The holidays. They can be such a magical, fun, exciting, and sometimes outright crazy time of year. Especially when you have kids. When the holidays come around, the world sort of flips upside down. People who are generally happy throughout the year may tend to move to a darker place. People who are usually on the darker end of things can surprise you with a jovial, outright jolly attitude. One thing that is certain, though, is that the holiday season is pretty much universally known as a time to be together.
But what happens when you can’t be? What about those people that, no matter how bad they want it, can not seem to be with family at this insane time of year? Well, things are a little tougher, a little quieter, and a little less jolly. Not all bad, just not as festive as previous years.
When I was 20, I met the love of my life. Unfortunately for me, at the time, she was located about three whole states away. So, thinking as rationally as possible, I packed all my valuables up, jumped in my car, and made the ten hour drive to live with her and her family three weeks after we met. Crazy, right?
My family wasn’t completely on board, my friends thought I was an idiot, but we were so quickly enamored with each other, it felt stupid not to take the leap. And looking back, it really was stupid. But I’ve never done something to perfectly stupid in my life.
We lived together for about eight months, spent some time apart as a long distance relationship, and then have been together since with only one holiday apart. We’ve grown our family since then, but we’ll talk about that story later.
For now, we’ll stick to what I sat down to write about – the holidays and spending them between families.
When you live states away from the family you grew up with, you develop a sense of nostalgia for old family traditions. Be it the food, the decorations, or the people. There’s something that feels very irregular about the situation.
I remember spending my first holiday away from my parents, my siblings, and my friends. The feeling sits as fresh as the day it happened in my mind. I felt guilty, empty, scared for some reason, and like I was damaging something that I could never fix. After some therapy and a lot of self reflection, I can tell you why I was feeling those ways now, but back then it was a hellish feeling.
I feel like I should mention that my family and I have a strained relationship. Things were especially difficult six years ago when this happened. Why did I feel so guilty? Because I felt like I was taking something from them. Their little boy was away for Christmas. As a father now, I can definitely empathize, but as the child at the time, the guilt they were openly pushing me to feel was unbearable. Unfair. Ridiculous. I wasn’t going to stay a child forever. Hell, within three years from then, they’d have a grandchild out of me, so I would definitely fall out of the “little boy” category at that point.
Things had pretty much always been strained before then, and in the moment, even more so. I knew how tough we’d always been on each other, and usually been fair about where to place the blame, but for the first time – it really felt like this was my fault.
The guilt was filling me to the brim and spilling out of my ears. Suddenly, all the fights my family and I had consistently had throughout the years felt like a giant ball of my mistakes that I had just been trying to throw on other people. Maybe that was the case, sure, but I don’t think that’s really what that was.
Being away from my family, I remembered the fun my cousins and I would have. I remembered the jokes my father would tell and the food my mother would cook. I remembered the time my siblings and I spent together. I remembered all the good times and none of the bad. Thinking about all of that, on a day like Christmas, truly made me feel horrible. Not horrible because of what I’d done by not being there, but because of what I’d taken for granted. Since having my son, I promised myself I would not deprive him of what I had growing up. Hopefully, sparing him all the pointless fights, but gifting him with all the love that I had experienced.
Having a child with grandparents in different states has been tough. We treat the situation a lot like divorced parents working out custody. There are on and off years for Christmas and Thanksgiving, with birthdays being up for grabs. It isn’t an impossible situation, it’s just a situation you have to want to make work. My family loves me. I know they do. And I love them. We just fight a lot. If you think about it, that’s actually a really good sign. It means I feel so comfortable with them, that I can let out my aggression. Like how toddlers are always worse with their parents than they are with babysitters or relatives. Of course, I am not a toddler, but just a grown man comparing himself to one.
Holidays are tough when you live separately like this. So just try to make sure to keep things as even as you can, video chat, text, send pictures, make your favorite dishes, and try to keep traditions alive in your own house. Living distant shouldn’t affect living beautifully.