There were so many details and procedures and considerations to think about when we were moving for the Dominican Republic to Mexico. But one of my top concerns was Christmas and if we’d make it home. Throughout our 6 years in DR, we went home for the holidays every year. I’ve never missed the holidays at home. Not a single one. Ever. (Did I mention I’m 3 years shy of being 40 And since my kids were born, they haven’t either. But I’ve always known that this is a downside of being an expat. For the infinite good this experience has brought us, inevitably you miss birthdays and weddings and, sometimes, Christmas.
I started to really wrestle with the decision in mid September. The tug of war between the responsible adult (or trying to be) and the nostalgic inner child was tearing me apart. Our budget, this year, with all of the moving expenses was tighter than usual. Not to mention that coming to this school was a paycut and offered less benefits than our old school.
the move was emotionally hard enough. Leaving everything and everyone we loved behind was still raw. Was this really the year to change Christmas too? I know my kids are resilient but to be honest, I didn’t want them to have to bounce back again. I didn’t want to ask this of them too. Not this year.
As I watched flight prices rise, I felt I had to accept this downside of being an expat. I let myself cry about it – a lot – in hopes to empty out my tear tank when I talked to the kids. And finally, one night at dinner, I asked them what they thought about staying here for Christmas this year. At first, they were excited because they thought it meant we were going to get a tree and decorate our home.
“No, kids. We’re getting a tree and decorating no matter what. What I mean is that we’ll be here for Christmas.”
Son, is still too young to understand what many things mean, so he shrugged his shoulders. Ahhh to be young and know nothing. But Daughter who is nostalgic and sensitive (I wonder where she gets that from) immediately became emotional. She listed off all the people we had to spend Christmas with – every last person who has been in every Christmas landscape of her life for the last 6 years.
She sobbed in the way only this little Drama Mama can and listed off the reasons (aka the people) we needed to go back for, “But what about Abuelita and Abuelito and Tia and the primos.” Eventually Son caught on and checked off his list of people he missed as well.
I bit my tongue and took deep, thoughtful breaths to stop myself from bawling uncontrollably. “Well, it’s just an idea,” I sputtered, needing to end the conversation.
“What do you expect?” My mom said to me the next day, “This is all they know. I mean, look at you. You’re 37 years old and look at how you’re handling not coming back for Christmas. Traditions are hard to break.”
A week or so later, my mom was back on the phone. Apparently, my dad was not entertaining the idea of us not coming home and got the wheels spinning. We found a less expensive flight – the catch being that we would make it home late Christmas night. Technically, Dec 26. We would “miss” Christmas but at least we’d be home. Besides, who would mind repeating Christmas? They helped pay* for our trip home and I was thrilled to be able to breathe again without swallowing tradition-breaking tears of abysmal sadness.
We leave for New Jersey in a week and the kids have no idea. We’ve told them we’re taking a short trip since I think the suitcases would give us away and the plane would be hard to hide. I’m hoping to get all the way to NYC (and into their grandmother’s open arms) before they realize the bait and switch. I’ll admit, I feel bad lying, especially the times they’ve brought it up, but here’s the thing – by being duped into thinking that they wouldn’t have Christmas in NJ, it brought out how much it really means to them.
They want to go back to New Jersey and it isn’t for the presents. It’s for the people and the feeling they get when spending the holidays with those people. It’s for the traditions they’ve grown accustomed to, which are traditions I’ve grown accustomed to. By almost missing Christmas, I’ve realized – even more – why we couldn’t.
And I can’t think of a better gift for Christmas.