Friday, November 19, 2010

Tyranny of the Tablecloth

How I have expressed my love all these years--by listening. How they have expressed their love for me all these years--by giving me presents that if they'd been paying any attention these many long years, they'd realize I have no interest in. Purses, dishes, stemware, linens, towels. I'm supposed to like this stuff because they like this stuff and the way they imagine their own continuation on this planet after their death is in the hands that have learned how to smooth the ironed crease from a tablecloth. The ability and desire to take these things seriously will be passed down genetically, and the skills involved will be transmitted from mother to daughter in apprenticeship mode. My mother honors her mother by requiring me to wrangle my offspring into following her canonical rules.
But the slavery to the tablecloth stops here. I have no daughter. Even if I did, I'm sure I wouldn't require her to enter unquestioningly into this traditional progression. But because I will not do this thing, uphold the proven moral order in this way, all my choices are thus suspect. I am not taking my responsibilities seriously. I must be a shirker.
My point is different. I do not shirk my responsibilities as I see them. Please allow me to choose from the heavy smorgasbord of responsibilities available to a woman my age. Clearly some that I find important mean nothing to them and I have refrained from scolding them about them for years. But if they begin scolding me too frequently, I can always start!
Whenever I express my thoughts on such topics as this, I am told I just don't understand how normal people feel. I do see how they feel, I just don't believe it's my job to fix their problems. Especially their self-inflicted problems. Like Thanksgiving.
The holiday season is now upon us. For me, it starts the moment my mother brings out her lists and begins assigning roles. This is her theater, the theater of happy family relations, of papering over the vast cracks between competing worldviews of the many-eyed beast that is our family. I am enjoined to slave at the rock face of family togetherness and to slave with a smile pasted on my face. I am a daughter; I'm supposed to please my mother. I am a woman: I'm supposed to like this holiday fussing. Don't we all? It's only natural.
This is the season during which I am expected to force my two abstract randoms to not only go along with customs that have little or no charm for them and no reason or nostalgia value, but also to enter into the spirit of the season. They are Jews by birth, actual or honorary, and atheists by choice, so Christmas especially is a species of voodoo to them. Symbols of an ancient mystical cult. Why? they ask. And my extended family does not know why and is angered by the question. Because. That's their answer. Because we've always done it this way and we had so much fun in the past doing it this way that the only way to have more fun now or in the future is to follow the format. The proven format.
And when my two abstract randoms fail to enter into the spirit of the season, all heads swivel towards me. They believe I have failed. Failed to explain how important this is. Failed to take my native tribe's side against the outsiders.
I have failed.

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