My stomach’s in knots, my bowels are loose and I’m breaking out in a cold sweat. Nope, it’s not the flu. It’s the holidays. Nothing can make me feel like I want to pee my pants with excitement and upchuck at the same time so fast as the thought of the annual dysfunctional, co-dependent family funfest we like to call “The Christmas Season.” But first we need to get through Thanksgiving.
Things have settled down quite a bit for us over the years. My mom no longer cooks the Thanksgiving dinner, so there’s no cacophony of metal pots and pans banging out noisy accompaniment to her resentful sighs and glaring looks. Nothing says “Happy Thanksgiving” quite so much as your mom yelling, “Get your %@&%# butts in here! The #&*@$! turkey’s ready!”
Ah, the memories! But it’s no wonder my mom was a bit resentful. Her first Thanksgiving dinner as a married woman must’ve been a proud moment for her. Little did she know she’d be stuck making the same damn dinner, every year, for 40+ years – sometimes by herself (when my dad was in Vietnam), through times when her kids were either hungover or high, sometimes when a kid was in jail, sometimes when a kid had fled the state just ahead of the police.
My mom saw it all. And I ate at my parents’ Thanksgiving table after I moved out at age 19, then when I was married, then when I was divorced, then when I was married, then when I was divorced. Somewhere during those years I had my little girl who also ate at grandma’s Thanksgiving table, from Year One when she was fed Gerber’s Pureed Turkey on through the year she graduated high school. Every year, no matter what condition the family was in, my mom was charged with whipping up the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, as though by its mere presence we would be redeemed, functional and whole.
But family Thanksgivings were fun, too, in their own dysfunctional way. Though our family’s Hispanic, we never degenerated into hot-blooded arguments and confrontations during the holidays like we did the rest of the year. Our specialty was barely hidden resentment, snide remarks, minute eye-rolling and dirty looks. You could gauge in five minutes who was ticked off at whom by merely catching on to the eye contact patterns that were flying around the room like airplanes landing at LAX.
Once my daughter was born, and especially after I got divorced, Thanksgiving and Christmas became a logistical nightmare. My baby daughter’s Christmas Day schedule, as best I can recollect, went something like this:
6 AM-10AM – Christmas at Dad’s
10 AM-2 PM – Christmas at Grandma June & Grandpa Vern’s
2 PM -6 PM – Christmas at Grandma Stella’s & Grandpa Hank’s
6 PM-8PM – Christmas at Mom’s
Squeezed in there somewhere would be an appearance at Grandma Nancy’s Christmas brunch, if she was having one.
If you’ve got parents who got divorced and remarried, you end up with a lot of grandparents. Being the baby of all the families involved, this worked out just fine for my daughter. Never have grandparents, both natural and by-marriage, so vehemently vied for a child’s affection and never has a child been so pelted with presents at Christmas time.
All in all the day would entail something like three brunches and two dinners. And we’d roll out of each home followed by disappointed looks and wails of, “Do you have to leave so soon? You just got here!” It didn’t matter that we’d “just got there” four hours prior. And no one was fooling us. All that wailing and carrying on was because the baby was leaving, not us. Believe me, the baby’s all grown up now and no one bats an eye nor sheds a tear when we leave any place!
Through the years we’ve had our share of funny Thanksgiving and Christmas mishaps. Every family does. We’ve also had scary and uncertain holiday seasons, one when a brother was missing and another when my mom had a heart attack and bypass surgery immediately following. It would seem she can’t cook Thanksgiving dinner when she’s in the ICU. Apparently she’ll do anything to get out of cooking duty. And we’ve had many, many holiday seasons when two or more family members weren’t seeing eye-to-eye. To be truthful, you could pick any year in our history and that would probably be the case.
Tomorrow we do the whole mess all over again. My mom’s coming to our apartment for dinner this year. My husband’s the designated chef. At some point my mom will let out a stream of curse words over something “The Government” has done that would make a sailor blush. My daughter will come in snarling after a 6 PM to 3 AM shift at Old Navy, getting ready for the Black Friday shopper onslaught. My brother might not show.
We’ll never be candidates for a Norman Rockwell painting. We’ll be the same five people we’ve been all the rest of the year, each individual more headstrong, stubborn and opinionated than the next. We’ll have our snide remarks and our occasional glares. We’ll overeat and be grateful that we can. We’ll each breathe secret sighs of relief when the whole thing is over and we’ll call each other up the next day to say how much fun it was. Ironically, we won’t be lying. And we’ll take a deep breath, gird our loins and get ready to do the whole thing again at Christmas.
Enjoy your Thanksgiving. Enjoy your family members if you’re lucky enough to have them. Say a prayer with me that my daughter stays alert at the wheel. If you run into my brother, tell him to keep out of trouble.
If you’ve lost a loved one this year, I’ll alert my dad. He passed on six years ago but he was a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He’ll make sure things are running smoothly for your loved one in Heaven or they’ll be hell to pay. If anyone can kick butt in Heaven, it would be my dad. Your loved one and my dad can hang out together, laughing their butts off at the tense, overwrought mess we’re making of our holiday celebrations down here on earth.
And I’ll say a prayer for all of us as we muddle our way through yet another holiday season, each of us secure in the knowledge that we’re the normal ones in the family.