Thursday, December 7, 2017

Home for the Holidays

"I'm dreaming tonight,
of a place I love,
even more than I usually do..."

It's been a year of change and growth for our family. Not that every year isn't important, but 2017 feels particularly significant. One daughter studied abroad for the spring semester, and the other started college in the fall. Todd and I have started learning how to be "just us" again. For the first time since the youngest was a baby, we've spent more time apart as a family than together. Now, with the holidays looming, this momentous year is drawing to an end.

Like so many milestones in 2017, this holiday season is bittersweet.  We’ve pulled the Christmas decorations down from the attic, but except for lights out front, everything is still in boxes.  In the coming days, I will set out preschool crafts and handmade decorations, favorite photos and the crèche we got from my mom years ago.  It's going to sting a little to do this process alone, but clearly, this house is not going to decorate itself.  Judging by the way December seems to be on fast forward, Christmas is coming whether I'm ready or not.

We always buy a live tree, and since the girls were little we’ve visited the same Christmas tree farm. Buying a tree is a process – well, my family would probably describe it as an ordeal. Someone (ahem: me) is a little particular about her trees. This year, Todd and I will choose the tree alone, leaving just Todd to smile and nod as I debate the merits of one giant tree over another. None of us are ready to give up the tradition of decorating the tree together, so while the lights will go up in a week or so, the treasured ornaments will wait until the youngest arrives home right before Christmas.

With this potent mix of nostalgia and anticipation, it's hard not to get caught up in the idea of the perfect Christmas. In my fantasy, the holiday season looks like one long Hallmark commercial.  Rosy-cheeked daughters arrive home from college with smiles and hugs.  The kitchen table is once again full.  Dinners are delicious and Martha Stewart-worthy. Decorations are carefully arranged on the tree, while holiday music plays softly in the background.  Everyone snuggles on the couch, sipping hot chocolate, as we watch A Christmas Story for the hundredth time.  On Christmas morning, we wear matching pajamas and enjoy homemade Christmas treats for breakfast, while the girls delight in the stockings we still stuff with care.  There is laughter and love and happy contentment.
The reality is that our girls will arrive home as if from battle, mentally drained and physically exhausted.  Finals and end-of-semester papers will have taken their toll after weeks of too little sleep and too much stress. Odds are pretty good that at least one child will be recovering from whatever crud was making its way around campus.  Cuddling on the couch will be interrupted by two very needy pets who insist on getting their fair share of attention. Since I am a master procrastinator, the baking will not be finished, and I'll still be wrapping presents on Christmas Eve. There will be smiles and hugs, but there will also be grumbling and squabbling, and last-minute shopping, because real life is not a Hallmark commercial. And we have never, not ever, had matching pajamas.

It's a little hard to let go of that dream, isn't it? The Hallmark version of the holidays looks so pretty on the outside. But as easy and carefree as the fantasy would be, I'll take my real, messy, wonderful family, with all their quirks and flaws, any day.  It's those people that I love and cherish, and whether the holiday season brings joy or frustration, laughter or tears, we will all be together.  That is the greatest gift this holiday season, one which is without measure.