Wednesday, October 14, 2009

My Family Hates Me


A new annual event has started occurring in my life in recent years. It happened for the first time when I was a sophomore in college. I was stuck on campus over Columbus Day weekend, probably holed up writing a paper on the genocide presided over by Columbus (or something equally ironic given the occasion). I took a break from working to call home to gripe a little bit, to have my parents confirm that their empty nest was totally boring, and to bask in a little praise for being such a dedicated scholar.


Instead, I called to discover that my family was celebrating Thanksgiving—without me. And not just any Thanksgiving—Canadian Thanksgiving, which happens to fall on America’s Columbus Day weekend. I'm not sure why the Canadian version is so much earlier than the American. Perhaps it's because, by late November, Canada is already buried in snow and there's nothing left to be thankful for.


My parents had recently moved from Connecticut to Montreal. They were retired and, more importantly, fed up with the Bush administration, so they migrated north, lured by the promise of level-headedness and poutine. We are dual citizens, but I’m not a real Canadian, and we had certainly never celebrated any Canadian holidays.


“Is that you, Tor?” my mom asked, her voice drowned out by something sizzling in the background. “We’re just about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner.”


I stared at the desolate screen of my laptop, which glowed with a slow, cold, silver indifference. “Excuse me?” I said in disbelief.


“What?” My mother asked, sounding innocent but pressed for time. Perhaps there was gravy to be stirred.


“You’re having Thanksgiving, and you didn’t even invite me?”


My mother laughed. “Oh come on! You’re too busy to come up here.”


Too busy to stuff my face with pie? Let’s get serious, here.


I imagined my family crowded around the turkey without me. For the record, none of us actually get along that well, but in my vision, they were all rosy-cheeked and grinning, patting each others' shoulders and exchanging self-satisfied winks as they anticipated the feast to come.


I asked if my brothers were there. My mother confirmed that they were, as was my uncle, his lady friend, and some neighbors. In other words, the whole crew... plus some extras.


“Sounds like Thanksgiving to me,” I said.


“Mmmm,” my mother made a distracted noise, and I heard some kitchen tool being tapped against the side of a pan.


“We are talking about Thanksgiving, right? The third-most important holiday after Christmas and my birthday?” I asked. “I’m thinking of the right one, right?”


“Oh, Tor,” my mother said, “we can do the American one later, if you want, but you can’t do it all. You’re in college and you’re bi-national. You simply cannot do it all.”


I reflected: if doing it all meant eating two giant feasts every Fall, I was pretty sure I could, in fact, do it all.


You do it all,” I retorted. “But apparently I only get invited to half of it. The stupid American half.” Suddenly Canadian Thanksgiving sounded so much more delicious and rugged than the American version.


“Oh please,” my mother replied, her mouth full of something. “We’re about to sit down. Study hard, and we miss you so much.”


You do? I thought. Because if you missed me that much, you might have thought to invite me to Thanksgiving. I ate a bowl of Cheerios, finished my genocide paper, and fell asleep beneath the icy glow of my laptop.


* * *


I had no idea then that being excluded from secret Canadian Thanksgivings would become a recurring theme in my life. Each year, I managed to forget about the Columbus Day / Canadian Thanksgiving link, until I would call home to ask a question or to check in, only to discover the family—once again—living it up without me.


It happened again the next year when I was studying abroad in Prague, the next year when I was back at school, the following year when I had my first job in New York City, and two years later when I lived in Paris. That was the year my mother said, “We miss you so much but this year we put butter under the skin of the turkey and I really need to focus right now.”


It became a running joke among some of my friends that my family had turned Canadian without telling me, and it was funny—I guess—because it was completely true.


It happened again this year, when I called home to ask if my mother knew where my squash racquet was. No, she didn’t, but she knew exactly where every other member of my family was: crowded around the dining room table with visions of tryptophan in their eyes.


I laughed, amazed at how this cycle had become so reliable. Not many other factors in my life are fixed right now: my address changes every few months, my freelance jobs are “shady,” and no one really knows what I do all day (including me). But if there’s one thing that we can all count on, it is that I won’t be invited to my family’s Canadian Thanksgiving. At least, not until I give in and become a real Canadian. But that’s not happening anytime soon. I’m Parisian, remember?

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