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.