Note: Thanksgiving Day, 2001, was on the 22nd, not the 27th, but I'm posting as though today were the Monday after the holiday..
I just got back from spending the weekend--plus Thanksgiving, of course--at my parents'. Last year I went home for Thanksgiving and it was pretty awful--my one uncle, especially, wouldn't stop asking me questions that I couldn't answer because they were based on a complete misunderstanding of my life--he'd heard I was studying to be a priest (our school is a "non-denominational pagan seminary," remember) and somehow he decided that meant I'd become an Episcopalian. Then, when Kit came to pick me up, my Dad got some kind of ridiculous crush on her and my Mom responded by getting all catty and weird. I felt like a complete alien in my own family home and getting back on campus was a major relief.
For a while I honestly wasn't sure I wanted to go back there, but of course I changed my mind, and I've had a lot of good times back home since then.
I think this year would have gone better no matter what, in part because I was expecting to be something of an outsider. I was steeled for it. I also took the precaution of talking with both Allen and Sharon more about how to talk about the school in terms that let other people imagine it to be whatever version of normal they prefer.
"You never lie," Allen explained. "The trick is to let others hear what they want to, see what they want to. If they want the truth, they'll see and hear that. If they don't, then you can hide behind their expectations in plain sight."
But I also had an advantage in that there was a baby there to distract everyone from me.
My brother and his wife had a baby back in August, a little boy. For various reasons, I couldn't get out to visit them at the time, and while I had seen my brother since then, I hadn't seen the baby. So Thanksgiving was the first time I got to see my nephew. It was also the first time my uncles and aunts got to see him, so they spent most of their time talking about him, not about me.
I think I'm going to like being an uncle. I was sitting right across the table from him and I spent most of dinner making faces at him to try and get him to laugh. I'm not sure my brother really appreciated that, but I figure he can deal. I'm considering becoming the "cool uncle," the one you get in trouble with. Everybody needs one.
The boy can hold his head up now and look around, but he stays where you put him. He can giggle and make various noises, but I wouldn't call any of it babbling yet. He sat at a high chair and played with a spoon during dinner (he kept throwing it for adults to fetch. "He's conducting experiments in physics and psychology," my brother explained, fetching the spoon again. "He'll be publishing a couple of papers, one of these days") but he didn't eat any of our food.
"You've met him at the best age," my mother commented. "He's cute and alert and interactive, but we don't have to child-proof the house yet and it's still ok to curse around him."
"No, it isn't," said my sister-in-law. "Bad habits are hard to break. Anyway, I hope this isn't the best age, we have a lot of ages left to go!" But she said all this in a friendly tone.
After dinner, she nursed the baby, covering her breasts with an expensive-looking silk (or maybe rayon?) shawl.
"Can he breathe under that?" I asked, and immediately regretted it. I mean, of course he can breathe, why would I go and accuse my sister-in-law of smothering her child? But she didn't seem to take offense.
"Oh, yeah," she reassured me. "He can see out, too. Just you can't see in."
I nodded and asked if she expected him to sleep after he was done eating. I wanted to hold him, and hadn't yet, but obviously I didn't want to spoil his rest.
"You're really good with the baby," my mother commented. "It's nice to see."
I smiled and shrugged a bit.
"And really good with nursing," added my sister-in-law. "You haven't smirked, not once. I don't feel self-conscious around you."
I suddenly realized I was the only man in the room, not counting the baby. I think I blushed.
"You know, that's right," my mother said. "When I had you guys I nursed in public, no cover or anything...I was such a little radical! Most people were polite about it, but I could always feel them trying not to look at my breasts. Men especially. Even your father--it was like he thought they were his and you babies were borrowing them."
This was not anything I'd wanted to know about my parents. I don't want to even think about my mother's breasts.
"She's my sister-in-law!" I protested, louder than I needed to. "I'm not a total cretin!" But that wasn't what I wanted to say. It hadn't come out right. I mean, it's not like I'd be ogling her if she wasn't my sister-in-law.
"Look," I tried again, blushing hard and not looking at either of them, "I like breasts, but they're not for me, ok? I'm not going to go staring at other people's bodies like I was a a kid in a damn candy store. It's not about me. In this case it's about lunch. For a baby."
"You know, Daniel," my sister-in-law said, in a tone of amazement. "I don't think you're a cretin at all."
Which, I suppose, is a compliment, and I was glad to get it, but somehow I'd rather be held to a higher standard than non-cretinhood.
Last night, Kit came to pick me up, just as she did last year, but this time my mother invited her in for a drink. She accepted, on the condition her husband and Allen could come in, too. And of course they could (this year they were the only ones in the car--Lo and the kids were at home, I guess). And so the six of us sat and talked for a while. Mostly I remember Kit trying to explain to my Dad what being a witch really means. I'm not sure he really understood her, but she was completely charming and I think my parents finally got that she's an ordinary person.
It was so strange, having Allen and Kit sitting in my parents' living room, like an irruption of one world into another, the different parts of my life interacting. They are ordinary people, but they are extraordinary, also. Their presence gave a certain glamour to the room, almost like they were fairies, or perhaps wild animals. It occurred to me to wonder whether I do that to the rooms I enter and, if I don't do it now, whether I will someday.
This year I was grateful to have a family to visit, but once again I was even more grateful to have a school to return home to.