August 7, 2015

It’s All Good / Patti Lamb

Even in circus mode, a family shows its true colors

Patti LambRecently, I spotted a plaque in a department store that read: “Remember: As far as anyone knows, we are a nice, normal family.”

I burst out laughing in the middle of the aisle.

This summer, my family was called (on multiple occasions) to host several unexpected houseguests, and the experiences were quite humbling.

I thought ours was a nice, normal family until others came to share our home. Occupying the same space made us feel a bit under the microscope, and suddenly we realized that, perhaps, we are not so normal after all.

The following are just a few of the statements that my family members made to our houseguests during the month of July:

  • “Yes, those are battery-operated goldfish swimming in that bowl on our counter. We are slowly working our way up to live pets.”
  • “It’s hard to reach your back when applying sunscreen, and that’s why—in our house—we use a spatula.”
  • “I hope you packed a sweatshirt. My mom likes to pretend that we live in a freezer.”
  • “It’s not a real Monopoly game until there are tears.”
  • “Sorry about the floors. Mom keeps saying she needs to get in touch with her inner ‘Mister Clean.’ ”
  • “I asked my parents if I could just wear my brother’s suit for my first Communion, but they said ‘no,’ so I have to wear a dress.”
  • “My mom says it’s OK to stretch the ‘five second rule’ when it’s chocolate.”
  • “That’s a zip line in our back yard. You can try it, but put your feet down before you hit the brick wall.’”
  • “This Oreo is what I call my ‘morning dessert’ because I ate all of my breakfast.”

When you host houseguests, your idiosyncrasies have a way of surfacing. I felt like our family life was a sitcom in the making. I feared that our houseguests might report to others that our clan is one tent short of a full-blown circus.

One evening, I was overwhelmed at the kids’ antics and I felt the need to dispense explanations, or perhaps excuses, for the way we are. I began to explain away. That’s when one particularly lovely houseguest gently told me that she hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary because she was focused on her own family’s issues. She simply expressed gratitude for having a place to stay.

Then she went on to disclose the main reason for her sudden visit. She traveled to support a dear old friend who, in her eyes, is family. My heart sank when she told me her friend’s story.

Whenever something tragic happens, or there’s some unforeseen life transition, I always hear people express their sympathy, followed immediately by this question: “Does he or she have family?” Family is nature’s support system. Most families are formed by blood, and others are born of pure love.

In any case, I’m beginning to recognize that very few families are considered “normal” by earthly standards.

My thoughts turn to the Holy Family, comprised of a kind-hearted stepfather who was a carpenter by trade, a humble mother who conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and their beloved son, who redeemed the world by his sacrifice.

Some families mask their imperfections better than others, but no family is perfect. Despite family issues, oddities and squabbles, family really is a blessing.

I saw a greeting card last week that summed it up quite well. It said, “I smile because we’re family. I laugh because there’s nothing you can do about it.”

(Patti Lamb, a member of St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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