“Happy Thanksgiving!” My mom trilled as I stumbled down the stairs. Thanksgiving was one day away. “Glad to see you are up!”
Of course I was up. She was blasting music from her sewing room at five in the morning. The music was what can best be described as Gregorian monks chant Christmas. I needed coffee.
I probably would have been awake despite the music. My parents’ new house was located a comfortable 10 miles from an active railroad and my husband and I had been given the room with the window facing the train.
“You can barely hear it,” my mom insisted.
My brother, who gave up the room for us, rolled his eyes. She’d also given us the room with two twin beds. Despite that we had been married for two years, she insisted we’d be more comfortable.
The room smelled like 16-year-old boy: a mixture of sweat, testosterone, Axe body spray and funk. My mother swore she gave us clean sheets, but the pet odor of boy assaulted our senses and made it hard to sleep. Between all of that and the monk music, I could feel the throb of a migraine start behind my right eye. I had been home less than 24 hours.
My family is the crazy one. There are eight kids, one miniature dachshund and a lot of shouting. My parents tried to raise us Evangelical and godly, but we all had other plans. The result is that we’re like the Duggars except meaner and more likely to cuss you out.
My husband is the second oldest of four. He has three brothers and a sister, which is a cocktail for crazy, but not if you’re Midwestern. Besides the one time his sister hit his brother with the baton when they were in kindergarten, the Lenz family interactions are devoid of the violence and angst that permeates my family’s every encounter.
I didn’t even let Dave come to visit my parents until we were engaged. He came for four days before Christmas, six months before we were married. That was the year that my little brother tried to flush the dog, my mom asked me to call the cops on the drug dealer neighbors. That same trip, while watching a movie, my mom had muted the sound during a risqué scene only to have the orgasmic oohs and ahhs spelled out on the closed captions. She flung her body in front of the television screaming, “Look away!”
This time around, due to my family’s predilection for moving, this was Dave’s first extended stay with my parents over the holidays. They weren’t cutting him any breaks. When we arrived at nine p.m. the night before, we’d been greeted with the dog peeing on my shoe and my sister announcing that the turkey was in the jacuzzi because “someone” — here she cast a pointed glance at my mom — “someone was giving up on proper parenting and forgot to set it out to thaw.”
And now, only eight hours later, and approximately 10 train whistles later, monk music was on at full blast. I sat in the kitchen, holding my head in my hands drinking coffee, as one-by-one my family members crawled forth from their beds, lured by the smell of coffee and the impossible sound of Monks chanting “Jingle Bells.” By 7 a.m. everyone was up, everyone except Dave.
My mom huffed about breakfast getting cold and the day being wasted. Just to get an escape, I went up to the room where Dave was sleeping — only he was wide awake.
“How long have you been up?”
“Two hours,” he said.
I gave him a hard look. He smiled back. I knew he was stubborn but even I was impressed. I gave him a kiss. “Hold strong,” I said and left the room. He didn’t come down for two more hours.
Nevertheless, Dave didn’t complain that whole week. Even when my mom and sister almost came to blows over the pork tenderloin. Screaming out 18 years of frustration over who forgot to buy maple syrup. While I gritted my teeth and popped migraine medicine, Dave hid in the basement with my 16-year-old brother, dying over and over in endless rounds of video games. I’m sure it was cathartic. But he never said a word.
On the trip home, I vomited from the anxiety. Dave pulled over and held my hair. “That was fun,” he said wryly. I looked up at him amazed. Not once had he been negative, not once had he even breathed a word about that monk music.
“I’m sorry,” I groaned.
“It’s okay,” he said. “It’s family.”
For the rest of the trip home, Dave drove with the window down in 30 degree weather, just so I could get some fresh air and calm my aching head.
For the first five years of our marriage, I was afraid to have a child—afraid of the responsibility and the challenge. Afraid of who we’d be when we became parents. But that Thanksgiving, watching my husband endure the shouts, train whistles, and monk music, I realized that he knew more than I did about what it meant to be family.
The next Christmas, I was pregnant. And I know that no matter who we become as a family—loud and crazy, kind and quiet—my husband will love enduringly.