Sunday, March 27, 2016


Today is Easter.

A day of traditions, right?

In my family, not so much.

I guess I should back up a little. To my family of origin. It's a small family. My dad had an older brother and an older sister. His brother had four children. His sister had three. So there were ten cousins. BUT, they lived in the midwest, mostly in the Detroit area and we lived in Colorado. We went home back to Michigan every summer and I have memories of cookouts and going to Boblo (it was an amusement park, and you had to go on a boat- I just googled it and found out it closed in 1993). I can only remember celebrating one holiday with my dad's side of the family. It was Thanksgiving, 1975. I was a junior in high school and the football team had made it all the way to the state finals, and I was on a plane to Detroit.

My mom's family was much smaller. She was an only child. Her mom and dad split up when she was very young, and she was raised by her mom, and my Aunt Marge, who was also single, and had a son, my cousin Greg, who was just a little bit younger than my mom. My grandmother, and sometimes my aunt, usually came to Colorado to visit us twice a year, always at Christmas, and then usually once more. We visited her in Chicago on our trip to Detroit every summer.

We did have a few Christmas traditions. My grandmother would arrive on the train or plane about a week before Christmas. She would bring us each a Christmas ornament from Marshall Field's. We would spend the week before Christmas "helping" her in the kitchen- I remember decorating sugar cookies and spritz, and helping her make mincemeat tartlets in the kitchen. We always had a big Christmas Eve dinner and opened packages on Christmas morning. This was followed by Christmas breakfast, and then later on in the day Christmas dinner, which was almost always turkey, very similar to the dinner we had on Thanksgiving. I was fine with that. I like turkey.

We had a few other holiday traditions- mostly centered around my parents' friends. We hung out with a group of five or six families, and most holidays- New Year's Eve, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day- centered around those families. I remember playing croquet and volleyball and giant games of hide and seek. The metal shed in our backyard had a huge dent in the roof for years after Dick Mertens, who was 6'4" and 200 pounds, hid on top of it during a game of hide and seek.

So we did have traditions. But not like a lot of families.  There were no huge cousin/relative gatherings. There were no special ethnic dishes, with recipes passed down from generation to generation. There were no extended Monopoly tournaments or card games. Mostly we got together, usually at my mom's house, we helped cook, we watched parades or a movie, sometimes we went for a walk, we ate, and then we cleaned up and went home.

After I adopted the boys, I wanted us to have our own traditions. And I tried. Our first Christmas was pretty much over the top. We went to church. We came home and tried to assemble these little mechanical cars I had gotten. And failed miserably. We had presents, lots of presents. And we went to Colorado Springs to have dinner with my family.

But that was too much for my boys. As were several other holidays after that. And I finally learned.

My boys don't do holidays well, at all. In fact, they do them very badly. My boys' memories of holidays with their biological family are not happy. There were not presents or Easter baskets or fun times with cousins. Instead, holidays, for them, were a time when the adults in their lives celebrated with drugs and alcohol. Sometimes, lots of times, there was physical violence.

Holidays for my boys are also a time of emptiness. Their mom chose drugs and alcohol over her sons. Their dads are not part of their lives. They see their brothers and sister occasionally, but not regularly. Holidays, for my boys, are a time of wishing for what might have been, but never was. And that's why they are hard. Occasionally, on holidays, my boys will be invited to barbeque or party with their family of origin. Sometimes they go and sometimes they don't. I'm fine either way.

Holidays are a time of emptiness for me too. My dad, with whom I was very close, died about twenty years ago. My mom is 82, and lives in a senior citizens' facility. I see her every Sunday. My sisters have never totally accepted my boys, and it's gotten worse as the boys have gotten older. A couple of months ago, my youngest sister told me that I would be invited to her daughter's wedding in June, but that my sons would not. And that was pretty much the final straw for me. I haven't spoken to my sisters at all for three months.

That's why our holidays are very low key. I do Christmas and Valentine candy and Easter baskets. I usually cook some kind of meal, or sometimes the boys accompany me to see my mom and we take her out to eat. For birthdays, we have presents and they choose what or where they want to eat. Sometimes we go to a movie. But it's very low key.

Today both my boys have to work. I will go to Colorado Springs and take my mom to brunch.  The boys don't get home from work until after 1, so they will still be in bed when I leave at 9. I will leave their Easter baskets on the table. I forgot to buy Easter cards, so I will probably make them, on a piece of construction paper. I will tell them I love them, and that I hope this will be year of rebirth and newness.

And that will be our Easter.

Because we don't really do traditions in our family.


Margaret Simon said...

When families are disjointed or dysfunctional, holidays must be the worst possible time. Full of bad memories, emptiness, loneliness. The every day is punctuated by this society's expectation of celebration. Your tradition is your ongoing commitment to love your boys no matter what. They will carry that love with them with or without traditions. Easter for me is the reminder of a sacrifice that ended in undying love. Happy Easter to you. My prayer for you is peace.

Carrie Gelson said...

I think the low key, the reassurances of love and care are just as important as any tradition. It is about being a family in your own way.

Karen Szymusiak said...

Carol, your holidays are special in different ways. But your boys will still have great memories of what you do together to celebrate. Your post was so honest. Sad in ways. But I could feel your love for the boys in every word. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Loralee said...

You and your boys are so blessed to have each other.

Unknown said...


Sometimes it's better - okay, more than sometimes - to make our own traditions. Enjoy your day whatever you do!

Ashley Brown said...

Traditions come organically, without plan or purpose. It sounds like your boys' wants and desires are your tradition - doing what is right for your family. Happy Easter!

Michelle Li said...

Carol, you are so thoughtful and capture the intricacies of your own past as well as your boys' past in this piece. Thank you for writing from the heart. It's refreshing to read about real life and read struggles. So many of us have them, and yet frequently people shy away from writing their truth. Much love to you and your family.