Christmas, now and then

The early hours of Christmas morning are here. Quiet and alone while the boys sleep still. Having coffee and wondering if this is the “new normal” that everyone tells me I have to embrace. Another version of something that I never wanted to change anyways but is thrust upon our lives.
Years and years, more than I can remember, of waking early to make sure that I was up and ready for the onslaught of small footsteps followed by gasps and giggles and wonder at the surprise of Christmas morning. Getting up to turn on the tree lights and make sure the stockings were arranged “just so”. Cinnamon buns in the oven for the usual Christmas morning breakfast. Large pot of coffee going for me so I could wake up, exhausted from the last couple of days of last minute errands, up late to stuff stockings and finish wrapping.
The tiredness forgotten the second that I saw how ecstatic the kids were. How they sat and waited until everyone was up to dive into their stockings and scatter the contents out. Always excited but knowing that presents didn’t happen until after breakfast so the patience tempering the thrill.
Some years held sadness or awkwardness. The first Christmas after a separation or trying to juggle what tie the kids would go to their Dad’s place and where they would be for dinners and such. Teaching us all that we need to enjoy and cherish the time we have and that “traditions” can be altered and it’ll still be okay, even good still….just different. Children are amazing adaptive. Us parents learned to be so from them in those instances.
Last Christmas morning…very different. My youngest decided to spend the night with his dad and he was coming home in the morning (with his Dad) to have breakfast and open presents. Willie had just been released from the hospital and he was spending a few days with me as well. I was hurt and missing my youngest and trying to still be in the Christmas spirit when I knew I would be missing one first thing in the morning. No worry though; he would be there shortly after I woke up and then it would all be back to normal. It might actually be nice to be able to sleep in a bit.
I woke first, as always anyways. Years of habits are hard to break. Being a morning person I was used to being the one wandering a quiet house. Last year though Willie was also up. We acknowledged each other quietly and I went about making coffee for myself. Willie sat on the couch, knees drawn up to his chest and stared at the Christmas tree. The only lights on in the room were the coloured lights on the tree and as I looked at him, he was washed in the glow from them. I remember him sitting there and I asked him if he had slept well. He shrugged and after a minute he remarked how strange this Christmas was. That he wanted Connery home and it was weird not having him there. For all that Willie complained about how annoying a little brother was, he loved him and moments like this it was apparent that he did. I agreed and said he would be here soon enough, driving us all crazy with little kid excitement. Willie smiled a bit. It was an odd time though. Just him and I. The silence was heavy. The under current was there that this was no longer where he lived. That he was visiting. That the decision had been made for him to live at his Dad’s for a while. He was still mad but accepted it now. I was hurt, never having imagined a time when one of mine would be not with me. The ball had been set in motion for me to move as well in the coming month with just Connery. I knew that my life was under-going a radical shift and so much was in turmoil – and had been for months already at that time. The months of emotional stress and exhaustion from navigating through Willie’s illness and treatment (as it was) had taken their toll on all of us. Christmas morning was as a distinct departure from all of that and was a calculated effort to be “normal” for Connery before everything changed even more.
Willie was anxious and impatient for Connery to get home and for his brothers to wake up. Both him and I paced the house… his agitation growing but coupled with, still, that little boy excitement for the day. My pacing hiding an anxiety of my own. Knowing that after this day of simulated normalcy, it was all about to change even more drastically and I was dreading it.
The changes were far more drastic than I could have imagined however and I find myself now here…one year later and in a strangely similar situation.
Spending the week with my older boys at their place. Connery has chosen to spend the night before Christmas with his Dad so I am awake, alone, waiting for the boys to get up. But this year, no tree, no decorations, no indication that it is Christmas at all. There was no Christmas dinner last night as would have been “normal”. There will be no left-overs today, no turkey sandwiches for lunch. Connery isn’t coming here until afternoon so there will be no “Christmas morning” of opening presents and watching the kids exclaim how happy they are. Instead, I sit and try to come to grips with what exactly “this” is.
I saw a post on facebook today that said “…it’s not what you have but who you have…” and my first thought was that, while that is a sentiment that I hold true, it simply makes the hurt so much more defined right now. The truth is that I have always believed that the holidays are about spending time with my family and enjoying the slowed down responsibilities and “must-do’s” and being able to just enjoy time together. I still hold to that which is what makes this so challenging for me. The loss of Willie is a huge hole in our lives and trying to celebrate Christmas like it “was” only makes that more obvious. So I haven’t. All of the things about the holidays that I loved and brought me joy are avoided this year. I turn off Christmas carols in the car; have put up no decorations or a tree. Due to finances, presents are almost non-existent. Even when given the gift of being able to financially afford coming to visit the boys, I struggled with whether I should or not. Seeing the boys is bitter-sweet. I miss them but seeing them also brings to the forefront the clarity that my life is so altered and different; and not in a direction that brings me any joy or happiness.


