Our calendar looks like a graffiti artist went wild. Um, that artist would be me. Scribbled in red, green, and blue, I have attempted to make notes in those too-tiny day squares to remind me of upcoming events and deadlines. It would be fun to think I’m in control of all my time but…hahahahahaha. Invitations come in bursts and I have to weigh the fun stuff against the “haveta” do stuff.
I was chatting with a good friend this morning and the discussion turned to family obligations around the holidays. Some women feel if they don’t make the effort nobody else will, so they martyr themselves to create large festive gatherings. What they end up with is even larger amounts of resentment. But do they ever ask for help, or suggest it is someone else’s turn?
For a while my husband and I hosted family reunions about every-other-year. Part of the fun was giving my divorced parents a way of gathering the flock in one location. Mom and Dad still got along fine, but neither one of them would go so far as to suggest a get-together and invite the other to their own homes. Yet, for unknown reasons, they would happily come to ours. The last reunion was difficult because my mom was declining rapidly from cancer. She spent much of the afternoon in our bathroom throwing up and yet not wanting to cause a scene. About a year later she passed away and my heart wasn’t into throwing a family party. Something was missing or bruised in my enthusiasm. Time passed and the family grew bigger. More and more began relocating around the nation—coast to coast—so I used scheduling issues as a reason not to set up another reunion.
My younger sister recently married and while schmoozing with extended family members at the reception I was asked why we hadn’t hosted any reunions recently. There was a bit of an accusatory tone to their questions. I tilted my head and considered for a moment. Then I responded, “Why don’t one of you host a family reunion?” My relatives seemed shocked. “Us? We don’t know how to do that. Where would we do it? It would be too hard.” I suggested that jumping in was a great way to learn. My brother said, “No, no, no. You are the best cook in the family. It has to be you.”
I could have bought in to his flattery. I could have bought in to the guilt. But I didn’t. As much as I enjoy the role of family gatherer, I’m just one of many. Until I feel pleasure in hosting again I refuse to feel pressured into days of cleaning, cooking, and scheduling for the entire family. In the meanwhile my husband and I have been hosting smaller gatherings and I love them. I feel more connected and joyous spending time with our guests, I’m more creative with the food I prepare, and I have minimized the stress in pulling it all together.
It kind of boils down to this–are we living an intentional life, or is it on auto-pilot? As the holidays approach I would encourage us all to catch our breaths and consider what brings us happiness and meaning. If a house full of family does that, then by all means celebrate until the candles burn down to nubs and the tinsel falls off the tree. But if your gathering feels like an ugly obligation because “nobody else is stepping up,” then maybe it’s time to reconsider what’s going on in your heart. It’s okay to say, “no,” and to take back the calendar.