Seasons of Change

Bruised knee, 1; Jyl, 0.

Such an odd holiday season this year! I had some time alone while Rich and the kids were out to dinner with his mother – and while it was truly only a few hours, I think because it was Christmas Eve and not our typical ‘pre-Christmas night,’ the idea of staying home alone just got under my anxiety skin. And whenever I see an event on the horizon where I think I might get the willies, I typically over schedule my to-do’s to keep my mind busy. Which sounds so lame. Yes. I wish I was one of those people that could just look at a block of ‘me time’ as a personal invite from the couch – come on over, settle in, put something terrible on tv that you would be mortified to be caught watching. I am typically not that person. I’m the oh okay, 90 minutes solo, that equals organization under the bathroom sink, painting a door, and coming up with dinner menus for the next seven Saturdays person. Lame. But super productive. In fairness, while starting this post, I was sitting on the couch, RHOC playing in the background, mild anxiety sweats being quenched by a mimosa meant for Christmas morning (or maybe it was the mimosa sweats), and a throbbing knee.

We usually go as a family to my MIL’s for Christmas Eve dinner. This was not to be this year due to the continued fallout of Gramma-Pocalypse, so only three out of four got to ride in that horse drawn carriage. And I support those three – really, I do. I have no desire to be the wife/mom who insists that if she can’t have a relationship with somebody then ain’t nobody going to have a relationship. I mean, I have a secret and strong desire for Rich and the kids to decide to forgo the relationship in solidarity, but I know that’s just 13-year-old me talking. And, of course, yes, in my mind, my MIL would have had a change of heart/stubbornness during this holiday season – realizing that she went off the rails and delivering a full out apology in a fluffy bag of tissue paper. But alas, not.

Right, so the bruised knee. I loaded myself up with things to do – an assist in not getting annoyed, lonely, dwell-ful, and being a ravishing bundle of joy upon their return. One of those to-do’s was hiding Rich’s “big” present in an effort to make it an undetectable Christmas surprise. My huge plan was a thin ribbon going from said hiding place all the way through my office, the laundry room, into and out of the garage, around the stairs and, finally, attached to a card under the Charlie Brown tree where Rich would start his trip around the house to glory. As soon as I started unrolling and anchoring the ribbon, phone call number one. Five minutes later, a text from my Dad regarding an hours old Zoom question that then had to be scheduled. Simultaneously, a text from a neighbor to bring a gift over – perfect! I just want to unroll the dang ribbon!! But yes, we like gifts and give gifts and in my haste to collect my neighbor’s gift from my office, I slammed my knee into the corner of my desk, yelping loud enough to bring my emotional support dog running. Not really. The emotional part of my support dog. Really on the knee bruise. REALLY.

I took it as a sign from little six pound baby Jesus himself. Sit the heck down, He was saying, you need to eat your Chick Fil A salad! An obvious match to the mimosa. A different kind of Christmas Eve to bookend a different kind of 2020.

But, the truth is, in my season – a late-forty-something year old with two kids now well into their teens – every holiday is different anymore. It goes right along with all those I didn’t know’s that come with raising kids – I didn’t know that would be the last time he held my hand. I didn’t know that would be the last time she wanted us to tuck her into bed. I didn’t know Santa wouldn’t be a thing anymore. I didn’t know he’d stop asking for Nerf guns (after I’d stalked the Target for months). I didn’t know Panic at the Disco wasn’t cool anymore (after I’d stalked Hot Topic for months). I didn’t know kids could make you feel like you bought from the wrong aisle with a present-opening eye roll. I didn’t know I’d get to today – where it isn’t so bothersome to me anymore. Parents of small children – this is for you. A preparation of what is to come. Because right now, you are still the keepers of the magic. You buy presents based on where your children migrate to when shopping – going back through their path alone and with a feeling of glee. You hide the presents and nobody knows they could track them down. You wrap the presents and nobody knows it’s happening (or that you even own wrapping paper). You leave them bouncing like jumping beans at the top of the stairs for an indefinite amount of time, prepping the perfect Christmas morning photos as they come down and see the haul.

I will always make my kids wait at the top of the stairs. I will make them wait until years down the road when they come visit with their own children – and, then, I will make them wait with them while Rich and I complete the fluffing around the tree. They waited this year. We had no real reason to make them wait – they actually were up late helping us fill stockings as they also did the stocking shopping and sorting this year. But there is something joyful in having them up there – even if the butterflies in their waiting bellies are only in my imagination.

I know they sniff around like pigs for truffles in the weeks before Christmas. Every year I think oh, okay, I’ve done it. I’ve certainly found the one place they will not think to look for presents ensuring actual Christmas surprise. And every year, I can see by their very unsurprised faces that this year’s stash was not stashed well enough (again). I mean, good grief, we have a 3000 square foot house (sorry, #humblebrag) – when were they away from their screens long enough to find the exact right nook and/or cranny? This year, I even engaged the garage fridge. I do think those gifts were a surprise – but they also came in with a bit of a garage fridge odor attached to them. Maybe not the best option for wearable presents. I know it doesn’t really manner – that if they want to cancel the excitement before the big day, it’s really their loss. Except it is a bit of my loss as well, missing that quick look of holy moly run across their faces.

