I’ll start this off by saying my son’s first Christmas was lovely, magical, emotional, stressful, silly, rushed, exciting, overwhelming, exhausting, fulfilling, and perfect in all its imperfection. I meant to write this post before Christmas, but ran out of time and energy. I’m glad I waited until after the holiday because now I have a different perspective.
With that said, this is a long one…it starts heavy and ends heavy. (It is also photo-heavy, so I apologize for slow loading times on mobile devices or laggy browsers.) Brace yourselves!
The Beginning: Slim Pickings
I don’t think my parents really spoiled me and my brother when we were children. I didn’t grow up expecting I would get everything I ever wanted. In fact, I grew up believing the opposite—and it was because of my parents. They taught me that in order to get what I wanted, I had to work hard and I had to be responsible. Example: I went in as an undergraduate thinking I would have to pay my own way—which is why I turned things around after earning a measly 2.3 GPA during my freshman year.
I am prefacing with this because what I am about to say might lead you to think something else: Christmas has always been big in my family. Or, at least, it has always seemed big to me. (Your perspective as a child is very skewed.) I’m throwing up the deflector shields prematurely because I’ve seen judgemental parents throwing barbs left and right at each other over the last month for what kind and how many presents everyone is buying for their children.
Yes, my parents showered us with gifts at Christmastime. From what my mom now tells me, they sacrificed a lot in the beginning to make sure there were gifts from Santa waiting to be unwrapped every year. And this started back in the late ’80s, early ’90s, people. There were no iPhones or iPads, DVDs or Smart TVs. Yeah, I’m sure there were the typical “expensive presents,” but my parents weren’t really that type, either. We got toys, we got books. We got school supplies, we got clothes. The fun wasn’t necessarily in what was in the wrapping paper but the act of opening itself. Christmas in its entirety was full of excitement and appreciation and giving and family.
So maybe, just maybe, that might have influenced the stress and disappointment of this year for me, as December ramped up to the big holiday but our budget didn’t accommodate my vision of what it would be like. Maybe I took it a little too much to heart that I wasn’t able to spend as I pleased and felt restricted by the fallout of my husband and I not adjusting our spending habits in time to save for the end of the year. It was, after all, my son’s first Christmas. He won’t remember it. He doesn’t care that I didn’t buy him boatloads of books like I wanted to, or the best and most organic activities/toys for his growth and development. And I don’t think my own upbringing negatively influenced me. I think I just misplaced what I learned and felt from it. That energy I felt as a child needs to be directed to the years to come, when he will remember what it was like. Maybe then, I’ll be a bit more focused.
He Won’t—But I Will
While we’re on the subject of my son not remembering this Christmas—I heard that a lot. From well-meaning people, of course. And obviously, I knew he wouldn’t. It was hard for me to speak up and say, “But I will.” Because it sounds selfish. But that’s what this year was about. It actually wasn’t about him; it was about me. And why not? If there was ever going to be a year when my son opening gifts and having a fun and exciting and magical holiday was going to be about me and not him, it was going to be his first. Of course he won’t remember it. These memories are mostly for me.
To brighten the bad ones that have stuck with me for years.
In 2012—the memory of getting the call after Christmas dinner that my grandfather had died, only seven months after we danced at my wedding. Wrapping my arms around my two younger cousins as we cried.
In 2013—the memory of finding out on Christmas Eve that my second baby had died weeks earlier and I hadn’t even noticed. The forced smiles and laughter on Christmas Day. The procedure to remove the baby a few days later and the contractions/labor that followed that weekend. The copious amounts of alcohol I consumed at the second family Christmas party as I ignored the increasing cramping and questions about when my husband and I would start trying for a baby.
Yes, this year was about me. It was about finally having a healthy, living baby with whom I could celebrate my favorite holiday. I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted everything to be just so.
Numb and In Denial
Before 2012, I used to get excited about Christmas the second Thanksgiving was over with—sometimes earlier, depending on when I started my shopping. I would count the weeks, the days, excitedly adding to the stowaway of gifts for my loved ones bit by bit, spending late evenings wrapping and packaging everything by the light of the Christmas tree (which was always up at a proper time).
This year, the excitement lagged. It fell behind while anxiety, apprehension, and denial charged ahead. I bought all the gifts for my son in one night at a 24-hour Wal*Mart a few weeks before Christmas, purely from a strategic standpoint as a mama who didn’t want to spend decades in long lines with a 10-month-old, and tucked them away in the guest bedroom. I ticked the days off on my desk calendar at work, watching the big day loom closer and feeling not much of anything. It wouldn’t be until the week of Christmas when I watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the Jim Carrey one) while sick and miserable on the couch that I would become overwhelmed with emotion during Cindy Lou Who’s rendition of “Where Are You, Christmas?”
