Tuesday, November 18, 2008

One of my many families

The movie “Garden State” not only addresses issues within families, friendships and young love, but also shows a young man’s quest for independence, self-worth, and the meaning of his past, all while finding himself along the way. The short clip I’ve included shows the protagonist, Andrew Largeman, emotionless and numb at his mother’s funeral.

Although I couldn’t find clips of any of the scenes I wanted to include, here are two excerpts from the movie that address family:

Andrew: You know that point in your life when you realize that the house that you grew up in isn’t really your home anymore? All of the sudden even though you have some place where you can put your stuff that idea of home is gone.
Sam: I still feel at home in my house.
Andrew: You’ll see when you move out it just sort of happens one day one day and it’s just gone. And you can never get it back. It’s like you get homesick for a place that doesn’t exist. I mean it’s like this rite of passage, you know. You won’t have this feeling again until you create a new idea of home for yourself, you know, for your kids, for the family you start, it’s like a cycle or something. I miss the idea of it. Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people who miss the same imaginary place.

Mr. Largeman: I'm sure you can find lots of things in your life...that you can be angry about. But what I do not understand is why you're so angry at me. All I ever wanted was for everyone to be happy again. That's all I ever wanted.
Andrew: When were we all ever happy, Dad? You always say that, but when was that? When was this time that we were all so happy? 'Cause I don't have it in my memory. Maybe if I did, I could help steer us back there. But I just...You know, you and I need to work on being okay...if that's not in the cards for us.
Mr. Largeman: Well, we might have a shot at it...if you can forgive yourself for what you did.
Andrew: What I did. What I did. Okay, let's-let's do it. Okay, we're here, right? Let's do it! I'm gonna forgive myself for what I did. Are you ready?

Just like the college-aged character Zach Braff plays, I am going through the part of life where I’m trying to negotiate my family’s expectations and my journey toward independence and self-sufficiency. I have to completely reconsider my family from the perspective of where I am now in life: the stage in between leaving my mother’s nest and starting a nest of my own, alone at first and hopefully with a partner and children somewhere down the line. After all, as an independent college student, although I don’t have my own permanent residence, I no longer consider my mother’s house to be my home. Still, when I think of my immediate family, the people who live in and pass through my mother’s household come to mind. These characters include my mother Mary, her boyfriend Larry (the actual owner of the house), my brothers Michael (28, electrician, lives in Philly), Justin (21, also lives in Philly, Sports Medicine major at Temple University) and Charles (11, has autism, lives with his father in South Jersey), and my sister Laura (13, the most normal out of all of us, lives with our mother).

The unique thing about my family is how scattered we are. Because we siblings all have different fathers and stretch across a great range of ages, we are constantly passing through disparate areas in life and don’t often catch each other in person. We have all had to adapt and adjust to new homes/schools/lives multiple times. For example, my only full brother, Justin, and I have lived in five different houses before going away to college. As such, it is a rare and special occasion when all of my mother’s children gather under one roof—it happens maybe twice a year ever since my brother Mike got kicked out 10 years ago. It doesn’t help that my mother hardly ever cooks, so we don’t really have a particular time and event to be home for (part of our birthday present each year is getting our favorite meal prepared for us. See why I appreciate Daly’s so much?). For all of these reasons, the most recent time my family was all together was a Sunday afternoon in late September when I brought a bunch of my foreign exchange friends over for a barbeque dinner. Not only was my immediate family there, but so were my grandmother, my niece Azour, and Justin’s girlfriend, Mary Kate.

