Sweet and salty - FamilyEducation

Sweet and salty

December 29,2011
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.

Even though I am, by nature, a positive-minded person (at least I like to think I am), I also go through my days keenly aware of both the sweet and salty sides of life--the joyful and the bitter, the two-sidedness of every experience--especially as a parent. I've often written about how each exciting, monumental milestone along the road of your child's development--that first tooth poking through a pink gum, the first bow-legged tentative steps, the first words, the first of everything (because there is NOTHING like being a parent and getting to witness the unfolding of life firsthand) has always a backside to it, like when you find the most unexpectedly perfect pastel and ivory shell at the beach, one side worn smooth like silk from the waves, and then you turn it over and see the rough outside, dark and scratchy, and maybe there's a barnacle or two clinging to it.

Christmas is the ultimate sweet and salty experience, I think. Like many celebrations and holidays, Christmas is like some glittering spread of color stuck in-between the bookends of ordinary days. I've always felt that way, as long as I can remember, But lately Christmas feels even more like that--like a great pause that doesn't go on long enough because just as you're able to see it, and be right there in it, you blink and it's over. Just like that. For just a few days it's all family togetherness and gift-giving and gift-receiving, and abundant food and drink but outside the window the world is there, pressing against the glass. As I get older I find myself, each year, only more keenly aware of how quickly life does pass by. This is good, because it makes me savor each moment all the more; but it also makes for that weighty anticlimactic feeling after the holiday, and it's hard to shake. It helped to turn on all the Christmas lights when we got home on Tuesday evening, and T. and I sparked up our Christmas music while we unpacked. L. found two forgotten chocolates from his advent calendar, and the cinnamon Christmas candle smelled as good when we lit it after Christmas, as it had before we left home for the holidays.

But my heart was still back at my parents' house, listening to the clock on the piano plink out Christmas songs. It was Christmas Eve, and the anticipation was taut like a string pulled tight. That was the moment I would relive if I could: the night before Christmas, T. warm from her bath in her Christmas pajamas, L. setting aside his newfound disbelief to let the magic in again--for just one night. The night before Christmas, when everything is possible.