Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Jingle Belles

Christmas was a not a real "family affair" when I was growing up. Oh, it was in the sense that my father liked buying us lots of fun stuff (and because I was the third girl, I got all the cool boy toys. Er, toys for boys like racetracks and army sets and trucks.), and we'd usually have to go to my grandmother's house later in the day for the billion-course gastronomic extravaganza.

But Christmas morning was a different story. We'd get up and rip into our presents while our parents slept. When my sisters got older, I'd shuffle out to the tree by myself and check out the loot while watching "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol". Eventually my mother would get up and clang pots around the kitchen, then she and my father would exchange gifts (which usually meant she'd complain about whatever it was that he bought her: "A watch? I can't even read the numbers!" "A book? I could go to the library.") I felt bad for my dad, but I didn't realize how sad it was that my parents seemed to take no joy in watching us open our gifts, even when we were very small.

When my oldest sister had children my parents would spend Christmas with them. My mother tried to make my sister feel guilty for "forcing" the kids to wait until she and her husband were up (and poised with their cameras) before going downstairs to open their presents.

I, too, have been a "mean mom"... not allowing my kids to go out to the tree until I'm up. When Lucas was almost 3, my work as a childbirth labor assistant took me away on Christmas Eve to help a woman give birth. When her labor went from 3PM through the night and into Christmas morning, Tony managed to keep Lucas occupied upstairs in our bedroom until 3PM Christmas Day, so I wouldn't miss that wonderful moment we experience each year: seeing our children's eyes widen as they gaze at the tree with mounds of good stuff under it.

The classic family moment involving my mom came one Christmas when my sister's kids were older. My niece opened a present from my mother and got up to give her a kiss on the cheek. My mother held up her hand and said, "We'll all kiss at the end." (This is now an all-purpose line. At my father's funeral, I turned to Loretta and said, "We'll all cry at the end.")