Not Home for the Holidays
This past July, Vin and I went to Texas to hang with my family and sweat all over ourselves. We spent one afternoon splashing in dad’s pool and everything felt right with the world. It was a perfectly casual summer day, and there was literally no where else I wanted to be. Dad kept bringing out pitchers of frozen cocktails, my niece and I were knocking around in the water, and we basically spent an afternoon laughing our heads off. Then Vinny got a text message: His sister had the baby!
We all lifted our plastic margarita glasses in celebration. “To Baby Kevin!” But Vinny looked sad. He wanted to be back in New York with his family. Something important was happening, and he wasn’t part of it. I could see it written on his face, that wistful sense of longing when you realize everyone is hanging out and carrying on without you. I felt bad that he wasn’t there; he wanted to be and he should have been.
I have that feeling all the time. It started when my parents divorced, and intensified when I moved to New York. I’ve lived thousands of miles away from my family throughout my adult life, so you’d think by now I’d be used to it, but I’m not. It still sucks.
It crops up on anniversaries and holidays, when I should be there, but I’m not. It happens on Mother’s Day, when I’d love nothing more than to bring a bouquet of flowers to mom’s door and cook her breakfast. It happens on a sunny Saturday afternoon when friends and neighbors gather in dad’s yard to drink cold beers and eat fish tacos. It happens when babies are born and school plays are produced and birthday gifts are unwrapped. I wish hanging out with my family weren’t an elaborate production. I wish it didn’t involve planning and plane tickets and large sums of money. I wish I could drive over for Sunday dinner like it’s no big deal. I want to share lunch with my niece in her school cafeteria on a random Tuesday. I want to eat mom’s Mickey Mouse waffles next Saturday for breakfast.
But more than sadness, I carry guilt. I created this distance. They all stayed in place, and I chose to move. I feel guilty that I’m not there to participate fully in our family life. I wish I had the time and the money to attend every important event with them. I keep waiting for my mom or dad to get a wild hair and move to New York City. In a few years I’ll put a bug in my niece’s ear, convince her to apply to Columbia or Fordham or Hunter. My brother will kill me, but I’m willing to take that chance.
A few weeks ago, mom sent me a text message: “Your brother’s wife had the baby!” I lifted my coffee mug in the air and toasted “To Baby Aiden!” even though no one was there to clink the other side. He was born in late November and I’ll meet him in early February. I timed our next visit with my niece’s 11th birthday. It’s about damn time I attended one of her parties. Pretty soon she’ll be too old to have them.
I just packed up the Christmas box I’m sending to my sweet niece and brand new nephew. It’s filled with books and toys for the baby, baking supplies for our big girl. We travel to Texas every other year for Christmas; this year we stay in New York. It is what it is.
Included in the box is a book from the ’80s called PEOPLE. It’s the most wonderful children’s book I’ve ever seen, filled with illustrations of people from every possible country and culture to help children notice and appreciate the vast and beautiful diversity in our world. I think it’s actually out of print, which amazes me. The world could use a few fresh new copies of this book.
I found it abandoned on a curb in Brooklyn, while trick-or-treating with our New York City nephews and their parents. I already had a copy of the book at home; it’s been one of my favorites since childhood when my aunt and uncle sent it to my brother and me. Scrolled on the inside cover was a brief but touching dedication– “To Jennifer and Adam– two very unique and beautiful people”– Love always, Aunt Renee and Uncle David.
Growing up, I barely saw my aunt and uncle. They spent their young married years sleeping in tents in Greece and teaching English in Japan. They were never around on Christmas morning and I’m pretty sure they never huddled around the cake as I blew out candles and made a wish. They weren’t a big part of my childhood, but I feel very close to them as an adult. They’ve hosted us countless times in Austin, and we’ve shown them some of our favorite spots in New York. We learned how to make authentic paella and pan de tomate together while traveling in Spain. I hope one day to have the same relationship with my brother’s kids, the ones I barely see.
I plan on scrolling a little message to my own niece and nephew on the book’s inside cover, just like our aunt and uncle wrote to their dad and me. ”To Allison and Aiden– two very unique and beautiful people. Wish we could be with you on Christmas. We love you, and will see you soon.”
I’ll stuff the box with crinkled tissue paper and deliver it to the post office later today. I’ll feel good for a minute, congratulate myself for being a thoughtful and dedicated auntie. And then I’ll feel that twinge of guilt twist and burn inside, wishing I could always be there to watch them open my gifts in person.