This is the moment, the sanctity of the way we are, or can be, with each.
I remember coming out of the kitchen when they started playing. There was just no way to capture the moment, and I really wanted it. Every year there are less photographs taken at the two holidays we celebrate as a family. It isn't that we don't want them; it's just that they fell off the central focus. That's a good thing. It is indicative of our metamorphosis. We aren't capturing the moments so much as living them.
I don't know why that happened but I'm fairly certain it happened after David's departure. Shit got real, right? In 2009 I actually canceled Christmas. There were some packages wrapped and there was a tree and Mike joined the girls and me. It was just me and my children trying to make sense of what had happened to our family and what we had left.
In 2008, 13 stockings hung from the mantle, chocolates melting under a 450F wood burning fireplace insert. It didn't really matter. It was chaos for me, though. It was always chaos for me. Too much too much, too many, too much, and some absurdly unrealistic expectation of myself. It ended horribly. At 10:36 PM, on December 26, my family was abruptly severed. The loss of three people, one husband, two step-sons, brothers simply vanished which is how we got to 4 stockings the following year.
That was an epic pause.
In 2010 I let Christmas back in the house but things had changed. I was overwhelmed and checked out. When my dad and S arrived on Christmas Eve, there was no tree. My dad decided that just wouldn't do. He threw me in the car, and with S we drove to the nearest Christmas tree farm. I remember there was a rainbow and I remember the silliness of my dad. He declared himself 'Sherpa', cut down and dragged that tree back to the car. He made the most ridiculous, beautiful, wonderful faces. I do have a photo of that.
The tree went up and Christmas just sort of happened; the pause lifted but it wasn't the same song.
Every year it morphed a little more. There was still a tree and there were still stockings, and Christmas Eve dinner, and presents and more food. All of that remained but what it meant shifted on its axis.
In 2009 when I canceled Christmas, I also didn't have any money. I'd taken a pay cut along with the entire mortgage and everything else that went with owning a house in Weston. 2010 was the year of the $35 a week food budget to feed three. The year I had two meals a day if I was lucky, but the girls always had three. They got really sick of rice and beans, but they ate.
Change somebody's world like that and everything is up for negotiation. What matters and what does not matter pop to the surface pretty damn quick.
Backing up to Christmas of '09. The tree went up, the lights and ornaments went on and I did not participate past the light stringing business. I sat there and watched instead. I watched my two girls, nine years between them, interact as human beings entirely separate and distinct. I put a few wrapped gifts beneath the tree.
We can open one each? Please?
What? We never open presents on Christmas Eve, why start now? Aside from that, if you do open one tonight, then you'll have one less tomorrow. You will notice the absence this year.
We know. We can see.
Because. Because Solstice?
Ah, yah, that. Up until 2009, I was the only one to acknowledge the Winter Solstice. The weight of it grew each year. It was a private thing; no one else seemed to be all that interested. That was fine. I looked at the light and thought my own thoughts. Up until 2009.
In order to open a single gift on Christmas Eve, we have to call it something else. We're a few days late, but this is really about the solstice.
OK. I'll tell you about the hope for light. I'll tell you about the old year, and the new, and if you can sit still long enough I'll tell you about the Holly King.
With that agreement in place, I handed them each a package of roughly the same size, shape, and squish. Each girl received one pair of fleece pants. No top, the pants; the sort you sleep in on very cold nights and what you wear in the evening when no one is expected.
They were declared 'Solstice Jammies', and in their Solstice Jammies they listened to the short short version of the Holly King which focused primarily on the fact that there cannot be light without the dark.
This is sacred to me. I have no idea, nor does it matter, how they feel about it. What matters is they see and hear it. As each year passed, the stories got longer and a hush descended. Eventually the Solstice Jammies came in sets of three and generally matched. The tree went up on the actual Solstice and the fleece pants were always there.
About $6.99, fleeze jammies, if purchased just before the Solstice.
So what does it all mean? What happened between 2008 and 2020 (I realize we aren't quite 'there' yet for 2020)? Here is the timeline:
- The residents of the Jefferies (and three other last names) household were cut in half.
- who is your family, and why?
- Money got very, very tight. This is definitely a first world, middle class problem but that doesn't make it any less traumatic on young people.
- what is a need versus a want? what really matters?
- My brother and wife left the Northeast which means we saw/see them quite a bit less.
- who is your family, and why?
- what is a true loss, versus change?
- Lucia got married and moved away (truthfully, she was more or less living away anyway, but still)
- what is your family and how do you relate to change?
- My dad got REALLY sick. He's still here and I'm grateful. I don't know when his path will end.
- who are people really, versus the boxes in which we hold them?
- I lost the house. More actually, I let go of the house. That many years paying a mortgage built for two heavy weight earners did some serious damage to my future prospects (I really don't want to live in a freaking box under a bridge).
- who are you? what defines you? what do you really need?
- discarding 3/4 of an adult lifetime of kitchen, furniture, blah blah blah, way before expectation is a stunning blow. Again, what really matters?
- Life in the time of COVID
- I've worked exactly 13 weeks this year. Well, holy shit!
- I walked up to the ledge and looked down. I'm still here.
- I'm not alone. I'm not alone and what REALLY matters?
Those are just highlights, but isn't it enough? The photograph at the top of this post defines 'what is enough'.
This year, three of us will be in Vermont, two in Colorado, two and one respectively, in Connecticut, and two and one in New York. Six households that make up a family of eleven. Separate and apart, sort of. Pick out the parts that really, really matter and find a way to be in that same space together.
Don't speak of anything even remotely commercial; you will have missed the bus.
Light a candle. It's all the same light. Light a candle, and share your light.