Yes, Stephanie, There is a Santa Claus
LLyn De Danaan
Years ago, maybe two decades back, my parents, Doris and Bill Patterson, were interviewed for a study Stephanie Coontz was making on parenting in the post-war era. I don’t know if any of their remarks were used in her book and I’m not even sure which of her books this research was for but I think it was the one about the changing American family. One of her assistants scheduled several sit downs with Doris and Bill. They, reportedly, talked happily and at length about child rearing in the late 1940s and 1950s in Ohio. Copies of the tapes made were given to them. When they passed, I retained the tapes. I’ve never had the nerve to listen to what they said. What a gift, really. My memories of their “parenting” is obviously all from my point of view. My brother and I have never really compared notes. And because there are seven years between us (me the elder), our experiences were not identical. To hear what Doris and Bill thought they were doing and why and to what effect, would be, no doubt, revelatory. And how many of us have a chance to hear our parents talking about us and family to a total stranger? I haven’t listened. I doubt I ever will.
But at this past August’s annual family gathering, I found myself wondering what they would make of our “family.” We, in so many ways, mirror what is “normal” now…and how different from Beavercreek, Ohio and the Patterson household decades ago. Everything has changed. After all, we believed in Santa Claus and lined up early on Christmas morning to see what he had delivered and placed under our tree. Didn’t everyone? We were tucked into our Midwestern American, white culture, and naive. “Nuclear” was what you might have called our family. That was the term for the “basic social unit” of the time. It was, indeed, ready to explode.
So, the August gathering. Thirty or so attended. Sometimes there are more. These attendees were all in some way related through Llyn (me) or Judo (my only sibling) and/or through the ins and outs of loves and people who became family during our lives. Of this family (and that’s what it is called, insistently, with no “in-laws”, “step”, or other qualifiers attached) about a dozen are biological descendants of Doris and Bill. True to studies of what is “normal now,” two of us, women, have adopted with no marriage. At least two have been divorced but some ex-spouses or significant others are part of the family. Some are second spouses. One household has it all…a virtual village of love. And dogs. All included in all activities. That alone would cause Doris to flee to her tent, as if. And into the Doris and Bill ideas of how to be in the world all from their Irish/Welsh/Scots-Irish/English backgrounds have been added Colombian, Guatemalan, and Filipino sensibilities–and DNA.
Being only one generation removed from Doris and Bill and whatever they thought family was, it has taken me some time to “get it”, to give up the old categories, and to recognize why little Cadence, the newest member, born this spring, was gleefully passed from hand to hand, beloved and cherished by every single person at the gathering. After all, he doesn’t recognize or calculate how each hand is related to him or whether he shares genes with them. He only feels the heat of the love. Yes, Stephanie, there is a Santa Claus. My gift is my renewed sense of gratitude for all of this.