My favorite thing in the world is spending time with my family. When my three kids are all home and are able to relax at the kitchen table with my husband and me, enjoying a nice dinner and bottle of wine, talking, laughing, telling stories, and sharing memories, my heart feels full. I absolutely love it when no one is in a hurry to leave, and we find ourselves still sitting in the same place hours after the meal has ended.
With my daughter away at college, my oldest son living on his own and working long hours, and my other son living 2000 miles away, opportunities for family time are not as frequent as I’d like. Holidays are typically the one time we can count on everyone’s schedules aligning, and ours are steeped full of family traditions. Cutting down and decorating the tree, watching Elf and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, feasting on amazingly decadent meals, stringing popcorn to hang outside for the birds, and doing a jigsaw puzzle together are among the highlights.
This year was different. My 21-year-old son, Joey, lives and works at a resort in Colorado where the holiday season is exceptionally busy. So I found myself struggling with a milestone that many parents have to go through sooner or later — my first Christmas without having all of my kids at home. (The moms I’ve shared this with have fallen into one of two categories – those who distinctly remember a similar first, and those who dread it happening one day!)
Joey has been doing seasonal work for a while, so I’ve felt lucky to have him at home for Christmas for the past two years. And he was home for Thanksgiving this year, which was an unexpected bonus. I felt like I’d done everything I could to prepare myself mentally for his absence. I knew I would miss him, but I didn’t want to feel like there was a dark cloud hanging over the holiday. I didn’t want to force myself to act happier than I really was, but I had no idea how that was going to work out for me.
As it turned out, our day was really, really nice. There were times, of course when I thought of Joey and got teary-eyed, but I wasn’t sitting around crying all day. I wished he was with us, but I kept in mind that he’s in a place he loves, with people he loves, earning money, and living the life he really wants. And he was eating great food (a high priority in our family!). He’s safe and healthy and happy, he wasn’t away from us for some tragic reason, and I wasn’t worried about him. I’d spent weeks reminding myself to be grateful for those things so, on Christmas, I didn’t have to force myself. The gratitude came naturally.
I sent him a package that arrived on Christmas Eve — a few presents, a big assortment of the Christmas cookies I bake every year, and a stocking filled with lots of little gifts. I thought he may be able to FaceTime, or even call, while opening his presents (while we were eating breakfast would have been perfect so we could pretend he was there with us), but that wasn’t even an option. I’m well aware that the cell service where he’s living isn’t good enough to support calls, so I wasn’t surprised when my daughter announced that she’d received a text from Joey that she would read during breakfast. I WAS surprised to find that I wasn’t sad about not being able to see or speak with him. He sent a perfect message, telling us what he missed about spending Christmas with us but also letting us know how happy he was.
Then, later in the day, I got this text: “Merry Christmas, Mom. Hopefully Anna shared my text with everyone today. Thank you so much for the package, it was a lot of fun to open, and I let some other people open a few presents just for fun. Thanks especially for the pants, I’ll put a lot of miles on them, and I’ll find out who the real Toy Story fans are when I throw on the Forky shirt. Love you”
Of course I couldn’t read it without getting choked up (if I’m being honest, I can’t write about it now without tearing up), but reading Joey’s message also warmed my heart because it gave me concrete evidence of what I already knew — that my husband and I have raised him to be adaptable, and independent, and generous. Would he have rather spent Christmas at home? I certainly hope so! But did being away keep him from having fun? Absolutely not. He knew he would have a good day, and he made it even better by letting others open his gifts. Maybe that will become a new tradition for him.
Each of my kids brings their own special and unique personality to our family, so the dynamic on Christmas was different without Joey. But the day was still fun and the conversation lively, and the rest of us thoroughly enjoyed being together. I know that my days of taking for granted that holidays will be spent as a family of five are behind us. There will be years when someone is missing, and, hopefully, years where new faces will join us.
This year was a great reminder to me that, although we may need to modify and adjust our traditions to accommodate the changes life brings, we don’t need to view that as a bad thing. Families grow and evolve — that’s part of life. By embracing the changes, focusing on what’s really important, and finding opportunities for gratitude, we’re able to be present and enjoy the real spirit of the holidays.
If you’re having a hard time dealing with the changes your family is going through, or if you’d like to share a success story about finding joy in a new stage of life, please reach out! I’d love to chat with you.
With love and light,