Sometimes Christmas just doesn’t turn out looking like we think it should.
In spite of thirteen weeks of planning, and even getting my Christmas cards out for the first time in about ten years, this Christmas was hard.
It wasn’t because of money; God provided plenty of work. It wasn’t because of unfulfilled Christmas wishes; I didn’t have any. In fact, in many ways it was a very sweet Christmas, filled with some of the most inexpensive, yet profoundly thoughtful, gifts I’ve ever received.
However, that’s seeing it in retrospect. After spending the bulk of Christmas Eve on the verge of tears, I finally realized what was really wrong.
Everything has changed — everything.
The Christmas stockings hanging on the mantle that I love so dearly remained empty. The little girls whose Christmas dresses they were made of were not here. All but two out of the six were miles away, busy creating Christmas for their own families. My little boys are both men now. There were no Brio Mec building sets under the tree for them, no wooden trains or slingshots.
Although we were blessed with a house full of friends and some family on Christmas Eve, and woke to the grins of six grandchildren and one thoroughly excited teenager, the house still felt empty. There were just too many faces missing. I wasn’t the only one that felt it.
I know. Children grow up.
This year, I made a decision. I’m changing everything. If I can’t have it the way it was, then fine. I’ll create a new normal.
For years, I had Christmases not far from Paula’s near miss with Hamageddon. With nine children and a policeman’s salary, I made Christmas literally by hand. Often, we had to create it out of thin air, but we always pulled it off. We had to find ways to make a lot of children’s eyes twinkle with excitement without price tags.
In the process, I developed my own tradition. Right after Christmas I would write down what I needed to do the following year to make Christmas less stressful and more beautiful. I would also note any new tradition I wanted to create. Over the years my list would include everything from “buy more lights” to “start sewing in November.”
This year, I did a total reassessment.
Here are the facts: The children are grown. We have 22 grandchildren (and counting) and 15 adult children when you count sons and daughters-in-law. With only one teenager left at home, it’s just not the same.
Truth is, I doubt that we will ever be wealthy enough to “spoil” our grandchildren the way we would like to. It is just not in the foreseeable future. We’ll never be the grandparents that get to take their grandchildren to Disney every year. In fact, it’s nearing impossible to buy everyone a simple gift.
This reality struck me hard.
Then I remembered how I used to spend so much time with my oldest children as babies. I would talk to them for hours on end. They went everywhere with me. I “wore” my babies long before it was a fad. Then, we turned a corner. Somewhere around baby number six, I didn’t have time to spend just gazing into her eyes — there were too many demands.
At first, I felt really guilty about it. Then, as I watched five little adoring faces work tirelessly to make the baby laugh, I realized that I had more to give her than I thought. She had a team of people to love her and talk to her–and boy did they ever. That’s when I realized that the best gifts I’ve ever given my children were each other. To this day, they love being together and making one another laugh.
Twenty-five years later, I am reminded that’s still the greatest gift I have to give them — each other. Now we have another entire generation that also loves being together.
So here’s my new Christmas resolution.
No more mourning the loss of childhoods. No more trying to re-create a Christmas tucked away in memories. No more trying to buy “things” to give everyone for Christmas. It’s time to find new ways to make another generation’s eyes twinkle, without price tags.
Next year a new tradition begins — and I have already started planning it. The “Robinson Christmas” will fall somewhere in the midst of the twelve days of Christmas, with as many as I can gather together in some remote spot that will hold us all.
Once again, I can give my children, and now my grandchildren, what I have always wanted them to have –laughter, love, memories, and, most of all, each other.
How does your family handle distance? Do you have a favorite gathering place?