Christmas Chaos

The photograph above encapsulates our extended-family Christmas Eve experience pretty well. Both of my brothers were in Ohio for the holiday, and most of us managed to travel to Middleburg Heights (about 40 minutes away from Kent) to worship at my sister’s church in the morning. Afterwards, we trickled back down to Kent and regrouped at our house for our traditional Christmas Eve feast and a gift exchange. We were excited to get to celebrate with the whole extended family.

Still, even before the evening formalities commenced, we’d had a pretty eventful day.

As the family started gathering around our fireplace, my Dad started showing signs of fatigue. He tried to take a nap on a few occasions, but couldn’t settle himself enough to sleep. So he was agitated, kind of anxious. My sister and her kids weren’t able to get on the road until later than expected, so the stretch of meal preparation (and preservation) lasted longer than initially anticipated. My brother Jay and my daughter Olivia killed time by drawing portraits of each other. But my Mom, my brother Alex, and my niece Kacie didn’t seem to quite know what to do with themselves. So, at the moment that I snapped that picture of Elliot staring back at me, bug-eyed, seemingly on the edge of insanity — the scene reflected a sort of Christmas chaos that will live on in my memory of this year’s observance of Christmas.

My current phase of life is sometimes described as being the “Sandwich Generation,” assuming a position in extended family dynamics as one of the more stable, more independent entities — with relatively instable, dependent family members on either side, both higher up the family tree and lower down on the family tree. Furthermore, I think the effect was heightened by being the host of the big Christmas Eve gathering for my side of the family — with my brothers residing in different states and my sister a 40-minute drive away. We’re figuring it out as we go. But it can be exhausting.

In the midst of the chaos, it’s important to focus on gratitude. And there were many things for which I felt deep gratitude throughout our family celebrations this year.

I hope that I will always remember sitting down next to my Dad during the church’s closing set of musical worship, while everyone else in the sanctuary was standing around us. It was hard to see down there, and I didn’t know what my Dad was experiencing through his Dementia. But then, as my right arm rested across his back and on his right shoulder, I started to feel vibrations that indicated my Dad was singing along with the rest of the congregation. I paid closer attention to his lips and noticed that he was singing the correct lyrics of the third and fourth verses — without being able to read the words on the screens — for “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” I remember seeing Elliot turn around to see us in that moment, and it made me cry.

I hope that I will always remember my sister Anna opening the package that contained the wooden cut-out bust of Louis XIV — followed by three generations of the family relaying bits and pieces of family lore, getting the story straight, reviving another tradition that’s been half a century in the making.

I hope that I will always remember the way that my brothers and my sons worked together to peel potatoes and fetch drinks for others… the way that we ate Lefse generously slathered with butter and cinnamon-sugar, rolled into cylinders and eaten amidst lively conversation with the older generations in the Family Room and the youngest generation in the Dining Room… the way that my Mom shocked us with her extravagant generosity, during present-opening time… the way that Jay and Olivia sparred over a pocket-sized Portuguese-English dictionary during our white elephant gift exchange…

There’s a lot of love in our family, even when there’s a lot of Christmas chaos. And more than any of the specific memories mentioned above, I’m thankful for that.

This entry was posted in Adolescence, Aging Parents, Children, Church, Family, Food, God, Home, Introspection, Kent, Middle Age, Music, Photography, Young Adulthood. Bookmark the permalink.

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