The light from our tree illuminates the kitchen doorway. It’s soft and warm and feels like Christmas. The electric embers will die out in a week or two. Until then I’ll enjoy the ivory glow and reflect on our first Christmas spent with family and friends.
A little background will be necessary to put the seismic holiday shift into focus. For the last seven years Jenn and I have sat at our dining room table, exchanging gifts after breakfast. We headed to the theater for a movie or two. Some years the choices were morose (Benjamin Button, Curse of the Golden Flower), some were duds (The Family Stone), and some were enchanting (Hugo). None was a substitute for being with family.
This Christmas we sat around our dining room table. Jenn, Penelope, grandma and grandpa Padgett, and we ate fresh biscuits and eggs. I wondered what Penelope would do when she started opening gifts. Would she open one and camp out on it, wanting to play with it? Would she toss it aside and go for the next? She had experienced Christmas at SFCV and I suspect she received a gift or gifts but nothing like what was surrounding our tree.
The first two gifts were show stoppers. Stephanie, our guardian angel and official Auntie to Penelope, gave a beautiful Schwinn Roadster tricycle and upright toy piano. Penelope went right for the bike. We let her get on and move around the cramped living room for a few minutes. If she did this with each gift we would still be opening gifts. After a few moments we told Penelope it was time to move on to the next gift. She sat in front of the piano and started pounding on the keys. For a moment I thought I heard “Joy to the World” pouring out from the little box.
“OK sweetie, lets open this one.” I said, handing her a box. I sat on the floor next to Penelope with my camera, taking shots with the promise that one of them would turn out. My mother watched via Skype as Penelope opened one gift after another. As she opened several boxes Jenn, grandma Padgett, and I started finding gifts for everyone else. Penelope offered to help unwrap gifts other than hers even when we put another box in front of her.
Forty-five minutes went by with hardly a dent in the gifts. We stopped and told Penelope it was time for a potty break. If she didn’t need one we did. Minutes later we were back at it, surrounded by crumpled paper, boxes, and Penelope’s new toys. It felt like we would never get done. My prediction that Penelope had more gifts in her first year with us than I got in several years of Christmas’ came true. As long as she doesn’t end up like Dudley Dursley from the Harry Potter series, expecting more gifts each year. “We’re sorry sweetie, you only got fifty gifts this year…yes, we know you got fifty-two last year…daddy will take you to the store to get three more”
With all presents opened we made our way back to the dining room and had lunch. After eating we attempted the futile task of putting Penelope down for a nap. We told her several times it was important to rest since we were going to Stephanie and Charlie’s for dinner. I don’t know that any child could rest after so much excitement. She lay there singing and talking to her new pet dress up monkey. I attempted to remove said monkey from the room but Penelope erupted into soul-shaking gasps and cries. I went back into her room and picked her up, holding her and telling her she needed to get some rest, monkey would be waiting when she was done. Minutes later she was still inconsolable. I told her I would get monkey back and he would watch her sleep. The tears must have taken the excitement out of her because she was asleep within minutes.
That sounds great except we had to leave for dinner, fulfilling my second prediction; if she did fall asleep it would be late and I would have to wake her up. Thirty minutes after she fell asleep I was in her room. “Hey sweetie, time to get up. We’re going to see Charlie and Stephanie.” I rubbed her back gently and kept talking to her. And still she slept. I opened her closet and got her dress and sweater. I turned on the hall light. I put her sleepy time night-light turtle up. And still she slept.
“Just leave her, we can wait to get her up.” Jenn said. I closed Penelope’s door but not before taking a few pictures of her resting so soundly.
Jenn and I finished making our part of the evening meal, mushroom soup. We pureed it, figuring it couldn’t hurt at this point. We blended the soup for a nearly a minute on high. Penelope slept on. I had another prediction about the mood she would be in when we woke her up.
The time came and I went back into Penelope’s room and started rubbing her back again. She started, moving an arm quickly and stretching her legs. She looked up at me with a “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” look. I took it slow, talking to her, telling her what an exciting time we had coming up. Eventually she woke enough to stand. She must have believed what I said because she smiled and put her arms out for me to lift her. We headed to the bathroom to get ready.
We headed out into the cold, wet Christmas day anticipating an evening of quiet holiday cheer. When we arrived refreshments were ready, including a tray of candied pecans Penelope could not keep her hands out of. I tried one and understood immediately. Delicious. She saw the cheese ball and crackers and pointed. “You want one?” I asked. Penelope shook her head in the affirmative. I spread a little dip on a cracker and handed it to her. She chewed a little and grimaced. The masticated cheese cracker mixture protruded from her lips. Thankfully napkins were nearby for me to catch the mess.
Penelope and Charlie entertained themselves in the playroom. Charlie did his best to imitate the intricacies of Baryshnikov in “The Nutcracker” with his new ballet shoes. “Girls are pink and boys are black!” he told us.
“You’re going to be a great dancer, Charlie.” I watched as he grabbed streamers and made his way around the room, passionately twirling and stepping around toys and cards. Penelope got in on the action with a streamer and started jumping up and down and swinging her arms around, following Charlie’s lead. Minutes later we were called into the dining room for dinner.
Jenn made a rich cream of mushroom soup culled from “Meatless Monday’s” that started the meal. Next scalloped potatoes, baked asparagus and peppers arrived. Finally the main course; perfectly cooked steaks. Jenn abstained, relying on veggies and potatoes. Grandpa Padgett and Stephanie’s father discussed the merits of football, specifically Alabama football for the duration of the meal. I couldn’t add anything to the conversation due to ignorance and a full mouth.
After dinner we went into the living room to have dessert and open gifts. Charlie and Penelope finalized their Christmas bonanza with gifts for each other. Charlie received a panda hand puppet and tangram puzzle while Penelope got a tea set.
Stephanie Charlie couldn’t have picked a better present. Penelope has been getting it out and serving tea to mommy, daddy, grandma, and every stuffed animal since.
Before we made our exit Stephanie took out the karaoke machine for Charlie to entertain us. Little did we know Penelope would get into the act. I wish a camera crew had been there to capture everyone’s reaction. It was just me, filming on my iPhone. Stephanie’s reaction is precisely how we all felt. I was happy to the point of tears.
It’s true what they say, Christmas is different when you have children. I couldn’t be happier about it. The holiday season has meant nothing more than time off work to spend with Jenn for nearly a decade. We’ve had no tree, no lights, no wreath. Jenn joked about getting a Charlie Brown Christmas tree to symbolize my feeling about the season.
I made a decision before we brought Penelope home that I would make the effort to enrich our lives as a family. When it came to Christmas that meant getting a tree. It meant participating in traditions I had no previous interest in. It meant becoming involved. Any objections I had evaporated when I looked into Penelope’s eyes. I asked myself “Do you want your child to be the one at school who never had a Christmas tree?”
Jenn and I spent an afternoon with Stephanie and Charlie at Serenbe. We discussed Christmas and our histories with the holiday. During the conversation she said “now it’s time for you to create your own traditions.” It was a freeing moment. Suddenly the thought of Christmas celebrations were not obligations but opportunities to make memories. The sentiment was reinforced when a friend posted this four minute video on Facebook:
It’s been a beautiful Christmas with family and friends this year. Here’s to 2013 being even better.