Monday, February 28, 2022

Holiday Shift

A couple of weeks ago, I dropped my son off at the mall to see a movie with friends. I arrived a bit early to pick him up afterward, and as I was wandering about and looking at the different shops, I was surprised to see a long line outside of a jewelry store. It was a small shop with Covid protocols in place, which meant a limited number of people inside at a time, but still, why would there be a line at a jewelry store half an hour before closing?

But then I remembered the next day was Valentine's Day. Last minute jewelry purchases suddenly made more sense.

When I mentioned my initial puzzlement about the jewelry store line to my daughter later, she said, "Oh yeah, Valentine's Day. I still kind of think about that as something to be excited for, but I guess that was a long time ago."

The last real time she would have done anything interesting for Valentine's Day would have been in sixth grade, so half a dozen years back. She used to make amazing Valentines for the kids in her class. My favorite was the year of the "pocket mice" which were all little pink and red sculptures made from colored duct tape. All my kids made their own Valentines to hand out at school, which meant when all three kids were in elementary school there was a lot of cutting and pasting going on at our dining room table for over a week every February.

But now Valentine's Day barely registers. We get a lovely box from my mom every year, and that we still look forward to. The box always contains some lovely handmade cards made specially for each of us, shortbread heart cookies, and surprises. This year there was a lot of much appreciated homemade jam.

Aside from my mom's box, there is no Valentine's Day at our house at this point.

In fact, I'm starting to realize how much of a shift all the holidays have taken now that we are transitioning from having a home full of kids, to a home with just adults. 

My oldest is away at college. My middle kid graduated high school early and is doing classes mostly online at a local college. She's home, but is separated from what the rest of the house is doing much of the time. My youngest is in high school, and tends to go along with whatever is happening, rather than make suggestions or instigate anything.

Halloween was the first holiday I noticed slip away back in 2020. The pandemic killed that prematurely. I really enjoyed putting together costumes for my kids. Quinn was interested in dressing up as at least one of various categories of animal over his trick-or-treating years--and I think 2020 he was due to be an amphibian--but no trick-or-treat, no school dance, no costumes. That's done.

Halloween was a big deal for so long! It was several weeks of planning and work and the excitement of the reveal. Now we hand out candy, which is okay, but comparatively dull. Maybe we can become one of those houses that builds something cool? Bay View has several spots that put together amazing displays that people come from all around to see. Going forward, if we want to still experience Halloween as an event, we may have to do something like that. But the era of my kids doing trick-or-treat in costumes is over. If I still want to do Halloween, it will have to be in some other way.

Christmas has shifted in a more subtle manner. The logistics of it haven't changed: We unwrap presents at home in the morning, and then drive to Detroit to have Christmas dinner with my mom. There was a bit of a pause in that in the beginning of the pandemic, but we returned to it. The kids are still allowed to empty their stockings before the "grown-ups" come downstairs. Once everyone is up, we start unwrapping things from under the tree. It's still fun. I usually manage to find things the kids all like. But my kids commented this year that it's not the same as when they were little. The anticipation is different. The excitement is replaced with a level of appreciation that is nice, but not the same.

Fourth of July we started skipping even before the pandemic shut it down. The parade is very different from a child's eye view, and my kids stopped seeing it as something worth the effort of getting up early for. In a normal year, Milwaukee has a lot of fireworks. As my kids got older and we asked if they wanted to go watch the fireworks in the park, or by the lake, they shrugged it off as something they could do later. Fourth of July has become just a lot of noise.

Easter, strangely enough, has stuck around. We used to travel to see relatives for Easter, and hunt eggs in New York, or Ohio, or once at the cottage in Michigan. In 2020, in order to keep all the days from blurring completely together, Ian and I hid more than 80 plastic eggs all over the house. Because we didn't have to worry about making things too hard for small children, we got to be incredibly wicked with our egg hiding, which was fun. But Aden won't be here for Easter this year. I don't know if I can convince the remaining kids to hunt for eggs without her. Maybe? I hope so.

The only holidays I can think of that are improved by my kids getting older are New Year's Eve (simply because staying awake until midnight is no longer a problem) and Thanksgiving. When they were small, my kids were not interested in eating the food (aside from the rolls and pie), and there's not much to Thanksgiving if you don't want to eat. But now they all contribute to the meal and it's really great. Mona's good at mashed potatoes, Aden makes pies, Quinn starts the orange jello days ahead in the hopes it will gel, and they all help with setting the table and making cool place markers and centerpieces. They're also old enough to take pleasure in sitting at the table afterward and partaking in conversation with the visiting relatives, which was once the most boring thing imaginable. And we play games, which I enjoy better now that we don't have to make concessions for their ages.

We're not quite empty nesters, however it's getting easier to imagine. There are certainly still ways we are involved as parents, but the hands-on elements are fading fast. It's strange now to remember my kids once needed me for everything from bathing to getting dressed to crossing the street. Quinn may be here for another few years, but he does his own laundry and can cook for himself, and aside from needing a ride once in a while when the bus doesn't show, he functions independently from us.

We spent years building up all manner of holiday traditions, and most of them are now obsolete. Ian and I will have to start deciding where to put our holiday energy going forward. Life with Ian is fun, so I'm not worried we won't find things to do, but it will be like starting from scratch.

What did we do before we had kids? Hard to remember. But I'm starting to understand all those parents who clamor for grandchildren. I'm not in any hurry to be anyone's grandmother, but I see the appeal. In the meantime, I'm thinking about how we replace all the cute parts of various holidays with things we can be excited about in new ways. (I'm thinking travel....)