Freeze-frame for the holidays

November 30,2009
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 love this time of the year, and all the holidays that come stacked in a line one after the other, like giant, glittering dominoes, sometimes I wish the holiday season weren’t also such a whirlwind. I feel like only yesterday I was watching the kids unpack scarecrows and ghosts and skeletons from the Rubbermaid bins, and then I blinked and we were digging out the Thanksgiving wreath and the pumpkin-colored candles, and all I could think about were those warm, comfort foods of the fall, and which pies I might bake this year for Thanksgiving. Then I must have blinked again because this weekend we opened more Rubbermaid bins and Christmas sprang forth and now we have a tree in the dining room, and our Christmas village all laid out on the buffet, and the tiny Christmas village people are back at it again, walking to and fro from The Toy Emporium, or the Fish Market, or stopping perhaps to sing some carols under street lamps by the Post Office. Do you ever feel like you just want to hold up your hand sometimes and shout stop! to it all? I don’t mean I want the holidays to stop, or that I’ve turned into a bah humbug kind of person, but I would love to just slow things down and savor the moment a little more. Time has a way of fast-forwarding as you get older, which doesn’t seem fair, really. I know to my kids the time between holidays seems to drag on and on (T. can hardly stand waiting for her birthday, which is all the way in January and she is certain we’ll never get to that point, the time just drags on and on for her) and I remember being little and thinking the exact same thing—that the holidays just couldn’t come soon enough. I was always looking to the next one, and the next one, and the next one, so eager to get there I didn’t think much about the time in between. But something changes when you become a parent. There is still always plenty to celebrate but a part of you goes through those comforting and treasured moments of holiday preparation always knowing that one day you’ll dig out those same bins and something big will have changed. Somewhere along the way a revisioning of the holidays will have happened—maybe without your even noticing--and even though the new form they’ll take will hopefully be wonderful, too, a part of you will always be tucked away in the holidays of those past years when your kids were still so firmly rooted in their childhood days, and they squabbled relentlessly over the placement of the Christmas village figurines, and your youngest still crawled into bed with you at night, and wrapped her little arms tightly around your neck. It’s a shattering sort of wisdom—this wisdom that gets unpacked each year. ********** We had a wonderful Thanksgiving, even if the time I spent in the kitchen that morning didn’t at all equal the amount of time spent actually eating the meal—but that’s okay. For me part of what makes the day so fulfilling is that I get to spend a good chunk of it in the kitchen, weaving a type of magic for my family as I chop and stir and mix. At the table we took turns saying what we were most thankful for (L. took a Google Earth-type approach, taking us from the universe, which he is most thankful for, to our solar system, to our planet, to our country, to our state, our city, and then zoom! we were at our house, then inside, then around the table, all of us smiling and together). After lunch we took our customary walk through the woods and down to the neighborhood pool. I watched the leaves swirl around our feet and thought about how different the woods look this time of the year, as opposed to in the spring and summer, when we walk through them daily to get to the pool. When we reached the top of the path T. let go of my hand and ran down through the leaves, a little girl in a splash of bright red velvet, weaving her way over the sticks and fallen pine cones, hair flying out behind her. I stared at her, hoping to emblazon that flash of red onto my mind’s eye. Then I remembered standing in the same spot last year, thinking similar half-nostalgic thoughts about how fleeting and bittersweet the passage of time always has to be, and I realized that perhaps we are so very conscious of the passing moments at the very times we cherish them the most: maybe this is life’s way of making sure we don’t let anything foolishly slip away; that we reach out and grab hold of what we can—fiercely--etching the moment into our hearts and bones, and vowing to never let go, no matter what.