Monday, December 30, 2013

A Thank You Letter To Santa For What He Didn't Bring Us

Dear Santa,

I hope this finds you well and resting up following your 15 million mph Christmas Eve journey. I assume you are now either on a beach in Bora Bora sunning that Belly Belly, or en route to  your annual detox at the Betty Crocker Clinic for Frosting Rehabilitation. And I know you've had more than your fair share of mail in the past month or so, so I won't take much of your time.

I just wanted to say thank you. Of course, thank you for the obvious- all the gifts you brought, the memories we made, the great times we had. Cheers to you, big guy. How you manage to get it done each year, spreading laughter and loot to an average of 822.6 houses per second, is truly amazing. I can barely manage to deck my own halls and here you are bringing joy to the entire globe in a night. Wow, just wow.

But more importantly, I want to thank you for what you didn't bring. As I'm sure you will recall from your NSA-worthy pre-holiday surveillance program, my little boy (who is not so little anymore) lost both his front teeth in December. And of course, every adult he encountered (including me) serenaded him with one of the worst Christmas songs of all time (second perhaps only to the one with the donkey): "All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth…" and he'd happily sing along, adding Legos, a remote-controlled helicopter, and a pair of ski gloves to the chorus.

And many of those things appeared under the tree: the Legos, the chopper, the gloves… but no teeth. Not in a package, not in a stocking, not even in one of the "Happy Birthday" gift bags I ended up having to use when I ran short on tape (and the will to live) after hitting the wall during the annual all night wrapathon. No teeth. And for that, I thank you.

Because somehow I have the feeling those teeth will mark the beginning of the end of something so simple and sweet. It won't be long before that innocent little gaping grin will be replaced by a sullen scowl, a snide remark, or worse yet- silence. With those adult teeth will eventually come adult worries, adult responsibilities, adult fears, and at times, the weight of the whole adult world.

Santa, the move from "little boy" to "big boy" has already been heartbreaking enough. Have you seen the other side of the clothing store- the one where sizes don't have a "T" after the number and instead of footy pajamas that say "I Stole Mommy's Heart" they have ripped up jeans and t-shirts with skulls and crossbones and snowboarders? Not that there's anything wrong with snowboarders, I just didn't get the memo that at age 6 my son automatically switched from Team Mom to Team Shaun White.

There are other sure signs he's growing up, and I'm not just talking about the shoes he's rapidly outgrowing, or the inevitable obsession with bodily functions. I can already see him looking at the world in a different way, realizing that not every story has a happy ending, and not all boo boos can be made better with a bandaid. I know that he's becoming more and more aware of loss, of hardship, and his mom's inability to actually kiss away all the pain.

And he also now has really stinky feet.

So thank you, Santa for not delivering on the front teeth for Christmas. I feel like you've bought us some extra time, and I promise to use it wisely. I promise I will laugh at his nonsensical "Knock Knock" jokes, I will  cuddle and tickle him until my arms ache, I will hold his hand in public, I will keep the magic alive, and keep him young as long as I can.

Adult teeth can wait.

For now, I still have a sweet little boy with a big gaping grin.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Discovering the Magic of Christmas as an Adult

I think I owe you an apology.

If you've ever sprinkled reindeer dust on your lawn, donned a hat with a sprig of mistletoe hanging off the front, or placed a giant inflatable penguin on your lawn, I'm sorry.

If you take your pets sit on Santa's lap, have elf shoes in an adult size, or any garment of clothing with a bedazzled "Ho Ho Ho" across the chest, I ask for absolution.

And most of all, if you are currently driving around in a car with antlers stuck to the top and a red nose on the grill, please forgive me.

Because for the past few decades, whether you know it or not, I have been making fun of you. I've mocked you silently and not so silently, rolled my eyes at the sight of you, and poo-pooed your holiday spirit. I've called you some not-so-nice names and questioned your intellectual prowess, and for that I'm deeply, deeply sorry.

Because I get it. I finally get it.

It took me 40 years and a little girl who grabbed my hand and yanked me out of an otherwise dreary, stressful day as we wandered through the grocery store parking lot, my brain processing through its never-ending to-do list (holiday and regular editions combined) on autopilot.

"OOH, Mommy look!!!!" she squealed in delight, her blue eyes blazing with excitement. "A Rudolph car!!!" She threw her head back right there in the middle of the parking lot and giggled hysterically. Then she grabbed my hand and pulled me closer to the car.

"Shhhh! He's sleeping!" she warned me. "You can't touch him- he's…MAGIC."

And that's when it clicked: the magic.

I'd heard about it in songs and movies, but never actually believed in it.

And because I didn't believe in the magic, it was just easier to scoff at those who did.

Don't get me wrong- I certainly didn't grow up deprived as our tree was piled high with presents (most of them purchased in my mom's annual Christmas Eve shopping frenzy we dubbed "The Closing of the Malls") and the table overflowed with food. We wanted for nothing… except maybe a little magic.

I'm quite certain my scholarly, professional, serious, immigrant parents didn't even know about the magic. It's not like it comes in the "How to Live in America: Holiday Edition" newsletter. They did their very best at melding their version of Christmas (a serious, deeply religious holiday celebrated on January 7th as per the Orthodox calendar requiring 40 days of prayer and abstaining from all animal products to prepare) with that of their new home (Trees! Cookies! Lights! Elves! Beginning in August!!) as best they could, but there was very little pretense. And not much magic.

So for years I told myself the magic wasn't necessary. In fact, it was just plain excess. Who needs magic when you can have a perfectly fine holiday without it? I blanketed myself in reason and rationality aside so I could focus on other elements of the holiday season, like stress.

When I had my own children, I convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by not overindulging them in Christmas magic or saddling them with lofty expectations of magical holidays. Wouldn't magic only lead to disappointment when the (wo)man behind the curtain was revealed? Wouldn't it take away from our focus on the real meaning of Christmas? Who needs magic, anyway?

Turns out, I do.

Because this year in particular, Christmas started to feel a bit hollow. Already stretched far too thin in every direction, coping with a loved one in the hospital, faced with mounting work pressures, school parties, the shopping, the baking, the wrapping, the endless planning of every second of every day, there were only 2 choices: give into the stress, or give into the magic.

I chose Rudolph.

So here's to you, reindeer car. Here's to balancing the reason for the season with giggles and wonder and fun. Here's to not hiding in the past, but taking the best of what you've had and deciding for yourself what you want the future to be.

And here's to losing yourself in the big blue eyes of a 4-year-old girl.

Here's to a magical Christmas.