IT'S DECEMBER. Holy moly. It's also 16 degrees outside, which I despise, but next week I will be on the beaches of Aruba for my best friend's wedding, so. I can deal with winter for a little bit.
I would be jealous if I weren't me, too.
Thanksgiving flew by, and I focused on eating all.the.things plus four pies (not by myself, of course), watching movies on tv, playing around in handstand, and napping. Loads of napping. I also spent several hours around a table with my favorite cousins, reminiscing about old times, celebrating one's news of a baby girl on the way, and catching up on each other's lives.
Seriously, I ate a lot of pie.
One cousin mentioned how she loved reading my blog posts, which reminded me that I need to, you know, WRITE more here. And another relative brought up the subject of how lucky our family is, that we all want to get together for the holidays. So, instant post idea.
I am lucky. My family -- immediate and extended -- pretty much always wants to be together.
- My parents couldn't make it to the extended family Thanksgiving this year, and my great-aunt greeted me at the door by saying, "I am SO sad your mom isn't here this year, tell her I love her and I miss her so much." I am lucky that I know my presence would be just as missed if I had not been there.
- I lived with my grandparents for a summer in college, and then for about six months after I left Chicago. I liked chatting over coffee early in the mornings, watching Seinfeld with my grandpa, listening to my grandma tell me about her day while she made dinner. I'm lucky to know my grandparents, their stories of heartache and joy, and to learn from them.
- I'm around the same age as five of my cousins, and we communicate in some fashion at least once every few weeks, and we get together as much as possible. We are all technically second cousins, but none of us ever emphasize that detail, because it truly doesn't matter. I'm closer to them than I am to other first cousins. I could call any of them in a heartbeat, in the middle of the night, or show up on their doorstep unannounced. I'm lucky to have a group of best friends for life, ones that knew me when I had crazy eyebrows and braces and gangly legs and a squeakily high voice.
- My sister's boyfriend was on call for work this year, so my parents drove five hours to host Thanksgiving at their place. They brought a cooked turkey with stuffing and gravy, two pumpkin pies, plates and silverware. My mom made mashed potatoes using three pots -- because when you're 24, you have a weird set of cookware -- while we watched football and drank wine and joked around and simply enjoyed being in the same room as each other. I'm lucky to have parents and siblings who are healthy, happy and present whenever possible.
But I've learned that my family's definition of "together" and our understanding of the frequency of that togetherness differs greatly from a lot of other families. I used to feel overwhelmed by this, and it honestly caused tension between myself and my parents as I tried to balance creating my new, independent, adult life while staying deeply involved in the lives of family members. It was generally kind of expected that I come home to my parents' house at least once a month, and as I moved further away, that became less practical, which caused hurt feelings all around. I also spent a lot of time trying to prioritize my friendships: my best friends who now live out-of-state, my Chicago friends, my Des Moines friends. As you can imagine... things -- people -- fell through the cracks.
The hard reality of growing up: people who are important to you, whom you love, don't always stay in your life either by choice or force or circumstance.
If you want valuable, real relationships, they require loads of time and energy, and you cannot give that time and energy to everyone. Even if you want to. The more people on your list, the harder it is to remain authentically present and involved. Slowly, you discover that who you prioritize shifts -- based on life events or location or convenience -- and it can feel sad and hard and scary, to let go of people or recognize they are no longer in your life the way they used to be.
Writer Shauna Niequist frames this concept more positively. She writes in Bittersweet*:
She continues, "If you know who your home team is, then you know who your home team is not. Everyone else is everyone else. You may be tempted to have about a hundred close friends and relatives on your team. You may need a village to feel close and connected or you could live perfectly well with about three other people on the whole planet. And it doesn't last forever, that team. It shifts when you move or as life changes every few years. That's not wrong. But at any given season, you've got to know, essentially, who you're responsible for when it all falls apart."
She suggests that we get clear on who is on our team and who is not, and we can do so with kindness and love and empathy and honesty.
And I found that I was looking at these family "obligations" all wrong. I had both feet in the "have to" world instead of stepping into the "get to" mentality. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am, to be so loved and have so many people to love.
The truth is, my family is my home team, plus a number of friends I can count on both hands. That's it. It has shifted, and the people who are no longer on my home team? I miss them, but I accept it. I know that I'm probably not on their teams anymore, and I don't take offense to that. And I know that by focusing on my team, I am a better version of myself, with more to give to those who need it.
As my sister put it,
"I don't have FOMO (fear of missing out) with my friends, with them, I'm like, eh, oh well. I have FOMO with my family!"
So this holiday season, I remembered how lucky I am, to have a team so composed of family. I remembered that I grew up with parents who exemplified the importance of family togetherness, but now, I choose it. Freely. Whenever possible. And knowing that I make this choice, over and over again, helps me make other choices that allow me to refocus on what's most important in life.