Breaking Holiday Tradition 2011
Learning to deal with becoming a non-traditional family
Holiday traditions have always played a very important role in my life. My close knit family have always enjoyed gathering together at my grandmother’s house and also at my mother’s. Party after party hosted for different parts of our not so traditional families, this is the result of divorcees when they remarry, grow older and have grandchildren. However we enjoy the Christmas ham, all the trimmings and tables full of tasty deserts of all kinds at every party. The race to each party usually on Christmas Eve does add to the average Holiday stress of lack of money, lack of time and lack of patience. Not to mention the gift giving has to be cut back due to the sudden change of people appearing on the shopping list when two families become one new family. This also adds to the stress of where to cut back, how do I pick and chose who gets a gift from us and who doesn’t? In addition worry sets in about how the others will be offended. I have experienced this from this side of the fence, the one trying to buy for and keep up with everyone’s changing Holiday celebrations and the just add wedding vows, instant new families. Where I once bought for two children, a niece and a nephew I now feel obligated to buy for the other two children that have been added to that family and when money becomes just too tight then I feel guilty for not being able to at least buy for my blood related niece and nephew, but refuse to show partiality.
This has all frustrated me so, as the already overwhelming Holiday season becomes more and more complicated. Gives me the feeling we are becoming less and less concerned about the reason for the season and even less and less concerned about quality family time, rushing in and rushing out to each gathering, becoming more focused on dealing with the stress, gossip, money and time management. We are not only breaking away from Christ’s Birthday but also beginning to lose the precious time and memories made as a family through all of the hustle and bustle.
With all that being said, I am now guilty of adding the same burdens to my family and myself. After a 19+ year marriage I have jumped the fence and now sit on the other side, facing divorce myself with two young children. I always thought it would never happen to me, I would be strong enough to tough it out and make it work. Being raised in an Apostolic church, I was taught to be submissive to my husband who was head of the house. A hard pill for me to swallow and goes against all of modern society’s views however to make my marriage work and keep my extended family happy I did just that. When my first born came along I gave up my career as management in optics and as per request of my husband became a stay at home mom. I enjoyed this precious time with my children however I also became quite tired of fighting mice and laying my babies in the floor when we heard bullets ricocheting off our house. Each time I tried to find a job to help get us out of the situation I was told to just stay home because I would only cost him more money if I was working due to taxes, child care, gas, clothes and lunches.
So this brings us to my typical Holiday traditions. Thanksgiving we would gather at my grandmother’s house and all my aunts, uncles and cousins would be there, then the families began to outgrow my grandparent’s home and we had to split off to Mom’s.
For several years we would celebrate Thanksgiving with my Mom, step-Dad, his divorced and remarried parents, his daughter, her spouse and kids, my grandparents and any others that dropped by. My brother and his family would occasionally pop in for awhile and a few times stayed to eat with us.
But growing up we always watched It’s a Wonderful Life. Who over 30 doesn’t recall it being on at least one channel for a 24 hour marathon on Thanksgiving day, now that we are older it‘s rare you catch it once on T.V..
My mother and Step-Dad always bake the turkey, I always make side dishes like sweet potato casserole and deviled eggs and the kids always stand excited beside the turkey being carved into thin slices awaiting a peak at the lucky wish bone, curious as to who would get to pull it and who would get their wish.
My two girls would entertain the family by prancing around the house in their little fall outfits singing Timothy Turkey:
“Timothy Turkey why do you cry boo hoo hoo,
Timothy Turkey why do you cry boo hoo hoo,
Thanksgiving is coming and you’ll lose your head
Unless Mommy cooks a big chicken instead!
Timothy Turkey why do you cry boo hoo hoo,”
Before we could all dig in my Grandfather, the Pastor of our church always gathered us together made us all hold hands, which was a little comical as there were so many of us we had to hold hands through the little walkway from the kitchen to the T.V. room in order to make a complete circle. Then bow our heads and listen to Papaw Ike lead us as a family in a prayer of thanksgiving. Then we could dig in!
This past Thanksgiving we broke tradition! My grandparents had been having a rough year medically. My mother was stressed out with worry and exhaustion and decided she and my step-Dad would slip off to Pigeon Forge this year. My heart sank to my stomach and then panic sat in, that means it falls back on me!
Now another thing had occurred this past year that would add to the change of our traditions, my husband and I became legally separated back in the early spring of this year and in the divorce process. Now after 19 + years of marriage my family had become quite attached to him, so attached in fact that most of my family backed off in even talking to me. Different ones would whisper things to my children telling them that their Mommy, (AKA: Me!) needed to take their Daddy back and make this all ok because it was their Mommy’s fault, that she (I) made him leave. They had no clue what was going on all they knew was that I made a choice to no longer be a submissive house wife. Now, to air out all of our dirty laundry would make for an extremely interesting story I think it’s best kept to myself for the time being. Never the less whether my mother would be home to cook the turkey or not, him not being there would be different for all of us.
But things had been taken to the next level. Tradition wasn’t just broken it was shattered! Now that my mom would be gone and the rest of my family barely conversing with me I knew I wouldn’t get an invite anywhere else and I was right. So I decided to host my first Thanksgiving dinner for my girls and some very dear friends. It was a near disaster and I’m kind of glad it was because it allowed me to see just how special the ones that did chose to be with me and my girls were.
I was already nervous over hosting Thanksgiving for the first time but on top of that this would be the first Thanksgiving I wouldn’t have my Mom with me. In addition, we had tore out the main bathroom for a remodel and was not finished. The pressure was on, in between cooking different dishes I would work on the bathroom laying tile and trying to get at least the floor done before everyone got here. I worked diligently trying to multi-task fixing a feast for twelve people, remodel a bathroom, taking care of two little girls, clean house all while keeping a smile through the duration of missing my Mom and the childish pouting feeling I had over being shunned by the rest of the family.
