I really struggle with the holly-jollyness of Christmas some years – there’s no sense in pretending otherwise. Yes, I have a lovely home and a great husband and son and good family and friends, and I am very, very thankful for them, but there’s a lot of bullshit to put up with at this time of year, too. So I’m instituting The Naughty List – a place where I can work out the less sparklejollytwinklejingly aspects of the season and figure out an imperfectly adequate way of getting through the month of December (or what we affectionately call The Christmas Gauntlet). Here’s the first installment:
The Naughty List #1: Family Gatherings With The In-Laws
Last weekend, we celebrated Christmas with my husband’s mom, brothers, and sister-in-law (and their little dog, too). Here are the highlights:
- First, we all stood in the dark for 20 minutes, locked out of his mom’s house waiting for her to arrive home after her Christmas concert. (She stayed behind to “chat a little”)
- Then my dog-aversive son cowered next to me, but in cool teenage “I’m not scared” fashion, while we battled my sister-in-law’s overexcited wiener dog for our spots on the couch. My son was told that the dog was just looking for some “cousin attention,” at which point he turned to me and intoned very quietly but firmly, “That dog is NOT my cousin”
- Then my younger BIL and SIL inadvertently burned the frozen pizza dinner by putting it in during the preheat setting of my MIL’s oven, which filled the living room with smoke. When we peered through the fog to ask if everything was okay in there, my BIL responded, “Yep, just needs a few more minutes”
- It behooves us to note at this point that the pizza was so badly burned when served that it crunched loudly as we forced it down, and my older brother-in-law made a “Christmas Vacation” crack about it being like the morbidly dry turkey at the Griswolds
- It also behooves us to note that my son had not eaten all day despite several prompts to do so because he was saving up for that pizza, and therefore was tragically but comically disgusted at the fare before him
- Then, when everyone incorrectly assumed that we were going to exchange gifts, we instead sat in uncomfortable silence for 20 minutes while my MIL tried unsuccessfully to fire up a slideshow of photos from her recent visit to my niece at her new college in South Carolina
- As we waited, said niece’s dad called her up on FaceTime to narrate the tour of the photos for us, and she showed off her dorm room’s Christmas decor, which consisted of garland draped pendulously across her window blinds. My SIL exclaimed “Dude, that looks like boobs! Show Uncle David your Christmas boobs!” (I plan to make a t-shirt of this for next year’s celebration)
- Then, after I finally spoke up and asked if we could move on from the unsuccessful slide show to the gift exchange, we watched my MIL and SIL coo over said wiener dog like a toddler while it tried and failed to open several wrapped presents. It finally behooves us to note that my son and his human cousin received generous gifts of money, but that said gifts were not wrapped or in a card, but pulled straight from my BIL’s wallet.
Bear in mind that this was a successful in-law family gathering. Nobody got up on their political soapbox (which happens with excruciating frequency). My MIL didn’t mention anything about taking their dad to the cleaners yet again after their divorce 25 years ago. Religion was not discussed at all. It was just…boisterous and ridiculous and loud and chaotic and all the things that drain my energy like nothing else.
To my continued amazement, no matter how ridiculously the gathering goes, my husband enjoys himself and always comes out of these events more energized than he went in, whereas it takes me and our son a full 24 hours of near silence and inactivity to recover. It’s no secret that my son and I do not fit in well with my husband’s family and that it takes a lot of energy for us to get through a visit with them. For my husband, however, this seriously was going home – or as close to his old home as he can get. It’s a sticky familial bond – a mucky bog to navigate at the best of times – but my husband doggedly tries every year because they are his people and they somehow fill his proverbial cup. It may drive me crazy that he keeps dragging us to these gatherings, but I honestly do have to give him respect for his dedication and recognize that this is his tribe and they are what he needs, even just a few times a year.
It reminds me very much of one of my favorite quotes from “Pride and Prejudice”, when Jane says to Lizzy, “You do not make allowance enough for difference of situation and temper.” But oh, those differences sometimes…
I’m going to close with the same gratitude exercise I always employ in these situations:
- I am thankful that my husband still has his mom to celebrate Christmas with, despite all the family upheaval in the recent past
- I am thankful that the family could all join to celebrate together
- I am thankful everyone had the means to give gifts of any kind to each other
- I am thankful that each of the brothers has family of whatever sort to coo over, whether it’s a prickly teenager, a collegiate daughter, or a wriggly wiener dog
- I am thankful that my husband is able to draw energy and joy from these interactions despite the craziness of them
- I am thankful that my husband continues to draw energy and joy from interactions with me even when I am not able to draw energy and joy from his family
I’m not going to say that makes everything hunky-dory, but it goes a long way towards it. Onwards and upwards – only 3 more weeks in The Gauntlet!