It’s that time of year. The hubby and I pull out the calendar each year around now and start coordinating holiday travel.
There was a time in our early marriage, pre-kids, when we’d travel home from Washington, DC, at the drop of the hat. We even had season tickets for UNC football and made it back for most home games. At that time, we were four hours away and could leave North Carolina on a Sunday afternoon and still have plenty of time for take-out and the Sopranos when we got home to DC. These trips were easy, relaxed, enjoyable. We didn’t have to stop for meals. Sometimes we didn’t even have to stop for coffee or bathroom breaks. Holidays made sense to travel home for, too. Yes, I wanted to experience waking in my own house on Christmas morning, but to spend the day with the hubby seemed lonely or selfish or both. It was much more fun to go to midnight Mass with my parents and challenge dad to a sing off of Silent Night to see who knew more verses without the missile cheat sheet, sleeping in late the next morning and lazily opening presents with coffee and my mom’s apple bread before making the rounds to see other family in the afternoon.
Once we had kids, the traveling became exponentially more difficult. And yet, we did a lot of it anyway. I nursed in parking lots and rest areas, changed diapers while balancing kids on laps in gas station bathrooms, stopped at Chick-fil-A playgrounds just to get their wiggles out. Departure times coordinated around nap times and bed times. Getting home in time to start the laundry and make a quick grocery run were suddenly necessities. Re-entry became a thing that was not to be trifled with and can set our family routines into chaos for several days no matter how short the trip before it was.
Holidays? Even more complicated. After packing up Christmas for two kids into the back of our SUV just once, I declared it enough. Never again. We officially stay home at Christmas, going up after the big day to visit family and extend our boys’ enjoyment for days on end, which is exhausting, but fun to watch.
I realized, as we sat with the calendar the other night, that I am finally becoming much more confident in making these decisions. After several years of doing what I thought was right or expected of us, I am doing a better job of listening to our family’s needs and understanding what makes our nuclear family’s experiences more fun and enjoyable. It’s not about not wanting to be in North Carolina or visit with family or help when needed, it’s about also realizing what tolls these trips exact on us physically (pre-packing, wear and tear on the cars, routines thrown out the window) and mentally (how many times can I tell B we are not in North Carolina yet when we just left the house 10 minutes ago and still have 5 hours and 25 minutes still go?). It’s also about taking into account our day-to-day life that we’ve built, love and want to enjoy as well.
Staring at us on the calendar this year was the November 15th Homecoming game in Chapel Hill. We’d missed the last couple of years and had decided back in the winter that we’d try to go this year. Then the hubby’s aunt passed and we made a trip to North Carolina to mourn and spend time with family in late September. Much needed. Well worth it. Then we hit up North Carolina’s coast for Fall Break, a trip on the calendar for quite some time. We desperately needed the vacation and had a great time. No regrets. But within three weeks, we spent nearly 30 hours in the car and with the 15th looming, I just couldn’t do it again. We opted out. I’m going to miss seeing friends and being back on the Hill and watching my boys in Carolina blue cheering on the Heels. But there will be other opportunities. And this year, we need us.
Seems strange to say since we have us all the time. But we are the us I need to protect. And if going up exhausts us all again and right before the big holiday rush, I can guarantee by the time we hit the road after Christmas, I’ll be resentful, counting up the miles and hours in the car that we’ve spent that others haven’t or don’t need to. Not the holiday spirit I’m hoping for or is fair to anyone else.
I used to second guess these decisions, wondering if I was hurting anyone’s feelings by deciding when to or when not to travel home. Now, I’m content. I know I’m doing what’s best for us. I know that we are building traditions as a family of our own that our boys will take with them into their own worlds one day. And I know that one day I will need to be just as understanding when those traditions change as they make way for their own families. Now that we’ve finally made our holiday travel decisions, I’m excited. Excited about trick-or-treating and birthday parties and Thanksgiving and even that pesky elf on the shelf. I’m looking forward to our traditions.
It’s taken 16 years of living away from our home state to finally get to this place of feeling comfortable with acknowledging that home is where my boys are. And it’s good to be home.