Over the years, I may have been known to…react strongly to a suggestion of changing any of our holiday traditions. And by “react strongly” I basically mean pitch a fit, and as a result, I’ve probably held my family hostage in our traditions for the past 30+ years.
But now, this year, I suddenly find myself a little less concerned with traditions and more concerned with flexibility. Possibly because I have a motivation to be flexible.
And that motivation may or may not be named Chris.
This is my first holiday being part of a real couple. We’re talking serious milestone here.
And as always, major milestones tend to cause me some level of panic – mostly born of a fear that I’ll stumble over the milestone and tear a big hole in the fabric of our relationship somehow.
This was probably one of the scarier milestones so far, because it actually requires decisions and action and involves lots of other people. With the other ones, like our 6 month anniversary, or meeting the friends, I could navigate them by just avoiding any sudden movements or major personality changes. But the holidays are a totally different ball of pine needles.
I spent a few months
obsessing thinking about options. I knew enough about his work schedule and family demands to realize he wasn’t just going to be able to jump in the car with me on the day before Thanksgiving and head to my parents house for a long weekend. Which is what I’ve done for Thanksgiving every year since I graduated from college.
And I knew enough about us to know that I wanted to spend the holiday with him if there was any way possible. All of a sudden traditions didn’t seem as important as finding a way to balance his holiday experiences with my own.
I’m pretty sure that’s called growth, people.
But, at the same time I was struggling with a special holiday edition of the type of fear and insecurity that accompany my milestones: If I just didn’t go home Thanksgiving, is it wrong to choose my boyfriend of not even 10 months over my family? What if I regret my choice and miss my family and we have our first bad weekend ever? What if he comes with me and realizes that my family is too overwhelming and he misses his quiet vacation days? What if I suggest a change in my family’s tradition and they all flip out the way I always did when someone suggested changes?
But then, about two weeks before Thanksgiving, when we still hadn’t made any firm plans, I got an email from my mom saying “maybe this is the year you don’t come home, maybe this is the year you have a Thanksgiving with someone else.” From some mothers that would have been a trick, a passive-aggressive plea to in fact be sure to come home for Thanksgiving. But from MY mom it was permission. Permission to break with our family tradition, permission to experiment with a new tradition, with putting someone other than my family first.
It took away some of the fears, but didn’t completely solve the problem. I still didn’t know if our relatively young relationship could handle the weight of replacing my family.
But before I could respond I got an email from Chris confirming his work and family schedule would allow us to spend Thanksgiving day with his family and then drive the 7ish hours to see my family on Friday and stay until Monday.
I knew my mom always served a second Thanksgiving on Sunday of that weekend to use up leftovers, and so I told her we’d join her for that meal, not wanting to ask her to cook twice or for everyone else to change their plans. I figured it would mean not seeing all of my siblings, but it seemed a reasonable compromise.
A few days later I heard from my mom that everyone had jumped at the idea of moving Thanksgiving to Sunday. It turns out, everyone else was ready to experiment with new traditions as well. One brother had a private Thanksgiving day with just his wife where they spent the day eating, sleeping and drinking on their own schedule. One sister went to her husband’s family’s Thanksgiving for the first time in years, and my other sister didn’t have to feel like she was missing her family’s celebration as she spent Thanksgiving day with her husband’s family and she was now able to invite another brother and his family to join them for a traditional Italian Thanksgiving (they serve raviolli instead of turkey!) Basically, it worked out great for everyone to have Thanksgiving on Sunday, and I couldn’t have had a better introduction to my first attempt at making new traditions.
As Thanksgiving got closer and standard small talk with friends and co-workers became “what are you doing for the holidays”, I heard tale after tale of couples torn between two competing families. I heard stories of couples who skipped Thanksgiving all together and went on vacation, who had to manuever around complicated alternating year schedules and manipulative, guilt tripping parents who had no interest in sharing or experimenting with different traditions.
I know I’ve heard these stories in past years. In fact, I know that one of my best friends has endured guilt from her mother for the entire length of her marriage for every holiday she’s spent with her husband’s family, even after the marriage ended. So I know this is a thing. But I never really heard those stories until now.
And now I know that what I have to be thankful for this year, beyond all of the obvious things, is that I have a family that cheerfully got behind moving Thanksgiving from Thursday to Sunday, and that I have a boyfriend who was willing to spend two days in the car to let me spend time with my family.
I know that part of my family’s flexibility comes from the fact that I’m the last person in this big old family to need a change. Until now I’ve been static as all around me things have changed: marriages have ended and started; people have moved houses and states; babies have been born and teenagers have appeared fully formed.
I was always the least flexible because I had the least motivation to want change. In some families that would be the kind of thing that comes back to bite you. But not in my family. And for that, I am grateful.
Of course, we still have Christmas to figure out. To me that’s a bigger holiday than Thanksgiving, so its still a new milestone. I think its something to do with the presents. So it may turn out that my family has exhausted its flexibility reserves and any attempt to change our Christmas traditions will be met with rigidity.
Or maybe this blog post will be enough positive reinforcement to grease the wheels for Christmas. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…