My family is complicated. Over the years I've been asked on more than one occasion to explain using a visual aid. I have an especially fond memory of sitting down over coffee and drawing a flow chart for one of my friends who happens to be blessed with a "Leave it to Beaver"-style family (I think it might have been a two coffee morning). It so happens that The Husband came from one of those families. When I was younger, I was at times jealous of the simpler relationships and uncomplicated arrangements that seemed to go along with the "standard" family background. I've also adopted a policy of Don't Ask-Don't Tell in the early days of new relationships over the years. Because, it's really enough for a potential new friend to handle my convoluted answer to "Where are you From?" without hammering them with my complicated family story. I know I'm not alone in the expat universe in cringing inwardly at that question. And I also know I'm not alone when people either think I'm kidding, crazy, or just too weird to bother with. Which brings me back to my family.
It's been seven years since we came "home" for the holidays. The last time we did it, Trouble was 4 months old. That year, we stayed in 4 different places, visited 7 different towns across Colorado and left feeling sure that despite our back-breaking efforts-we'd pleased no one. Trouble also suffered from double ear infections and I'm absolutely certain slept for a total of 10 hours in the entire 2 weeks we were in the USA. It was not an adventure we ever wanted to duplicate. In fact, we swore we would never do it again. And we really enjoyed making new family traditions of our own. We have spent Christmases in the Swiss Alps, at glorious beach locales in Southeast Asia and Hawaii, and at our homes. We've never regretted not coming home. Until the girls got old enough to ask us about our own childhood memories...and then we both started to wax nostalgic for SNOW. And large gatherings. And, well, Traditional Cold American Christmas. Add to our own reverie the fact that both of the girls have begun to answer "Colorado" when asked the aforementioned dreaded "Where are you From" question (despite the fact that neither of them have ever truly lived in Colorado)...we began to really consider making the journey again. The final decision was made when the girls combined their collective giant-eyed, eyelash-batting power to convince us that they NEEDED to learn how to ski. The Husband is a truly fabulous skier and comes from a "Skiing Family" (yes, there is a back story here...but I'll save you the digression). They also negotiated hard and agreed that the trip plus their skiing lessons and passes would be their Christmas presents.
And so, this year, we packed up ourselves...5 suitcases full of cold weather gear, gifts and decorations and came to Colorado for the girls' school holiday.
I admit now that a large part of my reluctance to do the trip at Christmas was that I was certain that we would kill ourselves again to make time for everybody and, once again, everybody would be mad at us when the trip was over. This year, thanks to the fact that we now own a home we can host from, we invited them all to come to us instead of traversing the state. Aside from one really stupid calendar error on my part (I really am sorry, Dad!), we managed to operate the Hotel Circus-Broccoli and offer hospitality to 17 members of our family in rotations. We weren't able to see all of the friends we would have liked to see...and a really unfortunately timed case of the stomach flu kept us from seeing family we really would have loved to see...but all in all it was wonderful. And I really think I was wrong.
Today, as I folded the 9th set of sheets that came out of the dryer, I wasn't worried that I'd offended. I wasn't exhausted and emotional and worn out. The thought that overwhelmed me completely was that ALL of those people were willing to re-arrange their lives and drive (literally) HOURS in truly horrible weather JUST to spend some time with us. My girls actually anointed this vacation "THE BEST CHRISTMAS EVER" the day we arrived. I really had fear that they were setting me up to disappoint them. But even on Christmas morning...when there were truly only a few small gifts from their grandparents and their one gift from Santa Claus...and NO GIFTS from mom & dad...the girls were smiling and grateful and gleefully singing "White Christmas" while watching giant snowflakes fall outside our windows. We skied on Christmas Day. They will never forget this Christmas. Today, they asked if we could please come back next year. While I'm not ready to commit to anything...I will say that I'm so grateful for my big complicated crazy family. And that includes the "Leave it to Beaver" side that The Husband brought into my life (you're not overly complicated but I'm definitely throwing you all in the crazy camp). I'm certain that people with uncomplicated families wouldn't feel this same sense of accomplishment mingled with humility at having pulled off something like our 3 weeks in Colorado.
So, tomorrow I will pack up the house and we will suffer the indignity of 24-hours on 3 airplanes wearing the same pair of underpants. My kids will weep at the end of snow forts and cigar icicles....and my tummy will hurt knowing my eldest nephew will likely be taller than me when we return in June (yeah I know that's not that hard)...but I will also be grinning inside because I am going back to 85 degrees, and a routine that makes me happy and confident.
Thank you Complicated Family for all the joy you brought to me and my family this Christmas. I love each and every one of you.