The dogs were up first on Christmas morning. They have no sense of the days of the week—every day is Monday. My husband and I let the dogs out and then fixed their breakfast. After breakfast, they were ready to go back to sleep. The humans, however, had made coffee so we sliced cranberry bread, slathered it with cream cheese and took it into the living room to await our grandson.
Our grandson didn’t get up early—he’s too young to anticipate Santa Claus. To be honest, I’m not sure how much of Christmas he really understands. We are not a religious family. My daughter didn’t take him to see Santa Claus. The three Christmas books that I read more than once were The Grinch, Jack Ezra Keats’s The Little Drummer Boy and Jack Kent’s The Twelve Days of Christmas. The Grinch is scary. “Oh, no!” my grandson cries half way through and covers his eyes. His favorite is The Twelve Days of Christmas. Kent’s characters are comical and the gifts overwhelm the page. So he really had no preparation for Christmas morning.
I cannot describe the look on my grandson’s face when he came into the living room. First he noticed the penguin I had placed next to the fireplace. I had bought it to put on the front porch but never got around to it. (Nor did I put lights on the house, former SoCal neighbors, for shame!) Instead I put him next to the fireplace. “Penguin!” my grandson squealed. He ran up to the penguin and looked at it. Then he ran around the room, peering behind furniture. “What’s he doing?” asked my husband. “Looking for the other penguins. Everyone knows they come in flocks. ”
Finally he went to inspect the tree. The tree is in a corner of the living room behind the sofa. When you enter the living room, you cannot see the surplus of presents piled underneath. My grandson does not get to enter the living room very often, but he had been in to see the tree and the presents several times in the week before Christmas. He had even been allowed to open a few. Still, the tree on Christmas morning made his jaw drop. “Ohhhhh!” He sat under the tree, picked up a present, and hugged it.
We have two traditions that are unique to my family. The first is Santa paper. In the beginning, Santa paper was the paper that Santa used to wrap my daughters’ presents in. But one of my daughters had problems waiting until her parents got up before peeking at her gifts. (The same daughter wrote Santa a letter each year explaining why she had been bad and promising that she would be better next year if he left her a gift. Santa fell for this every year.) Santa helped us out by wrapping each girl’s gifts in a different wrapping paper. Only I was privy to whose presents were in each paper. So many gifts under our tree do not have name tags.
The other tradition is that only one person can open a present at a time. This gives you time to say ‘thank you,” and admire the gift (or pretend that you like it). It takes most of the morning to open gifts at my house. We start with the stockings. The first present my grandson opened was a small penguin. Immediately he set it next to the one by the fireplace. “Mommy. Baby,” he sighed contently. My grandson was happy with this slow pace. He had to open every box of toys, remove the contents and play with them before opening another gift. “Thank you! Thank you!” he said over and over as each present was opened. It wasn’t just the presents that were awesome. He had to crawl in and out of the big boxes that held other people’s presents.
I sat in the living room, watching his happiness, his patience, his excitement and thought: “It will never be like this again.” Next year he will be close to four. He will anticipate Santa Claus and presents. He will want a specific toy. He might not spend so much time carefully examining each gift, making each one seem like the best thing on earth. But this year was a year of wonder.
When I was a young mother, I did not stop to appreciate the miracles of my daughters’ world. Perhaps it was the result of trying to make the world special for my children. Perhaps it was the result of other relatives’ demands during the holidays. I did not stop to think: “This is the best time of our lives.” There was always going to be another Christmas, another birthday, another time that would better. And there were better days and there were far worse days; the problem was that I ruminated on the bad and failed to revel in the good. I was always looking to some future where things would be different. Perhaps I was too young to appreciate the simple joy of children.
Now I have decades behind me. I have learned to take life slowly. I have learned to value the miracles. There are still but horrible, no good days in my life. I still ruminate but I can delete them from my mind far easier than I could when I was young. Life is better because I am no longer in a hurry to get to somewhere else. Every day I appreciate my husband and daughters. Every day I marvel at something new and unique. Every day I find a reason to laugh. This is the best time of my life.
Happy New Year! May your new year be filled with wonder and laughter. May it be the best year of your life!