“So, this is your first married Christmas!” my father-in-law informed us cheerfully.
Yes. Yes, it was.
“So, does this mean we can hang it up this year only?” the beau asked dubiously, holding up a heavy silver heart-shaped ornament inscribed in script with Our First Christmas.
No. No, it doesn’t.
Holidays with the in-laws feel different. Maybe it’s because my aunts aren’t sitting around drinking rum and coke and white wine and play-quarreling about things that happened when they were teenagers. Maybe it’s because my dad isn’t spending dinner casually alluding to evidence he’s found that the planet is actually cooling, not warming. Maybe it’s because my mom isn’t talking in strange voices to the dog. Maybe it’s because my grandmother isn’t derailing the conversation to announce to the room for the seven thousandth time that I look so much like her cousin did. Whatever it is, it’s just not quite the same.
Which isn’t to say that’s a bad thing. It’s just different when the family stories don’t include you, is all.
This year the beau’s brother brought his girlfriend for Christmas,1 and she and I spent most of the time watching each other out of the corners of our eyes. We had a connection because we were interlopers. Outsiders. I kind of wanted to get her alone so I could ask her if the parents have sat her down and shown her pictures of the beau’s brother as a youth yet, because they started showing me pictures of the beau the first time I came to their house and STILL are. Last week, in fact, I had the pleasure of viewing photographs of some long-ago Christmas morning when a tender young beau was frantically tearing open wrapping paper while clad in only a pair of white skivvies.
Which isn’t to say I’m complaining. Because the beau’s been forced by my parents to look at embarrassing photos of two-year-old me standing naked in a bucket and apparently attempting to breast-feed a stuffed rabbit. So it’s only fair. That’s the tradeoff when you go to the Other Family: you get to listen to all of their tales and see all of their albums.
But the girlfriend, I never really did get a chance to corner her. She and the brother were only there for a day and a half, and the parents-in-law were always nearby, so we kept the conversation inside the nice polite box. Except for that one time just before we sat down for Christmas dinner when she whispered to me that she once stood three feet away from Ben Gibbard at a Death Cab for Cutie show and she was really stoned at the time. Overall, I feel like she is someone with whom I could easily down a bottle of vodka at future holiday gatherings.
The future, it is bright. Maybe one day the girlfriend and I will even work our way into some of the family stories.
1 Which is a Vurrah Big Deal, a vurrah big deal indeed.