Sunday, March 27, 2005

Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard (Preferably Not Seen, Either)

My parents took me to Easter dinner over at the house of this relative Patty. Patty is my second cousin, and I know this because twenty minutes of dinner were spent figuring that out, like it was the sixty-four thousand dollar question. Patty's family lives in Livingston, about half an hour away from where I live, so it makes sense that I haven't seen her in thirteen years. I'm not exactly what you'd call close to any of my extended family, which has caused much contention between my parents and me. After growing up with all these aunts and uncles and cousins out of my life, I've gotten kind of used to being the family reunion pariah, and not a little bit resentful as well. My grandmother and her sister lived with their families in the same three-family house in Newark, then they scattered across Essex County, then — right before I came into being — most of the family drew up stakes for the warmer climes of Arizona. Now I'm the one who has to hear from the parents all the time, "You should really get to know your cousins in Arizona. You know, they really are some very loving people. I think if you got to know them a bit better, you'd like them." Seriously, all the time.

Anyway, different relatives, same idea. It seems my mom's father had a sister named Lucy, and Lucy had a son named Ben, and Ben has a daughter named Patty, who my mom assured me was a very interesting person. Patty spent two years in Florida working for VISTA, where she learned to speak Haitian Creole, and now she devotes her time to civil rights causes in the Essex County area. Patty is married to Carlos, and Mom assured me, likewise, that Carlos is a very interesting person. And I imagine that Patty and Carlos could conceivably be interesting people if they weren't constantly placating their irrepressible kids.

I remember when I was younger and all the adults at the dinner table were having an interminable conversation, I'd just wander off on my own and watch TV or play video games or something. I never had any desire to be precocious in front of strangers, unlike these two girls, who opened the evening by trying to raffle off pretty much all of their possessions. Just about everything they were trying to get rid of was some stupid piece of crap that no one above the age of ten could've possibly wanted — I believe the best thing in the mix was a little plastic bunny they got from a box of Trix cereal — but that didn't stop them. I can imagine that you, as a well-mannered adult, might indulge these kids for a little while. But once they get down to raffling off a straw or a jellybean or lint (they called it an "Easter straw" and an "Easter jellybean" and "Easter lint") while you're trying to have a fascinating conversation about some old person's many diseases, you'd tell the girls to get themselves up to their room and watch Spongebob till it's time for dessert.