Family

It’s strange, isn’t it? How time and circumstances and distance can change friendships you once thought would last forever? You still love these people, you still care about what happens to them, but when you’re together…you can’t seem to find a common ground.

I used to be so close to my dad’s family. We lived in Mexico until I was eight, within walking distance of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. Even after we moved, we didn’t go very far; we crossed the border, drove for half an hour, and chose a house in that little town. We returned to my grandparents’ house monthly for family lunches, sometimes to celebrate someone’s birthday, sometimes for mother’s or father’s day, sometimes just because. And I always looked forward to it. Nana made fresh rice, beans, and tortillas. My uncles made carne asada or pollo asado (like carne asada only with chicken). My aunts brought cakes, sodas, and macaroni salad. We congregated around the table and in the adjoining living room to eat and to talk over the soccer game that always seemed to be playing on the TV.

Then my three younger cousins and I would run outside to play. We invented games and went on adventures, dared each other to try new things. Occasionally, we went back inside to watch the guys playing their video games, or we’d go into one of the guest rooms and play cards. If it rained, we’d play in the mud. If it was hot, we put on our bathing suits and assaulted each other with the hose. If it was cold, we’d bundle up real tight and chase each other until we were warm. We climbed trees, scraped our knees, ran through my tata’s field, rolled down dirt hills, rode our bikes along the canal. As we got older, we spent more and more time inside, playing card games, giving each other make overs, talking about life and boys, watching movies, hanging out around the kitchen table and listening to our mother’s talk.

The three of them made trips to my house too, for slumber parties during the summer. (This was after my sister and I were given our separate rooms.) I would blast my Christian rock music and we would dance or jump on the bed or throw pillows at each other. We’d stay up talking through the night, all four of us squished together on my bed because we couldn’t bear the thought of sleeping separately. We’d spend hours on the Slip-n-Slide in the backyard, and then wash up and play with my Barbies. Sometimes my sister would play dress up with us. We’d use sheets, rubber bands, and clips to create unique, old fashioned dresses. We’d adorn ourselves with clip-on jewelry and pretend to be princesses.

And then I started high school. I hung out with my sister, my big brother, and my older cousins more and more. I started dating and then had my heart broken for the first time. I went through a phase of depression, where the only thing I really wanted was to be older and wiser. I talked less and spent more time daydreaming about my stories, my music, my plans for the future. They ran in different crowds than I did, had mutual friends they wanted to talk about that I’d never met. They had church events and other family events they attended together that I couldn’t. Slowly but surely, this gap began to form between me and my three younger cousins. Then I graduated and moved to Arizona. I still visited home from time to time. I returned to my grandparents’ house for New Years or Christmas, glad to be among my family again. But each year my Spanish was a bit more rusty, my anecdotes a bit more awkward, and our conversations a bit more forced. I wanted to be around them. I cared about their lives and the things they were going through. I wanted to connect.

Why was it so hard?

We had something to talk about when I was getting serious with my then-boyfriend now-husband. My cousins wanted to know how we met and what our plans were. When we were engaged and planning our wedding, I had details to share. They all came, of course. They had to drive six hours one way to be there, but they were there. In the whirlwind that was our wedding reception, I got to give quick hugs and kisses. Then it was off to start married life. I’ve brought my husband for New Years these past two years. He doesn’t speak Spanish so I have to stick with him and be his interpreter. My three younger cousins shy away from him. I can’t blame them; he’s handsome and foreign. That can be intimidating.

I keep tabs on my dad’s family through Facebook and Instagram. My three younger cousins especially. They post pictures and short anecdotes that I like or comment on. We always wish each other happy birthday, sending our love and blessings. The cousin closest to me in age is going to university. The second oldest is so social; she’s always posting pictures of her and her friends going to youth group or camps or conferences. The youngest graduated from high school this year. I want to tell them how proud I am of their accomplishments, how great it is to see them flourish. I want to tell them that I still remember our adventures with fondness. I loved being their leader, despite the fact that I was responsible when one of them got hurt playing one of my ridiculous games. They weren’t just family, they were friends. And I miss them.

Most of the time, it’s easy to get caught up in my life here. I’m working, I’m going to school, I’m learning new things about marriage and being a wife, I’m writing, I’m hanging out with friends, and growing. But every day I go onto Facebook or Instagram and there they are. I can’t help but wonder: Will we ever be as close as we once were? Do they think about me? Do they remember?

Only one way to find out, right?

