My husband and I just got back from a trip to Georgia (the state, not the country), where I grew up, to see my family for the holidays.
We’re a little early, of course. We used to try to get together over the actual holiday, but with our two families of in-laws in two different cities (neither one our own), plus all the different arrangements of our family’s families, logistics got too difficult.
So we adapt, this year rolling into our four-day visit three family birthdays, our early Christmas gift exchange, two celebratory dinners, Christmas cookie making, and even a visit to a winery.
Like most families, ours has had its share of highs and lows:
- We’re down a few members from various life changes. We’ve had great triumphs and joys individually and together, as well as heartbreaking losses and setbacks.
- We are on opposite sides of the political spectrum and have had plenty of friction over ideology and policy and politics.
- We’ve made memories together that are some of the best and most joyful of my life. We’ve also shared experiences that are among the worst.
- We’ve had periods of connection and love that to me are the essence of everything family is. We’ve had arguments and difficulties and even estrangements that so often are the flip side of the family coin.
But we keep showing up.
This year’s visit had its challenges. Before my husband and I even stepped on the plane for Atlanta we got a call from our trainer, where we had boarded one of our dogs, that he was having a hard time, and at the last minute we considered whether we needed to pick him up and one of us stay home.
We also spent a fair amount of time worrying about the other pup, who suffers from a bit of doggy dementia and was alone at home with an unfamiliar pet sitter.
But amid those stresses and worries we also enjoyed my young niece’s sheer delight in our arrival that she rapturously pronounced “a Christmas miracle!”, and a shopping excursion for her with just me and my mom catering to her like her personal stylists so she could pick out her own outfits as her gift.
There was the gift-wrapping session downstairs in the basement with my husband and grown nephew, the latter of whom had shown up at my mom’s to see us before we even pulled in from the airport. The three of us spent hours just talking about our lives, our family, and life in general.
There were cocktail happy hours each evening with everyone sitting around the kitchen island picking off the magnificent charcuterie trays my brother whipped up, all of us telling family stories, ribbing each other good-naturedly, and laughing—always lots of laughing.
There was the spontaneous contest my brother created that I don’t even want to tell you about (except I do): where teams of the “kids” (meaning my mother’s middle-aged children as well as my nephew and his girlfriend, and my hubs) each tried to create a secretly obscene cookie that was disguised as something else without my mom picking up on what they actually were. We told Mom she was judging the prettiest cookie, but my stepfather was judging the real contest: most cleverly disguised filthy cookie.
My mom was onto us from the moment we started (family knows you well), though we played dumb and she played along, and hours of hilarity ensued. Later my beaming nephew pronounced, “This is the best Christmas!”
It was, in fact, one of our best.
We’ve had some that were far less joyful—sometimes for obvious reasons and sometimes because of unexpected snafus or frictions. And even though it’s usually these wonderful ones that make memories we’ll always have, the ones that define what our family is at its very best (at least by our definition), we’d never get to those without powering through the other kind. The hard ones.
We have to keep showing up, as much as we are able, and trying our best.
Flying home with a lovely afterglow from the visit, I thought about all this…and of course I related it to writing and creative efforts. Not every writing session is always successful. Not every story is a home run.
But we have to show up, as well as we are able to. We have to keep trying, pushing through those harder times to get to the ones where everything starts to flow.
That’s when the good stuff happens.
I hope this holiday season is one of the good ones for you. And I hope your writing and your stories pour onto the page just as you dreamed them.
But if either one of those wishes doesn’t come true for you this year…just keep showing up. The good times will come, maybe all the sweeter for the struggle.
Happy holidays to you and yours, my friends. Thank you for showing up to share your time and a portion of your lives with me. I’d love to hear about your favorite holiday memories and traditions, and how you show up for the ones you love.
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