Christmas is just around the corner, and as always, it prompts memories of Christmases past, and hopes for the days, and years, ahead.
Some of my fondest Christmas memories revolve around my children… The home-made decorations they came racing out of daycare, pre-school, or elementary school with to thrust into my hands, their little faces lit up with the joy of having created something uniquely beautiful for me. The pride puffing their small chests when their previous years’ and most-recent decorations were hung on the tree. Their wide-eyed wonder when the lights were plugged in and the whole tree lit up, a rainbow of colour and light showcasing the evolution of their Christmas decoration craftsmanship, from felt snowmen and popsicle-stick stars, to hammered-tin bells. Their whispers and giggles as they crawled around under the tree gently hefting and shaking wrapped gifts trying to guess the contents when they thought my husband and I had no clue what they were up to. Their childish scrawl on the letters to Santa we mailed each year. Their fervent need for reassurance that Santa would get their letter, and in turn, they would awake Christmas Day to find their cherished wished-for gift under the tree. Those truly were the best of days.
Those days are gone. My two youngest have full and forested beards, while the two eldest have families and homes of their own; there are no letters to Santa to write, no little hearts to reassure, no little bodies to lift off the floor for little hands to hang their latest creation. It’s… lonely. A clear glass bauble filled with the silent echo of children’s laughter, hollow memory of wonder-filled eyes reflecting the Christmas tree’s glow.
I remember my mom, and ex-father-in-law, each mentioning something similar, how Christmas lost its sparkle when they started waking up alone, in a soundless, childless house. How Christmas arrived every second year for them—the year we showed up, kids in tow, to spend the night and wake up Christmas morning to squeals of delight and the scritch of tearing gift-wrap; to slim boxes of After Eights on the coffee table, and mandarin oranges in the toe of stockings; pancakes on the griddle, milk or orange juice in short glasses for the kids, Bailey’s in coffee for the adults. The in-between Christmas seasons, unless filled by a different child with family in tow, were just regular days inconvenienced by closed stores and TV channels chock-full of Christmas-themed movies reminding them they were alone. I always felt a little sad, and not a little guilty the years we didn’t visit because it was the other-side of the family’s turn that year.
Eventually, my mom moved four-hundred miles to be near me, and my husband and I had our moms within a half-hour of each other; we no longer had to travel on alternating Christmases. Our home became the central hub where gift-opening was delayed until the grandparents had arrived, arms laden with gifts, goodies, and pot-luck contributions, and then we got down to business.
Laughter, talking over one-another, palms flying out as photogs flared their blinding camera flashes; gratitude and oohs and awes exchanged with each gift, hug, and spiked-orange juice handed out. Chaos reigned well into the night, through waffle and bacon brunch, down-hill G-T racing, stuffed-turkey dinner, and bickering laugh-filled hours of dominoes, or Chase the Ace. Those days are gone again now,too.
Four years ago, we moved. My mom followed within the year. Two of my children stayed behind. Two came with. And once more, four-hundred miles gapes between our families. Our hearts. Our lives.
Children grow up, move away, start their own families and traditions… it’s inevitable. Normal. Something to celebrate.
Something to grieve.
No amount of warning can prepare you for the silence. No number of man-made lights chase away shadows of loneliness, brighten child-sized holes. Only the children can do that. Even when they’re all grown up.
As a child, I value my independence; as a mother, I cherish my children; as a daughter, I’m grateful for every blessed year that my husband and I were able, especially at Christmas time, to put a little sparkle and sound–hope–back in our parents’ lives, through the eyes—and hearts—of their grandchildren.
Happiness is a by-product of an effort to make someone else happy. ~Gretta Brooker Palmer