“Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring.” Not true! At least not this year. The peace, silence and serenity that happens in our home on Christmas Eve is probably more profound than Christmas day. The tradition of eating at Johnny Rockets to break up the day for my son and then returning home where he is allowed to open two gifts (one is always pajamas for the holiday) and then watching a Christmas Story while baking cookies is only phase one of our Christmas Eve.
In our tradition, Christmas cookies are made for my mom. She passed away two years before my son was born. Santa is a mere helper of hers in our household narrative; she is the person who visits our home and brings gifts you can’t find in the store (Amazon & Ebay have been exceptional north poles) but always are the gifts my son wanted. We figured instead of having our son eventually told Santa is not real, it would be better to just pass down the tradition of family, giving, loving and making magic happen for people. That will never be unreal!
The tradition of buying a tree, decorating the tree, lights, playing music, great food, fun food, pajamas, watching all of the Christmas cartoons and specials, going to the malls and the covert operation that’s performed by my wife and I every Christmas Eve night, when we change an already decorated space to a Christmas wonderland, has always been worth it just to hear the joyous scream my son makes at 6am when he walks from his bedroom to the living room. This is the moment I live for, and a moment I never assumed would help me see my mom living on through me.
The initial endeavor of my wife’s parents being able to see, for the first time, their grandson open gifts and celebrate Christmas morning—-did not happen. In spite of all the fuss to spend Christmas together they didn’t see my son open any gifts. The day after everyone left, I was at the kitchen table with my son, and I said, “it seemed like they drove 14 hours just for us to watch them open gifts, and then they left.” My son’s response as he and I started laughing was, “yeah, they put gifts down, picked them up, opened them, and then got in their van and left.”
So what was this about? What is the teachable moment and how did this render a family Nvizabo? When I spoke with my wife in our typical “after the show is over” conversational moment, her explanation focused on her mom’s issues of control, which makes her parent as a grandparent, and also a little bit of trying to recreate moments that might have been missed during her own children’s childhood. That makes sense! As adult children who love their parents, we tend to walk lightly around the intrapersonal motives that cause our parents to act as parents to us as parents, especially when our parenting relationships with our children and household are generationally, or, just in general, different.
In our household I lead the Christmas celebration. A Black father leads all the spirit, the atmosphere, picking the tree, decorating, music, knowing what our son likes, doesn’t like, and really truly desires. Even when gifts are being wrapped I instruct, “this comic book goes with that action figure, that comic book with that video game; no, that will go in his stocking and he needs to open this gift before that gift.” I even have different wrapping paper for the gifts my son receives on Christmas Eve and Christmas day. It’s an intimate production of ours and one that my wife’s parents have never witness, therefore our presumption was they were coming to be a part of our thing, not bringing their thing to our home.
Quick side note: I first met my wife at age 14, became a couple at age 16, married at age 22, 20-year anniversary in 2016. The scene I’m painting ain’t new, but it’s getting old—End of quick side note:
As we age, the reality of our parents just being older people making decisions in this thing called life becomes more apparent, and our familial roles can evolve to points of agreement naturally or through conflict. When my mother passed away, my father quickly remarried and thought we all could just continue being one big happy family. I was 25 when my mom passed and my father treated my two brothers and me like we were three-year-old triplets. He was forcing us to relive all of our childhood moments with his new wife. It happened so much it was either I say something or allow him and her to change my diaper. So I told him, as respectfully as I could, “She is not my mom, and can’t change my diaper! And I don’t even like Huggies, I am a Pampers type of kid!” I did not allow this tough period of life to detour the honesty I had shared with my father since birth, and our relationship has only evolved into a deep space of love and respect among a lot of conflicting and annoying stuff that has taken place in the seventeen years my mom has been gone. But in short, my dad no longer tries to fly my sleigh.
So I’m very mindful of having one living parent and how that positions my experience, relationship and some of my perspective differently then my wife who still has both of her parents present. Also, my wife is the eldest of three (two girls, one boy) while I am the middle child of three (three boys), and our roles within the sibling hierarchy are quite different, especially in the area of gender. As the eldest “Black girl,” my wife is treated more as a parent while her siblings are treated as their mother’s children, thus the idea she should house her siblings’ family and children as easily as her mom would. And as the eldest “Black girl Parent” you are held to be an example of success, in compliance with family wishes, responsible for food and activities, yet all the while silent as a participant. And this silence, silences our entire home.
Picture the characters in Toy Story; Woody, Buzz and the rest of the gang have their own way of life, but when a human is present all the toys pause– That’s us! When we open our home we pause a lot of our regular conversations, activities and routines to be welcoming to our guest. It’s one of those hospitality things and this high sense of hospitality is strong in my family, “my wife has it, I have it, and my son has it too.” And just as the Sunnyside Daycare did not make for a good home for Woody, nor would Lots-O-Huggin’ Bear make for a good leader in Andy’s bedroom. Especially if he moves your stockings over and puts his up. And yes, they did that too.
Holidays are meant for family, as well as the ups and downs that often accompany them. But this ain’t that! This is about my closes friend, her parents, her siblings, and the holiday violence they committed in my home. One of the most complex parts of love is our honesty to love ones, but life becomes less complicated when you are upfront with your parents about the boundaries of your household. Sometimes you have to tell a parent to “Put-the diapers- down, and step away from the grown baby,” because if you don’t, they will forever try to fly your sleigh.