The Holiday Hustle

Guest post by Rich Thomas

Miniature Dollhouse Food - Christmas Turkey

Good to the last drop: Holidays with grandpa and Rich's sisters, circa 1993.
Good to the last drop: Holidays with grandpa and Rich's sisters, circa 1993.
The time between November 1 and January 1 produces a lot of hand-wringing. Not because you’re stressing about how to pay for gifts or trying to make vacations line up. That’s the easy part. I’m talking about the Holiday Two-Step. The exasperating job of scheduling whose family is going to be spending time at which location, and making sure so-and-so won’t be there, because if she is, there’s no way I’m gonna be there.

I’m just sayin’.

When you come from a blended family, this usually this requires the kind of diplomacy that would make Obama stand back and give props. When you come from a blended family—and have a blended family of your own—you need some kind of Ghandi/David Blaine combination of spiritual guidance and sleight of hand to achieve your goal.

When I was a kid it was relatively simple. If we had Thanksgiving dinner at dad’s, we spent Christmas eve with mom. After we opened the presents, we’d head over to dad’s for round two. Then back to mom’s for supper. (I know, right?) My folks lived walking distance from one another, so it wasn’t that bad. In fact, you could see down the hill into my dad’s living room from my mom’s balcony. (I know, right?!) Next year, the whole thing would reverse. Simple logic for highly illogical times.

These days it’s way more complicated. Although my dad moved out of state, my mom still lives in the area, and she’d prefer to have as many of her kids around as possible. We’ll call that Option One, and until my mom and her husband decide to pack it all up and move to a compound in South Dakota, Option One will always be there…gnawing at the back of my conscience like a flipping woodchuck.

But since I’ve got my own family—my wife, myself, my 10-year-old step-son, and my crazy-ass dog—we tend to do our own thing at the house. My wife makes her family recipes. I cook my dad’s stuffing and cranberry sauce. It’s all good. Sometimes we even extend the invitation to my son’s dad, who lives close by…but not that close. (Fool me twice, shame on me.)

A few years ago, my son’s dad’s family was in town, so we had the whole lot over. (I think it was Easter, but I can’t remember.) Since you can’t see the gatefold flowchart I’ve got at my desk, I’ll try my best to explain. My son’s dad lives with his younger brother. They share different mothers. My son’s dad also has an older sister, who tends to get on better with her mother-in-law (my son’s dad’s brother’s mom). The older sister is also married, so that’s five people altogether. They came over for dinner. We ate food. I thought a lot about Option One.

I’ll put it like this. My son’s dad and I get along very well. We’re very different dads, but in many ways, we’re very similar people. And while he’s very aware and appreciative of the great lengths I go to to be a great father to his son, that doesn’t always translate to his family.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hurt (and mildly pissed off) about the fact that I wasn’t asked to be in any “family photos,” or that I was shined on and patronized for most of the night, but I supposed that’s why booze was invented. And football. Thank God for football. I just don’t think I responded well to playing the role of backseat driver in my own car…after paying for gas…and snacks.

Maybe it’s not as much Ghandi and David Blaine as it is Marcel Marceau. Sit back, pop a beer, let the tryptophan settle in, and just STFU. It doesn’t last forever. Extended family moments are few and far between, and the last thing you want to do is cause static that’s gonna stick around long after everyone’s boarded a plane and gone home. So what’s the take-away here? I guess if you’re gonna have an olive branch and a dove hanging around, there’s bound to be some shit going on.

Comments on The Holiday Hustle

  1. The holiday hustle actually gets better and far, far worse if the bio-parents don't get along to the point of not wanting to be in the same room as each other. Christmas is split evenly which is all well and good but then you need to celebrate a separate birthday. Thus over the course of one week my step daughter will have a big party at mum's house one weekend and an outing with Dad the next weekend. Plus presents and a big dinner on the day of her birthday with everyone trying to do out-do each other. On one level it's great that this child is so loved but on the other I can't help but wonder when the deluge of gifts and parties does become too much for one little person.

  2. Christmas for me and my little brother is like this: Christmas Eve, we spend a little time at my dad’s with my stepmom, aunt + family, stepmom’s brother + family, dad’s dad. Then we go to my mom’s mom’s house to celebrate with mom’s brothers and sisters and all our cousins. Then on Christmas morning, we open presents at mom’s house, then go to dad’s to open presents, then go to dad’s dad’s house to spend Christmas with dad’s brothers and sisters and all our cousins. 5 places in less than 24 hours. Whee!

  3. haha great writing!! speaking from someone whose gone to 4 thanksgiving dinners in one day and 9 christmas's spread out over 5 days. its a hassle! not this year though! we've chopping it all in 1/2, alternating years. pissed off family….but i figure it'll give them something to look forward to; next year.

