Panic is probably too strong a word, but you could feel the tension rising in our household as the days counted down to Christmas.
Ours is a blended family. Each year Cheryl and I are tasked with bringing together the offspring from our first marriages for Christmas Eve festivities.
We’ve been doing this for 13 straight Christmas Eves. Cheryl’s three join up with my two for an evening of dining, desserts, board games and moments of true hilarity.
Things always go well, yet the prep for Cheryl and me is always fraught with uncertainty. Who doesn’t eat what? What did my Jenny mean the year she likened Cheryl to Adolf Hitler during a sketching-guessing game?
And given that her kids and my kids may not have seen each other for an entire year, how long will it take for everyone’s reserve to melt?
In fact, our kids are kids in name only. All but one of them is older than 30. In that age bracket, there’s always the chance that one or more of them might jump ship at Christmas for a better offer.
It’s not like this hasn’t happened. Julia decided not to fly back from New York once or twice. And this year, while actually living in Napa, she opted to catsit in Colorado for Christmas.
That’s not the full story, but honestly!
Last weekend was a furious time for Cheryl. She was trying to set up our new kitchen and living room for daily living AND Christmas Eve. I was of marginal assistance.
I did help her climb through a portal into the attic of the house so she could haul down boxes of Christmas decorations and extra chairs for the expected gathering of seven. When necessary, she can scramble like a mountain goat.
Many of the old holiday trappings didn’t work in the new living room. When I say “didn’t work,” I mean they violated new aesthetic standards. We didn’t spend a year of our lives living in the garage only to junk up the new addition at our first opportunity.
Cheryl said my metal angel and rotund Santa ornaments worked as spot decorations. My string of cotton-stuffed gingerbread men? No.
At one point Cheryl asked why we had more of “my” decorations in the new room than those from her first marriage. As I said, prep for Christmas is not all trumpets and the flutter of angel wings.
I had a snippy response. This house is mostly from your first marriage, I said. Your kids are coming home. My kids are coming to your house to see a few token items from their past.
To her credit, Cheryl did not take umbrage.
Our holiday setup was done as Jack, Julia’s left-behind Napa cat, prowled around the room and threatened to explore counters and table tops where she was unwelcome.
I have an eye on you, Jack. Don’t even dare.
Of course she dared.
Each time I sprang like a shrieking, much bigger cat.
My overreacting drove Cheryl crazy. If you lock your jaw like that, you’re going to shatter a tooth, she said.
If I do, it’s in a good cause, I said.
Jack doesn’t know this, but he’s going to be banished from the human gathering on Christmas Eve. No sugar plums for you, Jack.
Despite menu and other anxieties, Christmas spirit gradually did build as the week wore on. I got a big boost watching “A Very Murray Christmas,” a song-filled comedy starring Bill Murray.
Anticipation grew for the coming together of my Jenny and Dennis with Cheryl’s Josh and Jonathan — a gathering assembled on Christmas Eve from the far corners of California. And for the first time, an in-law! Dennis’ new bride, Margaret.
It should all work out fine. Maybe even great.