A while back I mentioned the things I felt Andrea had stolen from us when she left. It’s not that I think she’s a thief and had any kind of malicious intent, nothing like that. It’s more that she was part of me and as such had access to the most intimate, deepest loves, fears, traditions, all of that.
But she stole Christmas. Not like the Grinch, though it might be an apt simile, but she took it and it will never be the same.
My family doesn’t just like Christmas, we really live for it. Not like Clark Griswold, (though my Dad get razzed that airplanes might land on our lawn because of all the lights once, but we lived on 3 acres in the country…) just that overall, happy, almost bubbly feeling. I think the adjective “joyous” is over-used, but it really does fit for the holidays in our house.
It always was that way for me. I put stockings up in my apartment when I was in college, even if I was going home for the holidays. I bought presents, no matter how cheap, just to give something to my friends and family. We always had a big dinner, opened presents late on Christmas Eve and then went to Midnight Mass in order to get to bed. My brother and I would get up at 3 or 4 and sneak down, flashlights in hand, and look for what Santa brought us and then sneak back up, trying not to wake Mom and Dad, just so we knew. We just couldn’t wait. One year my Mom took us out into the country where my grandparents owned some property: an old farm that was now abandoned. I didn’t know at the time that it was because we didn’t have a lot of money, we just thought it was fun. We had thermos of hot chocolate, we had on big, poofy snow pants and coats, gloves, whole nine yards. When we got there we looked in the shelter belt for a great tree. We did find one, too. We sang “O Christmas Tree”, drank out cocoa, and each took a turn with the saw on the tree. We cut it down, took it home, watered it, all of it. Even shook the snow off the needles before we took it inside. It was probably pure necessity for my Mom, but it was magical to us.
It took a little while for that to hit home when I got married. The first Christmas I remember with Andrea started off really poorly. Getting our tree wasn’t at all like the search above. We picked up her sister, who lived with us in Omaha at the time, and went to look for the tree. It didn’t start well, and at the time I just didn’t get it. I was SO happy. I was married, we were together, we were on the way to get a tree and look for everything. We were getting new ornaments. I already had presents. Hell, we even had stockings.
Andrea and her sister weren’t having it, though. The moment we left the house something was wrong; horribly wrong. Andrea looked at me with all I can describe as disdain. I hadn’t really seen this. I mean, we’d had arguments. If you don’t have disagreements or arguments as a couple you’re not really in a healthy relationship. But this was just pure, unadulterated anger. My driving was wrong. I was going too fast. I didn’t open the door for her and her sister to get in the car. Why was I choosing this tree lot? What is wrong with you, this kind of tree won’t hold ornaments right! Andrea and her sister started yelling at each other, in public, at the lot. Not making a scene, just mad. Arguing. Poking at each other to see who reacts first.
I couldn’t take it.
“What the hell is wrong with you two?”
“What do you mean,” was likely Andrea’s answer, and I remember she had the look of someone who didn’t want to admit there was a problem, but knew there was, digging in and holding her ground.
“You two have been at each other’s throats, yelling, it’s like you’re trying to get into a fight and I don’t get it. This is Christmas, it’s supposed to be happy. I love this stuff! If you can’t do this then go to the car, I’ll get a tree and you can help decorate it when I get home.”
Later they apologized. You see, Christmas, holidays, none of that were fun or positive experiences for her. Her memory for every Christmas was getting in fights, her parents yelling at each other on the way to the tree lot or a tree farm. Her sister and she getting into fights then getting spanked. Her Mom yelling at her Dad and telling him to knock it off. Christmas wasn’t fun in her house. She dreaded it, and that had carried over to me, even though the catalyst for their animosity wasn’t there.
Both of them saw that they’d never had a good memory of getting ready for Christmas. They loved the day, had great dinners, all of that, but the season . . . they didn’t have a connection. That’s where we came in. After that first Christmas, Andrea joined in, hook-line-and sinker. Where we got out of control, she became the decorator. Matching ribbons and bows on the tree instead of tinsel. We still had our little homemade ornaments, but by the time we’d hit last year Andrea was just as giddy and happy in the season as we were. Santas on the ledge. Everything. Like so many things in our house, she made it . . . perfect.
The perfection is hard to live up to. Like I said, she became part of the holiday. Now, we can’t go get coffee at Starbucks without her. The music in the background is that old Christmas music, the Bing Crosby and Nat King Cole that Andrea used to play in the car. My oldest broke down on Friday because she couldn’t take it any more. Andrea was part of the season and the season was surrounding and overwhelming her. I can’t blame her, I feel it too.
I took the kids this weekend to get a tree. They were all really excited, but I could see it was weighing on them. The arguments started. The boys started fighting with their sister – and not the normal amount, every boy hates their sister when they’re a kid, but they still love them a lot. This was reminiscent of the first Christmas with Andrea. It only got better when we finally went to get the tree. They all lost their anger and stress and raced through the rows of trees to find one to cut down. It was up in the mountains at this little place we found by accident last year and they wanted to go back. We even bought a tiny little tree in a pot that looks like the Charlie Brown tree just so they’d have something more.
I got out all the stuff to decorate, ornaments and all. We plan on putting those on tomorrow night. (Monday) Today we did outside lights and garland, all the stuff that Andrea left behind. The kids are ecstatic about doing the decorating but they’re so tenuous about it they just can’t help but poke at each other. It gets to me and makes me lose my temper.
Then tonight, as they were drifting to sleep, I put the stockings up on the fireplace. We had these stocking holders, the metal kind that have a hook that hangs down from the mantle, spelling out the words “NOEL”.
We had stockings with all our names on them. I didn’t know what to do. There are six. Abbi, Hannah, Noah, Sam, Dave . . . and Andrea.
I actually stared at her stocking for quite awhile trying to figure out what to do. I really didn’t know. Still don’t.
It has so many things wrong with it. If I put it out, what happens then? Santa put stuff in everyone’s stockings. Even Mom and Dad. So put the stocking up and Santa doesn’t fill the stocking – it reinforces that Mom’s not here. Fill the stocking, it confuses them and they won’t know what to make of that. If it’s empty it really does represent an emptiness for them, their Mom’s not here for Christmas. But leave the stocking off and you’re making it real. It’s really Christmas, it’s actually here.
And it’s actually here without her.
I know, you think I put too much thought into this. It’s too much philosophy for a stocking. But look at what the season alone has done to these four wonderful kids. It’s tugging at them in ways they can’t describe, not like their oldest sibling, and they act the only way they can. They act out.
So I left the stocking off, as much as it hurts. I never shared this decision with them, it wasn’t something that we needed to do together. Sometimes you have to do things that hurt because they’re what’s best for everyone.
Like I said, she took Christmas with her. I didn’t want to leave her out, but somehow I had to try and steal it back.