I participated in but more often observed the dialogue with my family over the course of the day. My family stuck to the same place settings for the most part: my two older brothers sat at the table in the middle of the deck, dead center in front of the TV (which had an Eagles game on); my grandmother sat between the international kids and the table where my brothers sat; Larry stood by the grill the whole time; and my mom, my sister and I walked in and out of the kitchen, making sure everyone had drinks and appetizers. The dialogue was different in every setting; however, one thing I noticed was that everybody avoided talking about politics, most likely out of politeness and the fear of offending any hosts or guests. Sitting next to my brothers, I heard lots of arguments about football, whether or not the Phillies were going to make it to the World Series, recent parties or events in Philly and Atlantic City they attended, and food. The two “used humor as a way to bring amusement or enjoyment to their relationship” (Campbell Eichhorn 297). My grandmother, an avid football fan, chipped into their conversation to introduce historical figures and make shrewd prediction of the Eagles’ upcoming season. These three used their words to express dissatisfaction with each other’s predictions and analyses (all in a friendly manner, of course). When the boys were speaking about other topics, my grandmother leaned over to talk to the international kids about their pasts, their home countries, their studies, and what they like about this country so far. This dialogue lent itself to the Uncertainty Reduction Theory easily, because they were all participating in the opportunity to get to know each other better through self-disclosure (Campbell Eichhorn 165). My mom, my sister and I talked about my troubled love life, my classes so far, what work has been like for my mom, and my little sister’s first month as an 8th grader. Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory can be applied to the context of our conversation because we were all attempting to present ourselves in manners that were pleasing to us and acceptable to the others. We fused all three cores of communication: we used our words to illustrate our thoughts on one another’s decisions, daily activities and difficulties, meanwhile exerting body language, paralanguage and proxemics to express our emotions of affection, disappointment, empathy, irritation, disparity, and many more emotions (as most deep female conversations tend to include). I attempted to provide social support for my little sister as best as I could (Campbell Eichhorn 297). Throughout the day, my family’s dialogue incorporated a variety of words, thoughts and emotions.

Believe it or not, no adults in my close family are married. My mother is single, my father and all of my siblings’ fathers are single, the woman my dad left in order to marry my mom (my sister Gabby’s mother, Carmen) is single, and the two siblings I have that are of the appropriate age to marry are both single. My mother, however, has been living with her boyfriend for six years, and since they are not married simply for financial reasons, I’m going to make the leap and label them as a total marriage under Cuber and Harroff’s definition. My mom and Larry are inseparable. Both of them work long hours during the day, but they make sure they start and end each day in each other’s company. In fact, they spend every waking moment of their time off from work together, not only in the day-to-day but also on vacations, on weekends, and on holidays. One of their favorite things to do is eat dinner and watch “Everybody Loves Raymond” together, which is ironically the example our text uses to portray the aspects of conflict in the Sustaining Relationships chapter (Campbell Eichhorn 193). My mom’s conflict management style has been avoidance as a fallback option. Her first attempt is usually collaborative or integrative—“often described as a productive means of managing conflict because it requires open and ongoing communication” (Campbell Eichhorn 201)—but when it doesn’t go well, she’ll just physically leave the room or the house to prevent the argument from going any further. The most typical conflict that I see my mom and Larry engage in concerns my brother, Charles. Charles only comes to visit every Sunday and on occasion holidays since he lives with his father and goes to school in NJ. While my mother is fiercely and tragically protective of her often misunderstood son, Larry is zealously protective of his house and his material belongings. As Charles has autism, he tends to not comprehend or remember certain rules of Larry’s house, including no jumping, running, or yelling (which he loves to do and is allowed to do in every other location he knows), and no eating in any rooms other than the kitchen. Larry freaks out whenever Charles disobeys these rules, and my mom in turn snaps at Larry for frightening Charles. Then Larry defends himself on the grounds that it’s his house and his scare tactics might actually help Charles learn the rules (if only my mother would allow him to try) until my mom feels threatened and ultimately leaves the room/house. Despite the fact that the two of them have tried many times to talk out the issue, they can never seem to compromise or agree on a plan of action. Inevitably, the environment on Sundays in my household is rather tense.

All in all, while my family does have a unique wholeness to it, we do not have so much interdependence as most typical families do, and we only partake in calibration on holidays—which makes for quite eventful holidays (Campbell Eichhorn 298). Still, we do our best to support each other and take care of each others’ needs. “And let’s face it, self-esteem is a psychological state of self-belief bolstered initially by one’s parents and communities” (Sweeney 252, from “Maiden USA”).

1 comment:

Drew said...

I really enjoyed reading your blog and learning so much about your family. Every single one of your family members seem so interesting by the way you have described them. I also liked reading about what your family does when they all get together for a special occasion. Your mother seems like she tries to ignore conflict at all costs when you said that she leaves the house every time she and her boyfriend get in an arguement. I believe that if a person does not feel like they can end an arguement peacefully, the only thing they can do is walk away from it for a while and cool off. Once again, great job on your blog.