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Family First

By Kirsten Valle

Posted: Tuesday, Dec. 01, 2009

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Photo by Critsey Rowe

Kirsten Valle is a business reporter for the Observer. She can be reached at kvalle@charlotteobserver.com.

Read more "Getting to 'I do.'"

The air has turned wintry, the Thanksgiving leftovers have begun to disappear from the fridge, Christmas trees are twinkling in neighbors' windows - and Reese and I are muddling through how to handle the holidays as a soon-to-be-married couple.

We've been together a few years now, and we've managed to figure it out thus far, alternating between families for smaller holidays such as Mother's Day and spending many of the bigger ones with our own families before getting together again in the days that followed. This year, though, we've begun to feel more like a family ourselves, and it's hard to imagine being apart for Thanksgiving or Christmas.

In many ways, we're lucky when it comes to shared holidays: For starters, our parents live nearby, which means we get to see them often throughout the year. Just as importantly, our families genuinely like each another, and we've already spent some happy times together - from impromptu dinners to engagement celebrations. And both sets of parents have been nothing but supportive, encouraging us to spend time with each other's in-laws-to-be and gently reminding us that that's the reality of married life. Still, it's hard for either of us to imagine waking up on Christmas morning without our parents in the next room.

We've eased into it this year. Reese came to Maryland for Thanksgiving with my family, patiently piling into the car and navigating the mountains of western Virginia and Maryland for the seven-turned-10-hour drive. It was a fun week: We laughed a lot, and ate even more. We shared meals with my grandparents and aunts and uncles. We spent a few evenings with my high school girlfriends and their significant others - and all the guys were good sports as we reminisced and shared details about our upcoming weddings. It made me realize all over again how thankful I am for my family and closest friends. But it also made me a little sad that Reese couldn't experience the same with his family this year.

I remember when, as a college student, my parents talked about moving from Maryland to North Carolina, and I begged them to hold off - not just because I wanted to maintain my independence a few states away, but because I couldn't imagine going home to a room that wasn't really mine.

When I moved to Charlotte after graduation, though, and began to feel I'd be here for the long haul, I prodded them to move closer. Still, that first Christmas in their new house felt different, only because the routine - my mom, brother and I crouching at the top of the stairs until my father lit the fire and arranged the presents - had changed. In the end, it was every bit as wonderful as in years past because we were together. It was proof, maybe, that change isn't always a bad thing.

Which brings us back to this year. Reese came to us for Thanksgiving, and I plan to spend a good portion of the Christmas break with his family, though I'll probably still want to wake up Christmas morning, for one more year at least, in my parents' house.

Next year, after the wedding and after we've settled into a new home and new married life, we'll have all these conversations again, I'm sure. Sometimes, we'll probably alternate holidays, or spend a little of each with each family. Other times, maybe we'll be lucky enough to have both families gathered around one long dinner table. Maybe some years it will just be the two of us for whatever reason, slowly building our own holiday traditions.

Holidays won't be the same, for sure, but as they say, marriage isn't about losing family, it's about gaining. It's new, and it can be scary, but it's mostly happy. After all, what could be better than celebrating - maybe multiple times - with a large, loving family?

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