Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Moments Where Everything Gels

Whatever you celebrate during these shortened days of December, I hope it brought you peace this year.

Our family, with its secular Christmas, had a truly lovely day yesterday. (And you can't exactly see it in this photo, but our tree was twisted in such a way that we couldn't make it not lean. We decided it was a very 2020 tree.)

Christmas Eve was a little harder, where I put in very long hours at work trying to get instruments off my bench in time for people to use them over the holiday weekend, and the brakes on one of our cars died. I was exhausted and worn out when I got home, and found myself curled up alone in the back room of the house watching the beginning of It's A Wonderful Life.

I got overwhelmed by thoughts of how unfair it was this year that when I already miss people who have died, that I now have to miss the ones who are still here. In 2020 I've seen my mom, and one brother. Both masked. Both socially distanced so hugs were not possible. Everyone else I haven't seen in a year or more.

Plus, when you're upset, you tend to pile on and focus on the negative in general. Our old dog has gone blind and bumbles into everything, and gets caught in odd corners in the house where he either whimpers for help or gives up and just stands. Our house is giant mess. I'm tired of my back hurting. I'm behind on everything.

On top of it all, it didn't feel like Christmas. No snow. Most of our lights were dead when we pulled them out of the basement and it didn't seem worth the effort or money to replace them. I was feeling bad about presents since most of the boxes under the tree were cereal, and literally wads of bubble wrap with nothing in them but more bubble wrap. Normally I hand make my kids little mini versions of their Halloween costumes to add to a box, and it's something personal, but no costumes this year, so no minis to sew.

But then I got my best present of the year. One of my teens, who has tended toward the aloof and surly in recent months, discovered me crying alone in the back room. They asked if I was okay. I said I would be, but this Christmas was hard. They asked if I wanted them to sit with me. I said, "Do whatever you want," which is normally the response I get when I make any suggestions to them lately. 


And my teen sat with me. And hugged me. And didn't let go until I was done crying. They told me they loved me. And the world was good again.

The tradition in our house on Christmas morning is that the kids can empty their stockings whenever they get up, but presents have to wait until we come downstairs. Ian and I can usually hear them doing a bad job of being quiet as they react to all the things they find, and they begin a candy trade or start playing games.

They liked all the cereal and bubble wrap. Aden enjoyed a book I got her. Mona was happy with a new pillow. Quinn was fine with a reminder that we got him his first phone a couple of months ago. Beautiful handmade things this year were supplied by my Mom from afar. And I'd signed us up for a new streaming service so we could all watch the new Pixar movie together. It was more than enough for a good Christmas.

We missed all the people, since Christmas usually means finally seeing relatives we otherwise don't get to see. But I'll be forever grateful that during this pandemic, the five of us spent it together in our house. This is the group I'd want to be isolated with, so I am beyond lucky. I still get hugs. I still have people to talk to and share things with. I still have purpose.

We made a big dinner together that was really a repeat of Thanksgiving, because why not? We watched our movie. We played a new card game (we highly recommend "Sleeping Queens").

And after dinner, before we got up from the table, Ian told the kids how proud we are of them for how they've handled this difficult and unusual year. They assured us they are fine, and pointed out the ways some things were even better. (Personally, if I could have spent most of middle school and early high school at home, my life would have been better, too, so I get it.)

Then we got the best gift ever: All three kids thanked us for all we do and how we've raised them.

I told them we were the ones who lucked out, because there is a limit to what parents can do, and we happened to get three really kind and decent kids. I can't take credit for the good unless I also want the blame for the bad, and if raising children has taught me anything, it's a sense of humility for how limited our influence truly is.

My kids are who they are. They had different personalities and behaviors while still in the womb. Whatever parenting book could have guided me through raising Aden would not have worked with Mona. I subscribe to the philosophy of keep them safe, fed, and loved, and the rest of it works itself out. I can't make them be anything. I can only provide them with opportunities to let them be who they need to be.

Not that you can't mess it up. All of us mess parenting up to some degree or another. So to have a house of teenagers that you've sacrificed and struggled for look you in the eye and insist you did great, is akin to a Christmas miracle.

But the true Christmas miracle this year was that the orange jello worked.

Sometimes, when you keep at it, and try to do things the way your grandma did while still improvising additions of your own, you get it right, and things finally gel.

I couldn't have asked for a better note on which to end this complicated year.

Wishing all of you well as we move into 2021. Happy Everything.


  1. Sounds like a darn good Christmas. I had similar feelings of feeing low (and not quite out of it totally), but a very thoughtful present from my oldest son helped. Good job on the orange jello! We had a similar cheesecake victory that felt like we won the lottery. Here’s hoping to a wonderful 2021 for your wonderful family.

  2. It really was. Nice to hear from you! I miss getting updates on your blog and simply hope you are all doing well.

  3. Always a pleasure to read your prose. You folks seem to have survived what my 8 year old grandson calls "these days of hard times ". Old soul that he is.
    Whatever each of us has learned this year, we have learned it together...can't be all bad....