An Open Letter To My Family, in Advance of Christmas

all the easier to write since my family doesn’t read this blog

Dear Family –
Early last week, prior to Thanksgiving but not terribly so, I was listening to the radio as I made a last-minute run to the grocery store for cranberries and cinnamon, and The Little Drummer Boy came on. Now, I know this song is reviled the world over, but I happen to love it for its solemnity, humility and story. A sense of calm came over me and I remembered that yes, of course. It’s time to prepare our hearts for the miracle of Jesus’ birth.

Let’s face it – the holidays can be enormously difficult, emotionally-speaking. We all bring our own baggage to Christmas and, in the case of our family, we don’t see each other very often and so emotions are further heightened because of the distances traveled to see one another. This has resulted, in years past, in some highly combustible situations on all sides that have made many of us Christmas-wary and reluctant to see one another. Since Ian and I are hosting this year, and have hosted for the last several, I thought a few ground rules might help us release some of our issues and embrace the love, instead.

(1.) To both of our mothers: Yes, I know about the loss of cattle in a freak snow storm in one of the Dakotas but I can still afford the price of prime rib for Christmas dinner. Yes, really. No, seriously, I promise. I have a second child on the way for God’s sake – I wouldn’t buy beef if I thought it was going to us in the poor house – I’d whip up a lasagna so fast it would make your head spin. So really, it’s okay. And yes, I realize it might be the last beef any of us eat, ever. Grocery prices these days…

(2.) Which, yes, dad. I realize grocery prices these days are at least in some way related to the clearing of too many forests for ethanol production, or something like that, and while I can’t precisely remember whether or not said ethanol production was supposed to be a positive thing for the environment or not, maybe we should just stay away from this conversation at the dinner table. Heck, for this Christmas, maybe we should avoid topics like whether we really need to see another Clinton in the White House, the haplessness of the Republican House of Representatives, and, I don’t know, gay marriage and abortion altogether. Just at dinner time. Deal?

(3.) On Christmas Eve, the daughter of the house and I will be going to church. Our going to church is not a reflection of what we think of you for NOT going to church – I realize there is a new Hobbit movie out and last minute presents to wrap, and etcetera. See, we generally go to church so Christmas Eve? Sort of a big deal, for us. There is absolutely no need to hem and haw and worry about whether or not you should attend with us – we aren’t judging. And for those of you who we know will definitely be coming with us? Our cathedral is HUGE – we don’t need to arrive an hour in advance for a seat. I promise.)

(4.)These things WILL happen, so we might as well accept them as fait accompli and move on: I WILL cry during Silent Night during Christmas Eve service – this is not a bad thing. My dad WILL get emotional recalling the Christmases he spent in Vietnam – not only is this not a thing, it’s one of the healthier things he does all year. Someone WILL drink too much – one person always, always does. Instead of crying intervention, let’s just chalk it up to exhaustion from travel and/or heightened emotion, and put him or her to bed with love.

(5.) No, I’m not getting rid of alcohol because of the above. Are you completely out of your mind?

(6.) Ian and I are the only children on both sides of the family to have children – our sisters and brothers have chosen to pursue entirely different kinds of lives. We are fully supportive of this because, please, having children is NOT for everyone – I say this with love and earnestness and as someone in the midst of potty-training a toddler who ended up with poop on her face last night and a toddler laughing hysterically at the fact. kids. not for everyone. This situation, however, has created a sort of weird family dynamic wherein G is sort of expected to fulfill the role of sole perfect grandchild at everyone else’s convenience, without significant change on the habits of those around her. Look, I’m not blaming anyone here – but Ian and I have observed far too many high expectations set for her without any real concessions made to the fact that she is a child, a YOUNG child, so the next few items shall be about her – here we go:

(7.) If you want to witness the best your grandchild/niece has to offer, you have to wake up sort of early in the morning – no later than 8:00 or so. Do not come down for breakfast around 11:30 – immediately prior to her lunch and nap time – and expect to be blown away by her sparkling personality and general wit.

