Thursday, December 18, 2014

Santa Will Find You


Christmas means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some, it's the celebration of the birth of their savior. For others, it's a time to maul people in the name of retail. For most Americans, it's somewhere in between, or a healthy mix of both. For your mommy, Christmas is about the resilience of family. Perhaps that's an unusual sentiment on which to meditate during this season, but I think you deserve this explanation because this value is something I'm especially proud of.

When I was younger, December was very simple. Christmas vacation meant relaxing at home with family, watching the same Christmas specials on our VCR (don't worry about what that is; it's not important), and playing with all the toys that Santa brought for us. As I got older, Christmas changed; but the warmth of it all remained the same. In high school, I spent my vacation ditching family to hang out with friends, but our family traditions on Christmas Eve and Christmas Morning still took priority. In college, December meant finals. This made things slightly more complicated, but the light at the end of the tunnel was that I would be homeward bound for nearly a month. I spent my break enjoying cozy reunions with friends from high school. (This was ridiculous, in hindsight, as most of them went to UF as well.) Christmas break in college eventually meant spending time with the boy who would someday become your daddy. Oh, and I guess I still had some time for family in there. I always found time to set out cookies for Santa with Auntie Amanda.

Christmas was always a happy and uncomplicated time, but the season evolved over the years. I don't mean for this recap to become overly detailed, but I do intend for it to be exhaustive in order to illustrate my point. Here's a summary of the last ten years:

2005
On December 19, 2005, your Uncle Mark passed away after a long battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma. We buried him on a bitterly cold Thursday in Missouri, and then we made it back home in time for his birthday on the 23rd. Mimi and Daideo (who were still married at the time), Auntie Amanda, and I were all together for Christmas at our old home in Coral Springs as usual, but we were too sad to enjoy each other's company. I remember only wanting to spend time with your daddy, and maybe Auntie Amanda. I didn't even want to look at my parents. I knew they had known Uncle Mark since he was a little baby, and how they were so sad that a mommy and a daddy had to bury their baby. Even at 32, he was still their baby.

2006
This was pretty much the last normal Christmas I would have, or at least normal by the standards I grew up with.



I came home from school, spent pretty much every waking moment with Daddy (remember, we went to different colleges so holidays became our way to stock up on seeing each other). I remember this Christmas being corrupted by the overwhelming heaviness of senioritis. I would graduate from UF in a few short months, and I had no idea at the time where I was going for graduate school. More importantly, at least so it seemed, I had no idea whether your daddy would be there. Between my preoccupation with these worries and the hangover from 2005, it was rather difficult to be jolly.

A few months later, my family fell apart. At the time (and even several years later), I couldn't allow myself to truly process the gravity of divorce. Part of it was denial, but I think more of it was forcing myself to endure. I was amidst several significant transitions: I was in a very serious relationship, as Daddy and I had moved to a different state together. Additionally, I was in my first semester of graduate school. Not just any graduate school, I was enrolled in the #8 program in the world for physical therapy! I was convinced I had no business being there, but more convinced that I had to prove myself wrong. I didn't have time to deal with family drama, so I ignored it. By December of 2007, however, I found myself longing for the miserable Christmas I'd had in 2006.

2007

I missed Mark. I missed my normal, intact family. I missed my parents' marriage, which hadn't been so great for a very long time. This would be our last Christmas in the house I grew up in. I won't get into details because I don't want to unearth anything that has since been resolved, but the short version of the story is that we tried to do what we'd always done and it simply didn't work.


2008

Mimi had moved out of our old house and into a new townhouse a few miles away. Drowning in change, Auntie Amanda and I clung to each other. Mimi had done such a fantastic job trying to make this place feel like home; Auntie Amanda and I still couldn't recognize it, though we appreciated her efforts. At least we still had each other, and our friends.


This year was weird. We were trying to establish new traditions, but we didn't quite know where to start. It felt very much like the first day of school. You recognize some faces, but everything is different. You're used to your desk being on this side of the room, but now there's some new kid sitting there and you just have to move on.

2009

Daddy proposed to me in August of 2009; shortly thereafter, I moved to Boston for an internship. By Christmas, I was so glad to be back with my family and back in warm weather, even if it was back in the unfamiliar townhouse.


We went to Disney as usual, and Auntie Emily tagged along this time (this was awesome and we've been trying to convince her to come back with us ever since). Christmas was fun, but it was upstaged by the fantastic engagement party that Mimi and Auntie Amanda threw for us! So Christmas was getting better, even though it was very different.

The most memorable part about Christmas of 2009, though, was the fact that we had four of them. You see, this was our last Christmas as students. The following year, we would no longer have the luxury of a long break that allowed us to travel. We decided to take advantage of what would inevitably be our last year with excessive flexibility, so we decided to visit all four of our parents. How hard could it be? Mimi was in Coconut Creek, Abue was in Aventura, Daideo was in Surfside, all in South Florida except for Grampa who was in St. Augustine; we could easily see him on the way back up to Atlanta. When it took two hours to drive the eight miles between Abue and Daideo because of holiday traffic, we decided we'd had enough. Our new traditions just weren't sticking, and traveling to South Florida was just way too complicated. So much traveling and coordinating and planning left very little room for actual quality time with the people we love. We were losing sight of what Christmas is supposed to be about, and we knew we needed to do something drastic to change that.

2010

After four years of attempting to fix Christmas, we threw in the towel. Daddy and I moved Christmas (and Thanksgiving, for that matter) to Atlanta. This was a bold decision for a family so new that they weren't even married yet, but we felt that it was the right one. The timing worked out, too. We bought our first real tree, and we chose the biggest one we could afford.


