Honestly, I don’t really get dominoes.  I don’t understand the actual game and have never felt an urge to learn how to play.  And while it’s cool to see them set up in a design, ready to be knocked down in a clicking cascade of tiles, I have neither the patience nor the steady hand required to do this myself.

Which means dominoes are basically a heavy box of dotted tiles that sit on our game shelf getting dustier each year.

Cue what will seem like random segue:   So I finally put my finger on why December seems so hectic.  Yes, the kids make things a little more squirrelly, but that’s not the reason.  Over the last 15 years or so Christmas has morphed into a domino activity for our family, and it’s usually somewhere around the midpoint when I start to feel the strain.

Those of you who live around family will most likely read this post and think “So?”  You probably need to know my holiday history to get why the dominoes are a big deal.

I’ve mentioned that I grew up in a navy family.  This pretty much meant that my immediate family was it. We never lived near extended family so seeing grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins took a concerted effort.  Someone had to coordinate their visits to our house or our family traveling to theirs.

One of the golden rules in our home, though, was that we would wake up in our own beds on Christmas day.  I always appreciated this…so much of our lives felt like upheaval; it was comforting to know that we would be at home for Christmas, no matter what.  Sometimes our grandparents would come to be with us for the holidays, but other than that it was my folks, Bee, J., and me getting our Christmas on.

3 siblings

Fast forward to 2007.  BrightSide and I had moved to an area where all of his extended family lives; shortly thereafter my sister’s family moved to a nearby city and then my parents moved into a retirement community in our hometown.  By 2009 North Carolina had become the epicenter of family life on both sides of our family tree and, quite frankly, it kind of freaked me out a little.  I didn’t know what to do with all that…togetherness.

Enter the Christmas dominoes.

People are a bit surprised when I tell them our family has four Christmases.  (Yep, that’s right.  FOUR.)  This is a lot of adaptation for a navy girl who grew up hanging out in her own family room every December, so even 18 years into this schedule there are still times when I have to just hide away and regroup.

My family usually has our Christmas gathering around the third weekend of the month.  (The year we had to schedule it the second weekend of December was the year they almost had to sedate me.  Shop, buy, and wrap gifts for my whole family between Thanksgiving and Christmas?  Shoot me now.)  We gather at my parents’ house for a big Christmas meal before exchanging presents.  Bee brings goodies galore because she’s a cookie/fudge/treat baking fiend, so there’s plenty of sugar to gorge ourselves on for the rest of the day.  Good times.

We also have Cabin Christmas, the gathering for BrightSide’s immediate family.  His dad makes the most amazing turkey – please don’t ask me to explain; it’s a multi-step process that results in delicious turkey chunks that Bear could gobble up all day – and we gorge ourselves there before exchanging presents.  The dogs typically go with us to that one so there’s plenty of “GRACIE!!” ringing through the air…

Then there’s Christmas at BrightSide’s aunt’s house.  This one includes his immediate family, aunt, cousins, and his cousins’ kids.  (If I’ve forgotten anyone and you read this, please forgive me.)  By this point I’m usually running a little ragged, and bless this woman for believing in Stouffer’s lasagna for Christmas.  (For real. Break out the bells.)  It was a little nutty for a while there, but things have settled down now that we’ve shifted to only having the kids exchange names for Christmas presents.

And finally, we actually have Christmas day.  Well, Christmas Eve and then Christmas day.  By the time we reach the 25th it seems we’ve run a marathon through December, and my kids are growing up with what’s possibly the most chill holiday traditions ever.  As in, we don’t have a traditional meal on Christmas Eve; it’s usually catch-as-catch-can around whatever church service we’re attending.  And I do not cook on Christmas day, unless you count what’s become a tradition of Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls.  Because what kids really need with their stocking candy is a breakfast of doughy, cinnamon-sugary deliciousness.

But by that point I’m seriously over any and all attempts at responsible parenting for the holidays.  I’ve already spent three separate “Christmases” trying to maintain some semblance of conscientious parenting…Christmas day finds me on my couch in pajamas that are nothing close to picture-perfect, drinking an enormous cup of coffee, and trying to snap some photos of the kids enjoying our fourth Christmas.

I do best when I remember that December is a marathon, not a sprint.  That we’re blessed to be able to see so much of our family without the hassle of travel.  And that I’m not superwoman.

It doesn’t hurt to break out the wine occasionally either.  Wrapping dozens of presents?  Yep.  Addressing Christmas card envelopes?  Sure, as long as the addresses are legible.  Cooking for our Christmas with my family?  Yeah, the kitchen atmosphere tends to be a little lighter if there’s a glass of wine around.

So I do what I can to make it work.  Because once we hit that first Christmas – once someone gently taps that first domino and the cascade begins – there’s really no stopping the holiday train.  Might as well hop on board and enjoy the ride, right?