The Holiday Changeover
“What’re your plans for Christmas?” people ask.
“Not sure, yet,” I reply.
I can just hear what my mother would say if she’d heard my reply. Are you goddamn crazy? Not sure, yet! You going to let your kids run the show at Christmas?
As our adult children start their own families, though, the dynamic has changed at holiday time and I find myself in the transition years.
By nature, I’m not flexible. You mean, a changeover with holiday family celebrations?
“Relax,” my friend, Cindy, said to me when I’d sighed over missing two of our children’s families at Thanksgiving. “It’s just another meal, Heath.”
It’s gradual, this changeover. As our children got older, there’d be a girlfriend or boyfriend at the holiday table. No problem. They’d melded right into our tradition for the night. A couple new faces at the table but it was still my holiday table.
Soon, came an engagement. Ok. That worked. I could share. A little.
Then, marriages and a grandchild. That was the big changeover.
Major loss of control. All of a sudden, it’s who goes where. On what night. Which holiday, and alternating years on Thanksgiving.
Part of me longs for those days when my mother hosted. There was never a discussion where we were going on Christmas night. It was always Mom’s house.
“But, Hank’s family….” I’d pleaded originally.
“Let them work it out,” Mom had said in the early years of our marriage. “You’re coming here.”
My sister told me the other day that my brother-in-law, Dennis, too, longs for those Christmas nights at Mom’s. “We always knew the drill,” he told her. “Marilyn’s on Christmas.”
There’s no set-in-stone plan now. It’s year-by-year. How did my mother get away with her demands?
Maybe because it was so darn fun at her house, who wouldn’t want to go?
There were always cocktails. Cigarettes. Frank Sinatra crooning on the hi-fi. Mom at the helm in a sparkly sweater, handing out gifts, leading us all with her antics. What’s to hate?
I’d known that Mom’s Christmases’ would end one day. I’d even said it to my husband, Hank, one Christmas night with our three children asleep in the backseat on our drive home to Pasadena from Mom’s on the Westside.
“It’s been a good run,” I’d said, wrapping my coat around me as if trying to hold onto something I knew couldn’t last. “I’m just trying to absorb it all right now. Somehow hold onto it.”
Yet, as I lament the loss of my mother’s Christmas nights, the loss of my own hosting Christmas Eve (I don’t miss the goose), the alternate holidays, I know that I need to share. To adapt.
That’s where I differ from my mother.
Ok, wear the hair shirt, but don’t lose yourself in the mix, Mom would say. You’re the mother, for Chrissakes!
Don’t worry. I’m listening, Mom…
Hank and I decided to leave town on this, our “alternate” non-hosting Thanksgiving year. We had our Thanksgiving feast at a table of three in a restaurant surrounded by strangers. No big table filled with family and an abundance of food. Yet, time alone with our youngest, Joseph, was something we don’t often get. I sat listening to our son, watching him with his father. I drank it in like a fine wine.
The changeover is good, I thought, flying home. We gain perspective. Special things happen. New scenarios. New family members to love. The comfort that our grown children are building their lives. Isn’t that the goal?
Yes, but the reality of the transformation hit me when I was changing out the pumpkins for Christmas décor and came upon the place cards for the holiday table our daughter, Hilary, made in grade school. Next to that, was the handprint turkey Joseph made in Kindergarten I put out every year.
I paused for a moment, taking in the neatly folded cards with scribbled names in crayon. Joe’s turkey, I’d had framed. I’d never taken them out this year, this little piece of our family holiday décor when they were young.
The mantle in our living room is no longer crowded with Christmas stockings. No Nana. No Sinatra. No cigarettes on Christmas night.
Our holiday scenarios are going to change from now on.
It surprises me, my own inflexibility. Sometimes I wonder who am I if I am not surrounded by a long table with a loving family on a holiday?
Then, I console myself. I am a mother who loves her children enough to recognize the changeover.
And, to see the joy in it as our family grows.