Whose Home for the Holidays?
Naturally, each family wanted what the other had. Diane's parents wished they saw their daughters more. My parents were jealous of the blocks of time we spent with her family. But we had it pretty easy. We were dealing with two intact, relatively sane families and there were no religious holidays to dispute. (Diane and I are Jewish, as is my family; her family celebrates only a very secular Christmas.)
As our siblings got married, we adjusted to their holiday negotiations, and all seemed under control. Then Diane's parents moved nearby. Actually, they moved around the corner from Diane's younger sister and their first two grandchildren; proximity to us was just a coincidence. But Diane's extended family was suddenly much easier to visit.
On my side, my younger brother and his wife had the only grandchild (thus far), my nephew, Jake. But as their apartment in New York City was not a natural family gathering place, Diane's family was leading on the cosmic score card: four grandkids to one, and a more accessible venue.
Then my father died. His loss was devastating in so many ways, but there's one I've never admitted out loud -- an aching feeling that it marked the end of any "competition" between the families, and mine had somehow lost. And, whether Diane's family ever felt this way, the truth is, for the past eight years, they have dominated my married life. I am very close with my mother and two brothers, and treasure the holidays we spend with our extended family. I call my nephew in New York every Saturday after his basketball or baseball game. But I see my in-laws more often than my own blood.
I know this kills my mom. I hear it in the way she sighs when I phone her from Diane's parents' house. But what I don't think she understands is that it kills me, too.
Damn, I wanted my family to win. At least it was a defeat without bloodshed. And over time, the families have actually grown closer. My side of the family comes to Diane's family Thanksgiving.
And we've actually added an ambitious new tradition -- something Dad always dreamed of. For the past eight years, both clans have come together for an entire week at my family shore house.
Yes, that's right. All of us. On purpose.
Diane refers to this annual enclave as the "Ayres & Fried Family Beachfest and Food Fight." But with 17 family members and three dogs living in close quarters, it's more like a reality TV show.
Every day is the best of times and the worst of times -- sometimes at the same time. At any given moment, someone's laughing, crying, fuming, having a breakthrough conversation, or not speaking to someone else.
It's a magical, hysterical, and emotionally taxing week, engaging in every way. And when it's over, Diane and I come home so mentally overloaded that we can barely function.
This year we decided that someone needed to invent a new medication that would block memories of all the pressures of intergenerational family life without inhibiting the joy. Diane named the drug "FamilEZE," and before long we were both writing jingles for it.
Not only is hers better than mine, but it's the first pharmaceutical jingle ever to include a side effects warning. It's set to "America the Beautiful."
Spells fast relief
Of stressful mem-o-ries
From recent family gatherings
A whole week at the beach!
Ask your doc-tor please
T'will bring us all world peace
Reclaim thy brain
Your kin's to blame
(but may cause psy-chos-EZE).
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, November 2005.