It feels like yesterday that my life was filled with schedules that drove me crazy with juggling what always felt like too many things to fit into too few hours of every day. Days of potty training and breast-feeding and diaper bags. Trying to collapse a stroller with one hand, holding the baby with the other and keeping an eye on what the others were up to while my attention was momentarily off them!
Days of school routines, lunches to be made and backpacks packed. Kids delivered or walked to school. Band concerts, parent/teacher meetings, PAC duties, hot lunch days and Scout activities to round out the medley of family life. All the while watching my boys grow and change and start to wander past infancy, toddlerhood, youth and eventually, for some, into young adulthood.
Even in the midst of what I look back on as the “blur years” I recall how happy I was then. Even in the chaos and the hurried atmosphere I loved it. I had always wanted to get married and have kids and I relished those years. The happiest times of my life were when I was run off my feet and over-whelmed with kid and family “to-do’s”! Not to mention working as well… the job always felt like an after thought!

Nothing compares with the feel of a baby in your arms, looking up as it nurses…the smell of a freshly shampooed head after a bedtime bath…or that scent of beach after a long day in the summer of just playing in the sand…the little bodies wrapped in blankets and held close for snuggles…the feeling, so indescribable, of a little soft hand held loosely in yours as you walk, listening to the chatter of the owner of that little hand – smiling as you try to decipher the meaning of the combination of baby speech and grown up vocabulary coming out of your child. A moment in memory that captures pure happiness for me.
A single parent a couple of times…what strikes me most was after my last separation the sense of peace that came over me when the moving was done and I sat back and was surrounded by my boys. My life was tumultuous and in flux with a number of areas that needed to settle but all that mattered was that I had my boys and everything was ok. No matter what else was off kilter in our lives, the fact that I had all my boys and I under one roof meant that my world was okay.
It’s hard to explain the “rightness” that I felt inside when I was with my boys. It was simply that things were as they should be.
That’s what I miss that’s no longer in my life.


Sometimes it’s hard to explain how I feel inside…. here’s an attempt…

Dark, heavy clouds move with urgency across the sky, driven by the force of the wind. The air feels wet but no rain falls. The chill in the air holds fast with the dampness encased by the unburdened cloud cover.

The wind blows fiercely, enveloping the buildings and rides as it winds its way down the length of the pier. The energy of the gusts making the weathered signage and banners dance in its wake. Waves crash against the supports of the pier as the ocean is driven into a maelstrom.

Desolation and abandon encompass the Carnival. Boards loosely cover the ticket windows and vendor booths against the wear of time and weather. A glance down the empty midway shows not a single open venue or attraction. The faded paint a proclamation of the disrepair and neglect that has fallen over the once loved and joy-filled expanse of rides, attractions and games.

The echoes of laughter, now long gone and lost, carried on the wind as it presses violently between the boards and shakes the ever crumbling buildings. Silence now where there was once the boldness of sound assaulting the senses. The melodies of the rides absent…the crowd calls of the vendors muted…the music of children faded and no more. The only sound a distant bang of a shutter as it slams against the window it now barely clings to protect.

All silent now, leaving a void.

An emptiness that is heavy with the weight of sorrow for what is lost.