Other than the one facet we are presented with, we are blind to the rest of another family’s life. So, instead of comparing our own family dynamics to the glamorous ones of others, we should cultivate our own. As flawed as our own family may be, we should be grateful for the chance to be a member of it — embracing both the positive and negative features.
I realized I haven’t become fully aware of the complications of other families and the influences that those undeniable backgrounds have on the growth of the kids and who they eventually become, until one night at a sleepover with a few friends. Feeling like a warm heap of mess, I splayed myself across the soft mattress allowing the drowsiness to take over despite the axiom of sleepovers. Chatters faintly blended into the lulling hum of the summer night outside the ajar window of the bedroom.
“Olivia, our families are not the same,” a firm voice suddenly rang out.
A shocked silence draped over the room like a heavy cloth. Slumber seeped away, overtaken by sudden alertness as I snapped my head to who the voice had come from. On the bulky air mattress, Brooke was fully turned to the bed Olivia and I were on. Arms hugging the legs of her checker-plaid pj’s.
“I know, I know, but–” Olivia flustered.
“You know why I was late to my own birthday party?”
Brooke proceeded to tell us about how on her own birthday a few months back, her dad was supposed to drive her to Olivia’s house — where the party was to be held. However, instead of picking her up from the house on time, he was drinking at a bar. When they were finally on the way to Olivia’s, Brooke couldn’t stand her father driving while intoxicated. And halfway to their destination, she decided to take over by urging her drunken father to move to the backseat and positing herself in the driver’s seat. She drove them home and called a friend to pick her up.
“But you don’t know how to drive — I mean we’re not even allowed to, we’re 15,” another friend cut in.
“Yeah, but it was better than my dad driving,” Brooke flatly stated with a flourish of her hands as if it was obvious.
Those words were so simple, yet something about what she said reached out to something inside of me and caught fire. The girl in front of me was suddenly packaged in a different light — revealing more than just the surface-leveled energetic and bubbly version of herself. And that’s why Brooke said children grew to be teens that made wrong decisions and threw themselves down the dark path. The family environment, she meant, how the parents acted around their kids affected them.
Olivia, who had been prepared to lecture her on starting to mix with the wrong people, seemed to relinquish and fell silent — at a loss for the right words. It was true, growing up in an environment where her parents protected her from the sinfulness of the world, she couldn’t wrap her mind around the backstories of another individual’s family that instilled trauma and stimulated the choices of her fellow classmates. I glanced at her, recognizing that she too had untold accounts, but that may deviate from the one that was just told.
After hearing Brooke’s story, I tried to imagine my parents like what she described, but the image just couldn’t form. Albeit hate to admit, when times get hard or in fights with my family, I sometimes wonder what it’s like being part of other families. I later recognized that it was only the happy and pleasant images that pop up in my mind during those times and would immediately feel guilty for having the thoughts at all. I often overlook the little joyful moments with my family: daily amusing interactions and the feeling of unity and intimacy that alone makes a home that I can take refuge in.
As the night lapsed into eased chatter again, I could recall that it wasn’t my first time hearing the misfortunes of other families. Accounts of unfortunate situations and burdens of others seem to have always been whipped out as weapons against my tantrums and complaints. I used to fatuously accuse my parents of downplaying my adversities.
It took me to step out into the real world by myself to see the ruthless side of society and fathom the depth of the comparisons that have been made all my life. In the experiences I’ve heard from my friends and classmates, from divorced parents, to restraining orders on mom’s boyfriend, to abusive childhoods, to handling situations where they need to be adults of the family — I fully came around to realize my problems were minuscule compared to the harsh realities some lived in constantly.
As deliriousness began stretching across the room like taffy, I looked on the frivolity atmosphere with a sense of bewilderment. The girls I knew for a third of my life and had formed tight bonds with suddenly weren’t who they were. Each seems to carry a home with lives and mysteries unfolding behind the closed doors. And from another perspective, I am too. And passing by, the homes may look like any others, perhaps each even more appealing than the last. But behind those doors exists intricacies of problems and complications that we as outsiders would never be able to unravel.
Right before the crack of dawn, as the sun gets ready to take over its shift, I dozed off with thoughts filled with the door to my own home to my own imperfect yet my family.