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
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
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
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?