The Trials of Family Togetherness



Merry Christmas, everyone! I have survived the first instalment of the holiday celebrations, though it sometimes feels like it was only by the skin of my teeth. Family relations are wonderful things, but that doesn’t make them easy. This may sound strange coming from a mother of two little boys, but chaos – you know, that complete disorder and confusion that reigns when you’ve got ten people living together in close quarters for days on end – really gets to me. It was frustrating enough when I lived as a daughter in my parents’ home. I felt like I was a lone sailor on a sinking ship, trying to maintain some semblance of order in that place, but now, as a visitor, it’s tougher than ever to live with the chaos because I am so much more organized in my own home.

Take, for example, the fact that my mother, being the wonderfully generous woman she is, has joyfully offered their home to a family of seven who need a place to stay over the holidays. It seemed like a great idea at the time; we’d all be gone to visit the extended family and the house would be empty anyways. Well, the guests will be arriving first thing tomorrow morning and, when I left in the afternoon today, the entire house was a disaster from top to bottom – dust-bunnies everywhere, fridge smelling a bit off, piles of laundry blocking the hallway, beds unmade.

“You can’t leave it like this!” I exclaimed in horror.

“Oh, it will all come together, like it always does” was the response I received, though my mother was off to work in her art gallery for a few hours. (Maybe she employs magical cleaning elves??)

Then, my ever-optimistic mother, who had a tooth pulled last Thursday and was suffering serious side-effects from the antibiotic and could scarcely move or eat from the pain, was determined to entertain guests on Saturday night and a total of twenty for Christmas dinner. I questioned the wisdom of such ambition.

“Sure, it’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it in the end!” she said cheerily, after returning from a day of waiting in the emergency room to find out if her excruciating chest pain was a potential heart attack in-the-making.

Christmas Eve was the usual mad rush, involving our one and only rehearsal of Corelli’s Christmas concerto. Once again, this was my mom’s idea that my siblings and I would perform it on violin and cello at the 4 o’clock church service. We started rehearsing around noon (don’t ask why) and I quickly discovered that my little brother didn’t know his part at all. He got ousted, instantly turning the already-too-small quartet into a trio. Somehow we pulled it together, arrived late at the church, piled up to the front, set up music stands, and fought with flying loose sheet music, turning that concerto into a surprisingly lovely prelude to the service.

Christmas Eve night resulted in some ridiculous sledding stunts pulled by my little brothers, who decided that nighttime sledding with headlamps down a treacherous hill would be a fun activity. We headed out, pulling our GT racers and Flexible Flyers up the road and over a steep snow embankment, positioning ourselves for takeoff.


“Wanna do contact sled racing?” thirteen-year-old daredevil David hollered at fifteen-year-old Graham.

“Nah, not now,” he replied. My heart thudded. I wasn’t ready to replicate the video clip they’d shown me earlier of David leaping from his GT onto Graham’s back mid-ride.

As it turned out, Graham yelled, “Watch out for the three-foot well on your left; it’s covered with snow!” Then, “There’s a ditch on your right!”

Suddenly my confusion about where to steer resulted in me flying through the air, landing half on my shoulder and head, with my neck twisted awkwardly and my brother-in-law sprawled on top of me, cold snow trickling down my neck. We all trudged home, one with a skinned back, another with a bloody gash on his thigh, me with an aching neck, and even David admitting to overall, general pain. That’s a bad sign.

I can’t live like this. It’s utterly exhausting. I do feel terrible that messes, over-packed schedules, and wild physical risks get in the way of truly enjoying my Christmas holidays with family, and I’m honestly trying to be more laid back, but I also can’t deny the fact that I’m quite happy to have a breather – one day of calm, polite visiting with my husband’s typically suburban family that’s pretty much the opposite of mine in every feasible way – before reuniting with the entire extended clan in the Niagara peninsula for another few days of glorious madness.

The beauty of it all is that I can escape now and return to my own little domestic kingdom where life is organized as we wish it to be and not imposed upon us in any other way. On the other hand, that’s precisely why I should love it and revel in the maddening chaos as long as I have it… because it sure as heck ain’t followin’ me home!


4 thoughts on “The Trials of Family Togetherness

  1. I feel your pain – not the tobogganing pain but the can’t-stand-the-chaos-angst! My immediate family is made up of 12 adults, add in the 10 kids (all under 10) and its a guarentee for chaos! There’s no order behind anything. Everything is a mad rush – trying to get a plate of food before its all gone, telling a story before you’re interrupted, getting into a washroom while it’s available! My house/daily lifestyle is the complete opposite of this so it drives me mad when I’m in this type of environment too long but I’ve learned to enjoy it while it lasts. Afterall, no matter how crazy or chaotic, its my family! Plus it’ll likely be until Easter when it all happens again!!

    On the bright side, my boyfriend’s family is small and much more civilized. They never run out of forks during dinner and everyone fits at one table. Interruptions are limited and I’ve yet to leave their gatherings with a ringing in my ears (like after a Metallica concert!!). It is calm and enjoyable.

    In the end I’m grateful for a taste of both worlds – and then being able to return back to the organized world I control!!

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