The holidays are fast approaching so now is a good time to explore some of the unique aspects of family gatherings for empty nesters.
(A little note from the authors: When we refer to Christmas, please feel free to substitute Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, winter solstice or whatever it is you celebrate. We are only using Christmas as an example because it is our family tradition, and to keep from having to write three or four names every time we refer to a holiday. Absolutely no slight is intended or any preference for one over another. If your family is like ours, no doubt any one of them can be just as crazy as the next.) Thanksgiving, Christmas or both… who, what, where, when and how?
When we were a young family, the holidays posed a problem for us. Whose family we should visit? Both sides wanted to spoil their grandkids and have the big family holiday — hard to achieve without feelings getting flogged or feathers being ruffled.
We worked it out by alternating Thanksgivings as much as possible and insisting that we create our own Christmas traditions with our kids in our own home. If extended family wanted to see us they were more than welcome to join in. We haven’t forgotten the limitations that young people face as our own kids attempt to tackle the December Debacles for themselves.
Later on, while we were living on a tiny Caribbean island, the girls attended college in Washington, D.C. and New York City. The physical distance — coupled with the short amount of time they were given off from classes — made it nearly impossible for them to come home for Thanksgiving.
Several times we solved that predicament by getting together at a relative’s house up in the States. That made the trip shorter for the girls and more fun for us because we got to see some of our extended family. Other times our stranded students were fortunate enough to be invited to the house of a friendly family of a friend to join in their Turkey Day celebration.
Christmases were much more conducive to travel with plenty of time between semesters for longer stays. We never had any problems there — who doesn’t want to visit the Caribbean in late December?
Now, if our grown-up kids want to come home and relive childhood memories, flying all of them from the far corners of the map to wherever we happen to be can get mighty expensive. They may be job-having, bill-paying, non-leech-type entities, but since they are just starting out, travel money is often scarce. When do we stop paying for plane tickets?
Do we miss out on seeing The Spawn because we don’t feel like forking out the money or do we go to their homes? Visiting on their turf saves them money, but we’re still doling it out. Then we have to decide which kid gets to be blessed with our presence. Do we pay to bring the other offspring there too? Where does everyone stay? There go the savings.
It may be time to take turns or get creative. Perhaps meet somewhere in the middle, between everyone’s homes. Find a place where flying isn’t the only travel option. Maybe split the vacation time between two or more places. The key is to be sure everyone is as flexible as possible and that no one takes a holiday solution as a personal affront.
As the little chicks get bigger, they begin to take some of these travel tasks upon themselves (in a perfect world). Our girls, The Piglet and Decibel, have already begun to cross that bridge.
We have the benefit of two out of our three offspring living in the same city, so now holidays in New York City are becoming the norm. We have had the pleasure of staying in The Piglet ‘s studio apartment when we visit the city and even gobbled up Thanksgiving dinner at Decibel’s humble abode last year. Pretty cool… and Decibel can cook up a mean pumpkin pie.
Even though we are GypsyNesters and don’t have a home to host a holiday hoedown, we still face geographic constraints for Thanksgiving with our travels, the girls’ hectic work schedules and The Boy’s college commitments. this year we will be with Veronica’s family on the west coast, The Piglet and Decibel will celebrate together in the Big City and The Boy will be visiting friends near school.
It’s tough being apart, but the phone will be constantly ringing — “How long does Dad boil the giblets for the gravy?” “Decibel doesn’t eat refined sugar anymore and the pumpkin pie won’t taste right — tell her to give up the restrictions for one day!” and the family favorite “Happy Thanksgiving Butthole!” (It’s a long story complete with hectic holiday shopping and angry hillbillies, best left alone.)
Then there are times when the inevitable big family reunion-type gathering looms. Everyone is welcome, right? Hmmm… sadly, the reality with most families is that certain members probably shouldn’t be around each other for very long. Plan accordingly.
Have interesting excuses at the ready. Gee, I hate that I can only make it for a day, but I’ve got this… a) muskrat hunting trip in the Yukon, b) meeting with the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, c) Christmas Eve boil lancing scheduled… well, you get the idea.
All in all, we have discovered that it really doesn’t matter where you are or what’s on the table, it’s all about being together. One of our best family memories involved a ill-fated trip to Cleveland. Not having planned properly (who? US?), we ended up with three teen-agers stuck in a hotel on Thanksgiving. Not a restaurant was open in the city, so we made a spread out of tortilla chips and beef jerky from the mini mart next door.
An unconventional holiday feast, to be sure, but one that all five of us look back on with fond feelings.
Or perhaps, we’re just weird. Yeah, that’s probably it.
David & Veronica, GypsyNester.com
YOUR TURN: How have the holidays changed for you?