I was late into the kids and Christmas game. When I arrived, Zack was seven (and eight by Christmas) – it was his last year of Santa, I think. Truthfully, I really have no idea if he still believed that reindeers were jaunting past his window or if, in his wise-for-a-child brain, he wanted to give that to me. But I knew it was likely the only year I’d have a child desperate to get to sleep so that the sleigh bells would not be heard. Zoe, of course, was well aware, at 10, who Santa was. In fact, that first Christmas together was her first in which she felt the deflation – used to feeling awed and excited and overwhelmed by surprises but instead looking at a very nice pile of things she had very specifically asked for – not a holy moly in sight. It may also been the first year that she hunted and pecked her way through the house for an early discovery. But Zack – I did get one year. I learned about wrapping the ‘Santa’ presents in paper never seen before. I learned that (my gawd) parents stay up until the a.m.’s wrapping and listening to music and drinking wine and getting so annoyed that the paper isn’t folding right and the bows look stupid and the tape doesn’t stick and the clock keeps ticking and those kids will be up soon and I’m exhausted and, wait, okay, maybe this hasn’t been a terrible corner to turn.

There are seasons of Christmas with kids. Once you start the exit from the North Pole, your kids go through a few funky years while they adjust to the loss of a childhood that they thought they were too grown up for, but realize they kind of want back. You traverse beyond the homemade gifts brought home from school – hands traced and drawn into reindeers, paperclip holders made from glittered clay. You spend the next few years watching them try to figure out their place under the tree as they offer repeat gifts each year: candles for Mom, a multi-tool for Dad, socks for Mom, a flashlight for Dad. Christmas shifts into a who is this holiday for now anyway? feeling. It becomes harder when they find their teenage attitudes. You spend every dang day trying to preserve your coolness – but you especially want to feel it intact on Christmas (and birthdays, actually). It is hard to hear the vailed ugh in their voices about having to spend time with various family members when they’d rather be with friends. It is hard to remember that ugh as you watch them happily accept gifts from the same family members. Exhausted Holiday Mom wants to yell out Don’t do it! Keep your money! He just said yesterday that she/he didn’t want to spent time with you today because he/she wanted a low key day! But then Exhausted Holiday Mom remembers that she, too, would like a low key day and maybe said child is just brave for admitting it. And said child is always polite and truly thankful and glad to have had the time after all. Well, the gifts don’t hurt either, I suppose.

Further down Teenage Lane, you move into a wondrous time as they find their Christmas legs again – adding creativity and true love and thoughtfulness to their gift buying sprees, no longer requiring parental assistance (or, sometimes, cash). The morning starts to feel fun again – no eggshells or grumpiness – a nod to it being okay for Christmas to start being about everybody again and not just the under ten set. It’s also quicker as gifts become more about quality than quantity and higher math is no longer required to make sure Kid A got the same Value For and Number Of as Kid B. Gifts do not have to be opened in order or at the same time to eliminate any sense of unfairness. Once all is unwrapped, clean up is a breeze with the addition of near adult hands. There’s a quick breakfast and a dispersal of participants to try out their new acquisitions. And, hello, the whole thing also starts later! Yes! Sleeping in on Christmas Day! You know the old saying – every time a bell rings, an angel rolls over and go back to sleep?

It was an odd Christmas for so many people this year – family visits cancelled, trips out of state postponed, a feeling of we’re on holiday break failing to develop because we’re in the same place we’ve been all year long. For us, the annoying hustle and bustle of wrapping up our Christmas only to hop in the car and zip down to Rich’s grandmother’s house was missed. Yes, we used to think it was so annoying – why couldn’t we just stay put?! – until the option was gone. I know Rich would have killed for that hustle and bustle just once more. It was our first visit to his grandmother’s new (what…?…residence?…I don’t know) spot at the mausoleum – an attempt to grab that feeling of a Christmas visit but while being well aware that it might not go well. But it did – worth the drive, braving the cold, to share a moment together. We didn’t know last Christmas would be her last.

Grammy always used to give the kids and cousins ornaments from the Mint. It was one of the best parts of Christmas – seeing the telling box under her tree and rushing to unwrap it to see what this year’s looked like. When she passed in June, it was a treasure we weren’t willing to give up. In the weeks before Thanksgiving, we scoured the Franklin Mint website to find the perfect ornament for 2020, ordered seven and then felt a bit of a sag in confidence when they did not arrive in the telling box. Perhaps Grammy knew a secret – maybe we missed a button? Yes. She did know a secret. It wasn’t until we cracked open the box holding the ornaments of previous years that we discovered that secret – that it, in fact, wasn’t the Franklin Mint where the ornaments came from. Obviously, the discovery was made three days prior to Christmas – and I stood looking at the pile of ‘wrong’ ornaments deflated yet again (2020…seriously?). And I, the one who constantly tells my husband to stop spending blowing past the Christmas budget, picked up my phone and clickity-clacked to the Danbury Mint, found the 2020 Annual Ornament (yes, it was that obvious), hit add to cart seven times, closed my eyes, and pressed submit. Yes. We would at least get the Grammy Ornament right in this year of wrong turns. And as we stood beneath her new digs – I could almost hear her cackling at the wild goose chase. She’d have gotten so much joy from the story and from us throwing caution to the budget wind and getting the ball over the finish line at the buzzer.

Several folks received the first round of ornaments. And they loved them – an obvious non-typical gift to wrap up a non-typical year. Two families have both ornaments – one chosen because we thought it represented Grammy and the second chosen because, well, it came in that telling box.

Such an odd holiday season this year! But a season we wouldn’t change.

Grammy, 1; Jyl, 0.

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