Thursday, December 1, 2011

Extended Family Christmas

Glancing at each other with sucked in grins, we tried not to giggle out loud. Our feet didn't touch the floor as we left the doctor's office that December 11, 1969, and burst out laughing, hugging each other before the door closed. It was true! Next year we would be known as Santa Claus to someone! We were going to have a baby.

We'd been married three months, and it was our first Christmas together. We were still kids ourselves, 20 and 23, and we were over the moon with excitement. Our own family. How could we celebrate such an eternal occasion? With an evergreen tree!

It fit in the corner of our 8' x 35' trailer (we're talking a pretty skinny tree) but it was green and crisply frozen; when it thawed out we swooned with the smell of fresh pine. We couldn't afford lights or ornaments, so we were creative. Strands of popcorn, and tissue paper snowflakes were hung, along with Christmas cards held on by fat red yarn bows. Even the cost of a package of cranberries stretched our budget too far, so Dee surprised me by stringing red pyracantha berries from the bushes near our mailbox. They shriveled within hours, so every morning he threaded new ones for fresh garlands.

Over our forty two Christmases we've had a forest of Christmas trees, but no tree stands out in my memory like our first one. It was like our marriage: it represented love, hope, effort, dreams and new traditions.

Christmas Eve we announced our good news by singing at the family party:
♬For unto us a child is born; unto us a son/daughter is given. ♬

(We each sang our own prediction.) It was snowing, so we left early and drove home for our own cozy celebration. After reading the Christmas story in Luke 2 we hung our brand-new, home-made stockings on the knobs of the stove and went to bed.

I'll admit, I wanted to stay at my mom's that first year, until I saw Dee's enthusiasm for our own Christmas. I couldn't imagine being away from my family on Christmas morning. Mom's Christmases were something from a fairytale, and Dad always had surprises on top of surprises. It took us a couple of hours to open our presents, and then our grandparents arrived with more. There were fires in both fireplaces, Mom made a lovely buffet in the dining room and Dad gave away cash prizes during football half-times.

I felt torn. I was the first kid to leave home and miss the big family event, and my parents were urging us to stay overnight. (Urge is a mild word—it was somewhere between insist and command.) They didn't support my new family when it upset their old family traditions. I felt traitorous choosing my little family over theirs, and I resented them for making it awkward to choose. I don't think that was their intention, but it was the result. Their lack of enthusiasm for our humble celebration encouraged me to resent Dee for hauling me away from their warm hearth to our chilly coal-oil hot plate.

I'm sure many newly-weds experience the same tug-of-war between childhood memories and adult responsibilities. It's easier to stay in mom and dad's Garden of Eden, than venture off into the cold and dreary world and work to plant a garden for ourselves. But it's a main part of the plan of happiness.

I love the quote that advises parents to "Hold your loved ones to you with wide open arms." It was our turn to start traditions, and Dee was anxious to have our first year together as just a couple—we'd never have it again. My folks were hurt and mad, as they often were when we began "tearing their family apart," (mom's words.) During those years we wondered: Why do we have to debate and defend our efforts to strengthen our marriage and home to our own parents, who ought to be thrilled we're trying to do that very thing!

I had wonderful parents, but they viewed me as theirs, even when I wasn't anymore. It caused a lot of stress, sapped my confidence, created conflict between me and Dee, and resulted in hard feelings that were difficult to overcome. From that first year we started setting goals for when we had adult children, hoping to avoid adding pressure and anxiety to our kid's lives.
  1. We will be enthusiastic and support their choices, always, and congratulate them on making tough decisions, never second-guessing.
  2. We won't throw cold water on their dreams with all our supposed wisdom.
  3. When we tell them they're so awesome, they could do anything, we'll actually let them do the thing they choose to do.
  4. We'll remember it's their life—their chance to make decisions (even wrong ones,) their chance to set priorities, their chance to learn it all line upon line, here a little and there a little, and our chance to stand back and enjoy it all from a distance.
  5. We will plan for and develop interests that will keep us occupied so we don't have tons of free time to try to live their lives for them. We'll be available when they want us, and thick-skinned when they don't.
I started stressing over next-year's holiday the day after Christmas. How could I explain to mom how we felt, and not have it turn into a debate or a lecture? Or worse, hurt-feelings and comments like, "Grandma said she hopes she dies before you stop coming to the Christmas Eve party."

There was no understanding of the difficulty of dragging seven kids away from their Christmas whatever and keep them entertained (during the most hyper time of year) and well-behaved in a beautifully appointed house full of valuable keep-sake decorations, surrounded by a bunch of adults the kids don't know and who are annoyed by the chaos kids live in.

I've gotten carried away. It's 4:00 am and I'm leaving for Denver at 8:00 am! You're going to have to carry on this discussion! What do you think? We need opinions from all sides of the issue. Comment!!!

And, on a more festive topic: Where do you find Christmas magic? I'm ghostwriting a blog this season—my pen name is Kirby Puckernut and I'm one of Santa's elves. Click here for a sleigh full of fun Christmas ideas! Please visit—Kirby's more light-hearted than me today!


Diane said...

I'm with you here. My mother's comment was always, "But this may be our last Christmas together!" That was 32 Christmases ago.

Our solution was to move 3 states away. There has to be an easier way. As parents we try very hard to be supportive and understanding of our children creating their own family traditions. Holiday or otherwise.

Grandma Cebe said...

I think that one of the biggest challenges in a marriage is figuring out how to celebrate the holidays. Each person brings his/her own idea about what a TRUE Christmas is. The trick is trying to figure out the new TRUE Christmas.

When I married Kent, my family was spread all over the country. They had all established their own family traditions long before I got married. So it wasn't a huge issue for me.

For years, we spent Christmas Eve AND Christmas night with his family. Even when we moved to Park City, we were still getting together with his family. By then, the festivities had been taken over by the DILs. It wasn't until we started having grandchildren that Kent finally decided it was time for us to have Christmas Eve on our own. Except for his parents, his family thought that we were being blasphemous. The going to Grandma's on Christmas night still continued until his mother died 8 years ago.

Chiska said...

I've watched my sister struggle with a lot of those same things. I've been lucky in that when we were first married we lived 4 hours away from my mother-in-law over trecherous roads so it was easy to explain why we wanted to have our own Christmas. I think it's easier when family is spread out and/or traditions aren't seated in generations of time. My hope for my own kids is that we can somehow be "together" in some part of the holidays. My parents are in Alaska so in my short 7 years of marriage we've been there once for Christmas (and vowed never to do it again--traveling with small children during the holidays is not for us) so I've been thinking more and more about how to include them even though they are so far away.

On the other side of things I broke my "no travel for the holidays" rule and traveled to my sister's for Thanksgiving this year and we all had an incredible time--so I think it's important to always be evaluating and not become so entrenched in one thought that you can't get out of the trench to enjoy something you may not have thought of before.