Guest post featuring Whitney Gronski-Buffa
We were in the backyard swinging on an unseasonably warm December day in Michigan. My daughter Olivia was asking me lots of questions.
“What do cows eat?” Grass and hay, sometimes apples.
“Where will the stray black cat in our neighborhood live once it gets cold?” I don’t know. Maybe we should build him a warm cat house (she liked that idea).
“Where’d our chimney go?” Well, we took it down last year when we fixed the roof. It was all broken, so now the chimney bricks border our vegetable garden and we have new duct work sticking out where the chimney once was.
Then there was silence for a few minutes.
“How will Santa come in our house?”
She’s just waking up to Christmas, and to say it’s fun to watch would be an understatement.
So we had a big chat. “Oh, don’t worry,” I assured her. “Santa can come to anyone’s house, and lots of houses don’t have chimneys. When I was a little girl, my house didn’t have a chimney, but Santa always came. He usually just comes in one of the doors and parks his reindeer on the lawn.”
This conversation unfurled for a while – Will Santa find us when we go to Grandma Dawn’s house? Did you know my friends have a chimney? I’m gonna get a yo-yo for Christmas. Dad’s gonna get yogurt for Christmas. What you gonna get for Christmas, Mom?
When you’re a kid, Christmas is an unfathomably large thing. You wait all year and, as science says, time passes more slowly when you’re a kid so the wait seems forever. It’s like a bigger birthday, filled with more cookies and more family and sometimes more presents. It’s the event of the year, and there’s so little you can do to contain your excitement.
But when you’re a parent? Well, Christmas becomes one of two things.
The first option is this: Christmas becomes a to-do list of baking, shopping, partying, card sending and fully-engaged anxiety. You fret about how to see all your relatives in the few days that span the definition of “Christmastime.” If you live far from home, you have to work in hours of travel time and potentially strategize how to keep the Crock Pot warm en route to the Great Big Family Christmas Show. You plow through it all, barely mentally present for any of it, but hey. You accomplish Christmas. When you get your first quiet moment on Christmas night, you collapse on the floor, icing drizzling down your cheek, and you watch the ceiling fan spin until the tension leaves your shoulders for the first time since Thanksgiving.
If you ask me, this option sucks. Sadly and honestly, Option One has been my Christmas this so far. Work has been wild. I’ve squeezed in a bit of shopping on lunch breaks. I’ve coordinated Christmas schedules and navigated the waters or family angst. I’ve baked, and eaten, and baked again. It’s been a grind. My body wants kale.
But it ends now, just in time for me to engage Option Two. It will look like this.
I will leave work on time. I will turn off both my cell phones. I’ll rent a couple Christmas movies on my way home. I’ll make pasta for dinner and hot cocoa for dessert. Maybe we’ll pile in the car and drive around to look at Christmas lights, just me, my husband and my little girl. And we’ll do what she wants to do the rest of evening.
In the morning, we’ll open some presents before we head out to be with our families for the rest of the weekend. Santa might be coming a little early for a little girl who, frankly, deserves the experience of running down her own stairs to find some special gifts in her own living room.
We’re going to slow right down and refocus on what’s important: our little family, and our little girl, whose eyes are open wide to the sights and sounds of Christmas.
Whitney Gronski-Buffa is a freelance reporter and stay-at-home mom. You can follow her on Twitter @whitneymae.