I grew up in a home where it was understood that holidays were required family gatherings. It was an absolute. No excuses. But that didn’t mean everyone looked forward to them. That didn’t mean everyone got along. Sometimes we just tolerated each other long enough for the family photo at the dining table. Far too often, we measured life by appearances.
My mother passed away before my first child was born. With three unmarried brothers, holidays were now my on my watch, and I wanted things to be different. With a bent toward hospitality I enjoyed creating an atmosphere where everyone could gather and enjoy each other’s presence.
I still had a lot to overcome, however. My past had taught me that family functions were obligations. Not celebrations.
When my kids were little they had no choice whether or not they would attend family gatherings. They were household fixtures. Permanent residents. Inmates. But now that they are adults they could bail if they wanted to. But they don’t. And I’m so thankful.
They make family a priority.
Brittany, Garrett and Melissa don’t just come for the mandatory meal and then make an excuse for their exit strategy. They come to fellowship. They come to talk. To come to embrace the idea of togetherness. I always have way too much food left over but even more than having a full stomach, my heart is full.
When they were little I did all the cooking and cleaning up. This gave me a little opportunity to give undivided attention to conversation. I was too focused on serving and other critical kitchen duties (essential things like making sure the place settings were perfect, the right napkins were out and the silverware was polished) that I seldom sat down and enjoyed conversation. I loved watching everyone else visit but I didn’t allow myself the luxury. I was too busy hosting and maintaining the atmosphere.
In recent years our family celebrations have evolved. My youngest brother got married and even though his wife, Janet, doesn’t like to cook, she is a wonderful delegator. Who knew that you can assign casseroles to family members and they show up with food in hand. That’s what I call menu magic.
The biggest change, however, is with my own children. Now that Brittany, Garrett, and Melissa are adults, they all pitch in, even without a covered-dish delegation. As children, they moaned about asking to help in the kitchen, but I’ve heard that their brains are fully developed by 25. I now have proof.
Sometimes their concoctions are cooked at home but more often than not, they arrive with bags of groceries and we all start cooking together. The kitchen is a mess with three or four cooks fighting for counter space, but oh the joy. My children learned by observation. Hospitality is contagious and they caught the bug.
I’ve evolved as well. I’ve learned to relax a bit on presentation. Trust me, having each dish displayed on the right platter is a legitimate challenge for those of us who have decorator blood. Plasticware and silver do not get along in my world. Tupperware and china have never socialized together at any of my events. And paper plates—no way! My White Gloves and Party Manners® training (yes, this was a real etiquette class when I was a mere ten-years old) considers these practices grounds for dismissal. An epic fail. A total food faux pas. Today I blame it on Pinterest boards and Pottery Barn catalogs.
In the past the angst for perfection kept me awake at night, but learning how to do things together has started to change all that. Family functions are not about everything looking picture perfect. It’s about living in the moment. Talking. Laughing. It’s about just being together. When I was so busy doing I never had a chance to enjoy the little moments like sitting on the porch for two hours and talking about whatever comes up.
Memories from the past or dreams for the future.
I’ve never been one that excelled in being still, but the shift in responsibility has amplified my enjoyment of being together. Now I realize how much I take pleasure in measuring life with a different cup.
Our chats on the porch remind me of Seinfeld, a show about nothing. Even so, I’ve learned important things. I learned that Melissa and Brittany almost caught their rooms on fire with candles when they were teenagers. I learned that the kids all threw their peas behind the red cabinet in the kitchen when I wasn’t looking and I learned that at 30 years old, Brittany still eats cereal in bed, only now she doesn’t get in trouble for it.
I also learned other significant things. Melissa first discovered her passion for singing when I told her she had a pretty voice. Garrett’s band Rousey volunteers for Grasslands to provide funding for the arts at Cleveland elementary and Brittany inherited the mechanic gene from my dad. She can change the brakes on her car or fix anything with a little help from her engineering degree from YTU.
So to my children and extended family:
Melissa, thank you for the amazing Easter cupcakes. The blue teeth everyone got from the food coloring added a festive touch. And thank you for the sweet surprise—a beautiful solar-powered porch light. I love your thoughtfulness. No matter how big or small, you always select just the right gift.
Garrett, thank you for rearranging your shifts and working a double on Saturday so you could manage to get Sunday off. Even though I never taught you to cook anything besides ramen noodles I love seeing you use your culinary skills in the kitchen. And I cherish your servant’s heart. Even when you’re off the clock you can’t help but clear the plates from the table.
Brittany and Nichole, thank you for making the effort to divide your time between two families. I know that makes for a busy day but you never complain. I love the comic relief you bring as you two banter back-and-forth. You bring joy and sunshine with you everywhere you go!
And Crys, please know you were very missed this Easter. Thank you for being such a hard worker and a caring respiratory therapist. Illness does not pause for any holiday. Your patients are no doubt blessed by your care and concern.
Brittany, Garrett and Melissa, know this: no matter how old you get, you’ll always be the center of my world. While I’m certain God gave me each of you to train and teach, through the years you’ve taught me so much more. Without you, I’d have never learned the luxury of conversation and the value of family.
Nor how to measure my life in love.