A holiday debrief.
For the purpose of this story, let’s say Boy Robin’s (and now my) surname is Robin and my pre-marriage surname was Maiden.
Christmas 2013 was Boy Robin’s and my first Christmas as a married couple. We had spent Christmas 2012 with his family in Perth because at the time of planning the Christmas holiday, I was going to be working on the days between Christmas and New Year and didn’t have the leave available to take time off in order to spend Christmas with my family interstate (the approximately five hours travel time each way would pretty much devour the two day Christmas break). Prior to that, we had spent Christmas with our respective families, although we did try to spend some time together either on Christmas day or the days either side.
After I resigned from my job of misery in the weeks leading up to Christmas 2012 and without any job to go to, the cost of booking last minute flights without any stable income in the foreseeable future made spending Christmas with my family unfeasible.
I knew my parents would be disappointed. Christmas is traditionally a time for my parents and extended family to come together. Growing up, we would alternate Christmas between my mother’s extended family and my father’s extended family and I have many happy memories of spending Christmas surrounded by family. My parents had moved interstate fairly recently and it would be the first Christmas I had spent away from them since my stint of travelling after university five years previous.
To soften the blow, we said to my parents that although I could not go to them for Christmas 2012, Boy Robin and I would go to them for Christmas 2013 – our first married Christmas. They were still disappointed, but it was something to look forward to.
Fast forward part way through the year when my parents were in Perth in the lead up to our wedding. Inevitably, the topic of when we would visit them came up and we reiterated it would be for Christmas. They had big plans – massive home renovations to be completed by Christmas with an extended family get-together hosted by my parents over Christmas Day and Boxing Day. At one point, the topic came up while we were with Boy Robin’s parents. His mother said that it all sounded like fun and my mother said those fatal words: “You should come too.”
Fast forward further through the year to the week spent at my parents’ house for Christmas. It truly was an extravaganza. The renovations were not quite finished, but that didn’t stop it from being a beautiful setting for a family reunion. The garden was stunning. The weather was beautiful. There was family that I hadn’t seen in over a year. Good food and drink flowed.
However, for me, an aching sense of being torn between two identities prevailed. It probably didn’t help my sister arrived a few days before and had already settled in. Or that I arrived with Boy Robin and his immediate family. Or that my parents no longer live in the state I grew up in, let alone the house I grew up in, so while I recognised the contents, the location and house itself were unfamiliar.
I felt displaced. I was a guest in my parents’ house and every offer to help prepare the Christmas meal was knocked back. In the lead up to my arrival, I had pressed my mother about what I could contribute and suggested that given I was only arriving a couple of days before Christmas and everyone (including Boy Robin’s mother, who had brought her homemade Christmas pudding and established herself as a fount of knowledge in the kitchen) seemed to have already “baggsed” other parts of the meal (the three different types of cooked meat, the multiple salads and roast vegetables, several types of dessert and enough drinks, soft and alcoholic, to stock a well-stocked bottle-o), I could provide a cheese platter. Upon my arrival, and wanting to make plans to take the car and buy the components of said platter, my mother said not to worry – she had already done it.
While my sister was the go-to person regarding where to set up the table and and her opinion was actively sought on which tablecloth to use and which decorations to put out, every offer of mine to set the table, pour drinks and otherwise contribute in some meaningful way, was politely declined. While everyone bustled in the kitchen or set up outside, I was told to sit down and relax. It sounds like the perfect holiday away, except it left me with a nagging sense of not belonging.
Around me, there were the knickknacks of my childhood. Shelves of my parents’ books, which I had slowly worked my way through as I grew up and my reading list expanded. My mother’s shells, which she had collected over the years and which I had sketched – that same sketch hanging on the wall. The clock which had always sat in the lounge room and which you could hear ticking like a heartbeat when the house was quiet. The couch on which I had whiled away my childhood, learning needlepoint from my mum, listening to music first on cassette tape and then on CD after my family bought a CD player to commemorate me starting high school, reading the aforesaid books and camping out when people came to stay and I had to give up my bed.
I sat on that couch in a foreign room. Immersed in the memories of my formative years, how could I be anything other than a Maiden? And yet, the Robin family were visitors in my parents’ house and by marriage, I was a Robin and had become a visitor as well.
After all my offers had been knocked back and the Christmas extravaganza had been and gone, I spent a lot of time going for walks by myself, or with Boy Robin. There were tears, lots of tears, of frustration, anger and loss. Of not belonging and not knowing how to fix it.
I think it will get better over time. The feeling of not belonging will not blindside again me like it did this Christmas. I will feel more able to articulate that I want to help and not take no for an answer. And beyond that, Robin and I will continue to forge our own united identity together. Time will make it stronger and we will create our own family traditions, while working our way through the three distinct stages of the holiday learning curve.
Looking back, a week with both families in an isolated environment when our own little newlywed family was still so new was never going to be easy. I just never expected it to be so hard.