Ripples

December 16,2009
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.

Now that most of my holiday shopping is out of the way, and the teachers' gifts have been delivered, and the holiday cards ordered, and the first batches of cookies baked, I can slowly but surely turn my attention to our holiday trip home. One week from today, as I pointed out to L. when we backed the car out of the driveway this morning, we'll be loading up Christmas, and suitcases, and the animals and their respective paraphernalia (at least we don't have to pack up an exersaucer and a high chair as we did one year) and heading north for the holiday. People's reactions to our annual trip vary, depending on who we talk to. I have several friends who do just as we do every single year, and I have others who root themselves firmly in their home turf for the Christmas holiday. Most of these friends are lucky enough to have family nearby, so they can afford the luxury of waking up in their own homes on Christmas morning. There used to be a time, earlier on in our married lives, when we were loading up babies who cried in the car and never slept AND animals AND Christmas when I used to wish for the chance to stay put one year, any year, but just one year, please? And then I got my wish, the year I was pregnant with T. She was due in January, and by the beginning of December I was really struggling physically, and experiencing lots of Braxton Hicks contractions so strong I truly felt I would go into labor any moment. There was no earthly way I could sit in the van for six plus hours and be away from home for several days at a stretch. The nesting urge had kicked in big time by the end of my pregnancy and I fiercely and instinctively wanted to do nothing but stay home, and keep L. close--soak up every minute alone with him before our lives--his life in particular--would change forever. It was wonderful in many ways, that Christmas. I still look back on the photos from that year and feel a painful lump in my throat, and a tug inside my heart, like a finger poking at my insides. I don't even remember so much the gifts L. opened, or his reactions to them all. I don't remember what I got, even, or what Scott and I gave each other, although if I thought hard I'm sure I could reconstruct it all. What I do remember was that time we had, just the three of us, and three-year old L., our three-year old L., still so little, and still so unprepared for that sea change that was to come. What I also remember is that staying home didn't feel quite as good as I thought it would. It seemed quiet, and empty, and just a little flat, somehow. I missed my family, and the noise, and the wrapping paper everywhere, and my dad wearing his Santa hat while he doled out the gifts, and I missed my mother's cookies, and watching L. playing silly games with my sister. I missed what was missing--the family part of Christmas, the dimension the holiday can only take on when you add the colorful layers of many people coming together, and love, and noise, and the crazy ups and downs of family dynamics. I had also forgotten, until that year, how much I had longed for those very same Christmases when I was a child--Christmases overflowing with cousins and noise and sometimes too much noise, but in the end it would all be so worth it. Only two weeks after T. was born my grandfather passed away, far away from me, way across that flat, deep, unforgiving spread of the Atlantic ocean. His loss poked a hole in my Fabric of Things Taken for Granted--you know, that fabric so many of us cloak ourselves with until something irrevocable changes it all. There are too many things that matter more in life than convenience, or sleeping in your own bed, or six hours spent consoling a fussy baby in the back car seat, or having to pack up Christmas into boxes and bags. Christmas itself is only one day out of many, a pebble thrown into the center of a year's worth of ordinary and extraordinary days. What matters more are the ripples that radiate outwards, long after the day is gone; the memories, the love, the chance to come together in the here and now.