By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Christmas has gotten to be a scheduling nightmare. Peter lives in Minnesota. Christina lives in Southern California. Jon and I live in Northern California.
That puts 400 miles between us and our daughter and 1600 miles between us and our son. Not exactly over the river and through the woods.
And when I say my son lives in Minnesota and my daughter lives in SoCal, I mean it. They live there.
Peter’s got a job, a townhouse and a gym membership – in Minnesota. He’s found a community basketball league to play in. He owns a car with four-wheel drive, the better to navigate the Minnesota winters. He has a brand-new wife and a passel of extremely nice, Midwestern-style in-laws.
Christina. Same thing. She’s got her sights on a career in the entertainment industry. She has a gym membership, and some cool SoCal writer friends. By the end of this month, she’ll be moving
into a new apartment with a boyfriend she’s crazy about, who happens to have an extended family that also goes on forever – in Southern California. That and a 7-year-old son he sees every other weekend.
How in the world are we Newhalls supposed to do the holidays together anymore? When geography isn’t getting in the way, labyrinthine family commitments are.
And so, the other day, midsummer though it was, I decided to stake my claim to a little holiday time with my kids – preferably both of them. Joined maybe hopefully by both of their SOs with possibly a 7-year-old thrown in to make things really Christmasy.
I sent out emails.
No, Peter and Emily couldn’t make it out west for Christmas, but, yes, they could be here for Thanksgiving.
And, yes, Christina could also be here for the turkey. As for Christmas, we’d have to figure that out later. “But I’m not going to leave you and Dad alone for Christmas,” Christina reassured me. “Don’t worry.”
Alone for Christmas? Just the two of us?
What would that be like?
I thought about it. And the more I thought about it, the more OK it felt.
Because maybe it’s time to rethink Christmas.
After all, how is Peter to be in two places at once at Christmas – here and in Minnesota with his wife and her family?
How is Christina supposed to be here for Christmas and yet be in SoCal with the guy she loves on the little piece of Christmas – Christmas Eve this year – that is his allotted time with his son?
When I poll my friends, family and the sweaty ladies in my Zumba class I find out that I’m not the only one with far-flung grown-up kids who may or may not be home for Christmas. Or Passover. Or Eid. Or Diwali.
There’s the daughter who lives and works in Paris. The niece who’s studying in Thailand. The son who’s taken off for Columbia. The daughter who’s decamped to Albania with her Albanian husband and their little kids. And the daughter who didn’t stop at taking up residence in London, but went on to get a British passport.
What are the chances of getting any of those children and grandchildren to come by for the roast Christmas goose?
About the same as my grandmother’s chances of getting my parents to make the 240-mile, seven-hour drive on icy two lane country roads from Detroit to Scottville, Michigan, back in 1952.
Maybe the salient question isn’t, can Christmas be Christmas without family?
Maybe it’s, can a family be a family without Christmas?
I think it can.
As long as we manage a few days together at Disneyland from time to time. Or a week or so on a beach somewhere. Or a family trip to Yosemite. Or a Thanksgiving dinner at our house once in a while, with all the trimmings.
More family stories at “I’m the Mother of the Groom — Now What?” and “A Mom, a Dad and an 8-Year-Old With a Bashed Lip.”