However I was determined to give my girls their big Thanksgiving dinner they were use to and to include and enjoy those who had been there for me and my girls along this rough road. Those that held my hand and wiped my tears. I wanted to show them how much I appreciated them being there for me, for us. Funny how people will try to comfort you in saying I’m here for ya’ call if you need me. However when you call they are too busy to help or manage to miss your call for help. Another handful of empty promises. But occasionally you do find a few good friends that are really there when you need them and they were my Thanksgiving guests and proved once again to be there for me no matter what.
I worked on the bathroom and dinner until 4:00 am before finally giving up and going to bed. As 6:30 am rolled around one of my dear friends showed up after working a twelve hour all night shift to help get things done. With two and a half hours sleep I started back on the bathroom tile while he, with no sleep, prepared the turkey. Again back and forth trying to get everything done from the kitchen then back to the tile. Then to my surprise my guests started to arrive. I stood there in horror, covered in tile mortar. I looked over the kitchen and almost cried … the eggs still in the pan needing shelled, split and mixed, the pile of potatoes that my 11 year old was trying to peel for me, the dining table piled high with tools and such, the boxes of pudding that wasn’t cooked but even with all that, it wasn’t the worse thing there.
The most embarrassing part, as if all that wasn’t enough, a nightmare for certain was to have my dinner guests arrive to find a toilet sitting beside my dining room table. Oh my gosh! How gross? How could I ever live that down? Before I could break out into a teary toddler style tantrum it hit me and I announced to all my dinner guests, “Well! If your toilet is sitting in your kitchen during your Thanksgiving feast ….. Then you might be a redneck!” Oh thank you, thank you, thank you Jeff Foxworthy for those stupid jokes that just saved me from a mental breakdown! At that point I couldn’t even tell you if anyone laughed, I think they did but it didn’t matter because I made myself laugh. I tried to muster up what very little dignity I had left and announced I was going to take a shower. I turned and marched to our second bathroom in the back of the house as if I was walking down death row. Still appalled, dreadfully embarrassed and frantically furious at myself I tried to regain my composer.
As I stood in the shower wishing the water would wash every anxiety away, including that dumb toilet in my kitchen, I thought to myself I’m such a failure, my mother would have never let this happen. Then just as I began to tear up I heard my best friend’s voice call through the door asking where I kept my large bowls. As I answered I hurried along and jumped out of the shower. When I returned to the scene, that I would imagine could have been straight out of the song from Alice’s Restaurant, my heart warmed over. The ladies that I had invited had jumped in my kitchen and saved the day. Deviled eggs were being made, potatoes being mashed, gravy being warmed and the best yet the toilet was being removed! YAY!
So with a little new found pride I grabbed the pretty fall table cloths and began to set the tables. My black octagon dinner plates complemented the dainty paper cups with fall leaves and gourds on them which my 11 year old pitched in to help fill with dinner mints. The turkey napkins made for a pretty bed for the silverware, which I didn’t have quite enough clean to put out however decided the children didn’t need table knives anyway and I was not going to stress anymore. The pumpkin spiced candles that I lit and sat in the middle of each of the two tables that I had searched to buy for weeks before added to the savory smells floating around my kitchen. I took a step back and saw that everyone was engaged with each other, smiling, laughing and talking and my kitchen/dining room didn’t look so bad after all.
Well, the house wasn’t neat as a pen, the table wasn’t decked out all pretty, the food wasn’t done and sitting on the table, I wasn’t showered and ready to welcome my guests, my family was not there to share this day with me and my girls, the children didn’t care so much about the wish bone and we did not hold hands and say the blessing. Every tradition was broken, nothing went as planned and I enjoyed hosting my first Thanksgiving, as unorganized and overwhelming as it was because I made new sweet, crazy memories with great people.
This Thanksgiving has become a learning curve for me as we prepare for Christmas. I do not regret my decision to change my life yet only the grief that brought me to the desire to make the change. However this first Christmas will be difficult. Breaking these traditions may be a little tougher on all of us, even more so than I thought. However just like Thanksgiving I will try to break these traditions with new memories.
The first shot of reality of this change was when I was getting the Christmas decorations out of the attic and I came across the stocking holder my soon to be ex husband made for us one year. On this wood pine tree we attached wood candy canes to hang our stockings from. Each of us decorated our own candy cane to affix to the tree stand. When I pulled this out from behind the storage tubs marked Christmas Décor, I sat down. I sat there on another storage tub labeled baby clothes, and stared at the little wood tree with the candy canes. I began to cry, not so much because he wouldn’t be there, which I will miss him, but more so because I didn’t know what to do with the tree. Would it upset the kids to see their Daddy’s candy cane bare of no stocking? Should I remove his candy cane from the tree or would that upset them more? Should I just leave it in the attic? That’s when I realized this break in tradition will be more difficult on all of us than I thought.
I recalled how I would make him sit with the girls on Christmas Eve before bed and read them T’was the Night Before Christmas, then we would put Santa’s cookies and milk out on a special plate then off to bed. I thought to myself will it be just as fun, just as important to them if I’m the one reading the story this year or will it just cause them to grieve over him not being here? One thing we did decide together, that Santa was probably tired of milk and cookies and we were going to do something different for him.
One year when we went to the mall to see Santa and we spotted him not drinking milk at all. Santa was busted! We caught him drinking a soda pop. So the girls decided we would leave soda pop and chocolate covered peanut butter balls out for Santa this year. They both became very excited about our new plan our break in tradition, so maybe it won’t be as hard as I thought. We just need to refocus our energy from things that bring us down to new, creative and fun ways to “Break Tradition” this year.