It was a great Christmas. I say this, of course, at the remove of several days, when no one is crabby from too many presents and too little sleep, too much rich food and not nearly enough strangers raising my children. I say it on a day when those strangers have, in fact, resumed their tireless assault on the fragile bond I've managed, despite the odds, to forge with my get — I love that, my get — and with a break and an uninterrupted cup of coffee it's easy to think, O, what a magical time it was, the tiny faces wreathed with joy and wonder...
But actually it kind of was a magical time, even if the tiny faces were wreathed instead with gummy green discharge (Ben, bad cold, rheumy eyes) and pink Zithromax (Charlie, ear infection, up at 2 AM crying for five nights running). I stayed up far too late every evening wrapping presents, finishing a gift, baking, decorating, and basically doing my level best to make Christmas my warm and festive bitch. So the nights were awful, too short and fragmented, but the days were really great. Charlie and I baked, not so much as to jeopardize the global butter supply as I have in years past, but enough that he knew we'd done it, which seemed like the important part. Paul and I each took him on shopping trips where he chose gifts — green nail polish for a favorite cousin, a picture frame carefully studded with stickers for one of Paul's sisters, an important player in international finance and, one hopes, a lover of glittery pink hearts and princess crowns — and paid for them with his own coins. A desperate trudge through the mall scored us a sequined Santa hat, which Charlie wore with panache, and, at further urging, a smaller version for Ben. "Hat!" Ben said, patting his head for emphasis. "Hat!" he crowed, accosting everyone who happened to be wearing one. It's winter in New England. That's one snowy assload of "Hat!"
And then there was Christmas Day, and Charlie's ardent belief in Santa Claus. I know there are those who staunchly resist lying to their children, and therefore deplore the Santa myth. Me, I'm all about lying to my kids. No, I don't know where your battery-powered megaphone-shaped kidney-rattling voice changer is, and you step away from that hastily closed laundry room door right this minute, young man, for example. Or Ohhh, that's too bad. I guess the TiVo must have accidentally erased The Incredibly Very Brady Snowmen Who Stopped Grinching and Became Mixed-Up Reindeer, Charlie Brown. And I am especially all about lying to my kids about Santa, to the point where watching his entirely fictitious animated progress around the world on Christmas Eve made me cry like the newborn Christ child, hungry for a chug of Nestlé Good Start.
Sure, it was all kind of harried, but I think that's inevitable in a house with two little kids. Even that had its joy, for reasons both obvious and not. On the obvious side, this is exactly, but exactly, what I wanted. If the price of it is chaos and exhaustion, well, okay: Like Charlie with his bank at the drugstore I will proudly hand over those coins. Less obvious is the perspective it gives me on my own parents. I told my mother on the phone that I have a new appreciation for the effort she and my father always made. "Because," I finished, "it's hard." (My mother is too innately kind to have answered that with the "Duh" it deserved.) And because I'm now doing the same with my own kids, I also have an increasing appreciation — I learn more with time — for how much I was always loved.
But. It was wonderful, but. Or maybe and. It was wonderful, and it was hard. The day after Christmas Paul's side came to visit, a sister, a cousin, and their families. Talking to Paul's sister — the one, I can never forget, who informed me that I'd obviously had difficulty bonding with Charlie — about child-rearing always blows my what-the-effing mind. Now, her kids are mostly grown, and she is, I guess, of a different generation, and certainly of a different background, temperament, and edusocioecoreligiowhatnot. So I try to see her positions through that multifaceted lens, which is kind of like, whoo, fly-eye, cool. But when she said, a propos of I don't remember what, that she'd never felt her children were a burden, I found myself totally floored.
Maybe we define "burden" differently, but I feel the weight of it every day. A heavy weight, difficult to carry, says Wikipedia, although, you know, Wikipedia. Our kids are difficult to carry, and I'm not just saying that because I still have a faint blue bruise at my throat from Ben's, shall we say, spirited opposition to being shepherded upstairs for an urgent diaper change. It's certainly one I shouldered intentionally. I pick it up most days with joy, some days — the bad days, the tired or sick or I-don't-know-what's-gotten-into-you-but-we're-gonna-get-it-out days — with slightly dampened enthusiasm, but all days with willingness. Charlie and Ben are everything I'd hoped for, and although I'm tired or exasperated or bored or grossed out for at least some tiny portion of every single day, I pick them up with gratitude. Still doesn't mean they're not heavy.
So I'm looking around the house, which is still in Christmas disarray, and thinking about everything there is to do. Removing and storing the decorations. Getting rid of the tree. Removing the pine needles from places no pine needles should be. Putting away the presents, returning some, hiding some in a place Charlie will never, ever look. (I am thinking about labeling a cabinet BOOSTER SHOTS, RED CABBAGE, AND FINGERNAIL CLIPPERS, NOW WITH EXTRA PINCH.) All the heavy work of cramming Christmas back into its cage, with a whip and a chair if need be. It's the other stuff that makes it feel lighter, the experiments with the new science kit, dancing to the musical giraffe, being paged by walkie-talkie from 20 feet away. "Calling Mama. Come in, Mama." "Mama here, over." "[Long pause.] Do you have anything you want to talk about, Mama? Over!"
As it happens, I do. I want to talk about how there got to be pine needles in my bathtub drain, and which house had the prettiest lights, and how kickass awesome it is that Santa brought Silly Putty even though Paul and I wouldn't replace Charlie's old wad once I had to comb it out of his hair with olive oil, I mean, how did he know?! And how Ben wriggles with happiness when he sees us getting our coats, not because we're going anywhere but because they have hoods, therefore "Hat!" I'm feeling good, despite the fatigue and the cabin fever and the much-too-muchness of it all. It was a light and heavy, heavy but light, heavy, light, and really fine Christmas here. Even if I am perhaps indecently glad that today's back to preschool as usual. Even if I did eat some things I shouldn't have.
Good holidays for you? Did you eat any plush roast chickens, or rubber dinosaurs bigger than your head?