I met my grandkids for the first time last week. A long story, but with a decidedly happy ending.
After months of planning and preparing, my husband’s eldest daughter - call her “J” – came north with her husband of seven years and their two children, ages 3 (“almost 4”) and 5 months. The perfect ages to enjoy the holiday season...one kid to enjoy the annual Christmas Walk wonderment, and the other to pass around...(unable to crawl or walk yet, she was safely guarded from the many hazards of a 100+ year old house with bad wiring).
Holiday prep began the day after Thanksgiving. Truth be told, the annual hanging of the “Christmas Crap” is something I dread. I drag it all down from the attic and try to remember how it looked the previous year so as not to reinvent the wheel. This exercise has become somewhat ho-hum over the years... No new bells or whistles....And no young eager young eyes to absorb it all.
But, this year was different.
While unfurling the fake garland, I heard myself utter a faint fa-la-la-la, and soon broke into a full-on carol. I found myself caring about the draping of the garland and how many white lights still worked... I adorned a small tree with the colored lights that had become extinct since our transition to sensible white lights... I added action to my Christmas village, with blinking snowmen and twinkling trees... I placed the wooden advent calendar right at eye level, filling it with candy (but only days 1-4, as the kids would be gone by day 5.) And I actually hung the stockings – with care.
In short, my annual donning of the Christmas Crap had morphed into a kind of fun festive decorating event. The pending arrival of my grandkids had changed my channel and I was fully engulfed in the holiday spirit.
All I had to manage now was my expectations. Since I’d just decorated the house I grew up in, I knew exactly how things would/should be for Christmas. The tree would go here... the food would go there... we’d all sit here... carols would be playing (better yet – we’d be singing them together)... cider would be mulling... It would be perfect.
As the last of four children, I’d seen our house overflow with Christmas Cheer on many occasions (none of which actually resembled the scene described above). Including spouses, grandkids, and boyfriends, my extended family peaked with 14 people, usually packed into our 15x20 living room, with a 7 foot Christmas tree and a preposterous pile of presents.
But, back in realityville, it was only Dec. 1st and we wouldn’t actually have a tree yet or be eating figgy pudding. I reeled it in and lowered my expectations, acknowledging it was really just a well decorated weekend, albeit one with the entire family together for the first time in ten years. And, oh...the New England Patriots were playing on Sunday.
Up to this point, my 91 year old mother hadn’t seen our house in all its holiday splendor, or met her new great grandchildren. Being a huge Patriot’s fan, we invited her to join us for the game. Everyone, including J and her husband, my son, my three other daughters, my own husband, one friend, one cousin, and the two babies would be present.
I picked “Gram” up at her apartment next door and carefully navigated her through our back door. She loves to see my house at Christmas, particularly since it’s the same house she decorated herself for 40+ years. Mom ooohed and aaaaahed her way to her special spot on the couch and settled in.
This was the beginning of what she would later term “one of the best days of my life.” Norman Rockwell couldn’t have painted a better picture (though he would have included a fire in the fireplace).
Upon arrival, she was reacquainted with J, met her husband, and gave her new great grandson, “H,” a big hug and a puzzle. Baby “L” was handed to Gram post nap, eliciting a huge great grandma smile.
Surrounded by all kinds of new(ish) people, Mom’s conversation meandered all over the place. She asked a lot of good questions and had plenty of opportunity to regale the crowd with her stories, all of which were new to them. Christmas music playing on Soundscapes....
By game time, Mom was almost talked out, and the chili was ready. Mom - a serious Patriots fan – has an 11 inch, non-high definition TV screen at her home, so watching it on a well connected 70 inch flat screen TV was a big upgrade. At half time, two of Mom’s friends came by and they spent some time catching up while the rest of the family “did the dishes.”
Post-game, when asked if she was ready to go home, Mom uncharacteristically replied, “Not really.” Apparently, she hadn’t had enough holiday cheer, so we ordered Chinese food and commenced our own fourth quarter. At around 7 pm, after cheesecake and coffee, Mom was done and I escorted her back to her apartment.
This had been a huge day for Mom... The big family group, the great grandkids, the food, the lights, the game, the friends, the food again... all of this taking place with a Christmas backdrop worthy of Bing Crosby.
My expectations were reasonably set at the beginning of the day, and I planned to just go with the flow. I believe Mom anticipated the same. But having little H and L there made all the difference in the world. Throughout the day, Mom’s face glowed with an alertness and joy that I hadn’t seen in a long time. I was reminded of a story I’d recently read about the power of mixing four year olds with seniors; how it changes their body chemistry and improves their overall health, and here I was witnessing this phenomena right in my own living room.
It’s virtually impossible to recreate a perfect day, but this one is worthy of a try. Spring will be here soon enough, and with it another planned family reunion. Our big, shared backyard will be lush and green... H will be old enough to hold a whiffle bat... L will be walking... the flowers will be blooming... the grill will be smokin’... and Gram will have her special spot in the garden to witness and share it all.
My expectation is that it will be just perfect.