When my husband and first I blended our families, my 12-year-old stepdaughter came to live with us. During her first Christmas season away from her biological mother’s house, a familiar phrase started popping up. “We used to…”
“We used to make sugar cookies for Christmas and decorate them,” my husband told me.
Blended Family Christmas: “We Used To”
So I made sugar cookie dough, the kind you have to stick in the fridge for hours before you roll it out and shape it. I botched it. The dough got warm beneath my rolling pin and stuck to everything. A jealous ache formed in my stomach.
“We used to make cheesy potatoes on Christmas morning,” he said to me as we walked through the grocery store.
My throat tightened. I suddenly felt like a replacement. A stand-in for some once-upon-a-time that I had nothing to DO with.
At home, as I put the groceries in the fridge, he started another anecdote with, “We used to…” but I didn’t let him finish. “If you’re trying to recreate something you had with someone else, then why am I here?” I asked him.
He stopped unpacking a grocery sack and said, “I hope you understand that all of this isn’t for me.”
The knot inside me unclenched. I saw in his expression the worry that only a father could carry. This wasn’t about what he needed for his holiday. How could I have missed that?
Later, I retrieved the Christmas decorations from the basement. “I love ornaments,” said my 12-year-old stepdaughter, as she reached into the plastic tub and pulled the decorations out one at a time.
There were crocheted ornaments and wall hangings my mother had made when I was a child. I even still had my crocheted stocking mom had made. Ornaments I had made in school were in there as well as baby ornaments from when my 8-year-old was born.
My stepdaughter grew quiet and her excitement vanished. She didn’t exist in this tub of decorations. Her childhood ornaments and holiday memories were someplace else. I didn’t have to say the words. Every item in the box screamed, “We used to… without you.”
“Great,” she said. “So, everyone’s going to have stuff to put up except me.”
She started to walk away to retreat to her room.
“Wait a minute,” I said.
New Traditions With My Stepdaughter
We got in the car and drove. I was mad, I wanted to say something. I had no idea what I was doing. All I could think about was my husband’s worried face and his repeated attempts to save the pleasant moments of the past for his daughter. Our daughter. The silent, angry daughter in my passenger seat. We arrived at the supermarket and I cut the engine.
“Listen,” I said with a heavy sigh. “I can’t bring back the past or duplicate your traditions. I can’t go get your ornaments.”
She looked out the windshield and didn’t blink. It wasn’t like I was telling her something she didn’t already know.
“Here’s what I can do,” I said. “I can promise you that we’ll create new traditions together.” She looked at me doubtfully.
“Let’s go,” I said, as we got out of the car and I took her to the seasonal department of the supermarket.
“Pick out some ornaments,” I said. “Whichever ones you want.”
She looked at me, then she picked out a multi-pack of blue and silver ornaments in varying shapes and sizes. It was a start.
At home, I opened my sewing machine and made everyone a new stocking to hang over the fireplace. We made salt-dough ornaments together, the kind you bake like cookies. They can be painted and keep forever.
Every year since I’ve made new ornaments to add to the tree. My stepdaughter and I went to a local paint-and-bake ceramic studio and painted Christmas ornaments for a family gift. And I’ve mastered sugar cookies in my own way so we can make cookies every year. I also make cheesy potatoes now. Turns out, they’re really good.
Our daughter is getting ready to graduate from college. Soon, she will begin new holiday traditions that are all her own and she’ll have a stocking stuffed with homemade ornaments to take with her. A lovingly curated starter pack for her own tree, where new memories will grow.