Next in the holiday line up came Christmas. Honestly, I never felt all that merry, in spite of television ads that INCESSANTLY insisted that everyone must (merrily) join the frenzy of buying family gifts. (Maybe I don’t get it because I’m Jewish?) Or call me Scrooge, but it STILL drives me crazy to be forced to listen to “White Christmas” and other holiday favorites over and over, on an infinite repeat loop, every time I enter a store. (Last year it was inescapable on Madison Ave because someone had fiendishly arranged for piping Christmas carols onto the sidewalks OUTSIDE the stores.) Going back to my single days, Christmas was a weird holiday for those of us too young to be children, but not yet parents. The wrong age and the wrong religion made Christmas a lonely holiday. If Christmas was bad, New Year’s Eve could be even worse. What if I didn’t have a boyfriend? What if I got stood up? One year my New Year’s Eve date never showed up because he was hit by a taxi. I was left in lonely limbo and simmering with rage until after midnight when he finally called from the hospital to explain. Although I felt sorry for him, I’d already decided he wasn’t “the one” because only a week earlier he’d gotten drunk at his office Christmas party and really HAD stood me up.
Once I got married and had a family of my own, I thought the holidays would finally be wonderful (or at least not dreadful.) And –for the most part—the holidays did improve, passing in a happy-but-hectic way for many years. Once Henry and I were together, I didn’t have to worry about loneliness (or my parents making me feel like a failure for being single). Then, after my twins were born—the day after Christmas—I felt a much more joyful about December. I thought Max and Sarah would be my special holiday gifts forever. Or would they? For many years, our family lit the menorah, celebrated Hanukah together, and Howard and I enjoyed watching our kids open gifts. Often we went on winter vacation and watched our twins blow out their birthday candles on a tropical island. On New Year’s Eve, our family went to a hotel party; we watched midnight fireworks in the Cayman Islands, Barbados or Jamaica (if one or all of us didn’t fall asleep first).Even after Max and Sarah left for college, they still came home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s. Instead of dreading “the holiday trifecta,” I actually looked forward to refilling my empty nest. On Thanksgiving, my family ate turkey dinner together; for Christmas we favored Chinese food, (It’s a bona fide tradition!) and on New Year’s Eve, we ate steak. On December 26th, we celebrated our twins’ birthday together as a family throughout their college years. Of course Max and Sarah usually left Henry and me right after dinner to join friends or go to a party. I was delighted that my kids had people to meet and places to go, especially Sarah, on the autistic spectrum, who’d been friendless for most of her childhood. Seeing my twins over the holidays, catching up on their lives, and observing their maturation (or lack thereof), usually gave Henry and me plenty of smiles.
Now that both twins have graduated college, I can no longer count on holidays to be happy reunions or family celebrations. Last year Sarah decided to celebrate her 23rd birthday alone with her boyfriend, while Max unexpectedly joined a friend in Idaho to work on a television script. For the first time in my twins’ lives, Henry and I spent their birthday without them! It was comforting to know THEY were both happy, but I still couldn’t help feeling sad. Was their 23rd birthday the first of many family occasions we would celebrate apart or just a one-time disappointment? Somehow I couldn’t help feeling my nest was on the slippery slope toward becoming fully empty all year round.
It turns out I was right to worry. This year Thanksgiving—the non-religious, non-romantic, slam-dunk of family holidays—became a double question mark. Would Max and Sarah prefer to spend Thanksgiving with their respective girlfriend’s and boyfriend’s families instead of with us? Now that Max has fully moved out, and Sarah is busy every day and also spends half the week at her boyfriend’s house, it suddenly seemed important (at least to Momma bird) that we all come together for Thanksgiving dinner with my 87 year old mother. Unlike my parents, I don’t interrogate my kids about their respective romantic relationships. (Usually, I learn more when I don’t ask). Anyway, in my family no news is usually the best news….This year, both kids are joining us for Thanksgiving. However, I’m not at all sure they would have participated if I hadn’t impressed upon them how important it is for us to be together now (at least for me). Like many new empty nesters, Henry and I are living in an amorphous and peculiar transitional period. Our twins are old enough to be in year-long, serious relationships, but also young enough not to be engaged or married. That means there are three separate families who each want their offspring home for Thanksgiving. All of us are willing to invite our kids’ significant others, but nobody is quite ready to include a second or (in our case) third extended family in their Thanksgiving dinner plans. (That’s an awful lot of turkey being shared by too many unrelated strangers who may, or may not, become family).
As this year’s trifecta gets under way, I’m thinking it’s probably best to take future holidays (including birthdays) one year at a time. Last Wednesday my daughter performed in her teacher’s Sondheim recital, and the title of her song struck me as what’s most important for now: “No One is Alone.”