She said, he said: The same story?

 
 

In the post on how to create your life timeline, I suggest you reach out to family and friends to see what they remember of the events you’ve listed. I guarantee, even if you have the best memory, you’ll be surprised and learn something new. Their memories will enrich your storytelling and provide you with an opportunity to connect and dig deeper.

For fun and humility I'll share one of our family stories to illustrate the point of how different perspectives change a story. It’s our version of Christmas mayhem, akin to family photo awkward moments.

The background: Christmas 2001

We decided to mix things up from our usual Christmas traditions and head off to Chicago to volunteer for an eldercare organization. In lieu of giving presents, we would focus on giving—donating our time, and a sum of money in the names of the people we would usually buy gifts for.

We have family in Chicago who are connected to the organization, and they were always gracious hosts, so we asked to stay with them and get hooked up for volunteer activities for Christmas Eve. We also explained our plan of no gifts.

The Cast

David (My husband), AKA Mr. Christmas: Each year David pays close attention to amassing the many gifts that find their way underneath our tree. We don’t give HUGE gifts, but enjoy many little things including socks, CDS, photos, and drawings. David launches the annual tree decoration party around Thanksgiving, pulling out the Christmas music, constructing our artificial tree, and doling out the chocolates and champagne. He also encourages us to watch all the great Christmas movies, over and over again.

Sherry (me), AKA Mrs. Humbug: Not my favorite holiday. The many presents are too much pressure around one event. And if I watch It’s a Wonderful Life just one more time, I might lose my marbles.

Oliver (our son): In 2001 he was 15, and has always been go-with-the-flow about the holiday. Chocolates…sure. Champaign…why not? He can’t help but love the old movies as his teeth were cut on them, and so he appreciates the nostalgia of the season.

Alexandra (our daughter): She turned 13 on Christmas Eve of 2001, and has risked sharing her birthday with Christmas each year. We always hosted a special dinner with her choice(s) of meal with family each year to celebrate. She likes the gift-giving, both giving and receiving. She is sentimental about the old movies, the holiday, and of course her birthday. She is her father's daughter. 

What David remembers:

"I think we felt that we have so much that we wanted the kids to realize there are others who don’t have much. I worked with the elder organization in Chicago as a youth, and had fond memories of volunteering, especially at the holidays. I remember the elders being so appreciative of our visits, all dressed up to greet us; we were their only Christmas visit/celebration for the day. I remember eating at White Castle for lunch, and that our Chicago relatives rebelled against our plans and gave the kids presents anyway."

What Oliver remembers:

"I remember Alex being kind of annoyed because we designated her birthday as the day to do this. I remember one of the people we delivered a meal to used to be a volunteer for the same organization years before, which made me kind of sad. I remember seeing someone wearing a really nice sweater walking down by the lakeside."

What Alex remembers:

"I wasn’t opposed to the idea but felt sad that my birthday was included in the 'no presents' clause of the deal. I mean, I was going to be 13, and wasn't done with birthday gifts. My Aunt and Uncle in Chicago ultimately gave me more presents than I would have usually gotten at home. It was humbling in a way I hadn't expected, but the gifts weren't even my point.

I also remember our last visit of the day was with a woman who shared my birthday. She was born in 1913, turned 88 that day Christmas Eve—while I was born in 1988 and was turning 13. I knew I'd lost the cheer and celebration of my special day, but I couldn't possibly compare my experience to hers."

What I remember:

I’d like to think we had a family concensous about this plan, but I don’t remember that we really gave our kids the option. I do recall realizing almost immediately when we arrived in Chicago that our plans may have imposed on what our relatives would want to do for their Christmas.

We went about the day, delivering meals, and visiting a few homebound elders. For our final stop, we stood around the bed of a confused old woman and sang Christmas carols. I looked over to Alex and realized we had lumped her birthday into our Christmas plan without any fanfare for her special day. I felt sad pangs about that. That evening our relatives lavished us with a lovely meal and gifts which I’m sure provided some salve for Alex’s birthday.

Take a turn in your stories!

It turned out to be a memorable Christmas because it broke with our usual routine. And reflecting on it now through the conversation involved (I don’t think I want to ask our Chicago relatives what they remember), it wasn’t frolicking like the family Holderness recap, but Borzo fun and insightful.