Ah love. It starts out innocently enough. You say yes to dinner and a movie. He brings flowers and chocolates. There are romantic walks on the beach. And before you know it, you’re married. The days of staring lovingly into each other’s eyes are replaced with scanning the food section for bargains and listening for the sound of the shower turning off, so you can take your turn.
You’re occupied with many challenges as the two of you begin a life together. So many decisions to make: Cable or satellite? Pepperoni or sausage? Over-easy or scrambled? Foreign or domestic?
Days, weeks, months pass. Miscellaneous facts are gingerly revealed: He likes Brussels sprouts. She thinks birthday cake is a breakfast food. Both of you have trouble staying awake for the 10 o’clock news. Deals are reluctantly made: He agrees to read the sports section until she’s finished with the front page. She’ll watch Entourage if he’ll sit through reruns of The Office. Then, your newly formed family of two becomes three, four and maybe even five.
In my case, over eight quick years, the duo of Nick + Claire expanded into a quintet that included Shawn, Jake and Seth. Of course, more questions arise, more choices need to be made. Cloth or disposable diapers? Public or private school? Soccer or taekwondo? As fledgling parents, we made it through these either/ors while learning about raising sons.
But every November the same question arose; one that never seemed to have an easy answer. Where are we spending Thanksgiving and Christmas this year? At your parents’ place or mine?
This guilt-inducing query is best avoided when you’re dating. Discuss religion, how you’ll vote in the next primary, which pro football team you’ll cheer for, but tiptoe around this explosive topic.
Like lots of young couples, we tried to appease everyone by attempting to be in two places at one time. We’d go to my mom’s house for an early dinner and his folks’ place for dessert. Playing beat-the-clock when Thanksgiving Day is limited to 24 hours is tough. The same is true of Christmas Day. There’s not enough time to enjoy the holiday if you’re spending most of it crisscrossing the county. We’d barely taste a forkful of candied yams and cranberry stuffing at my mom’s table before we were loading ourselves back into the car.
I can still hear the voice of a 6-year-old Jake yelling from the backseat as we drove to our next stop: “There goes the pumpkin pies.” In our haste to be on time, the desserts had been set down but not secured. They slid aimlessly across the van floor and slammed into the back of the front passenger seat, making a gooey-looking burnt sienna splash across the cloth upholstery.
Scurrying from house to house was how we spent the next several Thanksgivings and Christmases. Inwardly I wanted to mount a stay-at-home-for-the-holidays coup. The thought of packing up three kids, two car seats, a green bean casserole, and sundry other items had lost its appeal. Maybe I had spent too many Christmas Eves staying up until 2 a.m. helping Nick put together a 350-piece something whose box has innocently cautioned: “some assembly required.”
Exhausted toward the end of one of these marathon holiday events, I collapsed on the couch where other similarly fatigued parents grouped. My brother-in-law, Leo sitting nearby listened as I lamented the craziness of the season. He smiled and nodded knowingly. His family had just spent their day under similar circumstances. “Next year, why don’t we move our get-together to the day after Christmas?” he proposed to no one in particular. A huge sigh swept through the room, followed by cheers of relief. “Why hadn’t we thought of this before?” asked a sister-in-law. “Where does it say that we have to scrunch everything into one 24-hour day?”
The meaningful parts of our celebration would be the same; they would just occur a day later. Pop-pop would still be the center of attention as he donned his Santa hat to pass out gifts. The grandkids would wait wide-eyed to hear their name called before eagerly opening their presents. The overabundance of sugar cookies, popcorn balls and fudge would get a second chance to find a welcome palate.
A once stress-filled, jammed-packed ritual was forever transformed into an extended familyfest. Leisurely, all of us kids-at-heart could delight in the blessings that come when you’re part of a large family, minus the harried disposition. No one would have to keep an eye on the clock, poised to rush out the door for another gathering. As a bonus, we all got an extra day to anticipate the fun.
The years have passed since we could look forward to sipping a cup of Nana’s hot apple cider, gobbling a scoop of Sitie’s pistachio fluff or listening to Uncle George regale us with stories, while we laughed as though hearing his tales for the first time.
It’s the sweetest memories that last. And isn’t that really the best part of the holidays.