It’s Chanukah again. Dreydles, lights, gifts, latkes… oh, right, and the annual family dinner.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Chanukah. I love the candles and the songs. I love the togetherness. And usually I love the family dinner. But this year this dinner was a hair too soon after the Thanksgiving debacle. (Think much yelling, at M, by my brother-in-law, in the middle of a rather expensive country club thanksgiving dinner. All of this followed by a tension filled weekend in an, after all, not so big cabin in Lake Tahoe.)
We spent all day dreading the big event. Well, to be fair, that’s not true. We spent all morning teaching Sunday School and much of the afternoon napping, but aside from that we dreaded dinner. Despite all of the wishing though time moved on and finally all the gifts were wrapped, we were all, mostly, presentable and it was time to go. I doubled back once or twice to get things I had “forgotten” in the house, but all too soon there was no more turning back, we were off.
It’s a twenty minute drive to my in law’s house. We didn’t talk much. Or rather, we talked about everything and nothing. We did our best to take our minds off the impending disaster (evening), but visions of more yelling, screaming children (not ours of course!), big showdown, or just regular unpleasantness scrolled through our minds.
We arrived slightly ahead of the rest of the group, early enough for me to inhale a few pretzels without having to explain just why it was imperative that I eat RIGHT THEN AND THERE. (M’s parent’s know about the pregnancy, but we aren’t quite ready to come out to the rest of the family.) After a few minutes of quiet chit chat the rest of the tribe arrived in great noise and fanfare. The peace was shattered for the evening.
Chaos reigned for the next hour or two. Dinner was eaten, kids played loudly, little girls tripped, cried, got up again, tripped some more and cried again. The dinner conversation was surprisingly pleasant, as if all participants were on their best behavior. Slowly we all began to let our guard down. No big showdown on the horizon, no fights tonight. By desert time we were all positively giddy with relief.
From that point on the evening went from good to great. We gathered in the family room to give the children their Chanukah gifts. They took turns like civilized little people and we all ooed and ahd as they tore through the wrapping paper. A dress up chest for one, a light saber for another, a 10 piece doll accessory set for C who spent the next ten minutes screaming “baby, baby, baby!” My nephew received an old style recorder that M instantly started to teach him to play. The boys practiced while the girls tried on all of the dress-up clothes and traipsed back and forth between the family room and the master bed room to look in the “middor“. While we snapped some shots of the dress-up divas M took our nephew to show him a few things on the piano.
By this time I was wiped. The stress followed by the release had left me drained of all energy, but spying M coming into the house with his guitar made me realize that bed was still a long ways away. I felt a little of the original dread creep back and busied myself by cleaning up the dining room. As I cleaned the glass table snatches of singing and guitar playing wafted back to me. Harmony, and more than one voice… it warranted checking out.
The whole family was sitting, singing along with M. The little girls were dancing in the middle of the room, the nephew was playing his recorder, almost, in tune with M. Even the Orthodox brother-in-law was singing the Reform tunes to the traditional Chanukah songs. It was the perfect end to a pretty good evening. It gave us hope for future group events. Sometimes we get things right, and that’s when we feel most like a family. Then again, maybe when we expect the worst things can only get better…