The Guilt Trip on the Holidays: It Works

My mom, Frankie Ann as she was known to her loved ones, could guilt her children into anything. I was annoyed by that talent for many years. I now am awed by it.

Aggie and I walked downtown today, and my charming tourist town was buzzing with folks who’d just arrived for the holiday. I watched the families coming together over coffee at our local coffee shop, and lunch at the local sandwich shop. Everyone was on their best behavior (it is only Wednesday), and smiles were everywhere.  I love the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, the day before the big meal prep starts, when families are arriving, and there isn’t much to do except enjoy each other. You can run errands for the cook, while squeezing in some time for coffee and talk. I literally had to stop myself from pulling up a chair, and getting in on the coffee, conversation, and catching up.

So, how’s college going? Any girls?

How’s the new job? Tell me all about it.

So, you’re pregnant! Do we know if it is a boy or girl? How exciting.

You bought a new house? Oh wow. Show me pictures.

I adore those boots. Where did you get them?

I love that first glow of family togetherness when everyone is excited to see each other. That caught-off-guard feeling of how much you missed one another because life has been too busy to notice until this precise second when you are face-to-face again. And then, there are the hours of talking, laughing and telling stories. Awesome.

But these days I find myself, more often than not, on the other side of an empty table, with no family to catch up with, and my mother’s voice ringing in my ears.

There are lots of reasons for my present alone-ness. Children have moved away, parents have passed away, sisters live far away, and they’re trying to figure out how to gather their families under one roof, which is the theme of this particular post. Getting everyone together. Something I feel should be a offered as major in college for future moms, because it takes such finesse to pull it off.

It’s a strange time.

I fear I have missed a step. I missed the step where my family comes home to my house for the holidays. I have been each of those people at the table catching up over coffee, but one. I was the college student, the new career woman, the excited pregnant mom, the new home owner, and the stylish boot wearer, but I have not been the mom prepping the Thanksgiving meal as my family walks through the door. I have not been that mom with a cup of good coffee, sitting across the dining room table from my children, the night before Thanksgiving (or Christmas, or Easter, or fill-in-the-blank) soaking up their personalities and lives. There’s a good reason why not. I have children (son and daughter-in-law) in the military. (So that is an entire semester of study for the mom major. How to get past the government and corral your kids into one spot.)

Here’s the truth of the holidays for the mother. Every mother on the dang planet wants her children, in-laws, and grandchildren to come to her house for the holidays. Along with a whole host of friends for dessert.

Frankie Ann was unscrupulous about it.  She cared less if she guilted you or forced you, so long as you ended up at her house. Feel free to grumble and complain all the way back to your own house, whiile she tidied and reflected on her delight that we were all together.

For years. I swore I’d never do that to my kids. I’d never guilt them into a holiday trip home, but now, I might reconsider. It worked so fabulously for Mom. I even scolded her over it once, “Give it up, Mom. Debbie (my oldest sister) has 10 kids, who all have spouses, who all have mothers who want them to come to their houses. It’s impossible because of Debbie.” It was nice having a sister with 10 kids. She made a good scapegoat.

My scolding didn’t phase her. She repeated what she always said. “It is important for everyone to be together sometimes.”

This past spring, she sent out an email invite to everyone for Mother’s Day, about 2 months prior to Mother’s Day. It read, “Join me for church and then lunch at Fuddrucker’s on May 11. RSVP. Immediately.” That was sent to 4 daughters, 2 husbands, 17 grandchildren, 5 spouses of grandchildren and assorted boyfriends and girlfriends, and 11 great grandchildren. All but a few accepted, and we were almost all together that day. Here she is with my youngest. I love this picture of them.

Guilt Trip for the Holidays; It Works

Mom and Micah

The church was full of her family and we took up the back section at Fuddruckers. There was lots of picture taking, and lots of hey there’s, and hugs. It was a scene reminenscent of this morning as I watched families giving big hugs across tables covered with coffee cups, highchairs, booster seats, and walkers. Brothers jostled each other, sisters gloated over babies, and the mother? Well, she was in her element. Her family was in town and yes, she had a ton of work to do, turkeys to cook and dressing to make, but she was happy. Dad looked pretty happy, too.

Frankie Ann was in her element. Her family gathered around her and smiles everywhere. It was a good Mother’s Day for her.

So, while I miss my family this Thanksgiving, and am planning my guilt moves for next year’s holiday season (you think I kid), I am so tremendously thankful for May 11th 2014. Sometimes it is important for everyone to be together, because you don’t know if it will be the last time. I am glad Mom ignored me and did just as she pleased, guilt-ing us all into one last Mother’s Day together.

Frankie Ann and her “girls”

Frankie Ann and her “girls

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Puking on Christmas

There was this one Christmas.

My oldest son standing at the top of the stairs throwing up. His younger brother could sleep Christmas morning away, reasoning that he had all day, and all school vacation to tear open and play with Santa’s loot, but not him. My oldest rarely fell asleep on that hallowed eve. He pestered his little brother until the youngest one conceded, and CAME DOWNSTAIRS BECAUSE SANTA HAS COME. My oldest couldn’t bear to close his eyes in anticipation of what the upcoming day would bring–Santa, family, celebration, church, joy–a day when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. He couldn’t bear for the day to have a flaw in it, and there he was, doubled over puking, unable to walk down the stairs. 

I could not fix it. I always thought I was supposed too. But, in less than 24 hours I’d have my head over a toilet while he played with his Christmas toys, sipping ginger ale. The day is sometimes just too much. It can be filled with so much anticipation that it rarely meets the expectation.

My oldest son now celebrates Christmas with his two year old, and wife. The two year old, my little Miss Priss, is more like her mother than her father, she takes the hits of life with a little thicker skin.

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

Miss Priss Decorating Her Tree

This year, on our way home from Christmas morning church service, I told the oldest, “I’m glad we go to church.” He didn’t respond because me being glad about being in church is not news to him. “Otherwise the day would be anti-climatic,” I said.  “After all the anticipation, and then the Christmas morning madness, if there was no church service to remind us that Jesus has come, well, it’s a let-down. But church does reminds us, and so its okay if the day isn’t perfect.”

My oldest thought about that for a second, reminding me of his father as he shifted gears, and made a right turn. He even bites his lip like his father does. He responded, “Agreed.”

I thought, I fixed it. I fixed that Christmas morning when he was puking, I fixed it for all of us. Or perhaps I should say, Jesus did.