A little girl wearing a paper crown as she plays with a toy

I have spent the past 10 years of life returning to my parents’ home to celebrate Christmas. Growing up in this family, tradition served as the plumb line for decision-making when it came time to decide how we would come together for the holidays.

As cousins age and families grow, life has taken us to all corners of the country and planted us in different states and cities. This same path of life continues to bring us together every year. However, as the sense of who I was mingles with the changes life has brought me through, there’s a tangible friction that creeps into times of gathering together. It’s the leftover confetti of life—the growing pains that come from breaking new ground at a new permanent residence inside oneself.

There’s a tangible friction that creeps into times of gathering together. It’s the leftover confetti of life.

I was 18 years old when I first felt this tension. Being away at college for four months allowed me to take that first step of exploring the world beyond the town I grew up in 530 miles from my parents’ roof. It was the first time I sensed how the youth I was parting with was also the fuel propelling me toward adulthood.

When I returned home for Christmas that year, I stepped into my bedroom and thought, “I’m not that little girl anymore, the one who dreamed of magic and lived in a jungle-themed room lined with cheetah print wallpaper.” Yet, I always carry her with me.

Family dynamics have a tendency to cling to the way things were. My older cousins will always see me as 5-year-old Audrey—running through the house at full speed and clutching a stuffed bunny by the ear—no matter how many times I remind them that I’m turning 30 next year. I cringe when I think about trying to prove my own maturity in the conversations that bubble up, failing to grasp the possibility that I’ve grown into new ideas and ways of thinking.

Then, I remember that our family comes together, not for the sake of nostalgia or familiarity alone, but for the sake of love and time together. There is no need for me to prove myself worthy of an adult conversation because I can settle into a delicate yet genuine appreciation for all that I was while still living out who I have become. I can choose a grace-filled nod of recognition to the present-day version of me who I’ve fought to create and know that this is the same person my family sees that makes them remember who I was.

I can settle into a delicate yet genuine appreciation for all that I was while still living out who I have become.

It’s frustrating for me to know that this side-by-side comparison of the Audrey of Christmas past and present happens at family gatherings, but I won’t allow that frustration to stop me from living in the freedom I’ve found in the woman I’ve become. Inside this tension, I’m presented with an opportunity. I can choose to celebrate with joy the people I have in my life in a way that frees them to do the same.

And as we grow, dynamics change. We invite others into this experience with us, and we say goodbye to others. The path of life burning from both ends.

I’ve come to know that being home for the holidays is more important than trying to control the narrative of how my family members might see me. I’ve learned that the moment I stepped out from under my parents’ roof for the first time, I stepped under one of my own design. I will house the memories of the little girl I used to be because she spurs me on to dream and create a life worth sharing with others. She reminds me to be brave, value joy and to love others right where they’re at.

Maybe, as you get ready to walk back under a “roof” that raised you, you feel the tension that rises from the then clashing with the now. Choose to value the experiences that made you who you are as you embrace this time with family and know that you are seen just as you are.

How do you feel when you go home from the holidays? Who were you in Christmas pasts compared to who you are today?

Image via Gretchen Easton, Darling Issue No. 6

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