What is your favorite holiday memory? A particular year when everything was just right? Someone opening a wonderful gift? A beautiful tree and magnificent lights? Sharing hot chocolate with a friend?
Are you like me, and unable to name just one?
For me, the thought of a favorite holiday memory turns in to a swirling mosaic of colorful lights, smiles and hugs, giggles and I-love-yous. And in the center of this active, ever-changing kaleidoscope of memories are the faces of my children. Many faces, in fact, of the same kids changing from little tykes to teenagers and even older still. Many wonderful Thanksgivings and Christmases filled with more love and laughter than I can express in writing.
This will be my very first Christmas season without a kid in the house to share it with. True, for a few years very early in my life, I was that kid. But before long I had little brothers and eventually (finally!) a baby sister. Then, from that family straight into a family of my own. First, my son. Then five years later, my daughter.
Enter 24 years of Thanksgiving parades, Christmas cartoons, filled stockings, Santa cookies and late night freak-outs because I couldn’t get some toy together. Some years were tough; I worked two or three jobs to make ends meet and hand-made gifts for the kids. They were always thrilled Christmas morning. Other years, all the money in the world still couldn’t help me figure out what the heck to get a 17-year-old boy, or what band my girl was obsessing over now. Still, they were always thrilled Christmas morning.
And I think that’s because we’ve always loved being together. That’s what’s important for Christmas, isn’t it? Presence, not presents.
But this is the first year ever that I don’t have a child in my house for Christmastime. My son has missed a few Christmases now, as he’s serving in the military. The first year he was gone was almost unbearable. His birthday is one week before Christmas, so we miss that, too. We’ve all learned to manage it, but I won’t say that it gets easier. You just get used to doing things differently.
Earlier this year my daughter turned 18 and is now living with a roommate. She’s in the same town and not far away at all. But it’s still different. She’s not here.
So when the ghost of Christmas Past came in a few nights ago and threatened to make me sad, I decided to slap ’em around a little bit. Someone advised me to change my holiday traditions, start new ones. But that’s not right for me. I decided to keep every one of my traditions – because I enjoy them. They remind me of so many wonderful years with these fascinating people. They remind me of the love my children have for each other. They remind me of the building blocks of life that my kids are taking into adulthood. They remind me to be silly and to love living.
And also, they remind me that there is still a little kid in the house this time of year: Me.