I inadvertently started a new story series on my blog that began with a rather amusing but improbable imagining of me as a husband and father. So I’ve decided to start posting them here three at a time…
“Is It January Yet?”
And now we've come to my least favorite part of the year -- the holidays. There was a time when that wasn't the case, but that ended four years ago. Bradley and I had just acquired Pierpont earlier that year and both sides of our respective families were clamoring to meet him and shower him with gifts. It was decided that there was no better time than the holidays to orchestrate those meetings.
But my mother lives a few hours north of us with my grandmother, my father is still in New Jersey with his second wife and my brother lives in Baltimore with his wife and two sons while most of Bradley's family still lives in eastern Arizona.
Early in our relationship, Bradley let it be known that Christmas with his family was mandatory. That was fine with my family as they preferred to have Thanksgiving with me now that I was older and presents were no longer a factor. Plus, I already had an established system with them for that holiday. I'm with my mother and grandmother on odd-numbered years and with my father on even-numbered years.
I placed no such onus on Bradley to attend either, though he was more than welcome.
Then came the Pierpont Year. He came to us that September and we held off my mother and Bradley's family as long as we could from descending upon Long Beach so that we could have time to become a family of our own. By the time talks about the holidays began, no one on either side of our respective families had met him yet and the multitude of pictures were no longer enough for them. But both sides wanted to be the first to meet him -- which meant that year's Mandatory Hollinger Family Christmas was being pushed up to Thanksgiving.
It was my father's year and though I usually flew east, I asked him to fly out to west. He and his wife opted to stay in a nearby hotel, but she still wanted to cook a meal for us sometime during the weekend. Not to be outdone, my mother also wanted to host a dinner. And then of course, we had to make an appearance in Kingman, Arizona because a) they didn't want to have to caravan in and b) we didn't want them to because they don't believe that family should ever stay in a hotel.
Then we had to schedule who got what for which day. I was surprised that my mother volunteered Wednesday night until I realized that meant she'd get to meet Pierpont first. But my father and his wife were flying in Wednesday afternoon. I negotiated clearance with my mother and grandmother to bring my father and his wife to that dinner by offering her a separate visit with Pierpont, but they instead opted to stay behind and explore Long Beach since they hadn't been here before.
Thursday morning we headed over to Kingman for dinner with my father and his wife in tow. Bradley's mother was unhappy that my mother met Pierpont before she did, but he reminded her that she also got the Thanksgiving dinner with us while my mother had to settle for the night before. It didn't particularly matter to us, but she was somehow assuaged by that.
The traditional Hollinger Thanksgiving Friday Breakfast was basically leftovers from the night before. We headed back to Long Beach early that afternoon. Bradley's sister was none to happy about that since she had already planned a dinner that Bradley had already told her we couldn't attend.
That night, my father took us to dinner and finally got to spend some time with his now third, but oldest, grandson. After dinner, I insisted they let me clean up so they could head back to their hotel and we could pass out.
They came by late Saturday morning with several bags of groceries. My father's wife asked me to tell her where everything was in the kitchen and then kicked me out of it. Bradley, Pierpont and I walked my father around the neighborhood for a couple of hours and then stopped off at a coffee shop. While we were there, my mother called and asked if she could cash in on that separate visit -- the next day.
I asked Bradley if it was okay or if I should suggest a better time for her to come down. He deferred to my father who told us that he and his wife would be headed down to San Diego for the day anyway and then flying back east Monday morning.
We went back to the house for dinner and then watched a couple of movies. My father and his wife then headed back to their hotel and the three of us passed out ten minutes into the third movie.
My mother and grandmother arrived late Sunday morning with bagels, cream cheese, fruit and presents for Pierpont. I watched her and Pierpont interact with one another. She kept saying that Pierpont reminds her of me at that age. I didn't see how that was possible, but I didn't comment on it because I knew that she was so happy to finally had a grandson nearby.
A few friends stopped by a couple hours later to see my mother -- who had already plastered pictures of her and Pierpont all over the Facebook. By the time my mother left around three in order to be back home before dark, Bradley and I decided to close out the weekend with another dinner for the friends who stopped by and whoever else they invited. And they all brought wine -- which was sorely missed throughout the weekend.
By the time the last friend left at 8:30, I closed the door, looked at Bradley and declared that "this is my last holiday. I'm opting out."
“The Holiday Opt-Out”
Picture it. Long Beach, California. Late 2010.
"What do you mean you're 'opting out' this year?" Bradley asked me with an effrontery that let me know I was going to wind up losing this argument but also let him know that this was not going to be an easy victory for him.
"I'm opting out," I repeated as I dried a large pot that I washed because it wouldn't fit in the dishwasher. "I told you this last year."
Bradley scooped ice cream into two bowls for our dessert. "I thought you were kidding."
The previous holiday season was our first with Pierpont after acquiring him that September. But family members anxious to meet our son further complicated an already complicated holiday season for Bradley and myself given the importance of it to his family and the disparate areas of the country my own family lives in. Our attempts to accommodate everyone's desire to meet Pierpont first and host us for dinner turned out to be unnecessarily exhausting for the three of us.
"I was not."
"That's too bad. Because you can't opt out."
"Because the holidays are a time for family."
"Your family sees everything as 'a time for family'."
"But especially the holidays. They're the most important."
"Not to me."
"Since last year."
"Last year was an anomaly. That can't possibly happen again."
"How do you know?"
"Because we can only acquire Pierpont once and our families will only meet him for the first time once."
I put the now-dry pot in a lower cabinet. "But why so much focus on THESE two SPECIFIC holidays? There so many others to celebrate during the other ten months of the year."
"Because that's how it is. We suffer through these two months to get a respite for the other ten."
