Photo courtesy of Nevit Dilmen & Wikimedia Commons.
by Gabrielle McElyea, COLUMNIST
13 December 2018
The snow falls in the midnight Wisconsin air. Through the frosted window, a prying eye can see a grandmother sitting on a loveseat with her son watching children and grandchildren sit around the family room laughing and exchanging gifts with one another. Three girls, two blondes and a brunette, sit hip to hip smiling playfully and talking amongst themselves. Across the room sits a young girl. On the outside she appears to be happy and enjoying her time, but in her mind and heart she wishes she never drove the two hours to this house. This is my Christmas reality.
Every year on the night of the 24th of December, I hope and pray for a terrible snow storm. I pray to be sick. Anything to prevent the miserable two-hour drive up to Milwaukee. Ever since I was a little girl, I have always hated this night. Every year, I wish I did not have to be there.
The routine is always the same: walk in, take off shoes and coats, say hello to Grandma and give her a hug, say hello to aunts, uncles, and young cousins, then turn and see the three girls my age who resemble Regina George and her plastics.
Ever since I was little, it was always them and then me. It first started around the age of six, as they would sit in the corner of my grandparents’ basement talking quietly, sharing secrets, never allowing me to join in. It progressed a few years later to them not inviting me to birthday parties. Now it is them running off to hang out talking about boys, school, and their dreams for the future — never with me.
I am treated as a second class citizen in my own family.
Instead of experiencing the holiday bliss so many cherish, I spend my holiday hanging with my parents until they push me away then getting dragged into a children’s game with my elementary-aged cousins.
Christmas, traditionally, means spending time with family soaking in the warmth from the fire with drinking hot cocoa and eggnog in warm sweaters. It means to be thankful for the life that Jesus gave to you because of his brave acceptance of death. It means finding the perfect gift for the ones you love and watching their eyes light up and their hearts be filled with joy when the rip the wrapping off. For many, this is the most wonderful time of the year — or at least that’s how the song goes.
I love this idea of Christmas.
To me Christmas means another time to be alienated by a family who says they want me to be there but never actually shows it. To me Christmas means seeing all my insecurities be brought into the light. To me, Christmas means being judged for every step, bite, and breath you take.
I hate this Christmas.
Exhaustion, over the last decade from trying to get them to like me, has slowly been getting the best of me. My heart has become almost numb to the feeling the exclusion attempts to cast on me. It is simply just going through the same motions year after year. I feel like Cinderella before she goes to the ball: my eldest cousin being the step mother and her daughters the blonde and brunette step-daughters.
Over the last few years I have tried to shatter the glass which cages me. I have been locked away by them for so many years and like an anxious prisoner I yearn for an escape — one that most likely won’t come. I tried one year to discuss colleges with Alison, the eldest. What I was left with was a surface level talk about how no other university is on the same caliber as University of Wisconsin-Madison, and how she could not possibly understand why I would want to look at schools other than hers. One year I tried to show my goofy side in an attempt to try and see if I could have a laugh with Elyse, Alison’s sister. Yet once again, I could not crack a genuine smile out of her. Last year, I attempted to have a mundane conversation about what Natalie’s, the brunette, school life was like — attempting to try and get to know my cousin more. It was going better than I expected, until the moment Alison and Elyse came into her sight and waltzed in a cat like fashion.
Exhaustion, over the last decade from trying to get them to like me, has slowly been getting the best of me. My heart has become almost numb to the feeling the exclusion attempts to cast on me. It is simply just going through the same motions year after year.
I have often thought that maybe it was my fault that they acted this way. I understand that at times I am not the most outgoing person. It has taken years and years for me to venture beyond the familiar walls of being closed off. I understand that we four have different interests: they are committed to pursuing a high class lifestyle, while I am committed to giving my life to service in the military and government. However, we do have much in common. We all like to talk about the typical teenage girl things — boys, clothes, and the future.
After our last meeting and with the upcoming holiday, I have arrived at the conclusion that their actions are not because of me or anything I have done. For some reason, they will never allow for the chance to get to know me or where I come from.
Family has always been a touchy subject for me. I never really have had a strong relationship with anyone in my extended family. It has always been my parents, brother and sister, and me. Growing up in a military family comes with the price that you move around often. I was raised in a family where the father does not have a relationship with his birth parents, a mother who does not have a strong relationship with her sisters and a diminishing one with her former alcoholic brother. As a result of this, the opportunity to build a strong connection with paternal grandparents, aunts and uncles, and also cousins never arrived for me.
In all honesty, I am perfectly content with my family only being the four others in the suburban house I call home. They have been the ones who have always been there to tell me everything will be okay and also to tell me how it is.
As my confidence in myself continues to develop and grow, I become stronger and more assured of who I am. I understand that if a connection is not there, you cannot force it.
Proverbs 31:29 of the Bible reads, “She is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.”
I strive to embody this line in my daily life. I refuse to allow two blondes and a brunette stand in my way of that. From the experiences I have had with them and my other troubled family members, the concept that we as humans make the choice to allow others to make us feel a certain way has been drilled into my brain.
This year I will choose to not allow their actions make me feel as if I am any less than them. I will choose to enjoy my time with my family. I will choose to conduct myself with strength and dignity. I can only hope that this year something will change.
Gabrielle McElyea is a columnist for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl.