Every holiday season, my mother invites my four siblings and myself to meet at her home with my stepfather (who is living with cancer) and my grandmother (who is living with Alzheimer's) at their home in Virginia. While I look forward to spending time with them, every time we meet, there is chaos.
Now that I am older, I understand part of the reason for the chaos. I have a completely different expectation around the format of celebrating the holiday than my mother does.
I expect that we will gather, play some games, eat some food, possibly watch bad television--or even venture out to see a movie--and then go our separate ways. It will be a good time.
But my mother has a basic belief that it would surely not be possible for us to enjoy the gathering (or the meal) unless we are ising the exactly-right format. That means eating on the appropriate china, using the right flatware, which has all been laid on top of a table in just the right format (antique mahogany, with the company-sized leaf in).
I will freely admit that this raises the stress considerably. That's because it really means that, at any given moment, Mom might throw her hands into the air and decide that the holiday has been ruined.
That's a lot of pressure for what amounts to a series of inconsequential details.
The forks cannot ruin the day.
The rolls burning cannot ruin the day.
Even my stepbrother showing up drunk and insulting my brother can't ruin the day.
These are just events. They don't have the power to save or ruin anything, unless we decide they do.
Our job, as thoughtful adults, is to choose consciousness. We examine our thoughts, or decisions, and our level of participation. We mindfully select methods of interaction. We leave room for our human response. And if we mess it up, we try again later.
You know, it's hard to avoid getting old wounds and grudges activated when we plug into the family drama. That's completely normal. But if we want something different, then it's time for us to try a different approach.
We are, as the song said, only human. Let's sail into the holidays with a full understanding of our choices.
Eat, drink and choose to be merry. It's just another day. And if all else fails, take a board game with you. It will shift everyone into fun mode.
Be good to yourself. I look forward to seeing you soon.