Vanessa Gonzalez Kraft tries to balance her traditional Mexican-American cultural heritage and Catholic identity, personified by her grandmother La Lupe, with her roles as a young wife and mother.
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Rise of a Matriarch
I cannot believe that Christmas and New Year’s is over. It passed by in such a blur. This year the holidays were very different for me than before. This year I became the matriarch. This year I was in charge. And let me tell you, I don’t know how much I like this role change. To be in charge of Christmas, that is a lot of pressure.
As I am sure many other couples do, we alternate holidays between the Kraft family and the Gonzalez family. Whenever it is the Gonzalez’s turn, we pack up and head to El Paso to see La Lupe. This year Brandon’s mother and brother (and brother’s dog) all came down to Austin and spent a week with us. It was great. We don’t get to see them much and Olivia loved having them here. I am lucky to have married into a family that is so laid back and easygoing. Add to that my parents who came into town for a few days around Christmas. It was a full house and it was great…except that since I am the wife and mother of the house, I was in charge…of everything: cooking, Christmas activities, fun, everything.
This year I realized what it takes to really be not just a wife and mother but the wife and the mother. This huge responsibility totally blindsided me. I am used to just showing up places and having people take care of me. When we go to El Paso, La Lupe is constantly in the kitchen cooking up a storm to feed us every few hours while we all lounge in the living room playing cards or watching TV.
La Lupe is such a strong matriarch. We (all of her 8 kids with a zillion grandkids and great grandkids) look to her to call the shots and tell us what to do. Her role is to ensure that we are all pleasantly full and relaxed and she takes this role very seriously. I never imagined that I would be given such a role. It is so important. She is basically the pulse of our family. When she is sick or has an off year, Christmastime with the family just isn’t the same, she is that important to our family identity.
So how in the world did this job get thrust upon me? It makes sense, it was my house, my city, my job to make sure everything was taken care of for Christmas. Everyone else was a guest in my house so everyone looked to me for what would be happening.
I’m not used to being an entertainer. I love having people over and I love cooking but being in charge of the “fun” part, not my forte. I had some good ideas. I thought of a bunch of Christmas activities we could do as a family but executing them was a whole different story.
The ladies spent most of the week around the kitchen chatting while the guys spent most of the week watching football and keeping an eye on Olivia. Because I was the planner, if I didn’t plan it or make it happen, it didn’t happen. So we kind of did nothing. It was still wonderful being able to spend time together but it didn’t seem like Christmas. It could have been any other week of the year that we got to spend together. Of course I don’t blame anyone but myself. If you are a guest in someone’s home you’re not going to take charge and say: now we’re going to go look at Christmas lights or now we’re going to build gingerbread houses or now we’re going to play charades. I started to feel like such a failure that Christmas was not turning out to be Christmas-y.
Christmas Eve. At this point, being in charge had really got me wound up. I felt the pressure and the time quickly winding down on all the things I knew needed to get done before Christmas. I got up, got Olivia dressed and fed, made breakfast for everyone. Ran to Target to buy last minute gifts for our nieces and nephews who we were going to see the next day. It was pouring rain and, of course, the entire city was also buying last minute gifts so lines were super long. We got home hours later. We were planning on going to 5pm Mass. It was 1pm and we still had to make all the food so that it would be ready to eat when we got back from Mass. My mom and I started cooking. Brandon and I had to leave for Mass at 4pm to go and save seats for the rest of the family. Even though we cooked as fast as we could, 4pm came too quickly. I looked across our kitchen, food was not ready, table was not set, tree was not decorated, Olivia still needed to be dressed for Mass, and I had food splattered all over my clothes not to mention that I hadn’t had a chance to shower yet.
I was out of time and I felt utterly defeated. I angrily told my mom that I was leaving her in charge of the food and that she had to be done with the food before they left to meet us for Mass. I ran upstairs, cleaned up as best I could and rushed Brandon out the door to go and get seats. We arrived at the church a half an hour later than I wanted, and there was seriously not a single open seat. We ended up having to sit in a little side chapel from which you cannot see the altar or anything but at least we had seats and could hear the Mass.
I was sitting there angry and stressed. At that point a little girl and her mother entered the side chapel where we were and she threw a fit because she couldn’t see anything. And this was a fit. Stomping, jumping up and down, yelling. As I am watching this scene I totally sympathize with her. I feel the same way. I want to stomp my feet and whine that I didn’t get the Christmas that I planned in my head. No gingerbread houses, no decorated trees, no walks around the neighborhood to look at lights, no watching the Muppets’ Christmas Carol, no singing Christmas carols, no making Olivia her special Christmas dress out of the beautiful fabric I had bought.
Being the matriarch sucks. You feel the pressure of wanting everything to be picturesque and perfect and if it falls short, you have no one to blame but yourself.
Mass started and the rest of the family had still not arrived. On top of feeling like I ruined Christmas, now I felt bad for being such a jerk to my mom and making them miss most of Mass because I demanded that the food be done before they came. I was just stewing in guilt.
I sat there listening to the readings and I realized how much I need Christmas. How much I need God to take on human flesh and save me from my pride and selfishness. How much I need Jesus to be born and die for my sins. How much I need Jesus because of how thoroughly I mess up sometimes.
Throughout the week I felt alone and isolated in this new role and felt as if I could not depend on anyone but myself to get everything done. It was completely self-inflicted. I was too proud to ask for help.
It was my first taste of what La Lupe has felt for a lifetime and it was hard. I wanted to be as strong as La Lupe. I wanted to be the leader of the family like La Lupe. I forgot that La Lupe has 50 years on me. That’s a long time to learn how to lead the pack. It’s ok that I’m not there yet but hopefully I get 50 years to get there.