I felt better this Christmas than I have since 2010. Some of it undoubtedly had to with the inevitable passage of time. The distance of six years gives you that breathing room I talked about before—which sometimes feels sad, but also is a relief.
December 2010 was a black hole of misery I can barely remember. I know I didn't want to open gifts or acknowledge the holiday at all. I also know my parents gave me an old school Kindle because I read a lot of books on it in during that miserable winter, but otherwise the whole thing is pretty hazy since I dropped out of life on December 6th.
2011 we skipped out on Christmas on purpose and ran away to Mexico, where we basically ignored the holiday all together. This caused some family strife with some of my in-laws that we’ve buried under the rug in the way of moderately dysfunctional families around the holidays. It was still a really, really hard Christmas. We missed Eliza so desperately, and the pain was raw and fresh with the first anniversary of her loss in December. Also, I was still in my first trimester with the Deuce (now Zuzu) and was nauseated, tired, and fearful in addition to being really effing sad.
2012 was Zuzu’s first Christmas, and it was comparatively happy, but it was also the first Christmas we had without David’s grandpa, which was very sad. I know Eliza wouldn’t have remembered him, but it was hard to know that we wouldn’t even have pictures of David and his grandpa with our kids, and as happy as we were to have Zuzu, it felt like our whole life was off-schedule and off-kilter. Christmas was a reminder of all the dreams we’d lost in the past two years.
2013 we were all not feeling well, (David and I both had low grade fevers on Christmas day) and although we had an offer on our house, we still hadn’t closed on it, so the stress (and expenses) were high. I was also not feeling well because I was about 8 weeks pregnant with Coco. We were thrilled, but also shocked by the unexpected timing, and, of course, there was lots of anxiety accompanying our excitement, so the holiday was pretty exhausting.
2014 was Coco’s first Christmas and it was a pretty good one. We did the Midwest driving tour with 5-month-old Coco and 2-and-a-half-year-old Zuzu and the whole thing kind of wore us out. Also, I tried potty-training Zuzu while we were at home, and it was a complete disaster.
2015 was a difficult December. The girls were fine, but David’s grandma was dying and he was spending time with her in Branson pretty much every weekend in November and December. She didn’t much feel up to visits from the girls, so I was single-parenting, especially in December when he was gone for a couple of weeks as she entered hospice care. His grandma passed away right before Christmas, so our usual travel schedule changed. We gathered with David’s family for her memorial before Christmas and our entire holiday break was spent planning her memorial and then taking care of all of the logistics related to the sale of her house and estate. We did celebrate Christmas here with the girls, but overall It was a tiring and sad month.
This Christmas felt happier and certainly more restful than years previous. The passage of time helps, the health of our family is of course most important. It helps, too, that the girls are at such a fun age, really excited about Santa, super enthusiastic about gift wrapping, advent calendars, and BABY JESUS and thrilled to watch David’s favorite Christmas shows.
A (not really quick) rundown of our pre-Christmas festivities:
I really try to limit the amount of sugar my kids eat, and it hasn’t been hard to do because Zuzu doesn’t really care for sweet treats. Unlike her sister, Coco has a major sweet tooth and is really into “clock-click” (chocolate). She has requested lots of Christmas treats, and really knows how to work Grammy and Bops with her negotiations (“Just a yittle bit” or “Just ONE mo-ah” with one pudgy little finger held up). Zuzu, meanwhile, could live off of Life cereal but doesn’t care for chocolate or other sweets. Then Grammy brought homemade Christmas cookies sweetened with vanilla and almond extract. They were Zuzu’s favorite treat EVER. I sort of lost track because Zuzu quickly realized if she asked each grown-up separately for one cookie, they’d probably all say yes. She must have eaten about half a dozen for lunch on Christmas Eve. #qualityparenting
My parents came up a couple of days before Christmas and Zuzu was so excited she woke up at 6:30am the morning they arrived (even though they didn’t get in until 1:30pm). We took the girls to see Disney’s Moana that morning, which was really cute. Zuzu enjoyed it, but it didn’t hold Coco’s interest and she got pretty loud and whiny. Next time we’ll bring the binky, even though I’m somewhat embarrassed about the fact that my two and a half year old still has a binky (it’s supposed to be just for bedtime, car rides, and recovery from insult or injury) so I rarely let her have it outside the house or car.
