Friday, December 24, 2010

A Christmas Gift

I know many adults who share stories of going home for the holidays and noticing that they suddenly regress to old behaviors. I am one of those adults and this is one such story.

Setting the stage: the Cronin family has several Christmas-time traditions that are important to us: a sibling gift exchange, reading the Night Before Christmas, gift opening on Christmas morning, a big breakfast, family pictures, a big Christmas dinner, etc. As our family has grown and we’ve added in spouses and partners we’ve chosen to make some changes in order to best meet all of the needs and wants while still fitting in nearly all of our traditions. In short, we moved Christmas Eve to the 23rd and Christmas to the 24th. A primary challenge, however, is that most everything takes place from the afternoon of 12/23 to the early afternoon of 12/24…it is a lot to get done in 24 hours or less! Put this together with the events of our journey to Duluth and the stage is set for this story (see post “Knowing”). Oh, and I was still on a narcotic pain medication from surgery two days ago…

For a long time in my family I have taken on a role of keeping things moving along so that they would get done. I have an ability to see how all the pieces can (“should”) come together so that all of the plans will happen within the desired timeframe. In years past, this was not too difficult a task because we had a lot of time and if the gift opening took a bit longer than usual it was no big deal because we would just move everything else to later in the day. In our current reality, however, we do not have a lot of time and moving something to later in the day is really not an option.

The “drama” (my drama, really) begins at about 6:40 am – we “have” to get over to my sister’s house (just across the yard) and be ready to start opening gifts by 7 am. Well, as I said, it is 6:40 and my wife and kids and my parents are all just barely getting moving. I find myself prodding folks along; feeling stressed and tense; and beginning to get aggravated…on Christmas morning…about beginning to open Christmas presents “on time”. “I” finally “get” everyone at my parents’ house to a point where I believe they will be ready soon so I head over to my sister’s house with my camera (another role I play) to be ready for taking pictures as my girls come in. When I arrive I find that the adults at my sister’s house are also not “ready” . This reality hits me square in the face, and I don’t like it. And so, my stress level and my aggravation increase.

At last, everyone is “ready” and we can begin the orchestrated (in my mind, anyway) event of gift opening. We start with the kids (my niece ZaTanna, 14, and my daughters Mary Jane, 3 ½ years, and Rebekah, 4 months) on the stairs waiting to come in to where the tree and gifts are (a tradition that started with me and my siblings) – pictures are taken…by several of us. Then the children are invited down the stairs and into the living room to see what Santa has left for them. Then begins the gift opening…and me trying to direct (i.e., control) who opens how many gifts at a time so that we (I, really) can be sure that Mary Jane doesn’t lose interest and that all gifts are finished being opened at the same time. Keep in mind that there are 10 adults, one teenager, one preschooler and an infant in the room…and so my stress-level and aggravation continue to rise. Do you have a feel for it?

Somewhere, amidst all of my stress and aggravation, I realize that I assume all of these traditions are important and that they must happen – but I don’t check that out with myself or anyone else to see if it is true or not. I also remember, again, that I really do not like to be the task master. Nor is this role best suited for my talents and strengths. I would much prefer to focus on the experience of being together and capturing some of the joy and love with my camera. ;Yet I find some sense of comfort in taking on this role. As if ensuring that everything is moving on schedule is somehow going to make everything safe and okay. Perhaps this is one way for me to cling to the familiar; to avoid dealing with change and the reality that I cannot control the experience I have or that my family has.

Do I really even want to control that experience? I’m really not sure that I do. And yet trying to control it is my default position. Perhaps this is my real Christmas “gift” this year: an opportunity to look at the drama I play out while at home and to choose whether or not I will keep playing it out. I choose not to…and I make that choice with some fear and apprehension – and some relief and excitement.

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