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Merging Families Over the Holidays

There were 15 people at the table, all seated, scraping their plates with the right edge of their forks, chewing with their mouths closed, occasionally remarking on the weather. I looked up and was pleased to discover that there were still rolls in the basket and two servings of green bean casserole. No one had picked off all the French fried onions.

My fiancee’s aunt, seated next to me noticed my gaze and offered to pass me the casserole. Despite there being three teenage boys at the table, no one objected to me having seconds. My brother and I shifted in our seats and exchanged glances. Where were we?

I almost begged one of my future brother-in-laws to threaten someone with violence, just so I would feel at home.

We were at the home of my future in-laws in Minnesota celebrating Thanksgiving. Both my brother and I, displaced from our loud, 10-person-plus-a-grandma-and-a-weiner-dog family, had been invited to celebrate the holiday. We were nervous, overdressed and totally unprepared for everyone to be polite and kind. I almost begged one of my future brother-in-laws to threaten someone with violence, just so I would feel at home. All this behaving made me twitchy.

As we walked out of the house, my brother told me he had a headache. “I think I have niceness hangover,” he said. I did too.

A month later, my brother and I were back in our comfort zone, my fiancé Dave in tow. My parents live in Florida, and my dad greeted us with a festive light-up display of alligators and flamingos. My little brother tried to flush the dog down the toilet, and my mom tried to convince me that the neighbors were selling drugs—all while my sisters screamed about someone stealing someone else's sweater. There were no leftover rolls. Merry Christmas.

On the surface, my husband and I are similar. We are white. Raised Evangelical. We went to college. We both hate March Madness and agree that Norm from This Old House and the New Yankee Workshop is dreamy. But that is where the similarities end. My husband and I are from different worlds. He was raised to believe that if you wanted a cookie, you simply asked your mother to make some for you. I was raised to believe that if you wanted a cookie you made them yourself and then licked every single one just so you had a chance of being able to enjoy them the next day. And no, that is not a metaphor.

Every holiday season for the past seven years of our marriage, we’ve been pulled between our two families. Aside from me crying when Dave refuses to decorate the Christmas tree, we have no traditions. But now we have a child. And I want to make traditions for her. I want them to be crazy, but also kind. I want them to be weird enough make her think twice about bringing boys home, but I also want them to warm her heart.

I know that the best traditions are created organically. Like my family eating pizza on Christmas Eve. That happened because one Christmas Eve my mom went nuts and said, “LEAVE ME ALONE WE ARE HAVING PIZZA!” And we loved it.

While I want to avoid insanity, I do want us to have stories and fun and I do want some bread to be left in the basket, because mommy wants seconds, too.

My plan for this year is small, since my daughter is just a toddler. I hope to make snacks, play Christmas music and have us all decorate the house together. Dave wants to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas with her, but only until the point where the Grinch steals Christmas. Then, he plans on shutting it off.

I guess that’s the kind of craziness that is borne of growing up in a normal, kind and loving family.

I'd better avoid that.

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