’m financially insecure, in a precarious place in my professional career, and just rediscovering my passion for writing and reading at the age of 35. Usually, I am perfectly fine with the fact that my choices in life have lead me to where I am, and I know that my current and future choices will lead me other places. But being in that car, listening to everyone talk, it just gets to me.
You see, there are a lot of fundamental things about me that are very different from the rest of my family. I come from a big group of Trump-loving folk, who don’t want refugees around stealing their jobs and spreading Sharia law with their ISIS influence. They think that anyone who gets welfare is just cheating the system to get free money for expensive food and trips (except for me, the time I was on it right out of school; I was the exception), and firmly believe that all refugees are being paid thousands of dollars a month by the government while pensioners are being given cheese vouchers and a swift kick in the ass. They want more gun, less diversity, more religion (as long as it’s their religion), and fewer immigrant workers. They believe that trickle-down economics will save the world, and that border walls can’t be built fast enough to save North America from the dreaded Mexicans.
Basically, they believe in the opposite of everything I do. There are tules at family dinners stating that no political conversations are supposed to take place. This basically means that everyone else is allowed to talk politics, except for me. The second I speak up, the conversation is labelled a “fight” and mum gets upset. I’m used to it. I just shut my mouth, keep my head down, and try to tune everything out most of the time. But when you’re stuck in a car with people talking politics, and you know you can’t join in because it will upset people is the weirdest feeling in the world. No matter how nice and polite I am, just the very act of saying something that isn’t in total agreement with them is enough to piss everyone off.
Ok, remember when you were a teen, and you thought the whole world was against you? You would lock yourself in your room, blasting your angsty-driven music of choice (mine was German industrial music and heavy metal; my sister was more of a Hanson-rebel), thinking that there was no one in the world who would understand you. You would slam doors, punch your pillow, scream at family members that they just didn’t understand you and they never would. Do you remember that feeling of being so totally different, so totally alone, that if felt like it would crush you?
Now imagine being 35. You know that you’re not alone in the world because you have people around you that you can relate you. You know that you’re not the bizarre, weird freak you thought you were when you were 15 when some overly-bleach blond douchebag would throw orange slices at your head on the bus after school. You’re a grown-ass adult who has a life and a mind of their own and is able to converse with people of differing views in a civilized manner. But being with your family is suddenly being that 15-year-old again. You’re a freak, a weirdo, a disappointment who has all these weird and strange ideas that they’ll surely grow out of once they finally grow up.
I don’t even know where I’m going with this post today. Sorry folk, my brain has closed down for the day. All I know is I just spent my first day off in a month being questioned about when the Amazingly Awesome Boyfriend and I are going to get engaged and married (that’s not something we’re really looking into right now), why am I not pressuring AAB into proposing as my Christmas present, why would I even think about applying to jobs a few hours away (when there’s nothing outside of my own company that I’m both qualified for and interested in), why would I be looking at little 2 bedroom wartime houses in my area (when that’s all AAB and I want at the moment), and when am I going to “grow up and vote Republican” (because apparently other people’s Christmas decorations are entirely a Republican issue that I couldn’t possibly handle). It’s been a mentally draining day, I’m pouring my second glass of wine right now while I blast my “Angry Tunes” playlist on Spotify, and AAB is playing in the kitchen with some fish and asparagus at 8:43pm when I haven’t eaten a real meal all day. I am just done with everything for today. Being grilled like a 15-year old who came home 4 hours after curfew about the tiniest little thing today by a few family members just gets to me.
Tomorrow is my Christmas decorating day. Hopefully, I’ll be able to lay out the extra stress that comes with the Christmas season for me (since we all go through extra stress this time of year, no matter our beliefs, with holiday festiveness being shoved down our throats) and how I’m planning on cutting a few corners and doing more for me thing year.