Snow fell last night, just a little, just enough to dust the grass and cars and rooftops with a powdered sugar frosting. I have mixed feelings as I look out the window at this evidence that Winter Is Here.
Because three weeks from today is Christmas.
Christmas was always my favorite holiday. We rarely had white Christmases in my childhood, what with the whole growing up in West Africa thing--we had to travel back to Michigan every few years to experience what was in all those songs. Rather than snow and ice, we had harmattan winds and dust. Oh, and all the ash from the annual burning of the fields. Ah yes, the lovely ashflakes that drifted down to coat everything and everyone in a sooty grey.
I'm dreaming of a brown ChristmasChristmas was hiding out with my sister in our bedroom, crafting presents out of sticks and string and fabric and paint.
Just like the ones I used to know
With the ashflakes falling
And muezzins calling
While desert winds softly blow...
Christmas was an enormous fete (party, of sorts) in our courtyard on Christmas Eve with hundreds of people gathered around a blazing bonfire while church groups sang and danced and performed skits and preached until the wee hours of the morning.
Christmas was waking up at four in the morning and creeping out to the living room to feel the stockings and gawk at presents and then creep back into bed.
Christmas was waking up and waiting in bed until Mom put on the Christmas music, then running out in robes and slippers* to hot chocolate and a room filled with candlelight.
Christmas was Christmas Eggs**, made with the precious bacon Dad would somehow manage to track down every year and the tomato juice he canned.
Christmas was the enormous morning service held in the late morning, again in our courtyard, with more singing and sermons by various church groups.
Christmas was the day spent eating and unwrapping presents and playing games at Grandma and Grandpa's house out at the hospital compound with uncles and aunts and cousins and various single missionaries pulled in for the celebration.
Christmas was Grandpa's personalized puzzles he had worked on for months, puzzles we each had to solve in order to track down the special presents he had hidden.
Christmas was my mother finding me at 1:15 in the afternoon and hugging me and giving me a kiss and whispering Happy Birthday in my ear.
Christmas was Joy.
It was also my birthday--as in Christmas Day itself. Birthdays were always a big deal in my family, so we would celebrate my birthday a day or two later in order to give me my own day. I was never cheated by people thinking one present would suffice for both (unless it was a really big present), and I didn't really mind having a holiday birthday. It was kind of cool, sharing a birthday (well, sort of) with Jesus.
And then I grew up and moved back to Michigan for college.
I know holidays always change as one grows up, moves away, joins other families and their traditions. I was fortunate that during college my boyfriend (whom I eventually married) had a family that readily adopted me into their holiday celebrations, including Christmas. It wasn't the same as being with my own family, but it was still good. My in-laws were never quite as good at handling my birthday, since they don't do much for birthdays anyway, but at least they acknowledged it and, again, were not stingy by combining presents. Christmas was still a wonderful time of year.
The last four Christmases, however, I spent in tears at some point. Every single one.
Almost five years ago, DramaBoy was exactly one month old on Christmas. I was drained, exhausted, and suffering from what I thought was the Baby Blues and was in fact the early stages of high-functioning Post-Partum Depression. My first tears fell when my husband rolled over and went back to sleep when I tried to wake him up, refusing to get going so we could actually be on time to his father's place. I sat with my baby in my arms and cried silently. I cried later that day when we got to his mother's place, tired and worn out already only halfway through the day. And then again either that night or the following (it's a blur) at my own family's celebration because my parents were leaving for West Africa in a matter of days.
The next year I cried at my mother-in-law's again, because of fatigue and depression and because my parents weren't there. Oh, and because I was pregnant, unexpectedly (well, unexpectedly five months earlier), and terrified by the prospect of trying to parent two babies when I felt like such a failure parenting one. And DramaBoy would not nap.
Then two years ago I cried at my mother-in-law's, again (her place was my safety zone--I was allowed to break down there), because my husband's father and step-mother had overwhelmed us way beyond any comfort zone with extravagant gifts, apparently in a competition to see who could give more to the three grandsons (our two and his step-sister's one). And DramaBoy and The Widget would not nap.
That brings us to last year. Last year I cried, in private, because my world was falling apart and I knew it could very well be my last Christmas in the familiarity of what had become my second family. And indeed, that has proven to be true.
As for my birthday, it was the first year in my entire life I did not celebrate it. I didn't want cake. I didn't want a party. I didn't want to do anything that meant I would be the focus of attention. I could barely handle the birthday hug from my mother.
This Christmas--this Christmas is a haze of change and uncertainty. Separation and divorce make everything even more complicated than the holiday already had become.
That weekend is the boys' weekend with their father, so I won't see them for a few days after the holiday. We have not yet figured out how we will handle the holiday itself. I think it would be insane to try to split the day itself with the boys, since there is already a split between their father's parents. I don't want to drive the boys crazy with a million places to go and be, torn between parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles. My sister and brother-in-law will be in from Boston, but I don't know what they'll be doing yet, especially as they will be spending time with his family and their friends as well.
So what do we do? I think we may have to start planning on a yearly scale, doing some sort of trade-off of Christmas Eve and Christmas from year to year. Perhaps, with the custody timing the way it is this month, I should have the boys for Christmas Eve and then drop them off at their grandfather's on Christmas morning. Where I would go from there...I don't know quite yet.
I do know that a silver lining is that this year I can strip away a great deal of the excess and materialism that has slowly poisoned this holiday for me. Christmas will be simple this year. I may borrow my dear friend Melissa's small artificial tree rather than enduring the Real Tree ordeal. My shopping list suddenly got much smaller. I don't have much money or desire to be lavish, so I'm focusing on finding or making small but meaningful gifts for the handful of people on my list. For that matter, since I am no longer caught up in my former in-laws' ways of doing things, I can dispense with sending out or receiving Christmas lists, something that has always made me a little uncomfortable. Instead of worrying about presents and meals and baking and all the excess Stuff of Christmas, I want to simply enjoy being with people I love, whenever and wherever that happens.
As for my birthday, it doesn't matter much to me what I get, if anything. But I do plan to celebrate. What I want is simple: a gathering of friends who will go along with me somewhere fun some evening, where we can just talk and laugh and have a drink or two and enjoy being together. That's all. That's more than enough.
So as I look out on the dusting of snow, which is sticking despite the brilliant sun, I'm finding myself far less nostalgic for the Days of Yore than I expected. True, it's a time of tremendous change, and I don't tend to deal with big changes all that well, but maybe--just maybe--some of the changes are good.
If this feeling keeps up, I might even turn on one of those radio stations playing Christmas songs.
And that, my friends, would be a true Christmas miracle.
*Hey, it gets down to eighty-five degrees during the day and sixty at night out there this time of year! That there is Winter, people!
**Remind me to give you that recipe. It rocks.