I grew up as one of the lucky ones.
The youngest of six daughters in a house with paper thin walls. I grew up with curlers in the bathroom, a bevy of family birthday celebrations, a closetful of dress-up shoes to choose from when I wanted to play Nancy Drew or Charlie’s Angels. I was introduced to frosted lipstick and platform heels at a young age, with my mother none the wiser.
It was fun, the chaos.
My house was always packed for the holidays. We filled it on our own, with husbands and grandchildren, presents and laughter. My house was the one people wanted to visit. You couldn’t be lonely with my loud clan. And my parents generally made sure people weren’t—lonely, that is. We had many “strays” at our celebrations.
I just returned from visiting my raucous clan. A little less loud, more on the near side of tame as we age, we still gather. Mom and Dad are, sadly, gone so the celebrations have changed a bit. But we still gather—and as we gather, so we heal. Nevertheless, I am sad as I unpack my overstuffed suitcase.
This week, I got to do the things that make life “normal” for me. Chase my niece’s daughter around while chatting about everything from giraffes to cartoons– remembering doing the exact same thing with my niece a few decades ago. Listen to my youngest after his return from an NBA game, breathlessly excited about the hot dog and the pretzel and LeBron and oh yes—his older cousin, the one who took him and made said game an adventure. With tickets my sweet sister provided.
I got to meet old family friends for dinner and reminisce—with much laughter—about their parents who are now deceased but still fondly remembered. I got to eat my sister’s newest pie recipe and quibble with another of my siblings about who was now taller. Per usual, we argued over who was picking up the restaurant check—nearly arm wrestling each other to get to it. All of this is oh so normal in my world.
I don’t want to misrepresent. It’s not all sunshine, roses and pats on the back. When Dad died, there was some radio silence between some of my siblings for some time. We don’t always agree. We don’t always even like each other. But somewhere in there is love—dysfunctional as it is—and so we heal. When we gather, we heal. In the same way that gathering with a couple of my old college friends recently reminded me of who I once was—of the girl still inside of me—gathering with my family does the same.
There is something inexplicable and irreplaceable about being with people who knew you when you wore knee socks with shorts. People who saw your awful perms and are too quick to remind you of things you’d rather forget—like bowling trophies or old boyfriends. People who knew your father had a temper and hated people walking on his lawn—but had a heart of gold at his soft, squishy center.
My family does not always see how lucky they are. Most are still blooming where they were planted, en masse. I now get a taste, each year, of what it’s like not to be one of the lucky ones. I am bound here—away from my family–for the holidays, but see my sons for only an eve or a day so they can also spend time with my ex. I am now the stray that is invited to friends’ celebrations, or not. I now know what a quiet holiday feels like. Still foreign, to be honest.
Give me the chaos. And with it, give me the healing.
I know some of us have had to find our own tribes. Not everyone is born into one they can stand—or one that can stand them. But surely there is a gathering for each of us out there. And having had far too much of feeling tribeless, I truly think one of the ills that ails society as a whole is that we move fast and far from those who love us from Day One.
Find yourself a little controlled chaos this holiday. I recently wrote about Linda, a woman I met on the train who seemed lonely. Too many Lindas out there. I still remember vividly my son and I dropping off holiday cookies last year to an elderly woman down the block. Her children were coming to see her on Christmas Day, traveling from other states. But, at 90-something, she was alone on Christmas Eve with a TV tray in a quiet house when we delivered our goodies.
That breaks my heart. This year, let’s create the gathering. And in doing so, hopefully the healing also.
Wishing you both as we begin this holiday season.