This Door is Always Open: A Glimpse at Family Gathering

Like animals instinctively returning home after a migration, my family makes its way to my parents' house at two distinct times of year: once in the summer and always at Christmas. We camp out there for as long as our various vacation accruals will allow. No matter how far or near we come from, it's where we reunite, where we celebrate, and where we feel at home.
Regardless of how long the travels leading to arrival are, turning onto my parents' small street is a massive relief marked with some sort of we're-here-cheer. As you pull up to the driveway, look sharp because cars are parked like jigsaw puzzles slid together, and children's bikes, scooters and helmets are tiny pieces complicating the challenge of finding a space.
Surely someone, or some many, will come out to greet your arrival. There will be hugs and smiles; children’s hair will get tousled. The process of unloading the car will commence and then you'll step into the house. It will smell like the meal that is invariably awaiting you and the many seasonally-appropriate candles my mother will have lit. You will almost have forgotten how beautiful it is.
From about then onward, the days and nights will bleed together into nearly-constant activity and happiness.

There will be no shortage of food. The refrigerator in the kitchen and the spare in the garage are so full that bottles of beer and sparkling apple cider, jars of pickles and cans of diet soda that no one drinks all spill out into a semi-circle on the garage floor. Feeding this crowd will be a huge endeavor, three times a day, every day. And even though different chefs will take over the kitchen, the feeding fete is exhausting.
The New Mexicans feed us green chilies on everything and add flaming hot spice to each entree. I keep trying to work in massive amounts of vegetables, as I (subtly) nag everyone about what's healthy and what's not. My vegetarian sister-in-law who is allergic to gluten either gets a thoughtful array prepared for her or is completely lost in the crowd and has to scrounge-up another green salad for dinner. My parents fill in with fare that has become standard to this crowd: always there will be a night of spaghetti and a night of barbecued garlic chicken with Lebanese toubouli. One or two mornings, depending on the duration of our camp-out, there will be buttermilk pancakes poured from the blender. And most likely, one morning we'll arise to a massive box of donuts on the counter, that one or two lucky grandchildren got to go along to help pick-out.
I keep wondering why we don't eat more cereal and sandwiches as the dishwasher and the kitchen trash can fill up over and over again. The flow of dishes is as constant as the flush of toilets or the swish of the washing machine. And by about day four, spouses start to tease each other about ineludible weight-gain.
Outside of the kitchen, it's only slightly less chaotic. The lights are left on in every room. As soon as you shut the bathroom door, someone is knocking on it. (Be sure to look before you sit-down on the toilet because there's a couple little boys with bad aim.) 
In December, it's about as cold as it gets in Southern California, roughly 55 degrees, and there is a host of swirling, dry leaves and wandering lizards and rodents out here in the country, but apparently none of these are compelling reasons for anyone to shut the front door behind themselves because it's constantly left open - to my mother's disdain.
"Shut the front door!" she will shout repeatedly to no one in particular but everyone in general.
Now, when a door is closed, that also means nothing. Children walk through our bedroom as readily as they pass through the hallway.  I step out of the shower into the bedroom to get dressed, and my nephew pops up from behind the bed. I open the car door and my nieces are camped out in the backseat. Children, in case you have failed to gather, are everywhere; although, I have barely seen my own since we first pulled into the driveway. The household wakes up with the first child's pattering down the stairs and only calms to quiet after the last small head rests quietly upon the pillow.
Most of the small heads camp out on the floor of my parents' bedroom, gracing them with constant companionship from their smallest house guests. 
Each morning is a new rotation of meals to be eaten, dishes to be washed, conversations to be had, love to shared. And, the front door to be left open just as my mother is passing by. ("Oh gads, who left the door open again?")
Once the peanut brittle has been passed, the apple cider sipped, and the wrapping paper burned in the wood stove, it's time for us to each head back to our lives that will initially feel solitary. We'll return to our individual homes and our individual family units. We'll "go about our daily activities," as my father says, and carry on with only calls, emails and various visits amongst us. Until, half of another year passes and we all return together again, this time in tank-tops and flip-flops.
There we will all be again, to pull into the crowded driveway and say, "We made it."  There we will be - to reunite, celebrate, and feel at home once again.

