The Bough Breaks

It always does. The wood rots, some sort of parasite or fungus weakens it, the wind blows it down, and lest we forget about the duress of plain, ordinary gravity and time. This past holiday weekend, I saw the growing crack in the bough. In fact, I’m not sure what was keeping it attached to the big familial tree. But the crack was obvious and creaking and seemingly trying its damndest to do one of two things: it was either trying to stay attached or trying like hell to keep from completely detaching. A sensible person might ask, “what’s the difference?” But the 62 year old, 48 ounce cup o’slushy gray matter that I’ve become knows the difference but I can’t explain it. Obviously, there is no bough, no crack, no tree, in fact, all nursery rhymes seem to have dangerous or even fatal endings. Weird, but at times it can all certainly feel real.

We live in a world more cynical than ever. Do we a legit reason? Yes and there are legit reasons to view our existence optimistically, but those people with that particular set of skills seem to be in the minority. I’ve talked to a lots of people in the last few weeks. All kinds of people: , young, old, wealthy, broke, smart, not as smart, blue collar, no collar. Happiness in any kind of consistent form seems to be elusive. There’s something in the air. A joylessness stemming from a relentless disruption in life that’s going on two years now.

Lives have been lost, fortunes have been lost, hopes and dreams shattered, but I think families have taken the biggest hit. The dynamic feels drastically altered. For the past two years, many have worn masks on top of the masks they’ve worm for years. As families expand and get older, members have two viable options: you can keep forcing togetherness and resentment will be the long lasting by product or you can accept that traditions die (like people) and we have no choice but to move on. Kids grow up, their boredom can kill holidays faster than a Christmas Day kitchen fire at noon. Everyone’s favorite Uncle Freddie, the fun partier, develops kidney issues and is in bed by nine and Grammy Ellen can’t remember what her teeth do. Family gatherings that were once so highly anticipated are now drudgery. Money comes & goes. Life experiences alter opinions. There are fights, and eye rolls, hurt feelings, Cousin Luella had the gall to bring canned green beans to dinner that weren’t seasoned (clutch the pearls!!!) Hockney, the reverse snob rube NO ONE wanted sweet little Glenda to marry, continues to rebuke family decorum by eating with his feet during dinner. And there’s always one Commie in the woodpile—the subject veers from taters to dictators and boom!! 💥 💥 Politics result in a table clearing brawl. SWAT arrives. Chaos and mayhem don’t pair well with candied yams.

No matter how jaded you might be, it’s always at least a little sad to witness family dynamics changing in real time. So much comes in to play. It’s an extremely tall order to expect two adults, much less three or more, to maintain the same relationship they had as kids. This is true of family or friends you knew in the womb. It’s delusional to think otherwise. If all you and your siblings or cousins have are a few rehashed, oft-repeated tales of childish hi-jinx from family reunions 60 years in the past, then it’s time to stop. But stop what? Talking? Attending family functions? Tossing the Christmas cards unopened?


It’s probably never a good idea to completely extricate family entirely from your existence. I said ”probably”, because there are exceptions to every rule. If the relationship has become boring, then okay, sit out a few reunions. It’s a natural occurrence to grow up and grow apart. Maybe time and space time can heal certain wounds and contribute to perspective, which might lead to renewed attendance at future functions. But if the relationship is toxic, forget about it. Putting emotional and physical distance where needed can actually be a healthy maneuver, especially if the distance has been requested & discussed…you know, as in fully communicated. Rifts, grudges and estrangement are almost always the result of undercommunication.

But let’s be realistic, this kind of communication rarely happens, even though aspects of the family unit as a whole might hang in the balance. It’s almost PollyAnna-ish to think that even the most level headed adults would have these precursor type conversations. The most common M.O. is to ghost the family. It’s hardly the most mature thing to do, but it’s certainly the easiest. It offers a form of closure without a single audible shot needing to be fired.

So, it’s up to you. If Thanksgiving was a total wash, could Christmas, a mere month later, possibly be any different? I’d suggest thinking long and hard about probability and outcome. Speak up. Don’t speak up, but be aware you have to determine the value of family, the friendship, what’s worth preserving or what has to be jettisoned. And some things, some people just have to be removed from your life. And that’s okay.

Family can mean a lot of different things. It can include shared DNA, but doesn’t have to. And quit idealizing the unified, multi-tiered Norman Rockwell version. If you carefully peruse the list of all applicable adjectives for family, ”perfect” in all fairness, can’t be included. It’s a real word with an unreal application, but…..families are real, as are the happy times that bind and the struggle it can takes to keep one cohesive.

In summation, I love my family. They love me. My sisters and I are close as sisters go. We’re not terribly demonstrative; we weren’t raised that way. We’re very different. differently. We chose very different paths. We worry about each other, but we’re no different than most sisters. We disagree, we don’t understand each others’ motives or choices but, to each her own. My sisters got married young and became mothers as young women. They now have grandkids and technically, (don’t ask) one has a great grandchild. I did none of that. We’ve not discussed it as a trio, but I know they sense the fragmentation as well. Every subsequent generation puts more weight on the sagging bough.

Nietzsche once wrote, ”Family love is messy, clinging, and of an annoying and repetitive pattern…like bad wallpaper.

Nietzsche was also kind of a dick.

One comment

  1. I think it’s helpful to notice that everything is changing while it’s changing, so when the bough breaks, as you say, it’s not such a shock; it’s the inevitable next change.

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