In-law Christmas: My in-laws celebrate Christmas, like any good Germans, on Christmas Eve.
Mom Christmas: Christmas Day is the day we spend at my mom's.
The S_________ family Christmas is a wild carnival ride of chaos.
My family Christmas is full of peace and goodwill toward men.
The in-laws tear simultaneously rip into presents and throw paper in the general direction of folded black garbage bags.
My family delicately extracts gifts from festive easy-to-open gift bags.
I try not to talk at the in-laws, because I would be hoarse the next day from shouting over all the in-laws in a vain attempt to communicate.
You can hear the snow melting at my moms.
The "difficult" relative is not in attendance at my in-laws.
The "difficult" relative is not in attendance at my moms.
The family table at the S_______ house is where they discuss gallbladder, bowel, and problems with breaking wind. Passing gas.
My sister-in-law loves that term, because it makes my husband scream and clutch his head.
"Gaaaaahhhhh! No! We don't say that word!"
"What word? Fart?" she will giggle.
This begins a looooonnnngggg conversation about Karen's gaseousness. Not only does she discuss her gas, she belches openly at the table. I admit, when I first married the husband and felt free enough to belch in front of him, it was quite entertaining and made me laugh and clap my hands. I. Was. Twenty. Three. Karen is forty-seven. After a few Christmas belches, Gary complained and Karen said, "No way to stop it. If I eat, I just belch."
I tried to think of a nice way to say what I was thinking. I said, "Perhaps that's because you swallow air, because you often talk while you are eating." (I often have the urge to clap my hands over Gary's relatives mouths at dinner, or say hateful little things like "I'm sorry, I can't hear you until you swallow your food.") Karen looked puzzled. "I don't talk that much when I'm eating" she said, while the chicken noodles slid to the edge of her teeth and almost escaped.
Contrast this with the next day at Mom's - everyone chewed, swallowed, then spoke. I think there may have been some dabbing at the corners of the mouth with napkins, even.
At the S______s, I had the good fortune to have a cold, so I had an excuse to not infect the family and not get too close to them. I sat at the edge of the Christmas tornado and was not swept in. There is always a chaos storm at the S_______s, even if there is no real chaos. One birthday I was late because I had not paid attention and passed my exit, then noticed my mistake three miles later at the intersection of 367 and 270. I called Gary, who left the table and said to me on the phone - "You passed the exit? 367 and 270?" The in-laws overheard this and Sandy screamed, "She passed out! She was in a car accident! She's at the hospital at 367 and 270!" Much chaos, until Gary got off the phone and was surprised to find I had apparently interrupted my trauma surgery to call and say I would be delayed. I am surprised my blood pressure wasn't 367 over 270.
At Mom's, there is no tornado. All is calm, all is bright, crickets chirp. Mom even commented this year that some might even find it boring.
A few years ago, Karen dictated who would open what present and when, to minimize the fact I have one-third the presents everyone else has. (Gary began calling her "Ms Streisand" because she was directing Christmas. "Which hand should I use to open the next gift, Ms. Streisand?" This year when she started controlling me I called her the Christmas Nazi and she backed off, so we all opened at our own free will.) I really don't mind having few presents, because to this family, it's not the thought that counts, it's the sale price. If it is on sale any time during the year, they buy it for Christmas. First Christmas I was there they gave me deodorant trash bags and hairspray. Coming from a family where a gift is a reflection of your interests, I was concerned that my trash smelled. No, they said, surprised, they are pink trash bags. They are cute. And they were on sale.
I did get a bright blue sweater, a CD I had expressly told them I have, and a book on Fung Shui, which I am almost certain I have mocked in their presence. (However, I do always leave the toilet lid up since I can use the excuse that it gives the Chi a way to escape the bathroom.) Gary got shirts that actually fit him. Karen usually buys him clothing she thinks will fit him, which is why he got a pair of jogging pants last year that he was able to pull up over his head.
[An aside: I know I am being exceedingly ungrateful and critical of the in-laws, and I am comforted in the knowledge that that they would not be insulted. For example, once I was at a function for their family and referred to myself as "socially retarded" in front of a young woman I thought was simply heard of hearing. That was why she spoke so slowly. And why she didn't seem to comprehend what was going on around her. They were very nice and exclaimed "oh, don't say retarded" (followed by great eye-rollings toward the heard-of-hearing - oh, sorry, retarded girl) until I figured out my faux pas. No one was offended.]
Those were the gifts from Karen and Mr. Wonderful, while the elder S______s made life simple and handed each of us a check. I have gotten used to the awkward "Thank you for the check, you are too kind, giving me money like this," and I was reciting it when this year the awkward thank you conversation was interrupted by Wilma complaining that Ken had only given each of us half of what they had agreed on. Then they bickered over the amount while we stood about embarrassed. Well, Mr. Wonderful and I stood about embarrassed, Karen and Gary weighed in on what should be distributed. (Gary: "No! No more money! Take it back!" Karen: "He don't know! Give us more!") Ken eventually passed out an extra set of checks for an additional amount but signed Wilma's name to them as a protest.
I did ask Mom for a breathalyzer but she balked at that. (I liked Libby's suggestion that I ask her for condoms as an alternative.) Okay, granted, Mom gave money, but she gave cash. I think next year we should play dominoes for a pot of money. I think the family dynamics would be interesting. Would I take money graciously if I won it? Would Gary throw the match? Would Mom pay more attention to the score-keeping?
One thing we don't have at either Christmas is children running underfoot, since the only kids in the family are Muslims. The holidays are not really over until Arzaana-fay and Arhan-fay have had their birthdays. That's next week. We are giving Arhan-fay cash - but, hey, no, don't say anything yet - that's because he is poor. He is a po' brown Muslim child (well, twenty-one) and he will never be self-sufficient because he is an activist. I have already bought Arzaana-fay every black article of clothing Dillard's Junior department sells. We shall see how it goes next week.