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Seeing Your Family During the Holidays: Is it Worth it?

We drove to Maryland and back yesterday for our fourth annual Danish Christmas celebration (Peter's family on his dad's side is Danish). Six hours in the car, three of which included steady rain. Two children who skipped naps (although as a result they were blissfully asleep at 6 pm in the back seat). 400 miles traveled. No church. No family rest. Kids got a dinner of cheese and crackers in their car seats. We came home to a sink full of dishes, wrapping paper strewn about the dining room, toys throughout the playroom. Peter needed to get to work on grad school applications (due Tuesday). I had two final papers to write (due Saturday). Was it worth it?

Maybe not. There were no profound moments shared. No deep conversations. No time for games. Not much laughter, and the only tears were those of our children, overtired, as we ushered them out the door. If all I were thinking about was this day, or this week, it wasn't worth it at all.

But I think back upon my own childhood, and I know that it was the year after year visits to my grandparents, the inconsequential moments with my cousins, that expanded my sense of what it means to be a part of a family. It was the year after year that made me remember "our" traditions: a brisk walk to church on Christmas Eve and a family dinner at my great-aunt's house afterward; Mom's rolls and green bean casserole and filet mignon with bearnaise sauce; a treasure hunt with clues written by my grandfather, and later my father, on Christmas morning.

So, yes, this is worth it. In addition to the American traditions that we observe on Christmas Eve and Day, Penny and William will grow up with Danish pork and red cabbage and potatoes and rice pudding as a part of what it means to have Christmas. They will grow up hearing stories from their "Far Far" about his memories of Christmas in Denmark, riding in sleds upon the snow. They will grow up with a sense that family extends beyond the walls of our apartment. They will grow up admiring their older cousins. Before too long, they may look forward to a drive south in the middle of December.

And even if it takes years, eventually we will come together and sit at the table and share about our lives without the interruptions of crying babies and needing to go potty. All these years will add up to something more, because amidst the spit up and pulled hair and spilled juice, relationships will settle into place. It will be worth it in the end.

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