(8.) Christmas breakfast will be at 8:30 – present opening will commence immediately afterward. For those of you that have bemoaned this as much “too early,” please see above. Christmas dinner will be at 7, which is our dinnertime, and not at some odd hour like 4 in the afternoon, because, again, schedule + toddler.

(9.) Do you remember that Christmas we all spent in New Orleans, eating and drinking our way through the city? I do too – it was absolutely fantastic and I can’t wait to do it again someday. For now, though, we are more about stockings and Santa and snow and magic so let’s keep the shot-taking in the kitchen. For the younger set – I get it. I wanted to party over the vacation when I was your age as well. You are welcome to do so in our home if you can keep it to the dullest of roars – otherwise, Pittsburgh offers a dazzling array of affordable bars you could relocate to – cab information is on our fridge. Oh, how I miss/don’t miss my twenties!

(10.) Foodies of the family – it is five weeks before I am due to deliver this little boy. I relinquish my kitchen to you without argument. Stir and fret and compete to your hearts’ content – just don’t mess with my grandmother’s tomato pudding recipe or the prime rib. Go forth and be fabulous!

(11.) Our families are flawed, but also full of love. Christmas gives us the opportunity to open our hearts, not only for the miracle of the birth of Jesus, but to love each other better than we have in the past. Let’s concentrate on the love, instead of on our flaws. And, once again, yes, I can afford the price of beef. For now.


6 thoughts on “An Open Letter To My Family, in Advance of Christmas

  1. I laughed, I cried, I want to write one too, but my family reads my blog. Sigh. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if adults recalled EXACTLY what it was like bringing up small children? You can substitute the word ‘teenagers’ for ‘small children’, too, if you like. They are scarily similar except they come to life at the other end of the day. Do enjoy your beef, it sounds delicious.

  2. I don’t mean this as a whine or anything like that – truly. But if things get out of hand, or tense, or even just irritating, you always could remind your family that there are people with no family – no parents, no siblings, no children or grandchildren. With one aunt and three cousins left, I don’t qualify as “no family”, at least technically. But I don’t have family to celebrate with, since they’re hundreds of miles away.

    I had to wipe away tears after reading this – it can be a hard, hard season.

  3. oh my god! My in-laws do the “get ready for breakfast at 11am” thing, too! And they’re always shocked if we’re *returning* from an outing at that time to eat lunch and prepare for naps. The scheduling bit and resistance to bending…agh!

  4. I can so relate with your letter, I might need to write one in the privacy of my diary. Family relations are so difficult to navigate when lots of people of different age and interest are forced by traditions to be together for a number of hours (and not kill each other which is the point of xmas). Mix in this religion, presents (and associated money issues), alcohol and exhaustion and this is often explosive. No wonder I feel I need some holidays after that holiday to rest!

  5. Litlove – one of the biggest shocks I’ve had when it comes to grandparents is how determined they are to go about their own schedule with little regard for Grace, while still expecting her to be perfectly behaved and adorable at all times. I mean, either get up when she gets up so you can see her at her best, or don’t expect pitch perfect behavior!

    Shoreacres – I’m sorry I made you tear up. I gave some thought before writing this (although it may not seem that way to you) because I knew this could seem insensitive or uncaring to those without the kind of family I have – but one thing I am trying to do is write a little less fearfully than I have in the past, and show what my own life is like, and it is full of wonder and joy and blessings and also, frankly, one helluva difficult family.

    Katy, it’s so frustrating! I wouldn’t mind it so much if my in laws didn’t expect so much from E, but they do. But no WAy is she going to wait to eat “brunch” at 11 and then get started on the day…by that time we have been up, played, eaten breakfast and gone on an outing (one at least!). It’s such a different perspective…

    Smithereens – I think you make an important point about the different ages and interests…that’s the really difficult part to negotiate! I also tend to err too much on the side of trying not to offend anyone…this year I’m less concerned about that. I am also trying to change my own expectations of what constitutes a “perfect” Christmas since I know my expectations can be a part of the problem too!

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