I watched the friends with infertility and a history of miscarriage I had made over the last few years write of how they were unable to hold back tears as they overheard Christmas music in stores and purchased gifts for their own new babies. I would tell myself that it was coming—the moment when it would hit me—and I would be teary and happy and excited and emotional. It would come, and I would feel better.
And it did. But it took its sweet fucking time.
Christmas Tree—Ups and Downs
The Saturday before Christmas was supposed to be a big one. With only a handful of days before the big day, we still had yet to purchase and trim a tree. We woke up that morning, and my husband brought out all the holiday decorations and tree trimmings. We left around noontime, throwing Joey off his napping schedule, and set out for our Christmas tree. It was cold, nothing like the warm weather that would come around later in the week, so the selection process was brief. (It also helped that there were maybe 12-15 trees left. Days to go and all.) Joey and I picked out “the one,” my husband went and paid for it and then helped the employee tie it to the roof of our car, and back home we went.
The week before, another IF friend commented that the last time she’d had a tree was when she was pregnant with a baby she miscarried—and I realized I was in the same boat. It hadn’t been intentional. Christmas 2014 was hectic—we had just bought the house in October, had officially moved in just recently in November…the house was a mess, and I was pregnant and not even a little up for it. And here it was, Christmas 2015, and I was stuck remembering the last time we trimmed a tree in Christmas 2013. I remembered sitting on the couch with a cup of hot cocoa in my hands, all the lights in the apartment out, watching TV by the light of the Christmas tree, and dreaming about what Christmas with a 6-month-old would be like. Going into this first Christmas with Joey suddenly became a little more overwhelming. A little more meaningful than it already was.
Joey lasted only a little while before we had to put him down for his nap, which ended up being better anyway as he wanted to touch all the decorations. My husband and I finished trimming the tree, which is such a favorite thing of mine to do. We have an ornament for every year we’ve been together, with the year written or painted or inscribed on the ornament somewhere, plus a ton of other ornaments that just personally define each of us, or both of us as a couple—a Kevlar helmet for him, an “army wife” ornament with dog tags dangling from it for me, ornaments that look like each of our cats, penguin ornaments for him and a piano ornament for me, ornaments from vacations we’ve taken together. The list goes on—a list to which a new ornament had been added: a Swarovski “Baby’s 1st Christmas” ornament my husband had purchased earlier that month. Once the tree was adorned with all of our special ornaments, including Joey’s, we settled down to watch some of a holiday movie while we waited out the rest of the baby’s nap. That feeling that I’d been anticipating for weeks started to creep in. I could feel the wall I’d apparently built around me start to break down and that holiday warmth start to work its way in as I snuggled into the space against my husband’s chest and under his arm.
Of course, the nap ran late. We were due to meet my parents, my brother, and his girlfriend for dinner at 7:00 and I had wanted to see the lights in the next town over as part of carrying over the tradition I’d had on Christmas Eve with my own parents (but since my husband was working that evening, we’d planned it for that day). We packed the diaper bags and got everything ready to go, and for a moment I thought we might be able to at least do a quick drive-by of the lights—not ideal, but good enough.
Just for a moment. Until my husband was on his way to the car with the diaper bags, and I had just finished saying something to him and was turning back towards the bedroom where our soon-to-be-woken baby was sleeping, when the tree fell. Out of nowhere.
I yelped, then yelled “Holy shit!” My husband came running back up, asking if I was okay. I could only look at the tree, sprawled across the living room floor. A broken ornament—made of beautiful hand-blown glass, from my parents’ vacation to Aruba or the Turks and Caicos or somewhere—rested in shattered pieces at my feet. Other ornaments, not broken, were scattered as far as the kitchen. (Later, I would be grateful for the alphabet puzzle floor mats we had on the living room floor, the area where Joey plays, when I realized that is probably what prevented more ornaments from breaking.) And then I realized the tree had fallen on the side where we’d put Joey’s ornament. I knew before we lifted the tree that the ornament was broken. It had to be. Only an hour before, I had hesitated about putting it on the tree. Maybe we should just display it elsewhere, I had thought, in case Joey gets a hold of the tree and knocks it over…or the cat does… But no, I hadn’t listened to my instinct. We lifted the tree. The ornament wasn’t shattered, but it was broken. One baby shoe was broken off. I lifted both pieces off the floor and walked to the dining room table and set them down before helping my husband rig the tree to the wall with screws and some sort of wire he grabbed from the garage. I held back tears when I asked him if he thought he could exchange it for another and he told me it was the last one.
We set off for dinner with my family, over half an hour late at that point. We had to skip the lights for the year, as that was the last day we could do it that John could also go. I spent the evening snapping at my husband over stupid shit and fighting back the urge to have a meltdown in public, eventually somewhat enjoying myself as Joey ate a lot of food and I ended up having a good amount of whiskey afterwards at my parents’ house. I apologized to my husband for being a bitch, and we were able to salvage what was left of the weekend the next morning.