December 12, 2016

Nothing is the same, nor should it be: Week 16

As the month of December unfolds, I'm approaching the end of my self-chosen 18 week commitment to process and understand the dynamics of my empty nest. Back in August when I first began the series, the plan was to live-blog each week, chronicling my emotional and intellectual learning curve as I was experiencing it.

This past weekend, I picked my younger child up from college in Chicago. I drove in a day early with a neighbor friend and we had a mini-shopping girl's getaway planned. We briefly saw my baby bird to have some lunch and then went and checked into our hotel room. We spent the afternoon checking out some Chicago shopping destinations, had a nice dinner, hit the sack and got ready to bring two young co-eds home. (Another young person from our town attends the same university so we share rides to and from school with her parents).
Anyway, that little scenario led me to the realization of how little of my December is the same as in years past. It was a gradual process, but it hit me like a ton of bricks when I was shopping with my neighbor who still has younger children who still have child expectations of Christmas, including Santa and lots of magic and gifts.

Santa knows they were goodChristmas over the past few years has taken a decidedly less magical and much more realistic turn. I'm okay with that. My children were too old when the Elf on the Shelf "magic" became another thing to do over the holidays. Thank goodness.

Yet, I do recall the year that our dog was a new puppy and the children were nervous that he would scare Santa away from coming, so they asked to bring his crate upstairs to their bedroom. Then, when they couldn't decide whose room to put the cage into, they decided to share a bed. That was magic I'll cherish forever. The sight of my little angels sleeping next to each other on Christmas Eve, making sure Santa would still visit, will never be forgotten.

While I miss the visits to Santa, I honestly don't miss the built up deception and the impression that "Santa can do anything". My children haven't quite forgiven me, but literally the minute they were old enough to question Santa, I came clean. I am terrible at sugarcoating and not so good at lying either, so it was a huge relief to just say, "I'm Santa". Okay, I wasn't quite so blunt, I think I said something like "Once upon a time there was a very kind and generous man who loved making children happy. His name was Santa Claus and he was so inspirational that parents have taken on his traditions over the years and kept his spirit alive, and now that you know, you will want to keep his traditions alive for the younger children." Honestly, I never cared for the commercial bend that Christmas took.

Before I sound like an insufferable Scrooge, I love the family get-togethers, the parties, the baking, and the decorations. I love putting up a tree and reliving a lifetime of memories with each ornament I hang. But some of that has changed as well. Concurrent with children growing up and getting older is that the generation older than myself starts to shrink. The losses of patriarchs and matriarchs has all begun to happen over the past several years and life needs to take a new turn to compensate.

This year, I found myself especially nostalgic and I think my emotions were a mélange of events, but I fondly remembered not only the handprints my children made, but the crocheted snowflakes my grandmother made, the Shiny-Brites like the one my husband's grandparents hung on the tree. I recognized that nothing will ever be like that again. We will never pack ourselves into my grandparent's living room again, nor will we stay up half the night smuggling gifts out of hiding places, waiting until the children fell asleep to take bites out of cookies on the plate and stage a Christmas visit from Santa for the break of dawn.

Instead, we get the magic of well-educated young people. I get to talk to my younger daughter about literature and philosophy and sharpen my thinking skills. I get to arrange the meeting of my older daughter's beau for the first time. I don't intend to pressure or embarrass her, but honestly, whenever I meet someone she is dating, I always approach such meetings wondering if this is a person who will eventually become a member of the family. That's exciting!

Last week, my spouse and I had a date. We went to a Christmas ale blind tasting and didn't have to worry about getting home for the kids. It's something we'd never have even considered when they still lived at home.

Those are just a few slices of the ways life will never be the same. And I am so glad it's not.

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