It took approximately 5 hours and 35 minutes yesterday for the Christmas Day dust to settle and for there to be a window of relative quiet and peace following the frenzy of cinnamon-bun eating, coffee-drinking, present-opening, present-assembling, present-playing. Then we grown-ups, fingers tingling and aching from having assembled ridiculous numbers of Matchbox raceways, shortwave radio kits, wooden dollhouses, and puzzles, collapsed on the couch, thankful in a way that Christmas only comes once a year.
(My ever-patient brother assembling a racetrack that would have sent me to bed for the rest of the day with a headache.)
Even without all the above excitement, I'm always tired on Christmas Day because the night before I get hardly any sleep--and I know I am not alone in this. I often lie in bed for upwards of an hour going over all parts of the Christmas tableau waiting to be played out, and mentally checking things off to see whether I left anything undone:
Cookies for Santa. Check.
Cookies "eaten" by Santa. Check.
Milk for Santa. Check.
Milk consumed by Santa. Check.
Herbal teabag left for Mrs. Claus. Check. (L. started this tradition last year. He was worried Mrs. Claus would feel slighted upon Santa's return to the North Pole.)
Herbal tea bag whisked away so it won't be there in the morning. Check.
Thank-you note from Santa. Check.
Christmas stockings filled. Check.
All telltale wrapping disposed of properly. Check.
The night before Christmas, angst took on a new dimension due to that fateful night last year. I went down into my parents' basement before Christmas to do some wrapping and discovered that we had left three of T.'s critical Santa presents back home in North Carolina. I lay awake that night, feeling as if I had failed my daughter. I imagined her dreaming of Care Bears while she slumbered—that smile on her face there because, in her dreams, it was Christmas morning and she was hugging Bright Heart Raccoon and Gentle Heart Lamb and pink Baby Hugs so closely to her heart--those same three Care Bears we left behind. Yet when Christmas morning was over last year it seemed so inconsequential, the leaving behind of those bears. T. loved her presents that year, and we rolled up a piece of paper with an "IOU" note from us into her stocking, promising her Care Bears when we returned home. And when it was all said and done, I learned that Christmas will always be wonderful and memorable for your kids and that it's the sum of the experience that counts, not all the little parts along the way.
So I tried to lighten up on myself a little this year. I tried not to worry about whether I'd wake up early enough to slip downstairs and turn on the Christmas tree lights (I didn't) so the kids would think Santa had done it. I tried to let go of the obsessive need to have all the Santa gifts tagged in the exact same handwriting (they weren't) so my kids wouldn't wonder. And when one of L.'s electronic toys refused to work, I tried to let it go, to not worry about whether the day had been ruined for him (it wasn't).
I have learned over the years that you don't have to try so hard as a parent to make everything just right. Sometimes it won't be, and sometimes it will. But in the end, you will always remember Christmas for what it is: something bigger than what you could possibly imagine, wonderful and glowing, and filled with a light that keeps you going long after the last remnants of wrapping paper have been cleared up, the last Christmas book read, and the last stocking tucked back into its box, waiting for the next year.
The kids were good this year! Santa left some of these favorite gifts. What were some of the winners for you and your kids this year?