The next day we all had tickets to go see the Repertory Theatre’s children show A Gnome for Christmas. It was very cute, and the short running time combined with our front-row seats and live actors held Coco’s interest.
That afternoon, David and I left the girls with my parents and went out to see the movie Manchester by the Sea. It was great. And completely devastating. A huge grief trigger, even though I knew the movie was about grief (you can see as much from the preview). I thought it was well done, but Sarah described it as crushing and that’s an apt description as any. Funnily enough, a friend of mine and fellow BLM had e-mailed me the night before warning me that the movie had been a big grief trigger for her, but I didn’t see the e-mail until I’d returned from the show. I’m not sorry I saw it, but it was definitely not a light-hearted or uplifting date night.
The next day was Christmas Eve. Zuzu woke again at 6:30am and was just “So excited that it’s Christmas Eve time!” We had a pretty lazy day (in the best way) until we got ready to go 4:00pm church service. (We’ve been attending a new to us church that is liberal and progressive and very active in social justice, and it’s been good.)
It’s been a real challenge to get Zuzu to wear outfits that I select—it doesn’t seem to really matter what the outfit is, if she doesn’t choose the entire ensemble herself, it’s completely unacceptable. But we got to church with everyone wearing what I wanted them to wear. We also brought an extra person in the form of the baby Jesus from our Catholic neighbor’s outdoor nativity scene. Our neighbor goes all out for Christmas and her home is beautifully decorated inside and out. She always waits to put baby Jesus in the manger until it gets dark on Christmas Eve, and the last couple of years she has let Zuzu have the honor of placing the baby in the manger. She brought Baby Jesus over earlier in the day, and we told Zuzu that she could put him in the manger after we got home from church. But she decided that Baby Jesus should go to church with us. So that’s how we ended up wrapping a heavy, hard plastic figurine of the baby Jesus with a man face and creepy eyes and “waddling cloths” that looked like a loin cloth in one of our baby blankest and carrying him to church with us.
I figured that this wasn’t that big of a deal—wrapped up in the blanket, he looked pretty much like any other swaddled baby doll.
We were cutting it close to start time when we arrived at church and the place was packed. There were a few extra chairs open in the first two rows, so we ended up in the very front of the church. I actually like it better up front because I think it keeps the girls’ attention—they love the band and the choir. When we stood up to sing “O Come All Ye Faithful,” Zuzu surprised us all by lifting the baby Jesus up above her head, swaying in the aisle. She was so serious and intense about singing to this particular Baby Jesus. It was very cute.
There were a couple of small scuffles. Zuzu was tired so she wanted to curl up on a lap, but as soon as she’d feel herself getting sleepy, she’d jump up and start grooving in the aisle again. There was a small fight over my lap, which I broke up with the bribe of fruit snacks, but they stayed pretty quiet. There was one squabble over the Baby Jesus that resulted in Coco yelling, “MY BABY JESUS!” but it seemed relatively appropriate for a Christmas service. If only Zuzu had followed it up with a “Hallelujah!” instead of “NO! MY BABY JESUS!”
After church, David cooked a fantastic meal and watched Mickey Mouse’s Christmas Carol with the girls and my dad while my mom and I cleaned up the kitchen and made an egg bake and coffee cake for breakfast the next morning.
I was worried that Zuzu would continue her super early morning streak. She’d gone from waking reluctantly at 7:00am when I got her up for school to jumping out of bed at 6:30, fueled by Christmas excitement. Fortunately, two days of early mornings and no naps finally caught up with her, so though she woke up once close to 5:00am and asked David if it was morning, she believed him when he said it was two more hours before Christmas.