Sunday, December 26, 2010

December 26, 2010 ~ Day 17
Rebooting The Holidays

One of the best parts about life is that until the moment we die, it is always possible to start over - try something new - reinvent ourselves - learn more - and even heal or strengthen challenging relationships. This wonderful truth was proven today by my family... that is, the family that I was born into.

I am the youngest of five children. We are a very diverse group. Between us over the years we have been a surfer, an actor, a dancer, two teachers, a financial sales manager, a theater manager, a waiter, a counselor, a vice-principal and a talent manager. (Lot of managing in there... apparently we all like to lead.) We are separated by age, with the oldest being over twenty years senior to the youngest. Half of us live on the West Coast, half on the East Coast.

I share a parent with each of my siblings, but not necessarily the same one (two with mom, two with dad). We have disparate interests ranging from golf to indie rock to crafting and needlepoint. We differ significantly in our views on religion, politics and relationships. Some really love pets, others are allergic, and some own pets despite their allergies. Some of us couldn't wait to be done with school at age 18 and others earned graduate degrees and take classes for fun. Some of us are parents of teens, some are parents of toddlers, some of us don't have kids at all.

Every single person in my family has a good heart. I can say this with 200% conviction, there isn't one of us that would ever intentionally hurt another human being. We are all generous by nature and we tend to be the type of people who, even if we have only $10 in the bank will gladly lend or give you $5.

We are also the kind of folks that will be there for each other in a second if ever there is a problem, even if we don't always see eye-to-eye. My brothers and sister have each at different times let me crash on their couches, supported my dreams, weathered my past failed relationships and given both emotional and financial support to me in times of crisis.

I love my family. I understand my family. I basically always get along with my family. Yet, family holiday dinners have - for a long long long time - been sort of awkward and pressured. Thanks to our many differences in perspective and life situation, when you put the whole lot of us (with our respective spouses and children) around one big table, the conversation typically stalls and there are a lot of long silences.

It has been like this for a very long time, by which I mean, decades. Our holiday routine is so engrained, robots could perform it. Traditionally the holidays look like this:

(a) My mother cooks for a week before the holiday and thoroughly exhausts herself
(b) My siblings come over on the day of the holiday to help my mother finish the cooking and my own family of 5 always manages to be late for the actual meal, which is usually dinner
(c) At last we all sit down at the table, say grace, and then it becomes very silent with random siblings trying to break the awkward silences by asking generic questions such as: 'How is work going lately?' and 'Did you see that baseball game last week?' Someone may crack a joke and we all laugh politely, and then fall silent again.
(d) We wash dishes and clean up for an hour
(e) If it is Christmas, we spend hours opening way too many presents that cost us all way too much $
(f) The kids are tired and it is time to go home
(g) We are relieved that Christmas is over for another year

Since the death of my father though, the unspoken rules of the holiday season seem to be lifting and my mom seems more open to switching things up. So this year when my sister mentioned to me that she would like to change the holiday routine, I sprang at the chance. I was nominated by my sibs to convey to our mother that we wanted to do it differently this year... and to our joy and surprise she was very accommodating. Apparently we have all noticed the awkwardness and been too polite to mention it to each other.

We decided to rebuild the entire holiday from the ground floor up. We changed the date to the 26th so that we could leisurely celebrate Christmas with both sides of all of our respective families. We made it a daytime gathering, where football watching was allowed. (Thanks, mom!) We brought in almost all of the food ourselves in potluck fashion, so that our mother wouldn't be tired out from cooking. We limited present giving to the grandchildren only... and we all brought our favorite boardgames.

From the first moment, I could tell this day was going to be a success. When my brother and sister-in-law came in wearing matching football jerseys, it was clear that the vibe was totally different. We set the table with compostable paper plates. This wasn't going to be a pose-in-front-of-the-tree year. Very cool.

During the game, the men congregated around the television while most of the ladies made their way out to chat at leisure. When the children opened gifts, we took the only photos of the day... of their happy, shiny little faces.

Best of all, when the gift giving and pie eating were over - we all actually sat around a table playing games for hours. Laughter - the heartfelt, shoulder shaking, belly aching kind - erupted from around the table frequently during rigorous rounds of "Apples to Apples" and "Taboo". Everyone was having so much fun, we all forgot about our differences.

Instead of the typical awkward three hours, we actually spent seven hilarious and extremely relaxing hours at my mother's home today. It was a blast. At the end we all agreed it was the best Christmas we could remember having in years. There was so much good will and love, it really felt to me as though we'd hit the RESET button.

I love the fact that you can be part of a family for 35 years and continue to grow together, change, and develop those same relationships... make them stronger, happier, funnier and more integrated. There have been years in the past when I never would have believed it was possible for us to share a holiday like this. It just goes to show that it is never too late to begin again, and where there is real love all things are possible. I'm glad our family didn't give up on Christmas, or on each other.

I am really looking forward to Easter!

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