When Someone’s Presence Is the Best Present – Any Time of Year

with my son at Town Hall gardens, Felixstowe

with my son two days ago at Town Hall gardens, Felixstowe

My mom always said, ‘We’re close all year round,’ thereby giving me the gift of alleviating, though not eliminating, my swirling mix of guilt and sadness when we weren’t together at Christmas.

This year, we were blessed with a pre-Christmas visit from my son, the best gift I could have hoped for. In 2011, he joined us in the UK for Christmas; since then, he’s spent the holiday with the young woman who is now his wife, and her lovely family. One year, the two of them travelled to meet us in London on Boxing Day; two other times, we’ve spent Thanksgiving together in the USA.

My mother’s example taught me not to fuss too much about calendar dates. The older I get, the more I appreciate her wisdom. The older I get, the more I also appreciate my father’s flexibility (they divorced when I was young but I saw both parents Christmas Day) – his willingness to see us when we said we could see him, his unfailing ‘yes’ when I asked if he was available at a certain time, his ongoing presence in my life. My heart winces at what I’ve come to call ‘divorced parent leftovers’ – the time and attention given to so many parents (often dads) who, after divorce and when the children are grown, find themselves ending up with whatever time is left over, coming in second after the parent who was present for the day in, day out, year in, year out working and loving and endless tasks of child-raising.

It’s often said that expats have heightened awareness of separation, of having loved ones geographically dispersed all over the world. This is certainly a recurring theme of this blog. Today many families, expat or not, divorced or not, have members spread around the world – children marry and have children of their own, work opportunities take people to new places and families exert pressure and expectations on who will be with whom and when.

Sometimes it’s easier when families live far apart. Friends in Australia used to spend alternate Christmases with the wife’s family in California and the husband’s in Tasmania. If both families live close by, young families often spend Christmas Day at one in-laws’ in the morning and, after a drive of multiple hours, the afternoon or evening at the other in-laws’ – exhausting.

In the early years of my first marriage, after a year or two of trekking to and from New Jersey for Thanksgiving and then again for Christmas (not to forget an extended family party every Saturday after Thanksgiving), my late husband Gary put his foot down. We began balancing our time differently, mixing old and new and developing our own holiday traditions.

Since moving to the UK in early 2011, Clive and I have spent every Christmas Day in Felixstowe (except for one, an emergency trip to Australia). We’re thankful we’re able to see our families multiple times during the year. This year in England, we’ll have turkey for two for the first time, grateful for each other’s presence and raising a glass to loved ones in the USA and Australia, all of whom we’ll see in the first few months of 2016.

Happy Christmas to all who celebrate, to you and yours, wherever you — and they — may be.

Christmas Eve sunset 2015, Felixstowe

Christmas Eve sunset 2015, Felixstowe

Cheers and thanks for reading. Next week’s letter will be from Felixstowe.

4 Responses

  1. Merry Christmas Clive and Carolyn! So happy for your visit from Gary and for the wonderful time you all had at his wedding. Sorry to be so discombobulated in all of December and hope to see you in the not too distant future!

  2. Merci Kim and happy Christmas to you and Marco!

    What a great job you and all the team did in Paris in December — we’ll be in touch next time 🙂

    Cheers and hope you have a great Christmas break xx

  3. Joyeux Noel Carolyn (malgré le fait que tu es toujours, “Carol” pour moi) et Clive. Chaque fois que je lis un de tes blogues, tu m’engages le coeur.

    Je vous souhaite le joie, la bonne santé et la paix our la nouvelle année.

  4. Randi, merci mille fois pour tes mots très sympa! Ton commentaire est très gentil et je l’apprécie beaucoup.

    J’aime lire ton français! C’est très impressionnant 🙂

    avec meilleurs voeux à toi et ta famille pour 2016 de ‘Carol’ et Clive xx

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