The holidays can be tricky. It’s a time when families gather and are supposed to be grateful for blessings. Kids come home to see Mom and Dad, grandparents see grandkids, and we all have a hap, happy time.
You’ve all watched National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, I presume. More normal than we want to acknowledge. A good reminder to laugh at ourselves this season.
This time of year is fraught with difficulties. Travel can be rough. Shopping, cooking, hosting and meal preparations can be exhausting. Packing lots of dysfunctional people into small areas is challenging. Dealing with recent losses of parents, spouses, grandparents and even pets make holidays difficult.
While our kids have been in college, they’ve dutifully make the trip to their childhood home for the big gatherings. As the years slipped by, fewer and fewer of their high school friends were coming home. If they couldn’t meet up and socialize with old friends, there usually was a movie or shopping to fill in the long hours. Naps sometimes happened. Quite often, each kid would retreat to their old bedroom, doors shut, and family time was reduced to a tense few hours here and there during the duration of their holiday. By the time everyone headed back to their own spaces, tensions were running high, patience thinning.
This Thanksgiving we are in a small two bedroom, one bath apartment. The childhood home is gone. We all traveled Monday, and by the time the last rolled in near midnight we all just hit the sack. One kid had to sleep in the corner of the living room, and the other two had a bedroom but were unwilling to share a double bed, so there was an air mattress crammed in there. We miraculously managed the one bath situation. Thank goodness for an outdoor patio. By Wednesday one was off to meet an old friend for lunch; the other chose to spend her day at the Starbucks working on homework and other tasks. If I do say so myself, it was a stroke of genius that I ordered our complete Thanksgiving meal and didn’t stress out preparing it in a small kitchen with limited equipment. My other dinner offerings of top-your-own pizzas and tacos were met lukewarmly. Three incredibly picky kids still, and one a vegetarian with a definite border-line eating disorder (her menu essentially consists of the same 5-6 foods, when she chooses to eat). We all also managed to avoid hot topics like politics and religion (oh well, one thinks we were incredibly wrong to foist off our Christian beliefs on innocent minds… thank goodness, that conversation shut down quickly).
About an hour after Thanksgiving lunch yesterday, the two who were to have stayed until Saturday decided a Friday a.m. departure was in order. Up until this point the politeness had stayed intact but was clearly getting strained. There were more eye rolls and terse comments, and not a little bit of snapping and sarcasm. Watching old home movies apparently didn’t help, as all of the “horrors” of childhood and teen years dredged up some deep-seated issues for a few. It’s a wonder they survived our well-meaning but clearly failed attempts at parenting (that latter with dripping sarcasm).
SJ and I awoke this morning quite early to hear voices raised in anger in the next bedroom. The one with the larger distance to travel had determined to move up the departure time at the last minute, thus depriving her sib/carpool mate of an extra hour of sleep. Living room kid groaned and rolled over on his makeshift bed as the cacophony reached his ears.
It took me back to my young adult years, those years in between being a kid and adulting. Our parents still sort of “owned” us, we were financially dependent but off at college some distance away. We’d grown accustomed to our new independence of not being accountable to anyone. With the sound of screeching brakes, you’re suddenly stalled in the time-warp of your childhood, and it can be horrifying. Who are these old people? Why is it so hot/so cold/so smelly/so weird here? Why are they telling me the same story over and over? Why the hell do they think I don’t know how to operate the toaster? Sure, I kinda love them, but I don’t want to necessarily spend time with them! During the indeterminable college breaks at my parents’ home, I recall fights, hard feelings, and frustrations. I once said something about looking forward to going “home.” My Mother was highly insulted, and chastised me that THIS was my home… not my college dorm room.
Well… not really. Home was where my people were—my friends, my life, my new town.
Holidays rarely live up to our expectations of them. Note to self: NO EXPECTATIONS!
I’m grateful I understand where my young adults are coming from. Each has enjoyed their own very independent lifestyle, living on their own and making their own decisions and keeping their own schedules. They make their home where they live most of the time.
With nary a tear, I kissed and hugged my younger babies as they departed this morning, and our other big baby promptly moved himself into the bedroom just vacated, and shut the door. Aside from lunch with grandma, we’ve not spoken more than a few words all day.
And it’s all good and “normal.” It’s kinda cool seeing them grown up and loving their lives. I’m kinda OK that they don’t really “need” us (well aside for one more semester’s worth of tuition, LOL).
What perhaps is more abnormal is to think that just because a calendar claims there’s a holiday, we have to go packing a bunch of multigenerational and dysfunctional adults into small spaces and expect everyone to play well. It’s sort of akin to opening the cages at the zoo and telling them all to get along. Truly, I’ve come to see that as one of the great dysfunctions of our holiday system. An afternoon: that’s about right. More than that is weird and dangerous. Truth be told, I have very few happy family holiday memories past the age of 12.
That said, kids, do your best to appreciate your parents, and endure the holidays. Sure, they made mistakes. They screwed up. Hopefully you’ve forgiven them for… whatever. Most parents really love their kids and truly don’t live to manipulate you until the end of time. Most parents are very happy when you successfully make your way in life and get off the payroll. Try adulting with them a little bit and stow the sarcasm and eye rolls. I know, it’s hard. And IF they truly are manipulating, selfish, mean-spirited and abusive people, drop in for the shortest visit ever and just don the armor for the duration. If necessary for your sanity, just make an excuse and send regrets.
We still have Christmas ahead, and because it involves the kiddos flying to us in a different location, the time of mandatory incarceration is 7 to 10 days. SJ has told me all of the things he plans for US to do, together. I have told SJ (and the kids), “Everyone has a subway pass and a house key; we’ll show you where the gym, local Starbucks, bars, and library are… and you’ll escape anytime you want!” Adult to your hearts’ content!
And I hope to remind myself that there will be a future when not having some holidays together will be OK.