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!