Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas in Contrast

I come from a significantly large family, especially on my mom's side. My mama was one of the "middle" children (number 5!) in a family of ten kids. I have a total of 20 first cousins, many of whom have children of their own, and most of us are within about five years of each other in age. Needless to say, our Christmases growing up were a loud and crazy episode of Romper Room.

Forget about sitting everyone around one table for a traditional Christmas dinner. I don't know if anyone ever sat at a table at all. I don't know if anyone could find a table under all of the stuff lying around. And there was no turkey, ham, or traditional holiday fare to be found. Our family has always devoured pans and pans of homemade pizzas on Christmas Eve. (Yummo!)

My grandma had one of those houses where if you opened all the doors downstairs you could run a giant circle throughout the house - and run we did! Zooming through the hot pizza factory kitchen, rounding the corner in the bathroom (hope nobody's in there!) running through the bedrooms, hopping over feet in the living room, and back into the kitchen again. We had boundless amounts of energy, because hello, it was Christmas Eve!

And when it came time for opening presents, it was a 1-2-3 GO! sort of affair. Paper went flying,  and all of the kids realized once again that they weren't receiving toys from grandma, but some sort of Jesus something or others, picked up from the Christian bookstore (I still have my God's Daughter purple sweatshirt, Grandma!) Oh yes, it was the same every year. And when our bellies were full of pepperoni, and after the plow came through to collect the heaps of wrapping paper, it was time to bundle up and head home.

That was my Christmas. That was all I ever knew Christmas to be. It was chaos, it was cousins, it was pizza, it was gift wrap was being packed like sardines into a small house and hearing Grandma's loud cackling laugh resounding over everyone else's.

And then I grew up a little, met a kid named Eric, and attended my very first Robert family Christmas.

Can you say, "Culture Shock?"

When we walked through the doors of Eric's grandparent's house on that first Christmas Eve, I was expecting to throw my coat somewhere and start yelling over the noise to carry on conversations with people I barely knew. But it was...quiet. The dining room table was beautifully set with cloth napkins and red-rimmed stemware and tapered candles. Standing around were a handful of adults, merrily absorbed in their own conversations, and there wasn't a single kid anywhere.

No rowdy hooligans were crashing through the toddlers were being knocked aside by rowdy hooligans. There were no babies being passed like footballs...and there was a turkey in the oven...turkey on Christmas Eve. I froze up like the icicles hanging off of the gutters outside.

The Robert Family - no kids!

I know that it's slightly awkward meeting your significant other's family for the first time, but this was a complete 180 from all that I knew to be true. I was introduced to everyone, and we all sat one place...and dove into a traditional meal. Someone served up the salad for everyone as we passed our plates down the line. There were "pleases" and "thank you's" and "what are you thankful for this Christmas?" type of conversations happening. Nobody threw their food on the floor, or broke the polite chatter with a rip-roaring snort.

I survived probably the most formal dinner I had ever attended (not joking), but nothing could prepare me for what was next. Everyone gathered in the living room as we prepared to exchange gifts. Finally, something familiar. One person played Santa as everyone gathered their separate pile of presents, and I was getting ready for the 1-2-3! when Grandma Robert said, "Okay, so shall we start with the youngest?" Um, what? Start? What is this "start" you speak of?

The presents were opened one by one, hurrah, hurrah!

One by one, each person opened up their gifts as everyone watched. Eeee...I'm not going to lie, it was the most awkward possible situation I could have ever been thrown into. I realize that most people's Christmases are probably very similar to this one, but it was definitely not my kind of Christmas. It was beautiful; it was Rockwellesque; but it was so not my Christmas.

And then there were games. Organized games. Oh, man. You know there are no children in the family when you can get everyone in the same room to play a game without someone wetting their pants. And everyone was so kind and wonderful, and I knew that they were trying to make me feel at home, even though I was still trying to defrost myself and get a whole sentence out of my mouth at once.

 The presents were opened one by one, Adrien wants to duck and run...haha...kidding.

I left that night gripping Eric's hand tightly, and realizing that if I was going to date this dude, and possibly marry him someday, that these Christmases were going to become my Christmases. But the night wasn't over yet. We drove together across town to my Grandma's house, and as we got out of the car, the noise could be heard from the street. And I knew that Eric's world was about to be rocked as mine had just been. :)

Eight years, four marriages, three babies (and another on the way!) later, and the Robert family's traditional Christmases are slowly starting to morph into something a bit more recognizable to me. It didn't take long for me to love the peaceful, plate passing, game playing contrast to my crazy Christmas extravaganzas, but that's all soon to change. And now, believe it or not, my two families are beginning to trade places.

I cannot imagine what it's going to be like this year, but my mom's side of the family is growing epic in proportions, with many of my aunts and uncles becoming grandparents themselves and branching off on their own. So this year, for the first time in my entire life, it's just going to be my immediate family on my mom's side on Christmas Eve. Will it be eerily quiet and foreign to me like that first Robert family Christmas? Hmm...I don't know. But things are evolving as they always do, and it's definitely going to be different.

Meanwhile at Grandma and Grandpa Robert's, my rambunctious daughter will be leading the pack with her cousin Austin and little sister Gracie not far behind. Eric's cousin Amanda has a bun in the oven as well, and I don't think any of us are done having kids yet. There will be highchairs and squeals and oohing and ahhing over babies. There will be children to watch open gifts, and toy trains to be played with. Looks like the Robert family is evolving as well.

Isn't it funny how things change? Don't get too used to something, because before you blink, it will all be different. A part of my heart aches that things aren't going to be quite the same as I have know them to be since I was in diapers. But now I have kids of my own in diapers. It's definitely time to figure out what traditions and celebrations will look like for our family - the Eric and Adrien Robert family. Exactly one week from the time I am typing this our families will be sitting down to Christmas Eve dinner. I have no clue what that's going to look like this year, but I sure am excited to find out!


Kim said...

I long for the days when we "went home for Christmas." Being #10 of 11 kids, by the time I grew up and had kiddos of my own, things had very much changed and in some strange way I have always felt a little cheated by that. I just always imagined it would be the same. Mom, Daddy, all my siblings, their spouses, their kids.....but like you said you grow up and things change. With the arrival of Baby Jay this year I do hope to start some new traditions in the Miller household but I will always have the memories of Christmases Past in the Ray house. Nothing special, but they are MY memories. Thanks for sharing, now to go get the kleenex......

Adrien said...

I totally get what you're saying. I tear up thinking about how all of MY memories will be so much different than the ones my girls will have. I just have to keep telling myself that their memories will be their memories no matter what, and they'll treasure them the way I treasure mine.

Still, I wish they could experience my crazy childhood Christmases...oh boy, I just need to think about something else for a while, haha.


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