Christmas in the Mail

My daughter came from Seattle to visit us in September. We hadn’t seen her in nine months, the longest time we’d gone without a visit. Our son lives in Athens, and the four of us went camping during her visit, the first time we’d been on a trip together in eight years. The last time we camped together, she was in middle school. Our September camping trip was a blast. 

When the holidays were mentioned, she said she hadn’t decided if she could or should return. Without hesitation, I encouraged her not to come. I know she worried how we would handle Christmas without our youngest child with us. But it didn’t make sense to visit then, given what was anticipated with COVID, and the difficulty of keeping my 86-year-old mom safe—the afterglow of our September visit would just have to linger longer.

It was easy to be logical three months ago, but now Christmas looms, and I am not prepared, logistically or emotionally. All of a sudden, I’m scrambling to find her gifts so I can send them on time and realize, almost too late, that she needs her stocking! And, because she’ll have to stuff it herself, those items need to be wrapped. 

As I prepare the box, I think of her receiving it, finishing the activity I began: considering each item with curiosity as she wedges it into her hand-knit stocking and, on Christmas, unwrapping them one-by-one. I imagine some items evoke a smile and others evoke a gentle, puzzled shake of the head—as our adult children are apt to do, their parents’ eccentricity finally inspiring more caregiving sentiment than annoyance. 

I worry that she’ll be alone when she does this, so into my imaginary journey I insert a companion—a close friend or that boyfriend we haven’t met yet. I see them sharing this moment with her and her being OK—missing us but OK. And I stop because I’m crying now, desperate for her to be OK. I can handle missing her, not the thought of her missing us. I write a corny poem and tuck it deep into her stocking, hoping the bad rhymes and sing-song sentiment colliding with stark reality will make her laugh.

Spending your first Christmas away from your folks is part of growing up. Once my kids were adults, I never assumed they would be with us each Christmas, wanting them to be free to make their own traditions. I don’t want to cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, but instead be open to changes that work for all of us—for us to shape our time together instead of contorting around something rigid that no longer works. I didn’t envision being kept apart by COVID, but I knew that when my daughter moved across the country, she would not always be able to be here for all the holidays or family moments. This, too, is part of becoming an adult, a consequence of the decisions you build your life around. And that’s as true for me as her. It never stops—this growing up.

Christmas will come and go, and it will be weird, but this year “surviving Christmas” is no small thing. With care, we will endure to see another Christmas, and, with luck, we’ll be together for that one and many more.