New Family Traditions

Our Thanksgivings have been changing. This year was a milestone.

My parents are deceased, as are Barb’s. Neither of us is from this area. We have a blended family with five kids. They are all now adults. One son is married. Several are in serious relationships. Most live out of the area. New jobs with new requirements. This seems to exponentially increase the magnitude and complexity of managing holiday schedules.

The long and short of it is that Barb and I weren’t going to have a traditional “Norman Rockwell” Thanksgiving. We were going to be alone. No sympathy; it is simply a statement of fact.

This is not the first time I faced such a situation. For much of my early adulthood, it was a certainty. During my Plebe year, regulations at West Point precluded leave to go home. When I was a junior officer in Europe, I spend virtually every major holiday at the patrol camp on the East German border. I was single and we were short-handed, so the married officers spent the time at home and I ate canned turkey in our small mess hall with the troops. They were my family.

In fact, my “family” has often not been my family. I grew up in the Army for more than thirty years of my life. It can only be described as “transient.” My relatives were spread across the country, and often we weren’t even on the same continent (military deployments are prolific). My family was composed of the people in the same boat, but there was no permanency in that. Friends and “family” came and went.

I moved to Kingsport in no small measure to create the “home” for my kids that I never had. While my parents were alive, and after my dad retired from the military, all of us went home for the holidays. So, I have had a taste of that nuclear family holiday experience.

Since that time, much has changed. The death of my parents. A divorce. Kids growing and acquiring outside familial requirements. Like death-by-a-thousand-nicks, each of these serve to degrade the cohesiveness of formal holiday gatherings. Perhaps if we all lived in the same community, things would be different. We don’t. There are simply too many pulls from too many sources. Everyone can’t be everywhere at the same time.

I suppose if I demanded everyone return to my house, I might be able to create some semblance of a “normal” holiday setting. That might get a few to return, but it’s not fair to anyone. Why is my claim to their time more valid than another significant person in their lives? I never want to put my children in a place where they feel they must “choose” sides. That can bring nothing but bitterness and animosity.

You can either fight it or adapt. The later seems a better choice.

So, we establish new traditions. There is always some time of the year that the disparate pack can come together. This year we spent a week in Utah, hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon. Not everyone could make it, but the likelihood of that grows ever more remote. Bi-annually, we go to the Army-Navy game. A good rivalry for our family. I root for West Point, but my daughter is in the Navy, one son was in the Navy and the other works for the Navy (Where did I go so wrong?). We are now working on an annual Spring ski trip.

Regardless of the plan, I have accepted that some of the kids won’t be able to make it, but over the course of time it seems to average out. I’ll take whatever time I can get.

I do envy many local friends who have large organic family units. Photos of huge gatherings strike a nostalgic note, a longing for a simpler time when we would gather at my parents’ home. But I sometimes think that time and distance has made those memories more idyllic than they were. It was always chaos, but a chaos with warmth and love.

This year, without then prospect of a family assemblage, Barb and I headed south. I am writing this from my RV down in Florida. We did spend time with a dear family friend we love who just lost her mother. Part of our disparate family. It was nice to be there for her. Mostly, Barb and I have enjoyed doing pretty much of nothing. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner of blackened Grouper. (Perhaps a new tradition?)

For once we put aside the challenge of meeting other people’s expectations and simply went with the flow. We turned it into an opportunity, outside the pressures of work and everyday demands, to spend time together (alone). It has been different, but it has also been wonderful. If I can’t be with my kids, this is a pretty great alternative.

New traditions have begun to supplant the old. Regardless of the setting, I have been truly blessed and I am thankful for my “family” where ever they are.

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