It was December once again… that month of solid and old traditions. It was December once again… time for laughing and friends and family… dark nights and Christmas lights. These once-again’s come again and again, just like the calendar shows. You would think it would be simpler knowing that it will come again… for some reason it is not. That crazy time that school starts and summer ends the whirlwind starts… that prep for hard mixed in with many awesome moments. We get an amazing and light 5k… then Halloween which reminds me of the lacking little lady and the 1/3 less work I get in making costumes. Then BAM, Amelia’s birthday festivities… Thanksgiving and BOOM December comes back again.
Every year is so different yet none have fixed the one before it. I see those who have been through these big stressful life messes and they have come to a ‘normal’. I am not there yet, no ‘normal’ has been reached. December is work trying to find time to do our traditions and celebrate right next to the missing of my lovely from all of those parts. Divorce adds a lot of grieving to do in this as well. Finding the best ways to honor our pasts without bringing the heavy into it all. For some together is good, for us separate is much better and less confusing for my girls and I. We get creative here though… we have kind of maneuvered our traditions to fit into our smaller family. Getting our tree is still a highlight, but I was worried about how to get it home… so we pushed it in the car and listened to Lucy ask how long ‘til she could wash the sticky sap off her hands. It is a delicate balance of tuning her out with Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer and listening to her complaining. I am sure in these moments the normal pops out… the mom who needs a bit of quiet as she tries to get the saw safely back to the workers, the Meme who is hungry and needs some sugar before she busts out the crazy lady inside… and then the Lucy who insistently complains about something we can’t change while I am doing the VERY IMPORTANT JOB of driving. It’s pretty darn normal, minus Madeline sitting in her seat being the peacekeeper, telling me to calm down and do my job- Meme to eat her damn granola bar and finding Lucy a napkin with hand sanitizer. That would be her role, always the peacekeeper and the calm (with some normal tantrums). In December though we get our tree and I stuff it in the car, in true Erin delicate form, drive down the hill to pay, grab lunch at some cool weird place in the middle of nowhere and come home to find the tree stand and cut the tree shorter (I even use a ruler, which is very exact for me). This starts our December… just in time for my Annual Ornament Exchange.
So… who needs cookies when you can force your friends to make like 15 homemade ornaments and make food for a night at your house? I know, I know… I must be lucky or just bossy. One of my favorite nights of the whole of December, even when it is hard. It is the most intimate night… it has been a celebration- last year it was 2 nights before I signed my separation agreement and became more free… so I bought the house a round of champagne to celebrate. Other exchanges have had moments to be surrounded and vulnerable- to break and be lifted back up. We talk about A LOT of things… one room might be talking recipes, one room might have a crier and the other might be talking about very personal fun adventures. It is a night that exemplifies what I love about people, that they are good, kind and loving. I also love gathering a bunch of people and giving them a safe place to share and be naked… to be loved anyway- the best way. It is a room full of woman who love me for me, all of me. They love me anyway, loud and crazy Erin who dances on outdoor kitchens… they love sad Erin who sits in the corner or plays with the babies when she is overwhelmed. They love me when I am unscheduled and a hot mess… all of me. It is the most wonderful feeling to know you are loved this way. I love them just the same… always and anyway.
December is usually a time for me, with Maddie’s Mark to work REALLY hard too. We set up and connect families to companies and kind people to take care of Christmas gifts and things. It seems like many kiddos need ‘best day ever’s ‘ this time of year as well, so I work my tail feathers off and love the elves that help with the workload. Christmas carol singing nights, limo rides in the park, decorating for the season… all need a bit of me and my girls. We give that bit in the beginning of the month and save the end for us… for our nights of rewatching Elf and Christmas Vacation. We usually see the Nutcracker, but this year I splurged and we saw Matilda (which rocked and made me smile big). We get fancy and go to the YMCA party and we do our own things. This year we did Sunday dinner with my friend and her girls, we found people when we needed them and we made it to December 26th.