Malcolm in the Middle

We all grew up with those shows that our mothers disapproved of, especially those of us who grew up in conservative, Christian homes. For a lot of my friends, it was SpongeBob. Their mothers thought the show was stupid, that it would make their kids stupid, and anyone who watched it was stupid. My mother watched a few episodes of the show and came to the conclusion that it was harmless. The topics and themes being discussed in each episode were innocent and silly enough that she was confident they wouldn’t mentally handicap us in the future. (Now, I have some friends who point out all the sexual innuendo that was underlying each episode and I’m horrified. Still, I stubbornly believe that if you watch SpongeBob with the innocence of a child, it’s a decent show about friendship and adorable sea creatures. At least, the first few seasons are. I stopped watching after season 6, I think…) What SpongeBob was for most mothers, Malcolm in the Middle was for mine.

Francis, Reese, Malcolm, and Dewey were always getting themselves into trouble, hurting each other, hurting the people around them, or financially crippling their parents in one way, shape, or form. They were disrespectful to pretty much everyone; they couldn’t seem to behave even in front of complete strangers. My mother was convinced their terrible behavior would somehow rub off on us kids. It also bothered my mother how much Hal and Lois had sex on the show. She admitted that it was important for a married couple to continue being intimate throughout their married years, especially after they had children. She just didn’t like the fact that they showed us the passionate make outs and the half naked clips.

Despite her reservations, Malcolm in the Middle always seemed to air before SpongeBob did, right after we came home from school. So when we turned on the TV to watch SpongeBob, we usually caught the last few minutes of an episode of Malcolm. I ended up seeing enough of the show to realize that it had its moments of hilarity but was, essentially, ridiculous. I’d never known a family that was as disruptive as theirs. I didn’t think it possible in the real world. Plus, if we caught a scene with the parents making out, we could always change the channel and check back later to see if SpongeBob had started. In reality, it was not as big a deal as my mother made it out to be. But she is our mother. She is always going to try to protect her kids from the big bad world, and I’m thankful for that even if it does make me roll my eyes or think her a little silly at the time.

Now, as an adult, I’m watching Malcolm in the Middle with my husband.

It all started after we finished the latest season of Dr. Who. It was rumored that a tenth season would be coming out, but there wasn’t anything posted on our favorite streaming site. We were caught up with Hawaii 5O, had already finished Sherlock, weren’t really in the mood for Supernatural or Burn Notice, so we started brainstorming. What shows were readily available? What shows were we curious about? What were we in the mood for? Somehow Malcolm came up. I think it was thrown out there as a joke but, after thinking about it for a bit, we thought: “Why not? We’re adults now. We can watch whatever we want.” (Always a surprising realization for me.) “Plus, if we don’t like it, we can always stop watching,” we reasoned. So we started the show.

It turns out, we really like it. (Sorry, Mom.)

My husband grew up in a house full of boys. They weren’t nearly as devious as Malcolm and his brothers, but my husband can relate to and appreciate a lot of the shenanigans the boys get into in the show. I mostly laugh and shake my head, and murmur, “We’re not going to do that when we have kids” or “We’re not going to let our kids get away with that” or “If my son does anything like that…” or “I hope we have girls.” It’s both nostalgic and educational…now that we’re adults.

I don’t think I could really appreciate this show as a kid. I couldn’t relate to the boys because my siblings and I were “good kids.” I couldn’t relate to Hal and Lois because I had no idea what it was like to be a parent. (I don’t have kids so, technically, I still don’t know what it’s like to be a parent but after many a late night conversation with my mother, mother-in-law, and other relatives with young children, I’m starting to get a better picture of what parenting is going to be like.) The things the parents go through on the show (being bullied by a car salesman, freaking out because they misplaced their paycheck, wanting to get away and do something nice for themselves only to have the event ruined for one reason or another) are things I can relate to now because of my life experiences. Now, I can watch these kids get into trouble and wonder how my parents would have handled a similar situation with me. Now, I can watch these kids plot against their mother and wonder how I can avoid having that kind of relationship with my future kids. Now, I can wonder at the things little boys think about and look forward to the random thoughts or actions or ideas of my future sons. Now, the things happening on this show are relevant to me.

Isn’t that funny? This show is supposed to be for kids and preteens, but here we are, enjoying it as adults. It’s still pretty ridiculous how much trouble Malcolm and his brothers get into, and I sometimes wish we had less information about the parents’ sex lives. But I can handle it now because I’m an adult. It’s kind of cool how a show that’s been over for almost ten years is still teaching and making people laugh today.