"But that's not how it HAS to be. We can celebrate other holidays the way we celebrate these two holidays but with far less intensity and stress so that we can all actually enjoy them."
"So you don't enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas?"
"What's to enjoy? The entire season is starting earlier and earlier and earlier with each passing year. And in addition to the family obligations, we have your office party, various events at Pierpont's school, our friends' gatherings and then our own gathering -- not to mention the shopping we have to do for all them. It's just too much."
"Then we won't have a gathering this year. Or ever again."
I thought about this for a moment. "But I like our gathering."
Bradley returned the now half-empty carton of ice cream to the freezer. "Well we have to cut something out and it can't be the family stuff. And it can't be the school stuff. And it can't be the work stuff."
"So we're not having anything here and we're not going to anything we might want to attend because of all the obligations we have to show up to places we don't necessarily want to be at?"
"And what does this have to do with giving thanks and celebrating the birth of our Lord?"
"It doesn't," Bradley replied as he handed me one of the bowls. "But all that folds into family. And sometimes we do things for family that we don't necessarily want to do because we love them and they love us."
"If they really loved us we could do all this in April or June when there are no actual holidays and we can make up our own ways to celebrate however we want to."
"So you expect our families to just change how they've done things for 1000 years because you've had a change of mindset?"
"So WE have to do what we don't necessarily want to do for THEM, but THEY don't have to do what they don't want to do for US?"
I walked over to the kitchen table and sat down. "I'll remember this when they ask us to go to church with them."
Bradley joined me at the table. "I have no problem going to church with them because they know and appreciate the fact that I'm only going to placate them."
"Fine. But every leap year I get to opt out."
"Fine. But I hope that you won't want to because who else besides you am I going to show off to the family?"
"I'm 31 years old and we've been together for six years. The time to show me off has long since passed."
Bradley walked over, straddled me and held my head in his hands. "Whether you realize it or not, I'm always showing you off to friends, family and work colleagues because you're strange and wonderful and funny and engaging and gorgeous."
I rolled my eyes and stared off into space for a moment. "Fine. You win. But stroking my ego is a very low blow."
And so every year I begrudgingly grit my teeth and "suffer" through the family obligations, the office party, the various events at Pierpont's school, our friends' gatherings and shopping for gifts. Why? Because I love my husband and I love my son. And they love our respective families.
But for the most part I just purchase a bunch of gift cards and then I call it a holiday season.
“Yes Pierpont, There Is a Santa Claus. Or Two”
The holidays as a whole are far more important to Bradley then they are to me. Sure, I want Pierpont to be able to spend time with family and have them shower him with gifts instead contributing to his college/trade school/art school/travel the world/find yourself fund. But I'd sooner just sit in the couch and watch TV all day with him and Bradley and order Chinese food than go through all the rigmarole of Christmas that I have come to find far more exhausting than it's worth.
So it surprised me when our first Christmas with Pierpont came upon us and Bradley told me about the approach he wanted to take with Pierpont about Santa Claus:
"What if he believes in him?" I asked.
"Then we'll tell him the truth," he responded.
"And what is the truth -- or our version of it?" I replied with a raised eyebrow.
"Simple. That he doesn't exist."
"Technically, he does."
"He does not."
"How do you figure?"
"We're the Santas."
"At least that's how my mother approached it with us. She said that we could write all the letters to Santa that we wanted to but if we didn't tell her what we wanted, then we'd be S.O.L. Christmas morning. Eventually we put two-and-two together."
"That's what I love about your mother -- she cuts right through the bullshit."
"I don't want Pierpont to see Santa as bullshit."
"And I don't want to him buy into any of it either -- at least not in the way it's generally taught to kids."
I thought about this for a moment. "Then we'll make up our own version and teach him that."
So when Pierpont presented us with his Christmas list, we sat him down and told him our truth about Santa. We didn't outright say that he didn't exist. Instead we told him the form in which we liked to think he does -- if he does at all:
Many moons ago, a very special child was born into a very poor, but well-loved family. People who loved this family came from near and far to present them gifts that would help them raise this very special child.
One of these people was a man named Kris, who began to notice that many poor families didn't have this type of support in their lives. And he set out to rectify that by asking more fortunate people to provide money, furniture, clothes, food and toys to these less fortunate people -- even if it's once a year. Kris chose the date of that very special child's birth for this annual call for generosity, charity and community as a tribute to that child's inspiration for it.
Kris then asked all the poor parents to have their poor children draw up lists of the toys they want and he would make sure they got them. What he couldn't buy from the local merchants, he'd have them made by the local artisanry. Many wanted to help but couldn't provide anything more than their time, so Kris recruited them to help him deliver these toys to the children as well as money, furniture, clothes and food to their parents.
Grateful families asked the people giving so generously of their time to share in the bounty and break bread. Other families invited these less fortunate families to their homes to share a meal and celebrate this period of generosity, charity and community. And when the fortunes of the less fortunate turned around, they in turn invited the less fortunate into their homes to share a meal during this and any other period they chose to exhibit this generosity, charity and community. Thus began the tradition of giving, sharing and feasting.
To illustrate for him how fortunate he was, Bradley and I told Pierpont that he no longer needed to submit a list of things he wanted for this period of generosity, charity, community, giving, sharing and feasting because his needs were provided for throughout the year. (This admittedly eliminated the need to buy him a bunch of shit for Christmas that he doesn't need and probably won't use anyway. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for mine and Bradley's respective families.)
We also told him to always be mindful that there are people in this country and in this world who don't have but should -- and in abundance.
For a couple of hours, he seemed rather saddened by that fact. So I took a look at his list and then went out and bought him a kid's ice cream maker.
Hopefully he'll use it to make ice cream for the less fortunate.