There’s something so bittersweet about Christmas night after the kids go to sleep. The space under the tree is empty, trash bags are filled with wrapping paper that so carefully covered treasures only hours before. It comes and goes so quickly. I barely realized it was here and it was gone.
But it was a wonderful day, one in which my adorable son exclaimed “I can’t believe this is really happening” as I set up his and his sister’s new iPod touches, and a day he declared the “Best Christmas ever.” He’s quite the expert now, having been through 7 of them.
The kids made out like bandits this year, and the adults didn’t do too shabby either. Despite being in the midst of the winter crud, both kids were thrilled with everything they opened and were more than happy to sit and watch others open presents and enjoyed spending time with their family. It was beautiful to see them wait expectantly while their auntie or their Nana D opened presents they were more than excited to give them. This was the first year they really shopped for us and for each other, and they truly seemed to delight in the joy of giving as much as receiving. Well, almost as much.
We’re still fully entrenched in the magic of Santa, thankfully. At 2 oclock this morning, I woke to J’s coughing over the monitor, and I went in to check on her. When I went into J’s room, she told me she “went downstairs and Santa came and he brought N a bike!!!!” I said, “I know, and there’s a whole bunch for you, too, isn’t there?” Yes, she replied, and I asked her to lie down and go back to sleep. She begged for me to snuggle with her. I squeezed in next to her in her twin bed, and asked her to close her eyes and go to sleep. “I can’t,” she said breathlessly, “I can’t stop thinking about the presents!” I giggled with her and pulled her close so she could match her breathing with mine as I slowed down and drifted off. I slept with her like that for about an hour or so, before moving back to my own bed.
One of our traditions is the family service at church on Christmas Eve. It includes the children’s pageant, and at the end the children of the congregation are invited to sit up at the front to view the scene and listen to Dean Baker give a special sermon directed at them. Every year, we have encouraged our children to go up front with the other kids, and ever year they go, but only because one of us accompanies them. Until this year. For the first time, they went up and didn’t look back. They sat attentively, responded in all the appropriate places, and came running back when it was done. They followed along and sang with the words in the church program, reading the words all on their own. They sat at our fancy Christmas Eve dinner out and behaved themselves as if we go out to fancy dinners all the time.
As grown up as they seemed last night, when I climbed into bed to snuggle with my daughter last night, I marveled at how much she’s still my baby girl. Her little body still fits so easily in my arms. She still comes running when she’s hurt or doesn’t feel well. And while “snuggle with me” may just as easily be a stall tactic as it is anything else, I know that asking for such a thing won’t be part of her repertoire much longer.
Christmas, for me, has always been a milestone marker – much like birthdays and the start of the school year. I’ve struggled a lot this year with watching as my kids transition to true schoolkids. And yet, instead of seeing them this Christmas as the big kids they are becoming, I felt like I saw in them a glimpse of the part of them that will always be my babies. The way my daughter snuggles into me when she doesn’t feel well and the way my son comes running for a thank you hug without any reservation and almost knocks me over – these are the moments I’ll be able to put in my pocket and take out years from now when the days are filled with rolled eyes and “leave me alone.”
I love Christmas, for so many reasons but, in large part because it forces me every year to take stock – to remind myself that I have so much to be thankful for. It’s so easy to get lost in the minutiae of the grind – work, infertility, money – and forget to take pleasure in the little things. Not the presents or the big fancy dinner, but the time spent enjoying each other’s company. The memories. The love.
Merry Christmas, and whether you celebrate the holiday or not, I hope the spirit of the holiday reaches your heart the way it does mine and reminds you to stop and breathe in the little wonders in your life.
These small hours. These are the ones that matter.