Now that Halloween is practically upon us, it’s time to start thinking about the bigger holidays looming in our near future. And I don’t mean shopping for Christmas presents, although I’m sure I need to get a jump start on that before long too.
Last year after carting two kids and their many, many too-large presents nine hours away and back, we decided we weren’t doing that again. Then we got a dog who travels with us, and the logistics of traveling for Christmas with the kids, dog, and presents became a bit overwhelming. We decided it was time for our family to start our own family traditions at home. I knew I’d miss Christmas with my parents, but it just seemed easier.
Talking with my mom the other day, however, I started getting really nostalgic about it. My entire family will be there for Christmas this year; my small family will be the only ones left out–to spend Christmas at home by ourselves. And that’s after spending the past two Christmases with M’s family. I really wished that I had known that last Christmas with my family that it was going to be the last. I actually broke into tears when my mom and I were talking about this.
I casually mentioned this conversation with M in the evening, not even asking if we could go this year but suggesting that we reconsider it. His reaction was a bit stronger than I’d expected. It was a hands-down refusal.
See, you might remember what happened last year at Thanksgiving. To summarize, several of my family members were rude to M, saying awful things that were meant to be overheard. Then there was the alcohol incident with PJ, where someone left their drink where PJ could–and did–get to it. Then my dad chewed us out for letting PJ get to it and blew it off as a non-event instead of getting upset that someone carelessly let a two-year-old get to alcohol.
Life gets a little stressful with that many people packed into one house, and when there are personality conflicts, everyone suffers. To make matters worse, M doesn’t act quite like I get to see him around my family–or his own, for that matter. He’s already trying to impress them and is worried they won’t like him, so he tries extra hard to be likeable. Naturally, that works against him, and people like my little brother don’t like the personality he presents. It should be obvious to everyone that the M they see isn’t his real personality, but not everyone gives him credit for trying and instead tease him (sometimes not so innocently as teasing either).
In turn, M catches on that they don’t really like him, so he’s even more unable to be himself the next time he sees them, which only perpetuates the cycle. I know everyone well enough to know that everyone should get along, if everyone was able to be themselves, but that just can’t happen until M feels like he’s able to relax around my family.
That ends up putting me in an awkward position. M comes to me to vent about something my brother or dad or someone said to him (or around him), and I immediately look for excuses to explain away how awful it sounds. Then my defense of the family member hurts M’s feelings; it’s like I’m not validating his feelings by attempting to defend my family. I don’t want to believe my family could truly be that mean, and I don’t want M’s interpretation of events to turn me against my own family. On the other hand, however, I need to support my husband, especially in situations where he feels particularly vulnerable.
So in theory, staying home for Christmas this year could be beneficial for M’s relationships to my family as well as our marriage. When I think through it, I can see why M reacted so strongly to even the suggestion that we repeat what happened last Thanksgiving.
Still, later that evening I happen to catch M at the computer looking at hotels in the area around my parents’ house for a few days around Christmas. He caught on just how much it would mean to me to go to Christmas with my family this year and found a reasonable compromise. We will get to spend as much time as we want with my family, but when we need some time apart, we have somewhere to go. Maybe the reduced time in that crowded house will keep a little more peace, will keep the clashing personalities a little farther apart.
Of course, we still have the logistics of traveling with two kids, a dog, and all their Christmas presents. We may still decide it’s not worth it, but I like knowing that we have options now. I may get that last Christmas with my family after all.