“….. And Santa Claus has got a toy
For every good girl and good little boy
Santa's a great big bundle of joy
When he's coming down the chimney, down”
2018 Thanksgiving is blessedly over. This year was a tough one. Our blended family split in two as my husband’s ex-wife demanded exclusive rights to her children and grandchildren for the week, leaving us outside of what normally takes place at our house. She has come from Detroit or New York most years since Murray and I have been together, and has celebrated Thanksgiving with us in our house as one family. This year all but my husband and I gathered at my step-daughter’s. The plan had been hatched months before between mother and daughter and no one had bothered to tell me about it. Even though I felt left out of both the communication and the celebration loop, my local daughter and her best friend joined us for a quiet mid-day meal of the usual poultry and stuffing. Because it was small, the cooking and table setting was easier, and I was, I’m sure, more relaxed. So, there was a blessing in our rejection from the crowd. I couldn’t see this until afterward.
Hanukah came on its heels with only ten days between its beginning and Thanksgiving leftovers. Our family blending is one of differing religious traditions as well as current and former spouses. My heritage is nominally Christian; my husband’s is culturally Jewish. His oldest daughter, Judy, hosted the first night of Hanukah with potato latkes, sour cream with chives, and applesauce. Green salad and a hefty portion of Pavlova (meringue filled with fruit and whipped cream) rounded out the meal. I was asked by Judy to bring donuts. My friend Phyllis (who is Jewish) told me they had to be jelly donuts (evidently a Hanukah tradition but one our family had not known about). By the time I got to the closest donut store, the jelly ones had sold out. I brought plain and chocolate ones. Judy said she hadn’t known they were supposed to be jelly donuts. The grandchildren and some of the adults enjoyed them. My step-children circled me warily as I had lost my cool and sent them an angry email about leaving us out of Thanksgiving. I announced early in the evening that I was over it.
I decided the night before Hanukah began that I would offer simple presents to my step-children and my grandchildren after the latkes and asked my husband to accompany me on a gift buying trip to Target before the celebration. Gift giving is still awkward among our crew even after twenty years of Murray’s and my marriage. Sometimes the kids initiate it at an event between Hanukah and Christmas; sometimes it doesn’t happen at all. Because Thanksgiving had been so painful for me, I wanted a happy time and giving presents always makes me happy.
The gifts were a mishmash of things I already owned that I thought another adult or grandchild would like (jewelry for my step-daughter and for my step-son’s wife), or something new and simple (sox for most everybody), a Lego set for Jacob, aged 6, and shoes for my youngest granddaughter, Olivia, his fraternal twin, who generally loves shoes as much as I do. Jacob wanted to open his gift immediately, even though his grandfather told him it was NOT Legos. His mother told him he had to wait for his cousins to arrive, which they did en masse a few minutes later. He was pleased with his Legos and wanted to put them together immediately. Murray had guessed right when we picked out the set. He said Jacob cared most about how many pieces there were in the box—the more the better. We had picked the set with 387 pieces (the most on offer at Target). The older kids were pleased with their sox and some new clothes. As I was enjoying their pleasure, it took a while for me to notice that Olivia was sitting in a heap on the floor, with the glittering pink, blue and purple slip-on sneakers opened but untouched. I went to her when I realized something was wrong.
It took a few minutes to find out that she didn’t want any shoes, she had wanted a toy and she was crying. Nothing would console her. Her mom told her I’d never give her another gift. I begged “Please don’t say that!” But I was at a loss as to what to do in the moment. I do know six-year-olds throw tantrums. My surprise was that it was Olivia and not Jacob, the more frequent tantrum thrower. It did dampen my spirits a bit, but not permanently. I gave Judy, Olivia’s mother, the receipt for the shoes and left the exchange and the toy up to her.
In the car on the way home Murray said he hadn’t liked the latkes (you would NEVER have known; he ate the lion’s share). He said they were too crispy. I haven’t made them in years and enjoyed what I didn’t have to cook myself.
A few nights later we went to the Berkeley City Club for their Prix Fix Hanukah Dinner and enjoyed more latkes, Beef Brisket, and Blueberry Mousse. Murray pronounced the brisket not nearly as good as mine. I see this as marketing on his part—he’d rather eat at home and eat what I cook—than eat in a restaurant. I found the brisket very similar in taste and quality to mine and just as good.
Now we’re on to Christmas. I’ve sent books to my Madison Wisconsin daughter, Lindsay, and her family, and chatted with my Minneapolis daughter, Paige, about my after Christmas visit. I know to expect snow, bitter cold, and dinner at Paige’s favorite Thai restaurant. I’ll send her money as she’s almost always on the edge of financial disaster.
My very part-time employer, a women’s clothing store, has recently moved to Lafayette Square from downtown Oakland and I staffed their Holiday Party the second Sunday of December. Had the store not been wildly busy, with a line of women holding various garments they were ready to purchase, while I rang them up as fast as I could, I’d have made some purchases of my own—more sox for my midwestern families, and perhaps a more generous present for each of my daughters. But there was no time. Several glasses of champagne, a few cocktail sandwiches and a brief break from the computer gave me my first glance at the time. 5PM. Time to go home and rest my weary feet!
In recent years Hanukah and Christmas have been easier for me because I am no longer the hostess or the center of attention (the grandchildren are). I can just sit quietly whether at Judy’s house (my step-daughter’s), or Lindsay’s (my own daughter’s). I cook a little at Lindsay’s, but the pace is pretty slow and relaxed. I no longer do much decorating of my own house—a bank of poinsettias by the fireplace and a big fresh wreath on the front door—because we are not in town for December 25.
It’s all good. A peaceful end to a tumultuous year—foreign and domestic travel, family celebrations, family squabbles, health challenges and one more teaching opportunity for me. I’m glad this one is drawing to a close.