Ghosts of Christmas past

December 29,2010
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

My brother called on Monday night, to check up on our trip back and on a skating-related injury I sustained on Sunday (more on that later) and we both agreed that it had been particularly relaxing, low-maintenance Christmas holiday this year, as far as keeping all the kids happy and peaceful together. My kids and their two cousins get along very well but, as is the case whenever you put a group of children together in a chaotic environment featuring lots of presents, expectations, and sugary foods, meltdowns happen and kids get unhappy and things can rapidly fall apart in that special way they can when kids are involved. This year the cousins played extra well together and the grownups had more time than usual to talk together as grownup people--brothers and sisters, in fact, not just as parents. We didn't even realize this was happening until after the fact, but when I talked with my brother the other night it was clear that we both felt the same way.

Our kids are growing up, plain and simple.

This year the youngest of the four cousins is four, and the oldest, L., is ten. I believe that once children cross that threshold from three to four years old something pretty major happens. They become more independent, capable of more sustained play with other kids. They require less of the "high maintenance" as my brother put it so well. Even L., who often needs constant monitoring in situations like the holidays, is now old enough to know when he needs a break himself--most of the time. I sat on my parents' couch, talking with my brother and my sister, while L. and his cousin M. worked on their snap circuit sets and T. and her cousin H. were busy with a Christmas craft, and I thought about Christmases in the past, Christmases that found us juggling babies and nap schedules (or lack thereof) and explosive toddlers, and our cranky frazzled selves. Those were sweet, treasured Christmases, too, looking back (somewhere upstairs in my parents' house is the ghost of a past me pacing up and down the dark hallway walking a fussy L. or T. to sleep while singing my best most soothing version of SIlent Night), but it's also a sweet and treasured thing to watch your older children bond and play together, while you and your brother and sister get the chance to catch up again.

I hugged to myself the vision of our kids growing older together, always having each other, knowing each other in that mirrored, inside-out that way only cousins can.

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We brought lots of things home with us from the holiday--this super-amazing snap circuit set that L. loves, this Tekton tower set that has kept L. busy for days now, a child-sized sewing machine from Santa that T. had been longing for, lots of great books, some new clogs for me (oh, and this great cookbook I've been drooling over), more vinyl music for my record-loving husband and, alas, I also brought home a badly bruised tailbone. 

It really, really hurts. I'm extremely thankful it's not broken and I waited all day yesterday for the x-ray results worried about how I would function for the 6-8 weeks needed to heal a broken tailbone. I realized, too--once I couldn't do it anymore--just how much bending down and picking up I do on a minute-by-minute basis. 

On Sunday my brother and I had the idea to take the kids ice-skating at a nearby rink. Ten minutes into skating with T., my foot slipped out and I landed--thud--right on my tailbone. It was one of those falls where I just knew I had done something pretty major--sometimes you just know. I got back up, though, and continued to skate painfully around the rink with the kids, which was pretty stupid of me, I know. Years ago in college, while horseback riding with friends along a wooded trail, I got thrown off the horse and was knocked unconscious for a few seconds and then came to, chased the horse down, hobbled to the stables with him and drove myself back home, where I collapsed sobbing into a hot bath. As it turned out, I had a broken rib and a few pulled muscles. 

I told the kids that story on the way home to North Carolina on Monday.

"Why did you do THAT?" L. wanted to know. "That wasn't very smart."

I have no idea why I did, just as I have no idea why I kept on skating around the rink while waves of horrible pain shot around my back and down my legs. 

"Sometimes grown-ups aren't too smart," I told the kids.

There was silence, and when I looked back T. was making a reassuring face at me from her carseat. 

"That's okay, Mama," she said. "You're pretty smart MOST of the other times."

Whew--that's alright, then.