In the hours before company started arriving on Christmas Eve, while I was puttering around doing last-minute cleaning and putting food together, I told my kids, “I think this is going to be my favorite part of Christmas. This time right now, when you are all here, helping me out, relaxing, and having fun with each other.” I’m glad I thought to tell them that.
I had all weekend and Monday to get things ready for a house full of extended family on Christmas Eve. I was on top of things. Brad was supposed to work a half day on Tuesday, Christmas Eve. He and Heather were then going to drive home and arrive here in the late afternoon, just ahead of our company. But on Monday came reports of a big snowstorm in their area, beginning Tuesday in the early morning hours. Brad’s boss generously gave him Tuesday off and told him to get a head start on his drive home. He and Heather arrived home at midnight on Monday. I was relieved to have them home safe and sound. During the day on Tuesday, while we prepared for the big night, my boys moved furniture in the living room to play Call of Duty on the X-Box. Kacey and Heather helped me in the kitchen. Connor passed through a time or two while taking care of his own last-minute Christmas preparations. They all laughed and joked and seemed to enjoy each other. It was a joy to be in the midst of it all.
I worried about other stuff, though. I’m sorry to say that I worried my way through Christmas. I wanted to pull off a nice Christmas for my parents. My dad had made it a point to say how happy he was to be home for Christmas this year and how much he was looking forward to spending it with all of his kids and grandkids.
Bu every family has its tensions at one time or another. I’ve had my share of family tension this year. I thought I could put it all aside for Christmas and particularly for my parents. The brother who had hurt me and my kids so much this past summer with his cruel, alcohol-induced words really seemed not to get that what he had done was so hurtful. I told myself that he had no idea how hurt I was and I should just let it go. I was ready. I wanted to let it go. But it wasn’t to be. Some people are just unhappy in life and the only thing that seems to help is making other people feel small so that they can feel bigger. I’m a non-confrontational person. When someone gets out of line with me, I seem to be physically incapable of speaking up. I do not sling hurtful words back in anger, as much as I sometimes wish I could. (Believe me, those words are inside of me. I just can’t make them come out.) In particular, with this brother, biting my tongue means keeping my parents happy. They don’t want their kids fighting and disliking each other. But I think I’ve hit the end of my rope with always having to say, “That’s just how he is. Let it go. Walk away. Be the bigger person.” A string of passive-aggressive communications from my brother and his wife during the days leading up to Christmas had frayed every last nerve in my body. It was stupid, juvenile, unprovoked stuff, like a text message conversation. “What food can we bring for Christmas? How about a veggie tray? We don’t want to bring a veggie tray.” … and then no further commitment to what, if any food they might bring to what is traditionally a somewhat pot-luck type of event. Their family of six showed up at the door with a 12-pack of Pepsi instead. There was the annoyed-sounding phone message left after I’d missed a call to my cell phone. “Yeah, I wanted to talk to you about something, but apparently you don’t want to answer my call. CRAZY!” And then when I picked up the land line, “Oh. Nice of you to answer the house phone at least.” I tried to brush it off, not take it personally, and did my best to appease them, the end result being a knot of anxiety in my chest that would not go away. Still hasn’t.
I think I managed to pull off something resembling a decent holiday for the rest of the family, but I came out of it…. scratch that… I went through it and came out of it feeling defeated and angry. I know that Mark and the kids were not the least bit oblivious to my stress. I clearly have not really let go of the old hurts and now every new hurt, no matter how small, seems monumental. I told Mark that I’m done… really done with the extended family gatherings. It’s just not worth it to make myself and my own family miserable before, during and after every event, just because one person can’t manage to treat other people with respect. Or maybe because I take things so personally. Either way, Mark says in another year’s time, I will have forgotten how passionate I feel about this right now and I will change my mind. Not that he disagrees that I have a right to feel hurt after opening up our home and spending hundreds of dollars to entertain twenty plus people. He just doesn’t feel as fiery inside as I seem to. Maybe I will change my mind. I don’t know. But it wouldn’t be so abnormal for us to start “doing our own thing” on the holidays. Our kids are adults. Not long from now, they’ll be getting married and having children of their own. It’s normal for the holidays to become more fragmented as families grow. I want to create good holiday memories with my kids, not leave them with a string of dysfunctional scenarios to mark the years.
I want to love my brother, but right now, I need to love him from afar.
After the big, loud, chaotic family party, Mark and I settled in the living room with our kids and Heather and Connor to open our family gifts. And it was wonderful. Wonderful. My kids are grown ups now, and I love to see how much more joy they now feel in the giving, rather than receiving. We laughed. I smiled. It was such a happy, relaxed time. I no longer felt as if I were walking a tight-rope.
We hit the sack well after midnight and Christmas Day arrived with a repeat of the extended family gathering with Mark’s relatives. I was physically exhausted, but much more relaxed not having to play hostess. There were family tensions there too, but at least they weren’t mine. And the day provided some of the most heart-warming moments and biggest smiles I’d felt in days.
My kids really seem to have grown up to like each other and enjoy one another’s company.
I’m always sad that Christmas is over so soon. This year I have mixed feelings. There is too much I want to put behind me. I’m not proud of the way I let things eat away at me and the person I became as a result. I complained too much and couldn’t seem to let things go. This Christmas brought me many reason to feel blessed, but instead, I chose to dwell on the hurts. I need to move past this and move on.
New Year’s Eve, I’ll have another chance to spend time with all of the kids and Mark. I’m so looking forward to it. We’ve decided that we don’t want to go out, don’t want to have people over either. We’re going to get into our comfy clothes, eat appetizers, maybe play some games and watch movies until we fall asleep. I owe this to them.
A new year is just around the corner. A fresh start. A chance to learn how to deal with life better. I’m ready.