I was standing outside my house, directly under my children’s bedroom window, in what passes for cold in Bay Area Houston. In my hands I balanced a big boom box, Say Anything style, except it wasn’t blasting music. It was blasting the sound of reindeer hooves on a roof, including snorts, and the jingling bells of their harnesses.
That’s when I knew it.
No, not that I had lost my mind; I knew that I had finally gotten my holiday groove back.
I knew that come what storms may, we could weather them, and when you have a chance to stand outside in what passes for cold blasting sleigh bells on a boom box to bring a little magic to kids, your kids, who still believe in, well, the everything sort of possibilities…you go for it, big.
This marked a huge change.
I’ve spent my life trying to find my footing during the holidays. My family had the general traditions – ham, pie, gifts, visits to family – but nothing terribly consistent. My parents had barely settled into our immediate family’s ways when they got divorced, then we had to transition into juggling two (very competitive) Christmases. That was barely settled when each got remarried and then a whole new set of traditions and expectations came into play. By the time I left home and married my husband, I was more a little confused about the holidays. I was, in fact, completely cynical.
I remember all the craziness and competition, but I also remember being in the bell choir and making beautiful music for the Christmas Eve candlelight service. I remember the year I got to be the Angel in the Nativity scene. I remember my grandmother making chocolate silk pies with whipped cream topping, just the way I liked it – and saving the first piece for me. I remember being bored one afternoon with my friends and sister and masterminding a caroling outing. I remember the man who cried when we sang, and who could barely express how much our song had meant to him.
Our neighborhood wasn’t the nicest, not even during the holidays. Nobody put bows on street lamps, and decorations were few and far between. It wasn’t the sort of place that had carolers. But that afternoon, some little girls, eight-ish and ten-ish went around to sing because we loved Christmas. The man told us we brought him joy. And hope.
That’s the magic of kids, you know? They live in a world of magical realism, impossibility, and belief. They hope. And why not?
That’s why – despite the past and the last five years – I found myself standing outside my girls’ bedroom window adding to the myth.
The last five years have been a mess: two hurricanes, both damaging; a lost job; three pet deaths; a cross-country move; losing the vast majority of all we owned in a flood; fighting two major and serious diseases; losing several friends to cancer; and more.
It’s taken a toll on us, the adults, and by virtue of that, on our kids. My older daughter is old enough to remember Before, but this life, the one we lead now, is all my littlest one knows of our lives.
For a long time, I’ve been telling myself a lot of shoulds – how I should be, what I should do, what the kids deserved and how I should fulfill that -- all of which increase in volume and frequency this time of year. I know that when you’re tapped out on so many fronts, every little extra effort seems beyond your ability, even if it’s for good. Still, I put on a front, for the kids. Because I should.
But sometimes, that fake it until you make it has a way of working out.
Last year, we laughed with true glee as we spread reindeer feed in the front yard. We laughed even though our yard hadn’t recovered from the hurricane and we still had two holes in our roof and our budget was missing in action because the insurance settlement barely covered a third of the cost. We laughed because we had a reason to be happy – we had our home, we had what mattered. We had each other.
I stood outside with those recorded bells jangling that Christmas Eve night, and I shook not with cold but with excitement and suppressed laughter.
This year, I pulled out my holiday shirts. All of them. The St. Patrick’s one, the Easter one, the Fourth of July one, the Halloween one, and yes, even the Christmas one. This year I decked the halls for every season. This year, as soon as we put the Thanksgiving décor away, we started pulling out the Christmas things.
Our house may not have lights strung all over, but it’s got two little lighted Christmas trees in the front flower bed and a homemade by children wreath on the door. My kids may not remember the individual gifts they get, but I hope – I hope loads – that they’ll always carry memories of the special times we create every year. I hope they’ll remember the night they heard Santa’s sleigh and knew his reindeer ate their feed. I hope they remember how mom cried at their Las Posadas program and tried to tell them how much it meant to see them dressed as little angels, singing about the real reason for the season. I hope they know hope, always.
How do the holidays fill you with loads of hope?
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How do the holidays fill you with loads of hope?