My stepchildren are now in their early 20s and the struggle to negotiate where they are going to be when is on their plates rather than ours. I listened this year when our oldest daughter shared her frustrations with her mother’s family for not deciding on a day and time for their Thanksgiving celebration and for not seeming to prioritize the family and travel considerations of she and her cousin, who are at school hours away. I gave all those sounds that said I was listening and I understood what she was saying. Until she said that this is her least favorite time of year because it is so hard to juggle everyone’s needs. I told her that lots of people feel that struggle, even without multiple parents and grandparents. At her age the in-law and my family issues begin for many. Where will we go, how long will we stay, and will we enjoy any of it by the time it is over? I also told her that I wished the scheduling struggles she was dealing with were new, but they were not. What is new is that they are on her plate now. The parents no longer argue over where she will be and then just tell her what they decided. Now she has to decide and that, despite how difficult those childhood years were, is even more difficult.
Both she and our oldest son joined us for our extended family’s Thanksgiving. They arrived before dinner, we had a chance to talk and catch up. I had a chance to meet her new boyfriend. We ate and laughed. And then they packed up and headed to the next party, having received empathy from others that they were attending three Thanksgiving feasts today.
Why do we drive ourselves crazy to go to such lengths? Why not just choose one and say someone else is in next year’s rotation?
Because, at least while we are young and believe we can do it all, we want to see everyone and hold onto the idea that it is all going to be possible for always. Those crazy drives from one party to another can drive us crazy, but they also cement the bonds between lovers and siblings who are our partners in persecution.
As a stepparent, I had to sit down and take the time to write this post when I realized that a) I had no anxiety or inner struggles prior to today’s events and b) I only briefly had the thought that, while we were first, because their mother was last she was likely to end up with more of their time. I only briefly thought it because the quantity of time was not important. This year, what mattered was that they loved us enough to make the effort to attend each celebration and to share traditional dishes and some conversation. I would have missed them were they not there, but I can look ahead and say that, when they come to their senses and realize they can no longer pull everything off in one afternoon, I will be okay missing them because I know I will see them next year or the next day. By then my aunts and uncles may no longer be with us and the extended family celebration will have changed into my mom, brothers, children, and (by then maybe) grandchildren.
Families are funny. Who is in them changes. People are born. People die. People join and people leave. The circle expands and contracts, but as long as there is a circle, there is a family. I also realized, as I walked into Thanksgiving this year, that for the first time since my father died, I was walking into a family gathering with more anticipation of seeing those still with us than dread at feeling his absence.
These are little moments for which I am thankful. Today’s view from the step was mellow and colored by gratitude, if not exuberant joy. Those days, I hope, are to come again.