In December, the ghosts of past holidays stop by for a chat. They love to talk to me about the year my youngest turned 6 and my oldest was 8. Their tales recap how I sometimes act during the holidays — despite my best intentions.
In scene one, it’s Annie’s 6th birthday (Dec. 30) and a friend is due to visit from out of town. I’ve promised dinner out and birthday cupcakes in exchange for my daughters talking an afternoon walk with my friend and me.
I’m as exhausted as my tired girls, yet I anticipate compliant daughters who are thrilled to take a walk on a cold, grey winter day that’s quickly growing more grey.
When my friend arrives later than expected, I’m not my best self. During the past few weeks, I’ve hosted Christmas Eve dinner for family, played Santa, attended holiday concerts and parties and been the school activities directory for winter break. I’ve not practiced anywhere near enough self-care to make this birthday go well.
And so I sneak candy into my pockets to coerce my daughters up the big hill. I search for mittens while recalling people who warned me that December birthdays suck. Soon we’re trudging up the hill, fighting dusk and my expectations for a joyful reunion with a friend. Annie’s party was the day before, but we still have celebrating ahead.
“When are we having cupcakes?” asks Annie. She’s already alerted me that she’s lost her mittens.
My terse replies parlay to my friend that she’s walking with a scrooge. As I kneel to place my own mittens on Annie’s hands, I tell both daughters about my dashed hopes.
“You knew I was excited for this walk with my friend. Here’s a few more Skittles! Let’s walk!” I say.
I’m pushing them forward as my rage meets the misty rain that now surrounds us. There is nothing gracious about our quiet march to our home.
I’d love to say the rest of the evening was saved. And yes, I won some points by changing the plan to pizza in rather than dinner out but all I remember was how embarrassed I was to be that parent — too tired and spent to be her best self.
During the past few weeks, I’ve hosted Christmas Eve dinner for family, played Santa, attended holiday concerts and parties and been the school activities directory for winter break.
But not all of this season was so rough. One of my sweetest holiday memories happened weeks before my scrooge display. On this day, Annie was sick. Rarely a good napper, she was wiped enough to lay down with me on the couch.
As she fell asleep, her warm body atop mine, I let the to-dos fall away as I listened to her breathing. I knew her limbs wouldn’t always fit perfectly within my limbs as she napped. And so I watched the light outside our windows shift from grey to blue to black, knowing this moment would never come again.
I hold these two memories within me.
One reminds me how planning for joy doesn’t always work. Stock up on self-care, remember flexibility is the key to happiness, maybe don’t take that walk.
The other reminds me how grace arrives unexpectedly: a sick day when you remember to soak in what will never come again, a chance to breathe deeply while your child rests upon you.
I have no illusions that my scrooge-like ways are gone forever, but I like to think the years have taught me a thing or two. Mostly, I’m thankful my nephew and his wife now host Christmas Eve dinner.
Still, I know winter should be a dormant season. That even humans are meant to rest in order to bloom later.
There’s light in this season and often it’s captured not as we speed up to make merry, but when we rest together. It’s hard to plan for that. I catch it when I can, thankful for the connection and love that sparks now and again.
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