What I learned this past holiday season
Column by Bruce Sallan
Every holiday season brings both wonderful times and challenging family situations for most of us, my family included. This past season included the first visit to our home of my in-laws, the first time my sons and I would be apart, and the first time my wife and I would be apart during this festive time of the year. Can I say I learned more about our relationships? You bet. Was it easy and fun? You be the judge.
Let’s start with the in-laws. Like many things, I had expectations about how we’d all relate and get along, mostly based on our previous visits together at their home in Vancouver, B.C. But, as I never seem to learn or remember, expectations rarely turn out as expected. In this case, I am very pleased to say they turned out better.
I expected to have feelings of sadness when I’d reflect on my own parent’s absence, since they both died in the past few years. And, yes, I did have pangs of that feeling but I also felt, much more strongly, the joy of having three generations present for meals and activities. Maybe I’ve adjusted to the loss of my parents or maybe I’m just more comfortable in my relatively new role as son-in-law. I don’t know, but I found myself looking around the dinner table, several times, with a sense of pride, comfort, and warmth. Now, if only I could bottle that feeling.
My expectations about how my boys would behave turned out to be quite different. My older son, who has heretofore shown relative indifference to his step-grandparents not only embraced them, literally and figuratively, his face lit up often in his interactions. I think the tough-guy stance was slightly melted by the same feelings I was having – those of feeling complete. I marveled at his ease in talking with them and his comfort in still bringing over his friends, who also seemed to appreciate the multiple generations in our home.
David, my recent Bar Mitzvah boy, just ate up the love he got from them, and from us, and he was still basking in the glory of his recent triumph at his Bar Mitzvah. His face glowed during the joint celebrations of Christmas and Hannukah, and the simple fun of being the youngest with some innocence still present.
My wife, on the other hand, met my expectations throughout her parent’s visit. She barely slept, the house was spotlessly clean, the food was over-the-top wonderful, plentiful, and fantastic, and she was quite tired much of the time. I realized, as hard as it is for me to accept, that this is the way she likes it, the way she operates, and it’s not for me to judge or try and change her. I do wish she could relax a bit more, but the regular response I get to my urging her to do so is, “I don’t have the time.” It is the same whenever I suggest taking any sort of break.
Granted, this particular period was truly extra busy, but I’ve come to realize this is her way, in the same way it took me decades to realize this about my best friend (since the 10th grade) who also seems to need and want constant overload. Not being a psychologist, I would think this relates to inner feelings of being of value, accomplishing things, and feeling in charge. If it works for her, so be it. But, I still do question whether it does work.
As for all of us being apart, I can only say my reaction was one of mixed feelings. My older son changed his mind on coming on our ski trip, preferring to be with his friends and girlfriend, while my wife and younger son were on their spectacular trip to Japan and Hong Kong. I found the 10 days alone, in the mountains, to be both refreshing and time in which I could indulge myself without concern for anyone else. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that feeling or opportunity.
I also felt as sense of safety in the security I felt towards my family. While I’d rather be together, I knew that we all were committed to each other and that my boys, in particular, know the difference between right and wrong. The feedback I got from the parents where my older son stayed (he shuttled between three homes over this period) was all terrific and unsolicited. So, I guess maybe I did something right or maybe he’s a pretty good Eddie Haskell (that’s for you boomers old enough to remember that character in “Leave It to Beaver”). Maybe a bit of both?
I learned much this past holiday season. Mostly, that I’m a blessed and lucky guy to have the family I have.