Only once in the decade I dated my last boyfriend did he come to my parent’s house for Christmas. Getting him to join us for a nationally recognized day of celebration was a feat I’d been trying to accomplish the entire relationship. In his defense, he wasn’t really big on the whole family thing, and the holidays didn’t entice him much. In my defense, it was just a couple hours, on just a couple nights. But in defense of the truth, it was probably just that he wasn’t comfortable making the effort—or the commitment—of integrating our lives to that level.

That first and last time he did come over was lovely. It was, however, also before I learned that he had told a co-worker (who also happened to be a family member’s relative) we were “dating,” even though we were making plans to move cross-country for one another. I may have never learned the correct terminology for each stage of a relationship, but I was fairly certain that the one where you sacrifice health care and a permanent address for the other person falls somewhere higher than “dating.”

At the time, of course, I defended him with every last breath, arguing it was just the way people talk, just a saying. That was two Christmases ago.

Last Christmas, I gave my heart to someone special (not George Michael, regrettably) but still slept solo while reindeer tracked footprints along my parent’s roof. Manfredo didn’t go with me to Minne for the holidays, mostly because it was too early (I feared) to talk plane tickets when I booked the trip months ahead of time. But as we exchanged “I missed you” hugs and “please don’t ever be that far away from me again” kisses on the airport curb, he told me he was already excited for next year, when he could wish my parents a merry Christmas—in person.

Now, it’s next year, and we’re getting ready to pack his newly purchased fur-lined coat and winter boots (baby’s first -30-degree Christmas!) for our trip out Midwest. In the past twelve months, I’ve been to more family events, including holidays, than I realized exist. (Fun fact: I used to think November and December are the busiest months for celebrations. Turns out, I was wrong! There are lots of babies born in May, June and July. And they all have parties. Every year.)

But this Christmas will be different than all the last. It’ll be the first year I won’t feel like I failed at getting someone to show up. Or like my family will never get any bigger. Because I haven’t. And it has.