Hi. My name is Jeri and I’m a mother.
Forty years ago, after I tried it ‘just once’, I was hooked. I spent the next ten years turning them out like a PEZ dispenser.
The thing is, I’m not a kid person. Kids don’t gravitate to me. I’m not fun or whimsical. Other people need to see the baby, need to hold the baby. Not me, I’m kind of take it or leave it. Well, unless it’s mine. Before I had kids, I had amorphous dreams of something like…I don’t know, being Carrie Bradshaw before there was a Carrie Bradshaw.
My mother instilled in me a belief that I could do and be anything I wanted. She was a trail blazer of a single mom back in the day, and she did whatever she had to do to raise my sister and me. I think it was hard for her when, in one of those instances of missing what you didn’t have, my sister and I became stay-at-home moms. I don’t think it was so much the home baked cookies we missed, but a kind of stability that was often lacking in our young lives.
In any case, when the kids started multiplying, and my husband’s career - which unlike mine was both well-defined and fueled by some serious drive (and relocation packages) – stay-at-home motherhood was a good fit. Early on, I labored under the delusion that it would be easy – how hard could it be with two loving parents and all we needed?
I’ve picked up on a couple of things since then. The truth is, they will fill your heart, and they will break your heart, sometimes simultaneously. The truth is, you will do anything for them…donate blood and body parts (I’m assuming on the body parts), clean up crime scenes, fight someone for the last Cabbage Patch Doll, move mountains of debt…to give them what you think they need. You will learn that you are only as happy as your unhappiest child and that Sr Mary Eleanor was right, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.
When you build up a tolerance for your kids, they hit you with grandchildren and trust me, there is not a sweeter high than when one of those little beings, brimming with unconditional love, hits you with an unsolicited, “I love you Grom.”
This really is apropos of nothing, just my existential crisis du jour - brought on by currents of life mixing with waves of sweet nostalgia induced by the approaching holidays.
For decades our family ritual has been to go to Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by Chinese food for dinner. Christmas Day is spent at home, French toast for breakfast and something easy for dinner. This tradition began after our first Christmas in Texas. That Christmas, in the Dark Ages before Amazon Prime, I bought all the gifts, wrapped, packed and shipped them back to my in-laws in New York, so that Santa would be able to find the kids where they woke up on Christmas morning. My husband and I, three kids (1986), and the dog followed the packages days later. The process was reversed to get it all home. And lets not leave out the part where the dog left a package…in my in-laws bedroom. That was the last time he was invited.
The next Christmas we wised up and began Christmasing in place, inaugurating the Christmas Eve Mass and Chinese food ritual that we’ve pretty much followed, with additions and minor deviations, since.
Last night my husband and I were reminiscing about how our rituals took shape and what an amazing run we’ve had.
I’ve always tried to be sanguine about them coming home for Christmas. I remember how hard it was to divide time between our families when we were first married. I’ve always encouraged our kids to do what works best for them and makes them happy, so they can enjoy the holidays guilt free.
My evil plan worked really well.
They’ve kept coming back much longer than I thought they would. There have been a few years when distance, work conflicts and such have prevented us all from being together and I’ve known we have to be prepared for change as the family expands.
This year, as I look forward to them all being here for Christmas, I’m also looking back at the day my husband announced to his parents, over Sunday dinner, that we would be moving to Texas for a career opportunity. I remember how the color drained from my mother-in-law’s face and the food in my own mouth turned to dust as it dawned on me that my mother-in-law, my children’s devoted Baba, the epitome of a kid person, would be watching her three oldest, and geographically closest, grandchildren move halfway across the country.
Right before we left, she gave us a framed piece of calligraphy that reads, “There are two things you give your children: one is roots - the other is wings.”
I have carried that piece with us over 32 years and four states. It resonates with me now, as it did then, as our long run of family Christmases is inevitably transitioning to something new. Our oldest son and his family will be moving overseas in January, taking advantage of a career opportunity for our fabulous daughter-in-law. Our youngest daughter will be getting married in October, building a new family unit and embracing new traditions.
I am experiencing the Christmas season more deeply this year. Reliving Christmases Past as I make my mother’s Springerle and hang beloved ornaments on Christmas Present, our brand-new faux tree. I am deeply grateful for the Then and determined to enjoy every moment of the Now. Thankful for the wise and cherished words from my mother-in-law that informed our parenting; feeling fortunate that our children grew their roots deep and their wings wide.
And I’m so gonna ask Santa for some transatlantic flights.