Its hard to remember what happened when I was a small child. Sure, there are fleeting memories, smells and sounds, but specifics are few and far between.
Christmas though, is a different story. I remember vividly the details and protocols of our Christmas days and how they changed over the years. I remember putting out the biscuits and milk for santa and the carrots for the reindeers before excitedly going to bed on Christmas Eve, wondering what Santa was going to bring for me. The toy car, the bike, all the coolest stuff in the world would magically appear under the tree after Santa’s arrival, evidenced by the empty glass, still with milk rings around the edge. Then there was also the give away signs of the biscuit and carrot crumbs near the glass that rewarded the reindeers for so nobly doing their job. Enthusiastically we would go through the presents and select one, usually the biggest one, before heading off to the morning service.
Once we had arrived home there was always a veil of conservative respect as a present would be selected, handed over and opened in front of everyone who would duly gasp in appreciation before the recipient would get up to select another for someone else.
Usually, by the time the immediate family ritual had taken place it wouldn’t be too long before the next wave of presents would arrive in the arms of the extended family members who, presumably having done the same thing, would be ready to share the excitement in the same, semi controlled manner although by the end it seemed a free for all in mopping up the carefully wrapped gifts under the tree.
As everyone bundled up their booty the table would be prepared, paper hats donned and bad jokes recited as we gorged our way through the feast. Its funny that as a child It never occurred to me weather it was hot, cold or otherwise, it was the laughter and gathering of family that sticks so vividly.
Once the food and cleaning up was taken care off, the entertainment moved outside to backyard cricket or frisbees. I remember my uncle and aunt getting their in ground pool and the awe of that first Christmas swimming in water that wasn’t salty. It was those same relatives who asked to be called by their first names only after I had turned eighteen.
Eventually we would all return to our own homes and collapse with exhaustion from such a fantastic day.
As the years moved on the social fabric of the families grew to take in partners which eventually led to whole new families springing up and as the network expanded the bonds and links developed to take on a whole new structure. People moved, passed away and split.
I remember clearly in those early years with Cooper the joy of our family following those same traditions, passed down over the years and seeing his eyes bursting with excitement and wonder at the miracle of Christmas. How for one day all rivalry and dissension would be left behind and the greater family would unite in the joy only a child can bring.
Cooper is thirteen now and for the past eight years I have dropped him off on Christmas Eve after our planned two week stint. For the first few years I came over in the morning to share presents but as soon as the paper had been removed and thanks given he would disappear off to the family gathering and I would head back to the boat to lick my wounds. I even tried making a big thing of Christmas Eve, doing a dinner and present opening but that didn’t get too far off the ground.
This year, we ordered pizza and some movies and talked about our camping and exploits, but as the way with young kids his mind was already lost in anticipation for what he was going to find under the tree at home. I didn’t bother to put up a tree or even buy presents for others. Instead we took the money I would have spent and brought presents for forster and orphan children and dropped them off. I asked Cooper to think about all the things someone his age would want. I hope that the dropping off of skateboards, nerf guns, ETC would help him see how lucky he is.
My Christmas’s haven’t been bad or uneventful, its just that as I drive away on that Christmas eve there is a hole that can be plastered over, taped up and covered but cant be filled, and as the 25th of december rolls around each year the covers are lifted just a little and the pain and sadness gets out just for some of the day. I am so lucky to have friends and family around who offer and would happily have me join them but the truth is I always feel like the third wheel, interfering with their special day, and as I watch their children’s amazement I feel the edges of my own plaster lifting and the hole opening just that little bit more. I so miss being a part of the occasion. After all Christmas is about children and not being with your boy is the hardest thing.
I am not looking for pity or sorrow or help, and I am certainly not wanting to put a spoiler on everyones special day. Just the recognition that broken families leave holes, no matter who was right or wrong. This morning I so enjoyed taking my photo and reveling in the enthusiasm of morning people. After talking to Cooper and allowing myself some down time I went for a ride to break the spell and on my way dropped into our neighbor John from camping last week. I knew was going to be alone in the camping grounds today waiting for hearing aides. As I pulled in he was contentedly asleep in his camp and I thought about what he said last week. “A man will be sad about having no shoes until he meets another with no feet”
I am so fortunate in so many ways and so as I sit here downloading my thoughts and feelings I truly wish everyone a special, joyous and happy Christmas, but please take some time to remember those in other circumstances, not in judgement or pity, but in compassion and recognition that sometimes life throws curve balls from directions we cant see or expect.