Christmas break 2020

Today was the first day back to work and school following the break, and absolutely no one felt ready. Actually, I thought that I was at peace with it and Kristin thought that it would be awful, but then today came and went and Kristin was celebrating the fact that she got through the day and it wasn’t terrible, and I on the other hand found myself really craving the freedom to sit in front of a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle for hours (the one that I started several days ago and have yet to finish). The kids moaned about school but actually seemed fine when the time came (Jonah actually seemed very enthusiastic about a new student teacher in his class when he learned that they share a love for the Harry Potter books).

Around 2:30 this afternoon Jonah asked me to build a fire because he wanted to work on LEGOs in front of it, and Jude and Vivi curled up with their audiobooks and I could tell that we were all wishing we had a little more unstructured time left.

We’re used to a quiet Christmas at home, so this year didn’t feel like the loss so many other families were feeling. Vivienne woke up first, around 6 a.m., and woke everyone else with the kind of enthusiasm only a child has on Christmas morning. Her most beloved gifts were a toy dog that barks and walks rolls on a leash that she begged for, and a pink instant camera given to her by Gigi and Papa Doc. She also adored the unicorn bathrobe Grandma Sue bought for her and wore it all day. Throughout the day she kept telling us what a wonderful Christmas she was having, her joy just overflowing.

Jonah only wanted two things: a LEGO train set and the fifth Harry Potter book, and he received both. He’s the kind of child who opens a gift and takes the time to fully read the box, open it and play with the contents, forgetting that any other gifts are under the tree. He’s actually the same way with sweets – he eats them as slowly as possible to make them last. He took his train set to the basement and we essentially didn’t see him for the rest of the day. He was even a little grouchy at breakfast (a breakfast he says is one of his favorite parts of Christmas) because he wanted to get back to his set so badly. Jude asked for very little and got most of it: two glass Christmas trees, a string of bells, stilts, a croquet set, and even a set of soccer goals he hadn’t asked for, but seemed emotionally off all day. He’s only five, but it made me wonder how soon we begin to discover that the enormity of expectations of what-may-be on Christmas morning never quite matches up with the reality, no matter how generous your family might be. Or it might simply be that he received a bunch of warm-weather outdoor toys and his brother vanished to the basement, who knows. He did receive an RC robot that makes fart noises from his cousin Maris, and he adores it.

This was actually the first year that we had the kids draw names for their cousins, and it was such a joy to let them choose the gifts. I loved how thoughtful and enthusiastic they all were, and it makes me excited to deepen this love of giving in each of them.

Oh, and another big win this year! I realized that the least stressful way to bake with children is for me to do all of the baking for friends and neighbors, and then allow the kids to bake and decorate their very own batch of cookies only for Santa. I pulled up the recipe, talked them through each step as much as they needed, but essentially let them do it alone. I think that it was a source of pride for all of them, and I was totally unconcerned about handwashing and attempts to eat the dough mid-process because the stakes were so very low, so I yelled exactly zero orders. It was delightful.

She has absolutely no faith in her brother’s ability to crack that egg

This year I really noticed lots of posts about the week between Christmas and New Year’s being a time for total coziness and relaxation as a way to decompress from the rush of Christmas. Maybe that sentiment was always there, but this year it spoke loudly to me and I think it gave me a new appreciation for that time. We got into the woods a bit, played games with the kids, I worked on a puzzle that still has miles to go (but I will finish it). I grieved the end of Christmas less than I used to, but this year my sadness came when I lay in bed on Christmas night and realized that they’ll all be a year older next Christmas. A whole year feels like too big of a change. The magical window is even smaller than I previously thought. They have to be old enough to understand what Christmas is, but not too old. How big is that window? Age 4-9? 10? I hope it’s longer than that.

On New Year’s Eve I made the same shrimp that a friend made for us last year, we did some kitchen karaoke, Jonah and Vivi and I watched a movie while K and Jude did something else, and around 11:30 p.m. we went out to the driveway to do sparklers.

The kids all stayed up far too late and did too few chores, but everyone slept till 9 or 10 every day and we all needed the decompression. I always treasure this time with them, but now that I’m more aware of the window for full-strength magic I think I’ll treasure this year even more. Ages 5 and 8 – it’s a good one.

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