For a long time, there was a running joke between my sister-in-law and me, that it took getting married and having two kids before she felt truly accepted into the (extended) family, whereas all it took for me was getting drunk with Uncle Ed (then in his late 80s) on his homemade wine the very first time I met the extended family.
Hubs is the oldest son of the oldest son and the first grandchild in both his paternal grandmother and grandfather's side. In the eyes of his family, he basically walks on water. I am hubs' second wife. While I haven't asked directly, I gather from various bits of conversation with people in his family that they didn't like her, and that's putting it nicely. When hubs and I first started dating, things happened quickly. Within four months of dating, we moved to a different state and in together. I expected the first Christmas gathering with his extended family to be interesting, and I had been warned by both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law not to take it personally if they shunned me. They said that, best case, it would take them a few years to warm up to me. It was interesting, but not in the tense way that I expected. As it turned out, I got on quite well with his family.
Each year they do a gift exchange. They draw names and bring a small gift for that person. Since I wasn't around the previous year for the drawing, his grandma purchased a small gift for me so that I would have something to open with everyone else. The gift was a Christmas tree ornament. It's a light blue glass bulb with a dove carrying an olive branch painted on it. Something I imagine that she picked up at the Parrish craft bazaar. The symbolism was not lost on me. His grandma passed away in 2014.
Hubs and I have quite the collection of Christmas ornaments. One for every Christmas we've celebrated together. Some have been gifted to us. Some are handmade and gifted to us by nieces and nephews. Some are personalized. Some are stock from a big box store. Some are just plain funny (like a pink glittery unicorn). Silly as it sounds, all of them hold memories. And needless to say, our hodgepodge tree will never be featured in any home magazine.
I've been struggling with getting into Christmas this year. Part of it has been the busy-ness of life, and part of it has been the fact that this season is just plain hard for me. I thought that maybe decorating the house would help my outlook on things, and decided to put the tree up on Tuesday.
But what I wasn't expecting was the flood of memories. Some of them good memories, like the ones that accompanied the chintzy "our first Christmas together" ornament and the ornament we bought at a little gift store by the beach we eloped on in Hawaii. Some of them were hard memories, like the annual ornaments from the infertility years and the simultaneous hope and hopelessness that we felt when we bought them. And some were bittersweet, like the ornament from hubs' grandma.
I had a good cry as I hung them all on the tree. I let all of the hopes and dreams and changes in plans from the last ten years wash over me. It was hard but good. And by the time I was done, I felt a little better about the impending holiday. It was even more worthwhile when hubs walked into the door, his eyes got huge, a big smile spread across his face, and he exclaimed: "you decorated!"
We no longer joke about birthing children as a prerequisite for family acceptance. At the time it was funny, albeit in a slightly uncomfortable way. If the same joke were made today, I'd probably come unhinged. I'm glad that they accepted me into the family all those years ago. If for no other reason but holiday gatherings would be pretty miserable if they hadn't accepted me.
For all of you joining me in the hard this holiday season, please know that you are not alone. I wish I could say that it gets easier to handle the holidays. It doesn't. At least for me. But I've found that it gets a little less hard with each passing year.