One Generation Gives Way to the Next

When our sons were small, my husband and I invented our own customs for Christmas, because my parents and his lived hundreds of miles away. Making the holiday special was up to us. We missed our extended families, but we were free to do whatever appealed to us—there was no other schedule or tradition to consider.

A few years ago

We read “The Night Before Christmas,” filled stockings with candy, assembled big toys like the play kitchen, and added batteries to toy guitars and handheld games. We took a bite out of the cookies left for Santa and scribbled “Thanks!” on the notes our sons wrote (Santa has good manners). 

As our boys got older and Santa became a sweet memory instead of an actual visitor, our habits changed. The four of us began cooking elaborate meals together—three days of them. Christmas Eve Eve’s dinner would be whatever the group craved—maybe Southern BBQ or cassoulet. An Italian feast (calzones, fagotch*, and homemade pasta) became a required ritual for either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, and the third meal might be something fancy like Beef Wellington. Later we welcomed our sons’ girlfriends (now wives) into the kitchen.

When they married, we understood some traditions would have to flex; after all, our daughters-in-law and their families have traditions, too. Changes have already begun. This Christmas the six of us will be together on Christmas Eve. My husband and I will miss our three-day extravaganza, but believe this is the right way forward.

If we have grandchildren, I envision more changes on the horizon. I’ve watched and learned from friends and family who have married children and grandchildren. They’ve all had to adapt and invent new approaches to holiday gatherings. My brother and sister-in-law spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with their married child and her family, but not both. Other relatives get together after Christmas, because their child’s divorce means accommodating two separate parents and three sets of grandparents. A friend doesn’t see her children and grandchild until New Year’s Day—scheduling the group at Christmas has gotten too complicated.

My friends and family don’t relish being alone on Christmas, but they accept the situation and make the best of it. As grandparents, they are no longer the center of holiday celebrations—their adult children and grandchildren are. It’s their turn now.

I expect changes will continue for my family. As my husband and I age and grandchildren arrive, we’ll adapt again and again. Gracefully, I hope. After all, this is how life is supposed to go. One generation gives way to the next. Inherent in raising children is the assumption they’ll become independent adults, and as a parent, I will be less central. One day, they’ll be responsible for arranging (and cleaning up!) our holiday celebrations, and eventually their children will do the same for them. 

That’s as it should be.

 *The family’s phonetic spelling for a form of focaccia in which ground meat, tomato paste, fennel seed and other spices are spread on bread dough, rolled up, baked, and sliced into pinwheels.

As The Wind Blows

That’s what our daughter says.

When she first landed in Hawaii, we enjoyed our daily chats with her.

Jody and I asked her about the phone calls: too much, too little, how are you doing? We wanted to be present for her and yet also give her the space she needed.

We knew we were at the end of our daily calls when three weeks later we disrupted her at breakfast. Dining at IHOP with newly found college friends, she left the table to answer our call.

“Oh, yeah, so you don’t need to call me anymore,” she said.

“Wait. Wait. Wait,” Jody and I responded. “We expect at least a weekly phone call.”

It took Crystel a few weeks to remember whether it was a Wednesday or Thursday that we were going to call. That made for a fortuitous two phone calls in a week. The parents were being weaned from adult daughter contact.

Facetime worked the best. At least we could see her, study her face, discern if anything was off, and she could make faces at us in the camera and use it to check her brow line.

We had been asking her the same questions, week after week. How is school? How are your roommates? How is the dining hall? What plans do you have for this weekend? Our weekly conversations changed the first time she used the line, “As the wind blows.” I felt like she was putting us off. Dismissing us.

She had been planning an outing with her roommates to swim with the sharks. It didn’t happen because as the wind blows.

I thought she was being disrespectful. I told her that we needed more engagement from her. She needed to add to the conversation.

After the phone call, when I had time to cool down, I realized that what she was saying was true. Isn’t that the way of most college students and young adults – as the wind blows. And didn’t I embrace spontaneity? Encourage her to follow her joy?

Personally, I love being in the moment, being able to go inside to determine my path or action. I phrase it as introspection.

We’ve learned to anticipate the changing winds. She’s made friends, adventured to the northern parts of Oahu, flew to Maui for a weekend, snorkeled, cliff jumped, and learned to surf. She did eventually swim with the sharks.

Crystel requested and received a permit for solo hiking on the island of Kauai for the first week in January. Though she explained that maybe she would explore the island with a friend and do day excursions, she didn’t know yet.

Letting go of our adult child is a kite in the wind. I’m proud of her. A bit nervous for her. And hope the winds always blow strong and true.

“Ua pa mai ka makani…” / “The wind has been blowing…