Christmas is over and I’m rethinking everything I did or didn’t do. I'm quite talented at listing my perceived shortcomings: I didn’t bake cookies with my youngest before Christmas. I didn’t take enough pictures of the kids opening presents. I didn’t spend more time with my oldest. I didn’t hang enough decorations and I didn’t get the holiday cards out. My expectations were higher than usual this year because it could be the last time my oldest can help pick out the tree and trim it with us. Who knows when she’ll be home from college next year.
My husband’s bulging discs didn’t add to my festive mood. Between his pain, my worry, and my daughter’s senior year we waited to get our tree and when we did, my oldest had to carry it. Those fabulous college applications still weren’t done and at every holiday gathering they were a topic of conversation. My final grades, which I usually plow through before Christmas, were due Dec. 28 and the pile of final papers distracted me from the piles of presents.
And today, the one churning out applications turns 18. She hopes to celebrate, but may find she spends more time with her computer than with her family or friends. Happy Birthday to her. So while I feel nostalgic for time gone past, I’m also freaking because of those looming deadlines. While I want to coo over her and reminisce, I have to stay away from her room.
Holidays also tend to be a time where I, for one, look back and remember all the ones before – the one when my oldest pulled the Christmas tree down on her two-year-old self while I talked to my sister-in-law on the phone, or the one when my husband and I stayed up late putting together a plastic kitchen, or the ones when Santa showed up and surprised our daughters.
I remember traditions past – the Christmases of my youth which I shared with my cousins on the Vineyard or in New Haven and we discovered Santa by the tree and chased him through the house and up the chimney. Traditions changed and I split Christmas between my parents – the weekend prior with my father in New York or the Berkshires and then Christmas with my mother and stepfather. Those were anxiety provoking.
After I got married and had kids, excitement returned as the kids eagerly waited for Santa to bring presents, and the looks of awe and exclamations of wonder at how he knew what they wanted made the late nights of wrapping and present assembly worth it. Even my mother’s arrival with grandmotherly energy and enthusiasm added Christmas cheer.
As my daughters grew, their words of wonder have been replaced by words of appreciation as they open their gifts. This too makes the late night present wrapping worth it.
I do my best. In the midst of shopping, wrapping, grading and worrying, I made a cake this year and entertained my sister, brother, his finance, and my stepdad for our preChristmas celebration at our house; my oldest had a potluck at our house with 12 kids from a club at school and I made brownies. We went to a Christmas Eve service where my younger daughter sang and we included my older daughter’s boyfriend for Christmas dinner. I squeeze a lot in, but I’m convinced I can squeeze in more. I did make those cookies after Christmas with my younger daughter – perhaps a new tradition? And I did get those grades in, just like those applications will get done. Who knows what other new traditions will begin this time next year. Who knew looking forward can be exciting?
In the meantime, today, I’ll bake another cake, put birthday candles on it, hang some banners, maybe get some New Years cards out, and wrap more presents. In between checking on the application progress, I'll celebrate 18 years of birthdays and Christmases and traditions, and think about expectations met, unmet, and exceeded.