The Family Edition

I often wonder whether it is naive of me to hope for a picture-perfect family moment, like the kind you see in movies? The Smiths or the Johnsons with their cherubic children gathered in front of the blazing fireplace, sharing a laugh over some corny Dad-joke? There would be cheerful banter, smiles all around, goodwill, happiness.

These are the images flashing through my mind as I sat gloomily at the dinner table. We were on a ‘family trip’ to Lake Eildon. But there were no jokes, or board games, or actually any sound at all. In fact, the only movements in the room were the constant stroke of everyone’s thumbs as they scrolled through Facebook on their phones or tapped away incessantly at their laptops. I myself was wearily resigned to gazing mindlessly at my phone, merely because I was frustrated at the lack of effort being put into what was meant to be ‘family time’. I mean, weren’t family trips meant to involve deep discussions and good-natured humour around the dinner table? Even the flickering of our fireplace (an essential motif in all family trips in movies) seemed to be dying with this pathetic semblance of a family outing.

I’m not sure if I’m simply expecting too much. Not all families function the same way. But is it wrong to wish that we could still all just make more of an effort to get to know each other better? The other day, one of my friends revealed to me that her family was exactly like the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding- boisterous, loud, fun and most importantly, tight-knit. My family seems to be the complete opposite. Sure, we can have interesting debates and we tell each other the daily going-ons in our lives. But we don’t seem to be connected on any other level. Perhaps we have all simply been around each other for too long, and have grown so used to each other, that we no longer have the energy or the will to connect any more. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that we don’t enjoy each other’s company or that we don’t look out for each other. Rather, it’s just that where I see other families connect in many different ways- intellectually, through shared interests, humour- my family members simply seem to just… exist side by side. That description seems fitting: we don’t live with each other, we just EXIST next to each other.

And because this is a depressing thought, I’m trying to change this. I’m trying to be more inquisitive about how my family members think and ask deeper questions to get to know them better. I’m trying to be happier in order to lift up the mood in this stagnant and unhealthy household. We might not ever end up being as wild or as openly affectionate as the family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, but surely this is still a start.

Of course, it’s not going to be easy. In fact, they might not even want change. My family seems comfortable in their daily routine, apparently content to know each other on a mere surface level without ever delving deeper into the notion that all of us have emotions. I speculate that this may simply be a typical Asian family structure where family members are still quite conservative towards each other, expressing their emotions and needs through subtle and practical means (e.g. my mum’s cooking and cleaning, my dad buying us groceries which aren’t on special- HAH).

But I don’t like it. And it’s probably wrong of me to expect more from my family who has already given so much. I just wish that we could all be more open with our affection and break this stiffness between us all. Maybe find some common interests, something that really bonds us together. I’ve always envied other people who have family traditions. I mean, who doesn’t like a weekly family badminton tournament!?

This issue has weighed on my mind many times before. It crops up when I see other families enjoying talking to each other at restaurants where my family and I sit silent, or when I burn envious holes with my eyes through photos of my friends and their smiling families hugging each other close. It’s silly and cruel of me to wish for this imagined perfection upon my family, and I realise this. Family has always been complicated but it shouldn’t have to be.

Who knows, maybe the next time we’re on a family trip, I’ll bring some Monopoly and we can sit there for the rest of the night.

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Breathe

Why, oh why, are there always those who seem to make it their life’s purpose to assume the worst of other people? The sheer haughtiness, the self-righteousness and the quick ability to snap to their own unviolated defence at the expense of innocent commentators infuriate me to no end. Do they live in their own little impenetrable bubble of spite and the gleeful abandonment of kindness? Do they take pleasure in stabbing their sarcastic, hurtful remarks into what would otherwise be pleasant conversation around the dinner table? In an atmosphere of cheerful banter or at the very least, an unassumingly neutral tone of conversation, I don’t quite understand how one would think that belligerence would be called for. Although, it probably went something along the evil lines of: hmm, I smell too much harmony in the air (insert flickering snake tongue here). The time has come for chaos to triumph! Or some other equally hackneyed, villainous montage.

I understand that, of course, there are times when one can’t help but lash out at others. I’ve gone through the shits myself, to put it eloquently. There are days when you feel so cut up about something that happened earlier which just completely ruined your day and I totally understand that you want to make all other human beings pay because life is miserable! But. I feel like there is a second category reserved especially for those gorgeous little angels we call bitches. Perhaps it is an inherent instinct for them to feel like in order to live a balanced and fulfilled life, they must also drag others to the deepest depths of hell with them? Who knows, really.

I admit that it’s hard to understand what they themselves are going through- and this is an important factor to consider which may mitigate the harshness of the judgments I bestow on them. I will never have the ability to delve into their minds to examine why exactly they act the way they do. So, of course, we can never definitively demarcate people into any sort of categories since we are all undoubtedly complex beings. Our lives are roughly constructed of a myriad of minuscule social, cultural and emotional variants.

I don’t want to paint myself as a saint in vilifying such people because lord knows, I’ve been guilty of being a horrible human being myself. Who hasn’t? I know I can be unsympathetic and cold. I push away people far too often. I sometimes hurt them in ways which bely my true intentions of just not wanting myself to get hurt. I’m thinking that perhaps these feelings, the darker side of myself, allow me to understand why unkind people act the way they do. Maybe they’re simply looking out for themselves because they’ve been hurt one too many times and they’ve long passed the point where hope for better treatment could still be mustered.

But hurt is inevitable. One cannot go through life without rejection or the occasional lump in your throat and behind your chest that grows when you get angry, sad or frustrated. Everyone has walls built high inside of them that only few are worthy enough to scale. The people around you can be just as damaged as you are.

So, please. Be kind. Don’t be afraid to show your love to others. Say your ‘please’s and ‘thank you’s because nothing warms the heart like gratitude given and received. Be patient with others because you don’t know what they’re going through even while you yourself are also not in a good place. Smile.

I’ve made a pledge to myself to stick to these tenets, because I know that I don’t want to live a life of isolation from my family and friends. I don’t want to be scared of showing my feelings to others anymore because how else will I be able to really connect and grow? I want to be able to engage more fully with other people. I want to embrace love and laughter in both myself and in others. I want to be more open and free to be my true self. I know that I have the capacity to give so much more and receive more in return; and it was only my fear that others wouldn’t like what they saw in me which kept me from doing just that. I know I can give so much more if only I just start to love myself and let myself love others without all this crippling fear of judgment stifling me.

So, just breathe. Stay a while. Then let it all go.