"So, I was thinking we could try to put Emma down for a nap early, and when she wakes up we'll head over to your mom's for the dinner – since we did my mom's for dinner last year. Then, we'll head over to my mom's for dessert. Jakey's just gonna have to wing it with the naps. We can't worry about his schedule today. How does that sound?"
My wife sounds a bit frantic as she says this. She's more stressed than usual about our Christmas schedule this year. For the first time, we'll be lugging two children around with us – two children under two.
Every year since we've been together, we've split Christmas Day evenly between our immediate families. Our moms only live 10 minutes from one another so rotating holidays was never an option.
First, my wife and I did the Christmas tour as a duo. Then we added a Boston Terrier to the family. For years – enough years for our moms to worry about the likelihood of grandchildren – we were a trio. Last year, our daughter enjoyed her inaugural dual-grandmom Christmas. And this year, thanks to an arrogant disregard for birth control, we have another new baby making his Christmas debut.
When my wife got pregnant the second time, I was sure we'd start doing everything at our house. But the closer we got to the holidays, the more ridiculous the idea of hosting Christmas became. Of course, our moms would keep their long-standing traditions alive. And why shouldn't they? They both work so hard at making the holidays special. For my mom, this hasn’t been easy. After her divorce, I thought Christmas would always be something she dreaded. Now, some of my mom’s friends leave their own holiday gatherings just to end the night at the amaretto-sipping, Left-Right-Center-playing, Italian-dessert-filled after-hours party at my mom’s.
Is it a challenge to cart around children, canines, presents, diaper bags, and baked goods to multiple houses without the kids getting their proper naps? Absolutely. But here's why it's well worth the chaos:
Nostalgia isn't quite the right word for what happens when I turn onto my mom's street and see everything looks just as it did 10, 15, or even 20 Christmases ago. Going to my mom’s for the holidays is part longing for a childhood gone by, sure, but it's also something much stronger.
The standard rules of time and space don't apply to 1712 Kendrick Lane on Christmas. On that day, in that house, I experience everything both as a 36-year-old father of two and as the obnoxious 16-year-old prick with frosted-tip "Sugar Ray" hair who had just gotten arrested for something called "turfing," i.e., joyriding on the lawns (back and front) of suburban homeowners.
As an adult, when you return to the place you spent your childhood Christmases, it's only natural to revert to how you were as a kid. We all do it. My mom becomes the concerned parent who subconsciously needles my sister with a string of passive-aggressive jabs. My sister once again becomes the teenage daughter who won't hesitate to go for the emotional jugular in response to those jabs. (It's all because you smoked during your entire pregnancy with me!) And I devolve into the attention whore who spends the entire day seeking out the line of good taste and then leaping headfirst over it. Just two years ago, my mom yelled at me in earnest for making a prank phone call at the dinner table. I was 34.
My wife’s family does the same thing. Every Christmas, my mother-in-law and her siblings – or “The Louds” as we affectionately refer to them – scream at one another for hours on end. If I wasn’t accustomed to it, it would be terrifying. But there’s no anger in The Louds’ yelling – they’re simply reverting to the communication methods they relied on growing up in a home with six kids. The regression is so strong they even refer to their own mom as “mommy” when they retell the old stories at Christmas.
It's good for the kids
My mom’s mom died when I was very young, and I don’t have many memories of her. But I do have a few. Each of those memories takes place at my grandmother’s house … in her kitchen. It makes sense that my limited memories of my grandmother would take place in her kitchen. That was her domain, and it’s the domain of my mom and my mother-in-law, too.
I want my own kids to have the same type of memories of their grandmoms, I mean of their Nonnie and MomMom. And to fully experience Angela and Susan in their element, you have to see them bipping and bopping around their kitchens on Christmas Morning. The sheer amount of food these manic Italian women can create in such a small space is a wonder to behold, a Christmas miracle in and of itself.
It won’t last forever
The things I complain most about tend to also be the ones I miss the most when they’re gone. I might bitch about how hectic it is to rush from house to house, worrying that everybody’s getting a fair split of time with the grandkids. But deep down, I love it and I don’t want it to ever change. Because I know when these remarkable women finally do relinquish their holiday hosting duties, it’ll be because they can’t handle it any longer. And I don’t want to think about what it looks like when that day comes.