Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I wanted to sit down and write about my weekend, about sailing on Lake Michigan, and how my sweetheart managed to take some beautiful headshots of me despite my profound discomfort in front of a camera.
But those ideas are right out. Instead I'm going to write about family. and community. and my mother.

I come from a hideously large family. My mother has two brothers and two sisters that she is in touch with and another estranged brother, and my father has four brothers and two sisters. Many of them have kids, and second spouses. It's just fuckin' huge; because it's so fuckin' huge, when family gets together, (by which I mean either side, because both sides together has happened once in my lifetime that I can recall) it tends to turn into one of those stereotypical black family thing. Probably a cross between Good Times, Ma Deah and Soul Food.

(Dear God, I never thought I would ever reference Tyler Perry in this blog.)

This dynamic, for what it is, can be generally fun. But it is not good for fostering relationship with anyone. Therefore, any relationship I've fostered with my family has been against the current of the big family gathering. For some of my family, it has been easy to do: I have visited uncles while traveling, and written letters and cards to aunts and cousins, you know, the thing. But then there are other members of the family for which fostering relationship, much less keeping in touch, has been impossible.

I am learning that a wedding is a special thing. It isn't just a time for you to gather every person you ever met in a church, mutter some words to your sweetie, slap a chicken pattie in front of 400 of your closest friends, and then watch them do the Electric Slide. It's a vow--a public rite of a private vow that you make with another person, and the people you surround yourself with, agree on that. It's a time for you to look with joy and sobriety at the commitment in front of you, and to have people flank you on all sides who can affirm that commitment, and who bear witness to your choice, to your love.

So initially, I sat down and made a list of people to invite to our wedding, and it (like my family) was fuckin' huge. Then a couple of realities caused my honey and I to need to cut the list.

I looked at it, thinking that I'd wind up cutting all the people I actually wanted to send us love because I'd have to fulfill all these family obligations. And then I looked at the list and thought, "Okay, who do I want around me on this day, who do I want to be with me and support me in this step?

Suddenly, making cuts became a whole lot easier.

Almost half my family fell off the list, like California into the Pacific.

Ouch. You notice a chunk of loss that big, right? I fretted for days about not inviting my family to our wedding. Last night I told my mother that almost all of her siblings and many of my cousins weren't on the list of guests.

It was an awful, painful conversation.

My mother is a complicated woman, and I have only just begun to understand what it is about her that makes her treat me the way she does. I have so much trouble in my relationship with her, and right now, today, there is not enough distance I could put between the two of us. She held only me accountable for the fact that I don't have a relationship with most of my relatives: she didn't acknowledge that she doesn't know very well (or particularly like) her siblings, she just guilted me for thinking this was a reasonable choice. She argued with me for quite a while about the sanctity of family, and how you can't choose whom you are related to, and that even if you don't have a relationship with your family you still have to love them and do right by them.

I just don't think so. I can't accept that. I'm almost thirty years old. If I haven't established even a seedling of a relationship with my relatives at this point, and what's more, if my relatives haven't even tried to establish one with me, I don't know why I should pretend they are my intimates and pull them into a ceremony where I frankly don't want them. If I were having the 200-person wedding that I thought I was going to have, that isn't so much about the intimacy, but is more about fulfilling family obligations, then I'd sigh and put them on the list and just ignore them all night. But that's no longer the case. My sweetheart and I are making one kind of affair, and we don't want to cater to family obligations to do it, especially not with family who doesn't know us, who doesn't seem to care for us, whom we don't know.

It was ludicrous for me to hope that my mother would understand what I was saying, would remember the apathy and thoughtlessness in our family, and see my perspective. I wasn't hoping that she would get it, I knew she wouldn't. Yet, I am still disappointed that she doesn't. It's clear to me now that if I do choose only to invite certain members of my family, that my mother would hang me out to dry, not help or support me at all, and perhaps even join other members of the family in their pain and judgement.

