Hi kids, this is a thank you note of sorts . . . I’m about to tell you something strange. Something you may not “get” yet, but I hope you do eventually.
I used to dread Christmas. I know, isn’t that weird? Most kids and a lot of adults have countdowns and decorations and music, but I had a countdown in my mind of when it would be over. To me, it wasn’t a happy time. From the age of about eight (right about where you all are now) Christmas, for me, became like a job of sorts.
Long before the days of Gwyneth Paltrow “consciously uncoupling” or Demi Moore and Bruce Willis walking the red carpet with their kids and new partners, there was the 1980s divorce. The days of Fatal Attraction playing in the theaters, separate holidays, and lots of hard feelings. My parents had a 1980s divorce, and although you’ve never heard me talk about it, it was hard.
My Christmases from about 1988 until probably five years ago consisted of being “on” all day as a guest at someone else’s Christmas. You know when you get all dressed up and must be polite at church or at someone’s house—my Christmases felt a lot like that. It was never my whole family. I was always the guest—the lone big kid at the little kids’ table because I didn’t really fit in with the adults.
Wherever I went, I felt a part of me was missing. No matter how cozy a step grandma’s house was, how tasty the cheesy potatoes, how funny the younger uncle who was always kind to me . . . I was always missing someone. Watching old home movies of my stepdad swimming as a kid and funny stories about a baby pooping in the pool, I laughed but a small part of my heart missed my own dad—his sweaters, the funny things he said, and I’d wonder what he was doing at that moment.
At my dad’s, the conversation was always fun, the people were interesting, and I adored my younger siblings. My brother’s dirty little boy hands or how funny my sister was even at a young age, but I missed the other little sister at my mom’s and sometimes I would feel so homesick for her, wondering if she was opening presents and missing me too. I hoped she wasn’t.
Fast forward 20 years, Dad and I were the young couple at all the Christmases. Four separate Christmases to be exact. (It’s our tradition to watch Four Christmases every Christmas night to celebrate the chaos of it all being over.) Dad and I spent many years accommodating, attending, and racing to every separate family event to include all the families and stepfamilies, and still, even though I loved being with Dad, it felt like a job.
Finally, doing all of this with three beautiful little kids just wasn’t going to work. So, one day we just stopped. Slowly, the magic of Christmas began to thaw out your mama’s heart. New Christmas memories started taking the place of the lonely ones.
Little feet waking us up at 2:30 a.m. one year to see if Santa had come yet. Another year, someone gave the dog too many Christmas cookies so she was up sick all night. Our own traditions of Christmas jammies and watching Home Alone, having whatever we want for dinner, messy hair, and easy bake cookies—all of these things made the Christmas joy come bubbling up in my heart.
The crafts you brought home from elementary school, picking out a tree just us five, and letting you all decorate it however you want. Listening to Christmas music in a messy living room, with a bottom-heavy tree hanging down with ornaments because you insist on doing it yourself. Realizing at this very moment, I was home, with my family. Being home. Being home on Christmas. It’s just everything.
Kids, you might not understand all of this (I know one day you will), but I need you know you changed everything. You truly made me love Christmas. That Christmas “magic” everyone always talks about . . . my Christmas magic is you.