I will now attempt the impossible: a blog that screams my excitement but at like, a whisper level, so no one feels slighted. Don’t feel slighted! There, how about we just do that?
WE ARE GOING AWAY FOR THE HOLIDAYS!
Okay, well, I just went with straight-up screaming rather than a whisper. Also, please don’t burglar my house. Unless it is a HamBurglar and then please use the garage freezer for your wares.
One of the few pieces of advice I feel totally qualified to give in marriage is about setting holiday expectations with your betrothed before you are betrothed. So when you are pretrothed. This is even more important, I think, for those entering a marriage that involves a previous marriage involving children. A “normal” marriage after all, only includes two people and, therefore, only two extended families to work into the holiday equations.
When you start adding in exes or seconds or bio or steps, the equations can get pretty messy pretty darn quick. And, when you are a googly-eyed, love-struck female who suddenly realizes you may not die alone, you might find yourself agreeing to just about anything to prove that you can handle all the things that come with being the second in a second marriage. I fell into this trap immediately, not realizing that I was agreeing to follow a holiday itinerary created decades prior.
Not that it was a trap. It was just that the itinerary carried forward as it went from making that first holiday with divorced parents as easy as possible for the children to making that second holiday with a future stepmom as easy as possible for the children to making that third holiday as a “real” family as special for the children as possible to making that fourth holiday … well, you get the picture.
The unintentional result? It has been ten years since I have spent the holidays with my extended family. My husband and children have spent zero holidays with them. We do celebrate the holidays but always in off months like October or February when there will be no push and/or shove. But this year (in a matter of days!!) we are packing our traveling tree and hanging our stockings with care at the beach. We are celebrating Christmas with my family.
Have I mentioned how excited we are? Yes, we - as in all four of us are excited.
Why did it take so long? Two roads. Our holidays were always dictated by two roads diverged into one.
The first road was the one traveled by Santa and meant dreams of sugarplum fairies at home. It meant having our young children wake to a haul of presents delivered under a tree that was just a staircase away from their bedrooms.
The second road was the one to their (bio)mother, just a few miles away, with whom they would spend the following days.
Side roads included treks to visit cousins and aunts and grandmother in-between time at house one and house two.
The diverge meant minimal upheaval and avoiding moments that might lead to guilt or feelings of having to choose between families. It meant staying stationary - in a place that fell beyond the distance that my senior parents were comfortable driving. It meant hiding my own wish for “home for the holidays” so as not to stir any pots during what was supposed to be a magical time.
When Santa stopped swinging through, I made a few feeble attempts to add a new holiday option to our plans but I was always sloughed off. It was probably a ridiculous request anyway, right? Better to keep the peace, right? I fell into a pattern of dreading the holidays with family members that were geographically close but emotionally distant while longing for those who were geographically distant but emotionally right next door.
This is one of the struggles of (step)moms everywhere, I suppose. I think it is probably one of the struggles of “normal” families as well but, as a (step)mother, I had the bonus of being the odd man out and the person most at fault if any of those new adventures tanked.
Sidebar in defense of my husband:
Custody agreements come in all forms and all of those forms are very specific about holidays and hold no consideration for any additional parties entering the familiar picture. And while I do understand that custody agreements are not for the adults, perhaps it would make sense to tweak them when adding peripheral family members to the mix. Those family members are also family, after all, hoping to share special moments with the children. Exhibit A: Remarriage.
Because Rich (we) has always had sole custody, it has been up to him (us) to manage the chess board that is the holidays. The existing cadence remained in place for nearly a decade post-divorce with the addition of another home: Kids wake up at home (ours), zing around to visit local cousins, aunts, and grandmothers with us, and then head over to their (bio)mom’s home for another round.
This is not the norm. Typically, most split families follow an alternating holiday pattern throughout the year and then everything flips the following year until forever. Or until the kids are mature enough to verbalize their own suggestions and preferences.
I suppose this is where the arrow should point to “We Are Here!”
This year, as we rolled into autumn, I decided to throw my hat in the ring again and suggest something out of the gift box.
Could we possibly spend Christmas with my parents this year? At the beach?
A few years ago, the kids’ (bio)mom moved out of state. This caused a few years of trial and error when it came to the holidays which included two teens driving five hours from home. Locally, our matriarchal holiday host passed away and the Tour de Famille had bounced slightly off-kilter. Christmas had always been a bit of a juggling act but was quickly becoming synonymous with chaos. It quickly drifted from the joyous respite that we deserved during school or work breaks and became a “here we go again” event.
We could do it, you know? Get an AirBnb? Forgo loads of gifts in exchange for a great trip?
My parents are reaching an age where we do have to think about “lasts” and moments that we might regret missing if we didn’t grab them. And while I knew that they understood why we’d had yet to celebrate a single Christmas with them, I also knew that they would love a phone call that started with, “We’re coming south this year!”
My mom is turning 80 this year ( a Christmas Eve baby). I don’t know how many of these chances we have left. I just feel like we should be there.
And so, after a trophy worthy few weeks of grown-up discussions, we will indeed be there.
Once Rich was on board, we approached the kids. Their response? An enthusiastic “Yes!”
We were naive to think they’d not noticed the melee of Christmas’ past. They jumped at the idea. There were even statements of “I’m so glad we are finally forging our own path!”
I am too.
I have started a pile of travel goods that include Grammy’s tree (a four-footer that we use specifically for ornaments given by that now-passed matriarch), the Christmas stockings I’d upgraded from years ago but couldn’t quite get to Goodwill, decorations that are seeing their last season, and loads of gifts. Well, not loads but yes, spending this holiday with my parents did kick off a minor shopping frenzy. Plus, gifts don’t really count if they are for the pets, right?
As I recently told a friend, an ending is really just the beginning of something new. While I fully expect some nostalgic feelings to pop up, I am also looking forward to this “something new” for our family.
And, as I often tell myself when I’m nervous about doing something for the first time, tomorrow it won’t be new anymore - tomorrow it may be a great memory.