John and I always spent Thanksgiving with his family and Christmas with mine, even though I would have preferred to do the reverse. John worked in the schools, so he couldn't really take extra time off at Thanksgiving, and the Boston-Oregon trip, while doable over a four-day weekend, is much better done over the 10-or-so-day Christmas holiday. Detroit is an easy two-hour flight from Boston, and we got in the habit of skipping the crowds and just flying out there on Thanksgiving morning, arriving in plenty of time for dinner. Not only was Detroit for Thanksgiving/Oregon for Christmas logistically easier, but John and I got engaged in Detroit the day after Thanksgiving the first time we spent the holiday there, so it always had special meaning to go back. I still would have preferred to go to Oregon, but being married involves making some compromises, and logically what we did made the most sense by far.
Last year, I was daunted by the idea of going to see John's family for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law, with whom I have a very good, close relationship, had already decided that being home for the holiday would be too painful for her and had booked a trip to a tropical clime. I just couldn't stomach the idea of the flights with two eighteen-month-olds and a long weekend filled with bittersweet memories and depressed family. I stayed home with the kids and spent the holiday with a friend and her family. It was fine, even fun at times, but hard: first Thanksgiving without John, being away from family, thinking about my engagement four years prior, etc.
This year, I felt ready to travel. I suppose I could have taken the whole week of Thanksgiving off and gone to Oregon as I'm no longer bound to the school schedule. But. My daycare does close for an entire week at Christmas, so once again it makes more logistical sense to travel the longer distance when it comes time to deck the halls. As I pondered my Thanksgiving options, I decided to go ahead and go to Detroit.
My relationship with my in-laws is complicated. They love me, and I love them, that's never been questioned. But we have personal and cultural differences which often clashed during John's illness. I felt like they were trying to control John's and my life; they felt like I had taken their son away. Makes for a lot of bad blood on both sides. At this point in our relationship, we've reached a stage where we maintain minimal contact and try not to step on each others' toes. I think my mother-in-law and father-in-law both worry about doing something that would anger me to the point of not letting them see the twins again. I can't imagine what they could do that would make me do that, but given some of the blow-outs we've had in the past, I can understand their fears.
We're in an really awkward situation. If Maddie and Riley weren't in the picture, I'm not sure I'd ever talk to or see my mother- and father-in-law. It's so painful for us to interact. I'd like to think that we will someday get to a place where it's healing for us to be together, but 1.5 years out, mostly it still just hurts. But they are Maddie and Riley's grandparents, and that is a relationship I want to honor. This is not about me, it's about the twins. Not only do M&R deserve to have a relationship with John's parents just because they are John's parents, they deserve to have a connection to their Korean heritage. I am prepared to do what I can to teach the twins to be proud of their Korean-ness, but I don't know what it's like to grow up Asian in the United States. I don't speak Korean. I don't know a whole lot about Korean customs. I'm just not Korean. And John's parents are. I want Maddie and Riley to benefit from that, as well as from the unconditional love and joy that grandparents can have for their grandchildren.
And so we will go to Detroit. John's parents to visit us in Boston from time to time, but that's our home turf. They don't feel as free to relax with the twins in our house as they do in their own. And, frankly, I recognize that I can be very controlling when we're at our house. I want things done our way in our home. When we're at halmi and hatchi's, it's easier for me to let my guard down and allow things to be done their way. The twins deserve that.
If I can let go a little, I think we'll have a great time. I know my in-laws have stocked the house with toys and gifts for the kids and that the kitchen cabinets are filled with Maddie and Riley's favorite snacks. There will be no shortage of loving, capable hands to help with childcare, so if I want to get out for a run or a coffee or a trip to the mall, I can do that. I just have to be willing to let go a little, which will be a good lesson for me. I'm friends with some of John's high school and college friends in greater Detroit, and I'm hoping to spend some time with them, both with and without kids. My mother-in-law is a fantastic cook and I'm eager to fill up on Korean cooking. I look forward to some quality time with my siblings-in-law. And my awesome dad will be staying at a hotel down the road, so we'll even get some time with Ba.
The one thing I'm quite worried about is the possibility that John's family will want to visit John's gravesite. When John died, he was cremated and his ashes were split between me and his parents. That in and of itself was one of the most traumatic decisions about John's death. John's family had his ashes buried at a cemetery in a very traditional ceremony. They visit the plot weekly, and for them that is a very important ritual. I have no interest in going to the cemetery. I don't feel so negatively about it that I would cause a scene in order to not go, but I'm hoping that it's something we can avoid doing. If I have to go, I have to go. If it's that important to John's parents, I'll do it. I'm a big girl. But I'd really rather not go. If we do go, I'm planning to tell the twins that we're going to a park to think about Daddy. I hope we can keep the explanation they get to that minimum. I don't feel that they need to know any more than that for now.
I think it will be a good Thanksgiving. We won't have a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and I'm sure there will be ups and downs to the trip and to the interactions I have with my family. But in the spirit of the holiday, I hope to focus on the ups.
Any readers out there who live in greater Detroit? If so, do you have any ideas about kid-friendly activities we could do over the weekend? We just went to the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which was a big hit; anything like that? Indoor play spaces? Other ideas? John's family lives in Bloomfield Hills. Any input appreciated.