One of my favorite, but hardest moments in December, is decorating the tree. Beyond the fun of trying to keep the lights neat and spaced with the help of a 6 year old that can do it better… along comes the ornaments. Did I tell you I love ornaments? Cookies are ok, but ornaments are a keepsake. Our tree is a giant story… a pile of stories from our adventures throughout. It carries past traditions and future hopes, stories from 6 years of exchanges. It carries the handprints of my daughter who is never here for another print. Homemade ornaments from Preschool parties and playdates are placed along the bottom. Our tree is topped with an angel Amelia chose for Madeline. We sit on the floor and open the tub of ornaments and read the tops. When I was growing up we looked through and loved all the little ornaments, the Baby Jesus from my Church School class, the stuffed and knitted mice from my parents and the ceramic Santa and Mrs. Claus. We would touch them and squish them. I grew and still loved those. I married Matthew and his family bought Hallmark ornaments for them as they grew. I thought that would be a great tradition for my girls. Matthew and I used to go together and pick the ornaments until it became just me. After a couple years I realized it would be a great way to document and remember what the girls were like through their years. We would pick an ornament for their year… I would write a note in the top for them. These notes are a favorite bit for my girls and I to read, from Amelia’s love of Tinkerbell (3 years in a row of ornaments) and Lucy’s broken Curious George… to Madeline and her first movie seeing The Princess and the Frog. So… once the tree is basically ready (lights, ribbon and pearls) we pull the tote out and go through those special stories. I hurt that day… but the girls had so much energy… it was a rough one to stay okay through. This year Madeline’s gift was just that, an angel ornament… just as it always will be. One gift next to so many…
Spending Christmas with Madeline is so different now… it is involves meeting with her friends and singing carols and laughing. Christmas with Madeline is donuts and hot cocoa with our favorites, then sending balloons up to heaven for her to know how loved she is. This year was only slightly different, lacking a tree… because I was too caught up in feelings and hurting and messy and busy. It was perfect though. God even popped the sun out and gave us all a rainbow to enjoy… some even got a double rainbow for their special lovely. It was as perfect as it could be… minus Madeline. Imagine if she were here for Christmas, she would love me even if I didn’t buy her gifts. I know that is part of the gift, she knows I love her… always and anyway. She loves me just the same. Madeline receives gifts all.the.time… on others memory of her, in honor of her and with her… she is so loved. I am so grateful, yet miss her to the moon and back one hundred thousand times… then under the earth through China, back around the world and up the Pluto, around Saturn… and back. She is my forever missed… forever loved. In some ways… there is a gift that she can never drive me bananas like the rest of the world… she is forever an elegant and lovely piece of me.
The traditions through this time help us move and hurt my heart. Wrapping gifts and talking about Jesus’s Birthday are hard… sometimes I feel like He already got his gift from me. That He has my Madeline… and I forget to really talk about the fact that Jesus gifts us his Birthday presents. This year was like that… it was a bit of an empty holiday. It reminded me that He needs us and wants to connect to us SOOOOO MUCH. He has Madeline all safe and warm and built perfectly… but He wants us to think about Him more. I complained that my lack of holiday spirit was the lack of snow, but I think it was the lack of fully thinking and reflecting on Him. I know I will miss Madeline forever, but sometimes the heavy was so much heavier… I think I should have asked for an extra arm or two. This season is about Him, whatever belief you believe this time of year reflects on the Big Guy whatever you call Him. I missed Him this season, but will be still and talk to Him more… I need Him. I don’t even mean church, He is where we are… talk to Him, love Him and embrace Him. Remind me when I have forgotten… I will be glad, I promise.
The songs and traditions and light of this season are some of my favorite memories. I love the way we light up our homes when the world is dark, when winter and short days are upon us. It is symbolic of the way we should live… being the light in someone’s dark, seeing light in our dark and loving the lights that are sent when it is dark…
Christmas is always amazing… I guess sometimes amazing is laced with hard and hurt. Today I felt sick and missing… I felt the sad of missing Madeline. I felt sad she isn’t coming to the zoo tomorrow to NYC on an adventure. I felt a little pissed that we only opened gifts for 40 minutes… one more and it would have taken longer. I felt hurt that my days and my girl’s holidays are quiet and different than mine… then I remember that this is what it is. We are made for this, God made us for this exact journey. He made my girls for the holidays we all make and the traditions of us… for in all of this we are us, you are you and we all exactly who and what we are supposed to be… it is already written.