  4. The years when my parents hated each other, we alternated holidays every year. Now that we're all grown, married and have kids, my parents have kissed and made up, so we share our holidays– Thanksgiving, Passover, etc. It's kinda nice but still a lot of politics and chaos. Better than the animosity of past years, though! (Luckily, my husband's family is not big on any holidays, Thanksgiving included, so we've avoided that hoop.)

  5. Both my fiance and I come from blended families but we usually go to my mom's for Christmas, though this year we've decided to stay home (haven't broken the news to my mom yet) because we both have a hard time with my conservative (and very opinionated) sister-in-law. So this year it's Christmas with my father-in-law (a bachelor) and my uncle-in-law(?) also a bachelor. I also have a blended family of my own and the politics and crap doesn't come from me or my son's father, it comes from the two step-parents. Step-mother is jealous of me and the fact that me and her husband still get along and *gasp even joke with each other and laugh (our relationship was only six months long-I was pregnant longer than I was with him.) And step-dad is uncomfortable with dad because dad only really became active in our son's life after step-dad moved in with us (he feels like he does all the work and father gets all the glory in the eyes of our son.) So while I'd have no problem spending time with my son's other family, it will never happen, sadly.

  6. That was a GREAT post. It summed up exactly how I feel about this season. His mother, my parents, our friends, our home, his kids (I'm a step-mom), their mother (though I'll guarantee she will NOT be inviting us to dinner nor will we be inviting her… it's a sad state trust me), his sister, his brother…. whew…..

  7. I love it!!! After four years I have finally learned to "STFU". Being too outspoken in a family that is not originally yours especially when you are the step-parent is not seen as a strength. I decided to just enjoy the moment and take in the experience much like a reality TV show, knowing that in a couple of hours everyone will be knocked out and my house will be quiet once again.

  8. Absolutely love it. While I'm not a parent yet I can understand the complexities of blended families.
    My parents divorced when I was two-and-a-half, my mother re-married and my father had a long-term girlfriend for eleven years until they broke up last year. Here's where it get's interesting. My mother's mother and father divorced when she was a teenager and my grandmother married my grandfather's brother, seventeen years later. My grandfather also re-married and the four of them get along really well. It used to be that everyone would gather at my father's house for passover so as to make it more comfortable for me. This includes: My father and his now ex-girlfriend, my mother, stepfather and stepbrother, my mother's parents and their spouses and another thirty or so of my dad's closest friends. Christmas Eve was spent driving an hour south to visit my stepdad's family, and christmas day we drove two hours north to be with my mom's family.
    When I moved to the east coast in September don't think my Grandmother wanted to stop these festivities. For the dinner before Yom Kippur (Jewish day of fasting) she invited over absolutely everyone (including my dad's ex and her daughter) and they still had a great time. Same thing with Thanksgiving, and yes my Jewish grandmother celebrates Chanukah and Christmas as well… I think she'll use any excuse to have the whole crazy family together.
    Whether or not my girlfriend will understand when we fly out to the west coast so she can meet them, is another story entirely.

  9. Wow that’s complicated!

    I’m very lucky in that my mother and father, although divorced get along okay. I’m even luckier that, since I have 5 siblings and 6 step siblings, my mother decided 10 years ago that we could do whatever we wanted xmas day as long as we were at her place on Boxing day.

    So my partner and I spend christmas day with his family (all his extended go to one house) and boxing day with my family (including my dad and all step siblings on both sides).

    I hope that if my husband and I ever werent together anymore we would still be able to spend special holidays together with our kids.

  10. I don’t call it drinking, I call it anesthetizing… Anyway, the best advice about family and the holidays I’ve ever received was, “Be an observer, not a participant.” For me, that means trying to watch my family like they were a TV show, rather than hopping up on stage with them.

  11. this goes even for people who dont have blended families, because if your in a committed relationship with a child and your parents and your partners parents live in town and LOVE the holidays……
    I think the holiday shuffle gets tiring for us because we are both very low key people who generally just go with the flow.

  12. Another complicated family like mine! My ten-year-old son’s dad and I are not together. My son has a four-year-old sister who has a different mother, but she and their dad are not together either. My son has grandparents on his dad’s side who recently split up as well. I am married now with an infant daughter, and my husband has his own set of family members who want to see kids at Christmas time too. Add my own (fairly boring) family to the mix and my son has always been expected to be seen by literally dozens of people over the holidays. This year, with the addition of my daughter to the family, we’ve decided that everyone who wants to see the kids can darn well come to our house. I’ll cook an enormous turkey and everyone can either get along or not – their choice.

    Modern family – so exciting!

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