Wishing you a joy-filled Christmas with your family!


The (Pee-Soaked) Magic of Christmas

Aww, the magical season of Christmas is upon us.

Is it "magical" though? Really?

Maybe I just don't like that word very much: magical. It implies fairytale perfection, which is just plain far from the truth pretty much always. Now, I appreciate and enjoy the holidays as much as the next gal; I value them; I enjoy them. But I understand that nothing about them will be imperfect. Like life in general, once we embrace the truth of realistic expectations, we're much freer to be content and grateful for what things are.

That being said, last weekend we decided to brave the California-cold and the crowds to take our two small children to a Christmas festival that promised to be magical.

There were live carolers and an orchestra, with the beautiful holiday music piped across the quaint coastal village. There was snow trucked in and wreaths on every lamppost. And, the real clincher, there was a spectacular fireworks show above the lit-up pier. Red, green, gold, and silver fireworks boomed and sizzled above the dark waves, timed carefully with the music. Are you thinking magical yet?

Well, you shouldn't be, because actually, it went something like this:

Parking was so difficult my husband dropped off: me, 2 kids in full winter gear, 4 blankets, 2 water bottles, 1 large purse (when it's bigger than a watermelon, is it still a purse?) full of snacks that will spill into a sticky mess, and 1 dinky stroller, and he drove literally to the next town before he found a parking space. We'll skip the sled run and bouncers because the lines are queued down the street. We'll find a spot to picnic on the sand and enjoy the music and atmosphere. We'll cuddle under fleece blankets and eat sandy popcorn and smashed Junior Mints from the bottom of my watermelon-of-a-purse.

Then, my 2-year old will have her only potty accident of the month and pee right through the two pairs of pants, long socks, and boots she is wearing. We'll improvise to keep her clothed and warm.

Just before the fireworks are scheduled to begin, my husband will have to leave to start the trek to pick up our car before the parking meter runs out. It's back to me, bundled kids, and too much stuff.

The blinking holiday lights lining the pier go out and we see the first firework streak into the black sky. The moment we've been waiting for! My 5 year-old leans into me with a grunt, "I really have to go to the bathroom. I can't hold it anymore!"

Hold it anymore? I asked him if he had to go at the restaurant. And then again when we passed the bathrooms by the pier. And then again 10 minutes ago, before the show started. NOW?

I try to make him wait. I stare at the massive pops of light now filling the dark sky and fizzling into the ocean. I smile at my pee-soaked little girl wrapped in a blanket, as she points, cheers, and drops her tiny jaw in awe at the spectacle.

Meanwhile, my son is grunting, whining, shifting. "Really. Have. To. Go."

And so I pack everything up. I try to maneuver the too-full stroller around people, chairs, and splayed blankets, across the sand. Thankfully, a women next to us gets up and helps me, missing the show herself to grab the front of my stroller and help carry it through the crowded sand, to the sidewalk. That is kindness at it's best! Maybe this is a magical evening after all.

The fireworks are at our back as we rush to the nearest bathroom. While he pees, the show ends.

We march down the sandy sidewalk with the parade of hundreds of other people. Stairs. There are 5 stairs between me and the street I need to get up to. I stop and stare at them as people rush past.

I give it a go and ram the stroller, with my baby and overflowing supplies in it - up the ominous cement, making it to the third step. Just as I'm about to try and Heeman-heave it up the rest of the way in what would have probably been an embarrasing fail, a man from the throngs of passerbyers stops and asks to help me. Yes! I want to hug him.

I take everything back. Admittedly, I'm irrationally angry at my 5-year old for making us miss the show and feeling a bit like I might never leave the house again. And yet, there was some magic - some real holiday goodwill that warmed my heart.

Merry Christmas. Have a magical holiday.


Love Foundation

This Thanksgiving, I had the honor of being selected to share my story at The Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation “Week of Thankfulness” blog.

Same story. Retold anew. Because, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Check it out at: