A sudden noise from the kitchen awoke me with a start. I hoped against all hope that the noise was our girls getting breakfast ready for themselves and miraculously their brother too. I rolled toward my husband’s side of our king sized bed with my sole purpose the simple art of snuggling. Saturday was family time when we rose earlier than the kids to make the breakfast and they got to sleep in. Sunday was husband and wife time, our chance for some extra sleep. It was an opportunity for me to experience some much needed snuggling and, sometimes for my adored partner and me to share in some moments of intimacy. This Sunday though the opposite side of the bed was empty. The bedroom door creaked open and my husband’s face cautiously appeared.
“You’re awake now babe? Good… That’s great… Your coffee’s ready, car is packed, we’re just waiting for you to jump through the shower…”
I groaned. Of all the days of the year Christmas Eve had to fall on our Sunday this year. If I could have my way I’d remain in bed, a lazy day sounded like just what I needed, what I deserved. I loved my husband though and he looked forward to this time, the Christmas season every year as did the kids. As an only child with both parents passed away the only family I had was my man and our trio of munchkins. My husband on the other hand was one of six kids. Each of those six had found partners and amongst the six siblings they’d had a plethora of little ones. That meant every Christmas there was a happy gathering of the Williton family with a cast of seemingly thousands. It was a happy occasion for some of us anyway.
The car trip was regularly filled with silly songs my girls had learned at school, joined in with by my husband and the occasional just as awful noise from our son. These were interspersed with the latest pop song sing-a-longs with the radio. I tried to join them as usually, aiming to improve the chaotic cacophony the girls called music with my perfect pitch. My heart was just not in it though, not that day. The closer the car brought us to my husband’s parent’s beach house the more I felt my dread grow. His hand found its way to my knee and I looked away from the road for a second to give him a weak smile.
“I am sure it will be better this year hun,” my knight assured me, but I knew it was something he couldn’t promise. His family would never change just as my inability to fit in with them would never improve. The siblings had an amazing connection I just couldn’t understand and their partners had all come from the same primary school, lived through the high school years together. They had a well-established report. There was a shared past which immediately created a stable present. I had none of this and living so far away from the rest of the family meant I did not have a chance to build any friendships. On top of all this we only traveled at Christmas time so there were not a lot of opportunities to bond. I’d given up well before our son was born but my husband’s sisters still persisted. Our car pulled in to the drive but I knew for me the dreaded trip was not over. It had only just begun.
“Nanny!! Poppy!!” squealed my girls, so happy we had arrived. They leaped with joy from our car to bury their faces in the waiting embrace of the matriarch and patriarch of the Williton clan. I groaned again, quiet, inwardly but my husband still sensed my anguish.
“Thank you…” he whispered before lightly brushing my lips with his own. The kiss gave me the strength to unbuckle and leave the safety of our car.
“Great to see you again, Pam!” called my husband’s dad, Dave.
“Good to see you too, Poppy Dave,” I called back.
I gave the old man a kiss on the cheek and thanked the inventor of the razor that my husband never grew a beard like his dad. Dave’s was a face full of scratchy hairs, a mix of salt and pepper. I dared not mention but I was certain that beard was turning snowier with each passing year.
“Pam… I trust the drive was a good one?” inquired Nanny Sue. As usual there was no asking how I was or what had happened the entire year since we’d last seen each other. With Nanny Sue it was always about the traffic.
“A little cloudy, Sue, thank you for asking. Your son drove a fair leg of the journey which made it easier on me,” I replied with a weak smile. Sue still had a head of chestnut curls that I had a feeling were dyed but my poor deluded husband swore they were natural. I knew no girl would be good enough for Sue’s boys.
“Speaking of son’s…” continued Nanny Sue.
From the rear of the car my husband appeared with our son in his arms. I realized then and there that no girl was probably going to be good enough for my boy either. I promised myself that I would give each girl he brought home at least a slim chance to impress me.
“Let me see that boy!” Nanny Sue declared and with arms wide she gave her son a loving embrace before stealing our boy from his arms.
“Well, what are you all waiting for..?” cried Poppy Dave. “Do you need an official invitation?!”
“We’re coming in, dad,” replied my husband, herding our girls before him. As usual I took up the rear. As usual too I didn’t make it clear passed the kitchen before I was called in.
“Pam, you’re finally here… Grab a peeler… These spuds won’t get themselves ready…”
Samantha was a spitting image of her mother and where Nanny Sue ruled the home it was her daughter who ruled the kitchen. I picked up a knife in one hand and a potato in another. In silence I meticulously stripped the spud of its skin and eyes. Sisters and sister-in-laws all happily gossiped around me, proud of what their kids were up to, eager to share what they themselves were doing. I’d seen it all on Facebook already, following all the family via my husband’s account.
Samantha watched over the spuds until she determined they were ready. After they were drained I was given the duty of mashing with one of the other girls adding milk and butter. I pounded my frustrations away until my arms ached but the potatoes were still a touch hard. All eyes in the kitchen considered the bowl as it was transferred to the serving tray. The inspection of my handiwork suddenly ceased as the roast pork was retrieved from the oven. With a little envy I could see the crackling from the pork belly was perfect, my husband’s favorite part and a part that I could never get right.
“Come ladies, the table awaits…” announced Nanny Sue, her sixth sense for when dinner was done still heightened. I noticed my son still on the crone’s hip even though he was old enough he could walk with ease. Little things just niggled at me, my tolerance level fraying inch by inch as the afternoon wore into evening.
“Dear Lord!” began Poppy Dave, “We thank that You have brought us Williton folks together again in celebration.”
“Amen…” whispered his wife, staring straight at me.
“We thank you for this fine company and this fine food…”
“Excluding the lumpy mash…” murmured one of the girls.
As far as I was concerned that was strike one Willton family.
“And I’m thankful that Santa is coming tonight,” stated the youngest of my girls. At her bravery and innocence my heart rose.
“Amen to that!” cried Poppy Dave, the rest of the family echoed his sentiment.
With prayers spoken Poppy carved up the meat and conversation began. So many around the table I just let the voices wash over me.
“Aha…” I mumbled every time I heard my name, letting hubby speak for me. Rarely did these people want to talk to me. Usually it was talk about me or better still talk around me. I was there because my family wanted me to be. No other reason.
Down the table I caught my girls talking with one of their cousins between crunchy bites of the succulent pork.
“I can’t believe you still believe in Santa Claus,” laughed the cousin. The two children were not even a year apart. My heart sank and my anger began to rise. This child had questioned my daughter’s beliefs and that innocence I loved so much. Strike two Willton family.
“Don’t be silly,” my daughter whispered. “I found out from the kids at school last year he isn’t real… My sister and I still pretend for our brother though… And our mother… Oh and all the extra presents…”
As I heard that from my own flesh and blood my heart sank deeper still.
The rest of our stay just went from there to worse. I held back the tears until we were safely home. My armor had been breached. I vowed though to build it back up, stronger. The Willton family would not defeat me.