Maybe it was the fact that it was our first Christmas with John that made things weird or perhaps it was the fact that he was officially our stepdad that made things weird. His family and ours never spent Christmas together. John would usually take his four kids a state over so they could see their bio mother and her family while we would stay here.
The beginning of the holidays started weird even. My twin brother, Dominic, and I came home from college on the tenth of December just as had been planned. Pulling up to the house, the house was decorated with lights and inflatable Santa’s, something we’d never thought we’d see our mom have. She loved looking at lights around the neighborhoods but never putting up our own.
Mom was there to greet us, wrapped in a fluffy cardigan I got her for Christmas last year.
“It’s part of John and the kid’s traditions,” she said in our ear as she hugged the both of us. “Things are different this year.”
“Don’t worry mom.” Dom threw a large smile to our mom in reassurance. “We can adapt.”
The Christmas tree had been bought already but not decorated, thanks to our mom insisting that Dom and I be there too when we start decorating. As we took off our heavy winter jackets, mom explained that it was hard for the kids to not decorate it at the same time as the house but ultimately, accepted that the tree would not be decorated before the day Dom and I got home.
“It’s good to see you,” John said, pulling me and then Dom into big hugs. “The kids will be excited to see you at home. They’ve been asking every day when it’ll be time to decorate the Christmas tree.”
John’s four kids were all under the age of ten. The youngest, Mila, didn’t even remember life without my mom in it as she was so young when her mom went to prison, and her parents divorced.
“Hannah, you said you didn’t mind taking the girl's Christmas shopping this weekend, did you?” John asked worriedly. “We can wait...”
“I really don’t mind, John,” I reassured him for the hundredth time. “Besides, they can give me the inside scoop on what to get you for Christmas.” John kissed my head that strangely reminded me of my dad.
Dom and my stuff were put in our room and we were quickly hustled downstairs for lunch before we went to pick up the kids from school. It would be the first time we would be picking Sophie up from the middle school, taking her for a milkshake, and then grabbing the other three from the elementary school.
“A small milkshake!” John warned but all four of us knew that we would not be buying that girl a small milkshake but a medium and then two smalls and a mini for the other three. Dom and I had the habit of sharing a large since I couldn’t drink too much anyway.
“Can you drive? I have to check my blood sugar. I think it dropped a little low on the drive.” Dom took the keys to the minivan my mom bought a year into her and John’s relationship.
I still winced when I pricked my finger and let the meter test my blood sugar. I didn’t think I would get used to it but the other diabetics in my support group said I would eventually, over time, become used to the sharp prick of the needle quickly going in my skin or the cannula going in my stomach or thigh for my insulin pump.
The diagnosis of Type One Diabetes came about a year and a half earlier. On her wedding day, mom said she knew John would be the one she’d marry when he came to the hospital when I was admitted and sat with her while I slept.
“I’m a little low,” I told Dom. “I’ll be fine until Sophie gets out of school, but I might need something to eat as well.”
“You shouldn’t have skipped lunch,” Dom said but didn’t say much else. We had done our talking in the car on the way home. “Christmas is off to a weird start.”
“It reminds me of our first Christmas after Dad died. We tried doing the yearly traditions but it just felt empty. Then we created new ones. And I never thought our mother would be the one to decorate the house with Christmas decorations.” We laughed. “Christmas is really going to look different this year.”
“Did you know for Christmas dinner, we’re having a rib roast and ham?” I wrinkled my nose. “They do ham for Christmas. Mom is trying to marry the two traditions. We’re also doing their yearly gingerbread making competition.”
“We are? Do they know how inept we are at making gingerbread houses? Might I remind you of the gingerbread disaster of 2010? Or maybe the incident from 2015? That one was pretty bad and we almost burned the house down.” Dom snorted. “Are we still going around looking at Christmas lights?”
“We’re taking two cars and going the usual route. They’ve already made seating arrangements. You and I have Carter and Mila, the rest are with Mom and John. And we’re taking the kids ice skating before the Christmas movie marathon.”
“A perfect union between our Christmas, and theirs,” I murmured. “You know one day; we’ll have our own Christmas traditions that we’ll bring home with our own families.”
“Yeah. We will.”
That night, when hanging up the stockings on our mantle, little Mila came up and pointed at the one on the end and asked who James was. And we created our own tradition of talking about the loved ones we missed around the Christmas tree, laughing about the good times and crying about the bad ones.
And sure, Christmas was weird. But every new thing is weird until it becomes a tradition. But what started as weird turned into family and it only felt right.