I once spent a Christmas 40 weeks pregnant. Aside from having my own personal “belly … like a bowl full of jelly,” and the ability to parade around in a Santa Claus suit to the delight of my other small children, it was absolutely miserable. Swollen, exhausted and lacking even the smallest morsel of holiday joy, all I needed to complete this scenario of bankrupt Christmas cheer was an uncomfortable donkey ride, and a hotel front desk clerk telling me they were all sold out. All I craved was a silent night, but the impending decade of sleepless nights and insane Christmas times due to soon having a houseful of small children loomed larger than my girth, and I wondered when and if the holidays would ever feel peaceful and joyful again.
And yet today as I look back on that particular Christmas, from my now very quiet home that is dispersing young adults out into the world faster than an elf Pez dispenser, I would go back and relive that insanely chaotic holiday season (and all the ones that followed) in a heartbeat. Why? Because it turns out silent nights aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. As a matter of fact, there is more noise in the silence than I’d ever imagined. Empty nests can be downright deafening — especially at Christmas.
Holiday seasons tend to wind down somewhat when we hit midlife, and though many of us have long craved a peaceful December where we can finally exhale during a usually frenzied time of year, for some this new and less chaotic type of Christmas is another stark reminder that not only are our children growing older, but we are as well. There are no doll houses and race car tracks to frantically assemble in the wee hours of Christmas morning. There are no wise men costumes to sew or angel wings to glue together, or holiday concerts to attend. And there are no squealing kids to help sprinkle cookies, trim the tree or hang the stockings. Instead those occasions have turned into melancholy solo events done after several glasses of wine, where we sigh a little with each “Baby’s First Christmas” or preschool popsicle-stick manger ornament we hang.
Then as the season really ramps us, we become sadly aware that when our college kids and young adults do come home for Christmas, the time we’re all together can be fleeting and feel rushed, and some of us may have to experience our first-ever Christmas where our kids don’t or can’t come home at all. Jobs, new spouses and the fact their lives are filling up with people and events that don’t include immediate family can be a hard holiday pill to swallow. Throw in some aging parents (who now bring an entirely different set of holiday needs and wants to add to seasonal situations we’re unaccustomed to), and watch our joy melt faster than Frosty without his magical black hat. It all makes for a bit more “Bah Humbug” and a bit less “Merry” in our Christmases than we’d anticipated at this stage in our lives, but it explains a lot when I think about what my own mother always wanted for Christmas.
As a little girl, I always wanted to buy her the perfect gift, but was miffed by her response that she didn’t need or want anything other than having everyone together and at home for Christmas. “What kind of present is that?” I would think, because it never made sense to me that someone didn’t want stuff under the tree. It never made sense, that is, until now, because I find myself in her very same mindset at my midlife. Although all the moving parts in my life now are not actually children riding shiny new bikes on Christmas morning, their older versions and the complexities they bring make me want to adjust my gift wish list to that of my mom’s from years ago: I just want all my people around me and home for Christmas. Now wouldn’t that make for the best version of “It’s a Wonderful (Mid)Life” there could ever be?
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