As you can see, this is the year Smallrus, the derpiest tree topper of them all, joined our family. Auntie Amanda had a month off of school, so she just hung out in our apartment and helped me with wedding stuff. We drank. A lot. Daddy and Auntie Amanda played video games. I had to work, but it was nice coming home each day to a full house. Best of all, we had our first (and only, to date) White Christmas. For a few Floridians, this was a REALLY big deal! It felt like a message from our guardian angel Mark: this is how Christmas was supposed to be.

2011

This was the year where we got married and moved into the house that became your home. I was unreasonably excited for our first Christmas in our new home, convinced that this was the year we would really establish traditions that we would carry out for the rest of our lives. Then, I got a really bad flu. As you know, I never get sick. So when I tell you that Mimi did Christmas for me and I fell asleep in a doctor's office, you know it was bad!


I really think this is the only picture I have of that season, but I really cherish this photo. This was our first tree in our new home. I finally had the Disney monorail that I'd been eyeing for years. And best of all, Charlie came to visit. This was the last time I would see my family dog, as he was already an old man.

2012

Christmas of 2012 was probably the first really great Christmas in nearly a decade.


After our usual Disney trip, it was a pretty quiet Christmas. It was unremarkable, but I remember that this was the first time that I felt warm inside again. It took seven years, but the coziness was back.

2013

Obviously, I've already talked at length about the changes that took place during our lives in December of 2013! But now, I'm going to talk about it from a different angle. Your grandparents couldn't wait to meet you, and insisted on visiting and helping the second you got here. This made me incredibly anxious. I felt like I had finally just gotten the hang of this holiday thing, and now I had to host more people? Requiring me to make accommodations when my uterus was being accommodating enough was pretty much the last thing I wanted to deal with at Christmas. (I should add that Auntie Amanda didn't count when it came to these familial pressures. She had planned on arriving in Atlanta at the beginning of her Christmas vacation, regardless of when you felt like arriving in Atlanta. In fact, I think those would have been her plans regardless of whether you existed! It didn't matter. As you may have gathered, Auntie Amanda was the only thing ever consistent about Christmas. There have always been times when we've only had each other, and even when those were the worst of times, those times consistently improved with each other's company).

When you finally arrived, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that my family was, indeed, helpful. Supportive, even. They did chores around the house, ran errands for me, stayed out of my way, and got along with each other. I hate to sound cliché, but it was a Christmas miracle. It felt like everyone loved each other again, even if that love had changed over the years. Because of that, I felt loved.


2014

As a December baby, you will inevitably feel as though your birthday takes a backseat to Christmas. It will always be my intention and my goal to create a special day just for you that's independent of the holiday season, but you should know that in my mind, your birthday and Christmas will always be closely related because you made Christmas better. It took years for us to get Christmas right again, and you were the star on top of the tree.

When I think back to some of those painful years like 2005 and 2007, or years like 2008 and 2010 where we ventured through uncharted territory, I remember that lost feeling all too well. It's incredibly vivid to me - how far removed I felt from tradition, how helpless I felt as the happy golden days of yore slipped further away, how much I longed for that warmth. But I learned that no matter how hopeless it may seem, Santa will find you. No matter where you are (literally or figuratively), you can find joy in this season. I found joy in Daddy and Auntie Amanda, who always brought merriment even when my heart was anything but light. They put their faith in me and helped me create Christmas traditions that feel more like home than anything I've ever had. I found joy in Mimi and Daideo, who were relieved and willing to follow along with our grand scheme to completely revamp such a season of nostalgia. Christmas never forgot us, and now we all find joy in being able to take it for granted again.

And of course, now we all find joy in you. Christmas is for the kids - everything from Santa's whimsy to jolly tunes that you're already dancing to even before you can learn the words. I hope that you'll remember this sentiment no matter where Christmas takes you. No matter what, Santa will find you.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Eleven Months Old


You had quite the busy month! You visited with family, went on your longest road trip to date, and celebrated your first Halloween. Unfortunately, you also had a pretty bad cold during part of your eleventh month. You're rarely sick, but when you are, you're usually still in pretty good spirits. The worst part is that your sensitive skin breaks out! This bug seems pretty bad because, as I'm writing this post way too late, it's lingering. Or maybe it's overlapping with some teething symptoms. Who knows?


You're just as mobile as ever these days. You can crawl like a champ, pull to stand like it's nothing, and you love pushing your little gator walker around. You've picked up some speed, and as a result, the calories seem to be melting away. That's right, you're thinning out! I love your chunky baby body, and I thought we had more time before you start to look like a big girl, but it's all happening so fast.


You're such a big girl now, we had to move your crib down! You're trying to climb out of it, and you love to try climbing up stairs. Being a big girl has also allowed us to be more flexible with your bedtime, which is fantastic for our social life. You love going out to dinner, and Mommy and Daddy love going out to dinner later than 5:30!

Speaking of socializing, your social skills have really picked up this month. You're waving consistently, which is so much fun for your daycare teachers when you leave every afternoon. You've also learned how to make an "abababa" noise by putting your hand up to your mouth. You love to copy grown-ups when they do this, and are happy to do it on command. I'm hoping you put these two skills together soon and start blowing kisses! You've also been trying to share. This usually involves food, and Chelsea, but it shows your sweet personality and we love that!


You're growing so fast; I can't believe the next time I write a post like this it'll be for a one-year-old!