What do you get when you put a psychotherapist, a rocket scientist, a business man and a writer in a room together? My family. My small, overly analyzed, often bizarre, always entertaining family.
Since my brother is engaged to be married, our little unit will soon be expanding, which means there’s someone new to subject our weirdness to. We flew to Montana over Christmas to spend the holidays with his fiancée’s family. And bring our weirdnesses to them, too. Among our many eccentricities that may be slightly startling to newcomers is the fact that we’re willing to stab each other for a slice of pie. With dull cutlery of course. We’re not a family of murderers. The first time my brother’s fiancée went out with us as a group, we were in New York and took her out to a nice restaurant. After our meal, I suggested that everyone order a different dessert. I’ve since learned this never turns out well. When the assortment arrived, we quickly surveyed who had the best one, zeroed in on our Mom’s plate and attacked. Not a single word need be said. Forks flying, we swooped in like scavengers. My Mom, no first-timer, fenced us off like a pro, protecting her salted caramel ice cream between her armpit, SCREECHING like an eagle, and trying to eat the treat in three giant bites.
Yes, this is our family. I blame my father for making everything a competition in our house.
My brother’s fiancée watched us in alarm and politely offered, “you guys can have some of mine?” We looked at her dry, dull espresso chocolate something-or-other and wanted nothing to do with it. She didn’t realize this is standard procedure – we pick one target and then stage a massive feeding frenzy. Dessert is a battlefield.
And so, manners be damned, when we arrived at our cabin in Montana and discovered my brother’s new mother-in-law had a plate of six different varieties of Christmas cookies waiting for us, they were basically asking for it. I was the first to discover the “tree cookie” (they told me they’re called spritzes but I refused to change my name for it and by the end, everyone was referring to them as this). I tried a couple bites of the other options but they didn’t really do it for me so I ate all the tree cookies before anyone could have them. And then bragged about it.
I was taunting my family. And despite that they had no idea what they tasted like, they were madder than hell.
So, when we arrived at the in-laws’ home later that day, one of the first things out of my Mom’s mouth is that I’d eaten all of the tree cookies. So dramatic. The Mother-in-law said there was plenty more where those came from and pulled out another batch from the freezer. Now the tree cookies could have tasted like cardboard by this point but since I wanted them, everyone wanted them. We fist fought, devouring them instantaneously, leaving the other types of cookies completely unscathed. It was a tamer version of our usual antics but the new family was being indoctrinated to our crazy food issues slowly.
A couple days later, on Christmas day, we were skating on the frozen lake in their backyard. A friendly activity of skating turned into a friendly game of hockey, which turned into a fierce Gretzky vs. Orr match-off between my mother and I. What did I tell you about competition in our family? She and I were going back and forth when I hit what would regrettably become the puck of doom between her legs. She tried to get her stick on the shot but lost her balance, 360’d and took a hard fall. We all rushed to her aid but my brother’s father-in-law immediately warned us to back up, not wanting too much weight on one spot on the ice or we were all going under. After so many tree cookies, this was a real possibility. Later, when she went to lay down she was still in a great deal of pain. Turns out she’d broken her wrist in two places. My brother asked if she wanted to have anything to eat. She gave a weary, “no, thank you.” “Are you sure,” he asks. “I’m alright. I don’t feel well…” she responds, closing her eyes drearily. “We’ve got three cookies left?” Her head shoots up, suddenly alert, “Tree cookies?”
This is my mother.
The other night, she had a new cast on her arm and we were eating dinner together. I swooped in and a stabbed a strawberry from her salad… and I realized she couldn’t stop me. With her one working hand holding her fork, she was defenseless. It was so sad I had to put it back. What, my insides aren’t made of bats here, people – I do actually have a heart.
Now, when my brother asked if I wanted to stay on the trip longer than my parents to go on a ski trip with a few of their married friends in Whitefish, I told him that the idea of spending New Years Eve with all couples sounded like a great thing to write about in my suicide note.
He told me not to be a nerdburger. I couldn’t argue with that logic so I said yes. He’s a born salesman. And luckily, I didn’t turn out to be the only single person on the trip after all. There was Chip. He introduced himself by coming into my room butt naked and trying to lick me. Multiple times. Then, his finest maneuver, he bent over and spread his butt cheeks at all the women. Did I mention Chip is 5? His mother saw this happening and said to my brother, “Well, if that’s not a condom for you and your fiancée, I don’t know what is.”
Chip is a red-head. I figure that pretty much explains everything. He raced into my brother’s room at turbo-speed at 8am one morning and my hung-over brother warns, “Chip, touch me and you will be electrocuted.” Chip screeched to a stop, contemplating if this was a real possibility. Minutes later, I could hear my brother in the hallway making ZAPPING noises to keep the little one at bay.
Yes, this is my brother.
I taught him to ski on this trip. At 32-years-old, he was getting a bit of a late start on the sport and since I’d never had lessons and only learned a few years earlier, I wasn’t exactly the savviest of instructors. All of my bad habits on the snow would unavoidably be inherited by him. Wide stance, eternal snow plow, slightly out-of-control at all moments. On our second day, I accidentally put us on a Blue. For those that don’t know ski terminology, there’s three levels of skiing, the beginner greens, the drastically more advanced blues, and then the batshit crazy people who leap off mountain ledges on blacks. When we got off Chair 2, we skied around the corner to see that we were standing on the precipice of death, a 90 degree cliff of doom of which there was only one way down. This was a blue. We stared in terror as people snowboarded past, leaping off the ledge and vanishing, never to be seen again. In the distance we could see the lake a trillion million miles below. Since my brother only had about five hours of skiing under his belt, this was a major fucking leap. Twice that morning he’d accidentally gotten turned around on a green and started skiing downhill backwards – so this was not a good sign. Just then, the wind picks up and starts to blow the frosty snow ominously towards us. This felt appropriate since we were about to die. I scooted up to see just how steep it was, my heart was racing. I looked to my brother as he was peering down, too, no doubt watching the reel of his best moments in life flash before him… and then to my surprise, he turns to me and says, “Let’s do this.”
I couldn’t help but think back to my first time skiing several years ago. I was plummeting like an avalanche down the mountain at a hundred miles an hour, yelling at the top of my lungs, “I DON’T KNOW HOW TO STOP!!! GET OUT OF THE WAY!! I CAN’T STOP!!!!!” My boyfriend at the time skied easily up to me and says gently, “You’re not going that fast.” Impossible as it seemed, I actually wasn’t. I looked around and saw someone snowshoeing past quicker than me. Skiing is all about perspective. And turns out, after a few more times on this Montana mountain, that blue wasn’t quite so scary after all. And pretty soon my brother and I were bombing down the thing in a race to get to the bottom first. Threatening loss of limb – for a prize that doesn’t exist. But we just can’t help it. Everything is a competition.
What, welcome to my family.