There is always an awkward pause when people ask what we are doing for the holidays. We are an emergency services family and our lives do not revolve around the traditional holiday calendar. When the kids were growing up, I struggled with the reality of 24 hour shifts that clashed with the most important days on the calendar. Dad was rarely able to attend school events, games, or performances. He worked a rotating shift which left us at the mercy of a schedule that had very little wiggle room. When a work rotation fell upon a “sacred holiday” there was absolutely no ability to swap or take a vacation.
Keith’s been a firefighter and paramedic for almost all of our holidays. We learned a long time ago that tragedy and need don’t take a day off to make room for our perfect family moment. When a house down the street goes up in a blaze on Christmas Eve, there is a firefighter ready to respond. When someone’s grandpa has a heart attack after Thanksgiving dinner, an ambulance will be on the way. We take great pride in the work these heroes do to serve our community, and slowly we’ve learned to celebrate the sacrifice rather than fight against it.
This has been a long battle for me. I struggled against this reality when the kids were young. I feared it would hurt them in some way, and if I’m honest, I just wanted to be a normal family. Over time, we found creative ways to make these days work for us. When they were very young, sometimes young single folks would offer to stay late or come in early so he could be home with us on Christmas morning. We woke up early, really early, to open presents on Christmas morning when dad had to work a 24. We celebrated Christmas Eve like a boss the year Santa (in the form of an ambulance team) filled our stockings and left the presents under the tree before we returned from midnight service. We learned to be flexible and resilient around the holidays.
With my family across the country and his gathering early, our holidays were a time for just the five of us. We created our own traditions and determined how to celebrate our faith and our family. We invited others in. We learned to adapt and make it work Boucher style. My fear slowly gave way to delight as we learned that holidays were more than a day on a calendar. As the kids got older, Keith’s schedule became easier to manage. I thought we might finally be able to celebrate holidays like normal people.
Keith and I were not surprised when Christmas came and our children volunteered to work for people with little ones at home. But I struggled to figure out how to handle this new reality. I know better than to enter into an other family’s celebration. Years of missing my own extended family just makes that particular scene feel even lonelier. So, we adjusted again and made new traditions. We looked for ways to bless others, invited people into our celebration, and just adjusted our expectations. Someone always has to be with mom on the day, but beyond that, we just pick a day that will work for us.
So, this year, we will be celebrating on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. We will cook together, laugh, probably fight. We will pour the wine, serve the turkey and eat the pie. We will watch some movies and maybe some of the game. We will nap on the sofa and enjoy each other’s company. When Thursday comes, Keith, Brian, and Steph will be working. Allie has mom watch this year (Steph did last year) so we will bake together, maybe go to a movie, and enjoy some girl time. We will make the holiday work for us. In some ways it takes the pressure off, our holiday is not a single day but a whole week of moments captured.
Someday, we may have the hallmark Christmas I longed for. Until then, we bend the calendar to make it work for us. We define the holiday, and celebrate it according to our own rules.