Whoever said families are supposed to be useful was wrong. Families stick together. Sure. Blood is thicker than water. Whatever. But families as a useful entity, as helpful to the individual? I don’t buy it. I would argue they can do as much damage as good. Let me explain. The individual usually ends up with their first family because they were born that way. Luck of the draw. Nothing more than an exaggerated case of finders keepers, losers weepers. I found you first. I get to keep you. The members of the family may have no more in common than the roof they share, and the gene pool in the backyard.

I visited home to spend time with my original family unit, with the parents who found me first, and lo and behold! My brother happened to be down with three of his four kids. It is extremely rare and unusual for my brother and me to find ourselves at my parents’ house, without our spouses, at the exact same time. Yet that’s precisely what happened. The stars aligned perfectly for a meeting of the minds of the “original members only”.

With six cousins finally fast asleep upstairs, I walked into the family room of my childhood home, the roof that has remained standing over my head for thirty-odd years, and I assessed the situation. Not much has changed. The Leaf game is still on the TV and there sat my mom, my dad, and my brother. “It’s the original four!” I let out. Not particularly funny, but the comment prompted the tiniest crack of a smile on my brother’s face.

If there’s one particular area in which I do find my family useful, it’s in making me laugh.

I asked my brother about his summer plans, and he explained they’re planning a family trip to Atlantic Canada. This got the original four fired up. Advice! Clearly this admission of plans was a cry for our helpful tips and advice.

“Dan and I took the kids on a summer trip there two years ago!” I exclaimed.

“Mom and I were there,” dad said with the zeal of getting a good conversation going.
The conversation shifted to the drive down. “What was the name of that one town we stayed in, MJ?”
“St. John,” my mom said without missing a beat.
“Right, well, you don’t want to stay in Dartmouth,” my dad warned.
My brother and I gave each other the knowing look of siblings, cheeks puffed out, holding our breath for what came next,
“Dartmouth is like Waterdown, it’s the armpit of the big city, really.”
And that did it. I met my brother’s eyes again, and we exploded with laughter.
What!?

That’s the thing about family. You’re okay as long as you can laugh together.

“Waterdown is the armpit of Burlington,” dad continued on, undeterred. More cackles of laughter.
Did I mention my brother lives in Waterdown?

“What was the name of that town again, MJ?” My brother and I can’t breathe. My mom rolls her eyes.

Let’s take a moment to pause and ponder here. How is my dad insulting the town where my brother (and many other good Canadians) live supposed to be helping my brother plan his trip? And why are my brother and I finding our dad’s innocent comments so incredibly funny?
“There are so many great beaches,” I offer, catching my breath, trying to brighten the subject and illuminate the Atlantic experience.
“Oh, except that one beach…” I remember aloud. “There was like a million jelly fish! So many the kids couldn’t even swim, and we were so unbearably hot!”

Dad: “Check out the Confederation Bridge. It’s incredibly long…actually, I remember looking down when we drove across it and it kinda makes you feel sick.”

Me: “Oh! You should stay in a cottage through Airbnb. Did I tell you about the cottage we stayed in? It was great, but we backed right into the woods a few kilometers off the road and the bugs were terrible. Actually, Ariel freaked out because there were giant mosquitoes.” My mom nods her head, confirming the giant mosquitoes claim. “Ariel was screaming hysterically in the back of the car because a few mosquitoes got in, and we couldn’t calm her down. The situation was ridiculous to the point of hilarity.” My brother looks at me. He looks at my mom and dad.
“Sound great, you guys. I don’t even think I want to go anymore.”
Hey, don’t mention it. What else is family good for? We certainly aren’t meant to be useful, that much is obvious.

My dad launches into a new set of instructions, complete with directions on where not to go, and I grab a pillow and bury my face in it, doubled over. If nothing else, under all the roofs I could have landed, the finders who could have found me, I drew the short stick, and I guess that makes me pretty lucky.

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