Ever since I became a mom, December has been a challenging month for me. Maybe not so much in those early days when the kids were very young and our world was very small. But once Ben started school and our little world started to expand, December ramped up with everything that makes the holiday season the holiday season: piano open classes, chorus and band concerts, church plays, friend parties, family visits, present buying, and cookie baking. Added to all of that, for me, was always end-of-the-semester paper reading and grading. There were some years that were extra tough: the year we discovered our middle son’s Christmas tree allergy when he broke out in hives and spent the holidays in an oatmeal bath, the year our furnace broke and the kids were sick, the year my dad died. As the kids grew older and headed off to college, holiday piano classes and high school concerts disappeared from our schedules, but we still drove to college events and games and geared up for having the kids home not just for Christmas but for winter break, so those Decembers were still bubbling with activity and challenging in new ways.
We are in a new season now, and this is feeling like the most challenging December of all. The kids have grown up. They have their own lives, their own homes, their own friends, and the beginnings of their own traditions. I suppose the change has been occurring subtly over the past couple of years. Our middle son, who is not a teacher and doesn’t have a long break to stretch out into, hasn’t arrived until Christmas Day the past couple of years—he and his girl spend Christmas Eve and Christmas morning with her family. But our oldest lives in town, and up until last year, our youngest, who went from college to grad school to her first year of teaching, still spent a good bit of her Christmas break at home with us, so things felt a lot like they always had. But this year our girl is married. She and her husband are trying to juggle visits with both families along with her husband-the-coach’s basketball practice and game schedule. As a result, they’ll be home for about thirty-six hours this year. Our middle son and his girl will be here even less time over Christmas (but will be back for New Year’s). And I’m struggling in my attempt to adjust to it all.
Although we got the tree the day after Thanksgiving (with the kids), and I decorated it and the house over the next few days, and although along with grading papers, I’ve been busily planning meals, buying groceries, wrapping presents, and baking cookies, I haven’t been feeling all that merry this year. Oh, I’ve listened to Christmas music and even watched a couple of Christmas movies, but my eyes and heart have really only been focused on the little window of time that all the kids will be here—I’ve just been waiting. I know, I know, the Christmas season, Advent, has always been about waiting, watching, anticipating, hoping. And I love that—the way the world prepares and almost holds its breath as it approaches Christmas Eve. But what I’ve been doing is different. I’ve been holding back, saving everything (the candles, the cookies, the celebrating) until the kids get here, and I've been fretting about how short the time together will be. I know why: from December '86, when we put infant Ben in his Christmas stocking, until December '16, the first time in thirty years that I’m not going to be filling Christmas stockings, December has been all about them, the kids. But what I’m slowly realizing is that now, somehow, it has to start being about us, my husband and me. We have to forge new traditions for the two of us, find new ways of celebrating the season. To aim all of our Christmas energy on the few hours the kids will be home isn’t fair to them or to us. The time they are home will always be my favorite part, but I need to learn to spread Christmas out in my mind and heart. I need to stop waiting and start enjoying December. I need to go ahead and light the candles, eat the cookies, and drink the Christmas tea. Then Christmas with the kids can just be whatever it is in any given year, a week-long party or a few precious hours together. It doesn’t need to carry all the weight of my hopes and dreams and expectations. It can just be merry.