The Extension Cord, Family Style
Tonight our family will gather for Christmas Eve dinner. I haven't done a lick of grocery shopping yet, but I've done the important stuff—the inviting, the gathering, the cooking up of gratitude and love. The choosing of "family."
I am a stay-at-home Holiday Mom—we don't travel. Instead, for years we welcomed my mother from North Carolina, sometimes my sisters and their kids, and my mother-in-law from Tennessee when she could break away from her gaggle of grandkids there. My husband and three daughters and I have created our own Charleston-based family rituals and traditions, and folded our loved ones into the mix. A Christmas Eve service, which is the always unpredictable youth pageant at Circular Congregational Church, followed by a drive-by of Colonial Lake and Marion Square lights, then home for a simple supper. But now that both my parents have died and my mother-in-law is not up for holiday travel, we have the opportunity to create tradition anew, and to honor an expanded sense of family.
My daughter Sally with my mother, the Christmas before she died.
And here's where I want to give a nod to the brightly talented Beaufort writer, Teresa Bruce, whose new book, The Other Mother (November 2013, Joggling Board Press) gives beautiful testimony to the fact that "the family you are born with is not the one you are stuck with," according to the womenism wisdom of Byrne Miller, the subject of Bruce's "rememoir."
For joining us around the Christmas Eve dinner table will be my "Other Mother" and my "Other Sister"—which makes me happier than a kid who has just found the Elf on a Shelf.
Not that I wouldn't give anything to have my own mother at the table again, or to have my own sisters in town, but to have found other people in this world to whom I feel familial devotion and connection, despite no blood ties, is one of the best gifts I've ever been given.
Teresa Bruce knows this as well, and her book tells the inspiring story of her deepening and expanding relationship with the exotic, wordly, charming, mischevious and marvelous Byrne Miller, who "collects" daughters and swept Bruce up into that broad extended family. I loved learning about how Miller, a celebrated modern dancer, opened her limber heart to life in so many realms, including "family." I highly recommend it if you are still needing that perfect last-minute gift for the people in your life who are your chosen family.
So, to Shirley, who is my "chosen" mother and dear friend, and to Susan, who is my chosen sister and dear friend, and to all of you out there who will gather together with those you are supposed to love but struggle to do so, or those of you who miss those who you have always loved and always will, but whose absence leaves an opening for a "new" Mother, Sister, Brother, Father—I lift a holiday toast. Here's to stretching our sense of family, for in the end, our family defines us, so we might as well be the ones to define it. Pull up an extra chair to the table! And don't worry—I promise to get to the grocery store soon.