Family can be defined as many different things these days. My favorite summation is from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary: "A body of individuals living in one household, consisting of male, female, young, servants, dog, cat, dicky-bird, cockroaches, bedbugs, and fleas — the 'unit' of modern civilized society."
"The unit of modern civilized society." One would like to think. The truth is, no one's family is completely civilized — there is always the bedbug or the flea that you might prefer wasn't there, and the dog and the cat fighting in the corner.
Take, for instance, my family. My parents divorced when I was 5, and now, as I crawl through my last days in high school, my father and stepmother are divorcing, too. Yet all three parties will be in attendance at my graduation at the Sun Dome next month, as will my stepmom's new girlfriend, and a vast array of grandparents who can't stand one another.
What does one do in a situation like this? No family is ideal, but you still have to invite everyone to your graduation. The hope is that past (or ongoing) feuds will take a back seat to let you have your day — your day — that you've spent nearly your entire life working for. The hope is that your crazy, dysfunctional family will become, for this short time, "the unit of modern civilized society" that it should be.
But we all know that's not going to happen.
I have two pieces of advice for others in this situation. No. 1: Seating is key. I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to put the different collections of family members in different corners of the Sun Dome. But, if your graduation is in a smaller venue, you still need to try to spread them out. You would never set a bucket of gunpowder next to an open flame, so under no circumstances should you sit Grandma Vivian next to Grandma Janette if you think there's possibility of an explosion.
If separation is not an option, my second piece of advice, though this can be a bit awkward at times, is essential: Communicate. Tell your family that you need them to be on their best behavior. They should understand how important this day is for you, and they should respect that. All they need to do is sit in a really large venue with each other for a couple hours; there will be plenty of places for them to focus their attention during the ceremony. And you don't all have to go out to dinner or mini-golfing after.
To those with families like this, I wish you the best of luck in these coming weeks. To those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, or think I must be exaggerating, I envy you.