Thursday, December 26, 2013

There’s no place like home for the holidays

I just enjoyed my first happy Christmas in I literally don’t know how long.

(In church for Christmas Eve service, above—another first!)

Ever since The Missus and I first moved to northern Cali in 2001, we’ve been traveling back to Long Beach annually to do the holiday with her family. I didn’t mind at first; I’ve never cared for the holidays myself, and as long as I didn’t have to spend them with my own family, anywhere else was just as good for me.

But when my aging pup, Woody, started to have trouble walking on the in-laws’ polished-to-a-glassy-sheen hardwood floors, it began to become an imposition I resented. I always felt like they should have at least carpeted the slippery hardwood steps leading upstairs, but it never happened, not even when their own dog became too old and infirm to join the family on the second floor.

Then when Woody was too old to travel, I had to start leaving him in a kennel when we traveled south for Christmas. Thinking about that shit still makes me sad to the bone. Woody had seen me faithfully through all kinds of hell before I met Leslie, and leaving him in a cage with strangers over Christmas broke my heart. There were a lot of years Woody was the only one with whom I spent the holidays and kicking him to the curb like that will haunt me the rest of my days.

But Christmas had to occur in SoCal. Leslie and her family are crazy tight and I admired that, even as I had no context to actually understand what that might be like. So I put the wife ahead of the dog, the future ahead of the past (so to speak) and did what I figured had to be the Right Thing because it hurt so fucking bad.

Then when we had a kid it got even worse. There was nothing more I wanted than to have my own little family with my own little traditions, and there was nothing more Leslie’s parents wanted than to see their Grandkid every Christmas morning. Not to mention the fact that it was hugely important to Leslie personally. Again I weighed which option would be the hardest on me and having identified it, went with it. A lifetime of experience has taught me that when confronted with a tough decision, the unappealing course of action is almost always the correct path to take, ethically.

As the years dragged inexorably by there was no escaping the fact that I was getting locked intractably yet tangentially into the in-laws’ family tradition. And every year, my spirits grew darker and darker the closer the holiday got. In recent years, the dread began to set in as early as the approach of the end of summer.

Then this year happened.

I really didn’t sit down tonight to beef about the past, I sat down to express gratitude for the present. It’s been a shit, shit, shit year and I don’t have a hell of a lot to hang my hat on. Torpedoing the end of it began to look like a very unsafe proposition to both of us and an accommodation was reached. We agreed we’d spend Christmas Day at home, then head down to SoCal the day after.

And it seems to be working! Leslie’s extended family moved around a couple of the traditional holiday events and all she really missed was Christmas morning with her parents and the sumptuous breakfast feast attendant to same. A not-inconsiderable concession, but one many people of her age, means and circumstances have been having to make for a long time.

On the other hand, I have been a changed man this holiday season. All the pre-Christmas activities I used to resent and phone-in at best—everything from decorating the house to going to get the tree—I joined in enthusiastically. Shit, I would have happily gone to a department Christmas party if I had been asked to.

And it doesn’t seem like The Boy has been hurt by the adjustment. I’ve never seen him more engaged in Christmas. In the past, the in-laws’ house was the pot of gold waiting for him at the end of December. Earlier this year, he helpfully clarified the Long Beach trip as “real Christmas,” as opposed to the bullshit simulacrum we used to stumble through here while we concentrated on packing to head south.

This Christmas morning, though, we spent at least the first 15 minutes of gift-unwrapping opening presents The Boy had prepared for us! Stuff he made for us, stuff he found laying around the house and re-wrapped, more stuff he made for us—he was so excited to be giving. Just can’t imagine that happening if we had been up here killing time waiting for ‘real Christmas.’

And for what it’s worth, he was the center of attention again this year. With his two new, cute younger cousins awaiting us in Long Beach, his central role in the proceedings has been necessarily diminishing in recent years. But he was back in the spotlight this year, and he still gets to head to Grandma and Pops’ in the morning and be lavished with more gifts on that end. And hang out with his other favorite people in the world.

Me? I got Christmas at home. I didn’t have to wake up in someone else’s house on a bed that I can’t sleep on and push through the day sleep-deprived and in shrieking lower back pain. I got to play patriarch after 8 years of sitting on the sidelines, sulking. Shitdamn, I even got in a nap and a grown-up movie at a theater.

It was like I was on holiday or something.

So I want to say thanks to Leslie in a quasi-public forum (you six people constituting said quasi-public forum). For all your sacrifices, for all the hard work and extra hours you put in (she was still grading papers as I shuffled off to bed after the Dr. Who Christmas special ended) and for spending the first Christmas Day away from your folks in the whole time we’ve been together, I am grateful and I salute you. It has meant so much more to me than a 24-hour delay in plane trips south.

And she is further spoiling me by putting us up in a hotel for the couple nights I’ll be in town as an accommodation to my sleeping and privacy issues.

Thank you, Sweetie, for the best Christmas since I seriously can’t even say when. Maybe since I spent the holiday in Maine with the Sullivans 20 years ago, and there is no other good example that predates that one that I can recall. Hopefully we won’t have to keep making this hard choice that much longer, and soon Christmas seasons will find us able to fully satisfy both of our Christmas wish-lists; mine to wake up in my own bed, and yours to spend the day with your entire family, me included.

Until then, though, what can I do for you for Valentine’s Day that is within driving distance?


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