Parents often tell their children that life isn’t fair. They tell little Tommy and Susie that life is tough, and sometimes recommend getting a helmet. They try to instill good values in their children. They teach Tommy to put others first and tell Susie she shouldn’t let her emotions control her behavior (and they never warn Tommy of this, men are never ruled by emotions). They express the importance of family and friendship. They empower Tommy and Susie to be independent, self-sufficient adults who are capable of taking on the world. They want what is best for their children and encourage them to marry (and when, at the age of thirty, Susie is still single, they express worry and alarm). But ultimately, at the end of the day, parents just want their children to be happy—even if they can’t define happiness themselves.
The funny thing about parents, though, is the shortness of their memories. Once The Holidays come around, your parents will forget everything they did to teach you independence and happiness. They forget all the values they instilled in you. They become ruled by their emotions. They become selfish and co-dependent. They believe time can be completely cut in half, that every gathering can be sliced down the middle like a delicious Thanksgiving Day turkey and everything will be fair.
They forget that when a wishbone is snapped someone always gets the bigger half.
And they want the bigger half.
They forget that they actually like your in-laws. They forget that you actually like them too. They try to act as though they aren’t selfish. They just want you to be happy. “Do what you want,” they say, all while sniffling in the background. They forget there are more members in each family than parents. They forget you have siblings, whom they gave you, who are also grown with families of their own. They forget each of you has extended family time to squeeze in, that you might want to see old friends, or that you might want to relax. They forget The Holidays are supposed to be fun.
And maybe you forgot that Mom misses you terribly. That when you moved nine hundred miles from home you left her with two squabbling teenage boys who certainly won’t go shopping with her. You forget that just when the two of you were reaching the point of mother-daughter friendship, you wrenched that friendship from her grasp and moved halfway across the country. You forget that moment during freshman year of college when you came home for the first time and your mom looked at you in the front seat and told you she missed you because “you’re the only one who can talk as fast as me and still keep up” (writing about this memory makes me tear-up). You forget that your dad lost his only drinking buddy (who’d only legally existed for one year) when you moved far, far away. You forget your brothers haven’t yet grown out of the “hating Dad” phase and that he could use a reminder that it’ll pass. You forgot that when you moved west of the Mississippi River you lost constant access to your favorite beer.
You forget that your mother-in-law had a rough year. You forget her mother is suffering from dementia, her loyal dog passed away, and her husband was diagnosed with cancer. I mean sure, you remember these things, but when it comes to The Holidays, you forget.
We all forget.
So this year I’m going to do my best to be conscious of all those little things. I will do my part to be present in every moment, to keep my own frustration in check, and to enjoy the limited time we have with our families. The Holidays are a special time (even when fights break out over where you’re going to open presents) and while I wish I could squeeze family time in to every single minute of every single day, sometimes that’s just not possible. Wedding planning taught me that sometimes the best-laid plans can go to shit. And when that happens it’s best to just buckle up and roll with it. So I’m going to take the same approach to The Holidays. I’m going to plan out our schedule, and if it doesn’t go as planned and Aunt Crazy throws a shit fit on Christmas Eve, well so be it. Because if there’s one thing five months of marriage has taught me, it’s that your family isn’t going anywhere.
Photo by Gabriel Harber