Travel at Christmas is woven into my bones. When I was five and six, my mom homeschooled me (and my siblings) in Maji, the remote southwest area where I spent a magical, outside childhood. But when I was 9, my older sister and I got trundled down to the savannah and put on an EAL flight for Addis Ababa and boarding school. After that, Christmas meant traveling home to Maji. Once I had my own kids (two of them = Rebekah with the bow and Jonathan giggling in the background), we drove across the bleak midwinter plains to Leonard’s Kansas family.
We’ve had some Christmases where our kids drove across the bleak midwinter plains to US. This year broke the pattern. My daughter and her husband headed south from Pittsburgh. Leonard and I drove south from Kansas.
Birmingham, Alabama where Jonathan and Hiwot and Ellemae and Noh now live = family hugs for Christmas.
Someone once said that writers say what everyone else is only thinking. The holidays are a ripe and ready time for cheery doings and cheery talk that only makes you miserable when you’re not feeling cheery. Families are ripe places for lousy, hard feelings, too. So families at the holidays?
Sometimes all is not calm.
All is hardly bright.
When I got to Maji from boarding school, it always seemed impossible that I’d get into one fight with my beloved parents and siblings.
It can be good to leave the holidays behind and go back to the good old comfort of not being squished together with our families. But I grew up in Ethiopia where people are considerably more squished together. Every time I visit Ethiopia, now, I see how much tenderness and connection we also lose in the United States these days, paying for it with those plenty-of-space coupons.
A few years ago, when Jonathan and Hiwot spent their first Christmas in America, Hiwot and Ellemae and I traveled to Portland to introduce the new Ethiopia part of our family to my parents and siblings (and their kids). In many ways, it was a mess. But even if we have to put our fancy stuff over our everyday selves and the combination is awkward and not all that beautiful, I find deep comfort and joy being with family.
One of the first things Ellemae and Noh did when I got to the house was to ask me to read a book. I love that. Stories are a way we give voice to all the awkwardness and pain and fear and sadness…and still (especially with children’s books) end up with hope.