Today, after many tears and a night of puffy-faced sleep, I am flirting heavily with the idea of crossing them all off the list and having a reception in my family's hometown that is just for family. Something low tech, wherein honey and I fill the trunk with catered barbecue (some stereotypes are based in truth) and drive down for a few hours, and we smile and let my family ignore us, because that is by and large what happened the last time my family got together. Only my grandmother from this side would attend the actual ceremony, but everyone else would get a family reception. After all, this is the dynamic wherein everybody is happiest, so why not give the people what they want.

I'm having a really hard time with this. I do not want to make my wedding with the man that I love into something other than what I want it to be. I do not want to surround myself with people I barely know, who care so little for me "because I should." I am sad that acknowledging the truth will hurt other people so much, but I resent to high heaven that this is a bad, or wrong, or inappropriate choice.

If you disagree with what I'm saying, convince me. I can't afford to feed my family and the friends I want around me, but if you can convince me I should, I'll find a way. But I need a better reason than, "invite your family because they're your family." I've had it up to here with that shit.

But if you can say anything that will encourage me at all, or give me perspective I lack, now is the time. Speak up.

And just so you don't say I never gave you nothin, a picture of the two of us, all squinty eyed, on a friend's sailboat, and one of the favorite headshots he took that I'm using.


PrincessMax said...

Gorgeous headshot. Just the right amount of mischief and pretty.

Do the hometown thing. Kag's BBQ, which is right there, is phenomenal.

I'll go with you and say Hi to my grandma while we're there. We'll let your family ignore me, too. Because how much more fun will it be to add a white girl to the mix.

ABG said...

Gorgeous photo.

And wowser. I'm with R. The hometown BBQ seems like the best of both worlds in some ways.

As for advice or input? When I got married, my mantra was "What will we be glad about when we're 80? And what will we regret?" And we made all our decisions based on those factors.

This was easy at first. Ceremony? Ours. Invitations? Mine. Mom wants this certain fancy reception hall? Fine. MIL wants open bar? Fine.

Mom wants abbreviated photos after the wedding to prevent the guests waiting? Nope. But we'll serve appetizers, okay?

Mom wants us to serve meat at the reception? No way in hell.

I'm glad to this day that we stuck to who we were on the things that mattered and let the rest fall away. I'm pretty sure I'll still be glad at 80, but I suppose a lot can happen by then.

A Los Angeles Love said...

First of all - beautiful head shots (and it gives me an even better idea of how great your locks are).

Secondly, I am a huge proponent of the family-only casual "reception" bbq idea. If they don't know you well anyhow, they'd only be attending the wedding so they can drink and party with each other and not so they can celebrate your commitment and joy. We're probably doing something similar with his family/family friends in Texas, and I've seen it work really well with other friends. Everyone feels included and you still get the wedding you want.

Laura said...

BEAUTIFUL photos!!!! I want to see the rest of them.... you know my thoughts on the whole family/wedding thing. You know, I have a friend who did a destination wedding in Tuscany (it was actually a convenient halfway point as her family's in Israel, his is in Holland, and their friends are all over)... anyway, the point is that she had to basically disinvite her father, because he just couldn't get his sh*t together to behave like anything but a loose cannon. It was a tough decision, but it was definitely the right one.
You don't owe your wedding day to anyone else but you and your love. The wedding is, like you said, a public celebration of a private rite, but it is only one day. A wedding does not, in fact, make a marriage, although it sets the first very important steps. Likewise, coming to someone's wedding does not make up for 29 years of being completely uninvolved and uninterested in that person's life.

Mrs. How? said...

Here here to all the previous comments.

I think you do a great service to your family by giving them what they want rather than what is most certainly an obligation for them too. Plus, bonus for you: if you do the BBQ, they'll be forced to suck up whatever griping they might have done, because who can eat free BBQ in their favorite environment and complain about the person who provided it?

When I think about weddings, they often feel like big hazy blurs packed with well-dressed people and design details and obligatory scheduled events. There are only a few things that stand out in crystal clarity as golden moments. I'm sure you can spot those kind of moments in the history of your life thus far, and so you probably know the components that often create them. So make the choices it takes to preserve those moments, rather than filling them with people and events that cloud them because you have to.

P.S. Mine often involve warm summer evenings playing outside, with no obligations and unlimited time for long slow conversations with people I love and who love me. (Sounds like a great wedding, right?) :)