But then there are times when traditions highlight how different my life is now and how much I have changed from that little girl in her nightgown, afraid to get out of her bed just in case Santa was still unloading her presents.
Let me explain.
My Dad’s side of the family is 157% Polish. He is one out of six brothers and sisters, and Christmas is A. Big. Deal. The celebration is steeped in tradition. Preceding the feast of homemade golumpkie (gwumpkie), pierogi, and kapusta, there is a nativity reading in which people from each family participate (sometimes in costume). We sing Christmas songs until Santa arrives to give us presents (but not until after he gives us a rundown of our year to determine if we are on the good list). Mad chaos are the only words to describe not only the flurry of wrapping paper being thrown about, but the fury in which we open our presents.
And I loved it . . . until Marie came along.
The intoxicated Santa that was kind of funny before now was scary as he slurred to my baby. Eating dinner two hours late which had been annoying was now infuriating as poor Marie was forced to wait until her bedtime to eat dinner.
Other factors contributed to my bad taste of Christmas Eve. My older cousins all have older, teenaged kids and do their own thing. My Dad’s family is as thick as thieves and, even though I felt like I earned my way in by being a full-fledged adult with kids and a mortgage and a burning desire to participate in our family on a new level, I felt that they were not accepting any new members into the inner circle.
A lot of incidents occurred that made me feel awkward, but the time when we were over an hour late eating, and Thomas (not even one years old yet) was starving, I went downstairs to feed him.
Yes, my Mom and Harrington came to check on me. And a few of my cousins’ kids were down there talking about things I wish they wouldn’t in front of Marie (who was three). But the majority of people were upstairs enjoying cocktail hour, as I tended to my motherly duties.
I felt like I didn’t belong.
I decided not to go to Christmas Eve last year and our plans with Harington’s family fell through. It felt weird not going to the big party, which was to be expected. But The Babes did not crash and burn on Christmas morning, which was very nice.
So I decided to push forward with this new tradition, even though it didn’t feel quite right.
Until Aunt Carol called.
She told me how fleeting this all is. One of the sisters had passed on and we need to stay together. She told me that Christmas is about kids, and my kids brought the magic to Christmas. She told me that I might be sad one day knowing that my kids would never know our Christmas Eve traditions.
I fought back my tears and said I was sad to not be going to Christmas Eve. I confessed to her how I feel left out because I have little ones. I told her that I wanted to be a part of this family, but I felt that I just didn’t belong anymore. (Not the tears were streaming down my face).
She said that I’m a part of this family. As crazy as it is and how out of control Christmas Eve becomes, it’s special. And it’s ours.
She told me to just think about it.
So I did.
And we’re going.
I’m excited to honor my traditions and share them with The Babes. (I also feel more confident in how to navigate around uncomfortable issues).
But I’m also very emotional. I feel emotional because Aunt Carol cared enough to kick my ass with a heart to heart. I feel emotional because it’s true; you never know how long you have with your loved ones, and this family gathering rich in tradition, is special. I mean, I don’t know a lot of families that still get the majority of three generations together under one roof with homemade Polish food.
I feel emotional because things have not been easy with this extended family: situations change and dynamics shift. Also, some of the cousins I grew up, moved away, and I don’t come to Christmas Eve that often. It all makes me sad. I haven’t felt a part of this group for a very long time. And I accepted my lot on the sidelines.
I feel emotional because I now understand how Christmas can be a time to come together with family; the ties and history and love can be stronger than differences.