Wrapping Up Christmas

The Big Moment
One week ago...
“We aren’t...um...exchanging right?” Rob asks, then quickly adds, “I mean stocking stuffers but nothing...um....” 

He was drowning in Christmas. A simple, “I have everything I need,” is all that’s required in this moment. Because I do, have everything I need and want. But I can’t say it. 

There’s something about the way he’s looking at me and the fact that I’ve been running around non-stop fulfilling holiday obligations while also performing everyday tasks (why can’t the Elf on the Shelf do laundry?). I know he’s busy too and a crazy thoughtful guy to-boot, but I just can’t let him off the hook. 

Maybe it’s because I’ve been shopping and wrapping and strategizing with lists and the like for, well, months to prepare for our holiday travels over the hills and through the woods.

When it comes to our boys (whose gifts have to be purchased, wrapped, and hidden in the car or sent with family members visiting weeks in advance), I pride myself on balance. Not too much and hopefully not too little. And I don’t buy in to the latest and greatest. I hope my kids will learn early that setting sights on things is a losing battle...that things are not the spirit of Christmas...and...

Having said all of that, only two days before on a run with friends, I’d had a Christmas “eureka” moment. I'd realized as I recited who was getting what, that I’d bought a bunch of stuff for my youngest that he kinda sorta wanted but mostly what I kinda sorta thought he should have. And I’d spent as much on the kinda sorta pile as it would have cost to buy the one thing he really wanted. Why?

I was mentally rejiggering, deciding what needed to go back to secure the big gift, when Rob walked in. He simply nodded as I announced my gift conclusion. He didn’t seem to grasp the significance of my “eureka” moment and yet supported it. And then he asked...

“We aren’t...um...exchanging right?” 

There is no one gift that will make my Christmas. But still I’m looking for a gesture, that he gets...it. How tired and stressed I am. That even though I am a crab-cake on and off the entire holiday season, I wouldn’t trade our life for a thousand little or big any things. 

What is the gift that says that? It’s an impossible task that a bathrobe or purse or pair of socks can’t fill. But still I want him to try because, well, it’s Christmas.

And now, one week later...

I visually wade through the boxes carelessly tossed in our guest room. At the beginning of the trip I carefully packed bags of gifts by recipient as we departed locations. By the end, I was shoving items into any bag that wouldn’t burst and fit into our SUV that was starting to resemble a compact car. By the time we unpacked our car around 9:30 pm, my instructions were simple. “Throw everything in the guest room!”

And boy did they. Toys, books, clothes--I even picked up a painting along the way (thanks Mom). 

I search for where to start and a colorful box catches my eye. One of my gifts from Rob. I’m not sure if he went back out into the shopping maze to secure more gift paraphernalia after our “conversation” (I’m guessing yes) but his gifts were perfect. Sentimental with some practicality mixed in.

The box makes me smile and so does the fact that somewhere between family gatherings, Christmas mass, periodic snow in the air, and the “I got it? I got it!?” as Will opened his cherished gift...I felt it. Christmas.

I carefully shut the guest room door behind me, so there is no chance of it popping open until I’m good and ready. Unwrapping Christmas will have to wait until the Happy New Year.

'Tis the Season (To Re-Learn a Few Things)

Stories from Christmas Past (not much has changed). 

This year was going to be different. Most of my shopping was done in November, I was wrapping by day one of the advent calendar, and a summer snapshot had produced the perfect picture for the ceremonial card. 

Each year our family—me, my husband and our boys—travel around the holidays. The timing and order of visits varies, but we are always on the road. By now, I am used to the shopping and wrapping and laundry required for the journey, still it comes down to a lot of last minute. But not this year. 

This year I was ready, prepared. Four days before the car would be packed and ready to roll, I even decided to take both boys, with their festering colds, to the pediatrician for a precautionary visit. Just to be sure.  

“Everything looks good,” she’d said, checking all relevant ears and noses. “Just watch the congestion, you never can be sure of where a cold will settle.”

Five days later, on Christmas Eve morning, my youngest woke unable to open his eyes. I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was. What more could I have done to secure a stress-free holiday? Three hundred miles from home, we found our way to a friend of a friend’s doctor who this time diagnosed double ear infections and conjunctivitis.   

As I stood in line at the local pharmacy, trying to remind myself that in thirty years I would look back on this time with longing, I caught my reflection in a strangely placed mirror. I looked tired and unremarkable. Not at all what I had imagined when I bought the latest product for my new “piecey” haircut (as my stylist called it) or as I labored to pack five complete outfits for long lingering cups of coffee while catching up with relatives.   

Later that day my brother and sister and their spouses began to arrive. As we transported packages, caught up on the day and slowly made our way to the living room—glass of sparkly bubbles in hand—I started to remember what I seem to have to re-learn every year.  

Christmas can’t be captured in a card or even a superbly thoughtful gift. Christmas arrives in moments. Snuggling with the littlest family members, re-telling the stories of loved ones long gone, singing carols around the piano, watching my mom make the same oyster stew, that no one really likes, because that’s what her mom made at Christmastime. Basking in the warmth of connection.

And, if I’m lucky, each year getting a little closer to acceptance. Because the kids will probably get sick and my hair will most likely fall flat. And despite my grand desire to orchestrate the endless details, as though somehow this year will be different, the simple fact is: the season is bigger than all the efforts. That’s what makes it Christmas.