Happy 100 Days: 7

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, everything was exactly right. Everything, that is, except for one little burr under my saddle.
 
The cheese grits and cranberry sauce were prepped and ready for morning. Presents were heaped under the tree. Shrek on the TV was babysitting my kid while the grownups sat in a circle around the kitchen table gabbing about things that were of no interest to him. The cousins who happen to be near Bug’s age were off with their other grandmother for the evening. The only other big kid in the house had grown up so much, he was more interested in finishing up Ulysses than in playing cards or hide-and-seek with the resident 6-year-old.
 
Between the raucous stories in the kitchen and Shrek in the living room, everyone seemed content.
 
So, why was I feeling like the Grinch?
 
This Dallas gathering has been a bright cacophony.  We are immersed in family and busy-ness, yet somehow, I am unsatisfied with the familiar chaos. Something is missing. Of course, this is the first time I have had Bug at Christmas since Tee and I broke up. But it is more than just not being with Bug’s dad. It is also the loss of ways we had created together when we became a family. Where are the Christmas carols? The nighttime walks? The outings for ice skating? The group games?
 
Why won’t anyone here sit down with my kid and play with him?
 
One thing about Tee that attracted me to him was his tribe.  They have created ways of being together and being in community that expand a person’s spirit. Hell, the first time I met his family, we attended his older sister’s wedding which took place at a YMCA camp. We celebrated her marriage with canoe races and zip lines. Tee’s family’s annual caroling party is a city-wide epic undertaking. Every holiday is an endless string of group sledding adventures and multi-generational board games. These activities are not grafted on; they are woven deeply into the fabric of their family. A person barely has to try. It is all there for the taking.
 
Of course, I couldn’t stay married just to his family. It’s a package deal. The just-add-water approach of patching a new name onto the end of my own is not an option (and didn’t work, after all).
 
The holidays are just another reminder that even in the midst of the chattering, loving embrace of my extended family, I do have to grow up and figure out how to cobble the new ways together from whatever I have on hand.
 
I know that in the coming years, Bug and I will be on our own for the holidays. We can make our own traditions. It’s just that I don’t want to wait. I wish I knew how to break familiar habits, or at least bend them enough now to put into place some of the activities I would like us to nurture in our home. It is so hard to push against the settled ways to create room for these things. It gets tiring to suggest them and to face a wall of derision and resistance. It isn’t just me. I have seen others try before me and eventually give up.
 
As the movie wound down, I pulled out paper and crayons.
 
“Sweetie, what are we going to do for Santa?”
 
Bug scooted off the couch and started re-arranging things in the den. He hung his stocking, clearing the conch shells and driftwood out from the unused brick fireplace so Santa wouldn’t knock them over. He put out the milk and cookies. Then, he sat down and wrote the note.
 
“What about the sugar?” He asked when he was finished.
 
“The sugar?”
 
“Yeah. For the donkey.” He explained that Santa has a donkey who travels with the reindeer and helps fly. Something about keeping Rudolph company up front? It was all very vague, yet Bug was firm in his knowledge. This revelation required us to fill a bowl with white sugar to feed Santa’s donkey. We also put out ten baby carrots for the reindeer. Bug arranged all of these treats in a circle around the note on the coffee table in the den.
 
“Alright, buddy. Bedtime.”
 
Bug raced to the back bedroom, leaping onto the bed, bouncing and singing nonsense.
 
“Dance, Mommy!” He had music in his bones. He shook his rear end in my direction and giggled hysterically.
 
“Where’s that iPod of mine?” I asked.
 
We found it and clicked on Bug’s favorite new tune from One Direction, that unavoidable pop number, “That’s What Makes you Beautiful.” Without speakers, the boy-band’s voices came out even tinnier and, well, tinier.
 
Bug marched around the mattresses on the floor in his jammies, bopping his shoulders and spinning in circles. Then, in a burst of excitement, he threw open the door and raced down the hallway.
 
“CHRISTMAS EVE DANCE PARTY!” He grabbed my mom from the kitchen. “Come ON, Gramma!” He dragged her into the bedroom. “DANCE!”
 
Laughing, she swayed her hips. “I can’t even hear it! What are we listening to?”
 
Bug didn’t stop to respond. He just clicked the iPod to repeat and cruised out the door.  “I’m going to get more people!”
 
One by one, he dragged every member of the family into the bedroom. First an aunt, then another, then my dad. The big cousin. An uncle. Eventually, even his ancient great-grandmother was balanced on her cane in the doorway looking both confused and delighted.
 
“Dance, everybody! It’s a Christmas Eve dance party!” Bug called. He leaped and spun and sprang across the floor, weaving between his assembled family members. Everyone swayed and grinned and made embarrassed faces at one another. As the song wound down, they began to disappear.
 
“Whew, that’s enough for me,” said one aunt.
 
“Me, too. I’m pooped!” The aunt’s boyfriend followed her back down the hallway.
 
Chuckling, folks called “Merry Christmas! Good night!”  My mom and one aunt, true troopers, stuck it out to the last chord. Then, pink-cheeked and breathless, everyone said goodnight and I shut the door.
 
“Let’s get ready for sleep, Buddy, so Santa can come.”
 
“Okay!” He said, and collapsed onto the bed.
 
My boy, not realizing that such things are not done, broke the rules and created something new. Santa’s entourage includes a donkey. At Christmas now, this member of the team simply Is and Always Has Been.  Might the same be true for bringing music, dance and play to this place? Perhaps we do not need to wait. Maybe we don’t even need to try. It might be as simple as saying, “This is what we do. Come on! Join us!”
 

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