The Holiday Ship Is Sailing Okay Without Me

This year is not about me.  

As I write this on Sunday afternoon, I’m sitting in my living room, watching my kids decorate the Christmas tree.   Johnny Mathis is singing Christmas songs from our cd player–the same Christmas songs, in digital format, that my husband and his family listened to on scratchy vinyl every year when he was growing up.  Earlier this weekend, the kids baked the same Christmas cookies with their grandma that my husband’s mom baked every year of his childhood.  

My husband grew up in a military family.  They moved around a lot until he was in late elementary school.  Then, after he joined the military, his parents moved out west to Tucson, so when we moved back here, he rarely got to see them during the holidays.  Of the two of us, I think he has a harder time connecting to his own past, family traditions and heritage.

As for me, I find myself locked in something of a “No Man’s Land.”  My family holiday memories and traditions thoughout my childhood were dominated by my mom’s side of the family.   With the loss of my mom and maternal grandparents in the last five years, all the assumptions I made about my place in the scheme of all things family, including family holidays, has pretty much been blown to heck.  I have no idea where I fit, or even if I fit.  

The old is gone, and the new is not yet formed.  

If the holidays are a metaphorical flagship of traditions, memories and events, it’s a ship that I am making no attempt to steer this year.  I am more or less just along for the ride.  

I’ll happily pitch in as a deckhand where needed, when asked, and when I have a free hand to do so.  But I am not in charge here.  It’s best for all concerned that this year be, mostly, about my husband, and his heritage and traditions and sense of family continuity.  It’s important, both for him, and our kids.  

In the past couple of years, I have made declarations that “this is the year I will be reclaiming the holidays.” As if the season from Halloween to New Year’s Day is some uninhabited land that needs a flag planted on it, so it can be claimed for Spain or something.  

There’s a reason for that, of course.

Some people associate the holidays with their appropriate cultural and religious contexts.  Some of us associate them with loss and grief.  My declarations for the past few years have been an attempt to forcibly move myself from the latter camp to former.  All my attempts to reclaim the holidays in previous years have been  like someone trying to train for a football game on a leg that has been broken and still isn’t fully healed.  

In sitting on the sidelines this year, I’ve gotten to just enjoy watching everyone else do what they like.  It’s been good to not be the captain of the ship, or the football team, whichever metaphor you prefer.  

For the first time I feel like I have some clarity about the specifics of what a “new” set of traditions for our family could be.   I think that maybe Chris and I can come together and start really collaborating on a new set of traditions, starting next year.  A set of holiday traditions that honors not only his family and past and mine, but the present, and the future.

6 Comments


  1. ·

    Sorry, I hadn't read this before commenting on the current pic. Wow. If it helps, we both (Coffeesister, aka Dorian and I) know how you feel. Chris sounds pretty awesome! The future need not be so empty – we only have fur kids, whereas you have real ones who'll carry the Christmas memories with them for the rest of their lives.

    Reply

  2. ·

    No worries. Chris is pretty awesome.

    FWIW, I'm choosing to view the "empty" aspect as a clean canvas. And odd coincidences of dates notwithstanding, I imagine this time of year in general is tough on many folks (you and Dorian/coffeesister included). It's good to remember that.

    And who's to say your fur kids don't cherish their own memories of "teh odd tree wif toys on it dat da hoomanz putz in da howse when it gets cold." 🙂

    Reply
  3. Chris
    ·

    Beautifully written post, honey. You make me hardly able to wait to share the future with you. I love you. (added by Mobile using Mippin)

    Reply

  4. ·

    The holidays take on a new meaning whenever you lose a loved one – they have a new color scheme, and can be very painful. I find that the grief hits me at odd times. (This year it was hearing John Denver and the Muppets). But what I've learned in the last 3 years, is that the pain reminds you how much you loved, which is ultimately comforting. I'm sorry for your loss, and hope that you'll find a path that will allow you to celebrate your past as you make new traditions.

    Reply
  5. Kat
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    Gretchen – Thanks (and sorry it took me a couple of days to reply to your comment). You’re right–it’s hard to predict when and what will set you off.

    Reply

  6. ·

    Sorry, I hadn't read this before commenting on the current pic. Wow. If it helps, we both (Coffeesister, aka Dorian and I) know how you feel. Chris sounds pretty awesome! The future need not be so empty – we only have fur kids, whereas you have real ones who'll carry the Christmas memories with them for the rest of their lives.

    Reply

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