December 19, 1999
The Christmas Letters
I used to write a letter to myself every December, to be tucked away with the holiday decorations when Christmas was over and read the following year. This tradition began when I was a teenager, and endured throughout most of *The Momhood Years.* Here are a few of the surviving Christmas Letters.
Some of these little wooden ornaments have survived: I'll see them on the Tots' Christmas tree when I fly up to visit them next week.
November 20, 1984
Jamie, Kacie and I are sitting in the living room this morning, enjoying our usual morning routine ... coffee for Mom, juice for the girls, "Sesame Street" for everybody ... when suddenly a big UPS truck stops in front of our house and drops off a package for us!
Amidst much excitement, we open the package and find the Christmas ornaments I ordered from a magazine ad, a few weeks ago -- little painted wooden ornaments, thirty of them altogether, for $6.95 -- all kinds of Santas, funny little animals, birds, angels ... even a tiny airplane for Kacie (She Who Loves Things That Fly in the Sky), and a baby in a cradle for Jamie (The Little Mommy).
Jamie, who is one month shy of her third birthday, and Kacie, who at twenty months is becoming a person in her own right, carefully examine each ornament in turn, exclaiming with delight at each pretty discovery. Jamie has promised me that she will "help" me put our ornaments on the tree when we get it. She is living in a state of happy anticipation these days, looking forward to Christmas for the very first time in her life. Kacie mouths each of the ornaments, holding up the red bell to me and saying "Ehhh!" (Maybe that means it passed her not-so-stringent taste test?)
I love both of my girls with my whole heart. This year, they will decorate my Christmas.
A year later. The truth is, I never really liked that stupid treetop ornament anyway.
It's not officially December yet, but I've dragged the boxes of Christmas stuff down from the attic, and I'm letting the girls dig into them.
"Is this a real candy cane?" Jamie says, holding up a ten year old plastic trinket.
Oh heck ... I'm even playing the Christmas tapes. Holiday music we haven't heard in a year fills the air.
"Oh no!" Jamie suddenly exclaims. She has accidentally broken the treetop ornament -- the silver and blue one that The Balding Aluminum Sales Guy and I bought for our first Christmas together, back in 1978.
"I'm so sorry, Mommy!" she sobs, as though her little heart will break.
I debate for a split second. Which is the more important: memories or children? The latter wins by a landslide. I sweep away the pieces of cheap broken glass (the memories will be with me forever, anyway) and watch my daughters whirl around the living room to "Frosty The Snowman" ...
There are three stockings on the stereo tonight: two large ones, one tiny one. Jamie points to the littlest stocking. "That one's for our baby!" says Jamie. I lay a hand on my four-months-pregnant belly and smile at her.
It's a dark, quiet evening -- "quiet" being a relative term -- Kacie just got up from her nap and is howling for no reason in particular, while the omnipresent Sesame Street blares from the living room ...
Jamie flits back and forth, from the kitchen table where she is coloring a picture, to the living room to catch a bit of Sesame Street, then back to the kitchen again. She is in fine spirits this week in spite of her (sick) grumpy mother. Christmas is almost here, and she is positively aglow.
Mama: "What would you like Santa to bring you this year?"
The house is (to coin one of my favorite descriptive phrases) a "moderate shambles." I haven't done much at all for the past two days, and things are on the verge of falling apart. It's all pretty much the usual stuff ... dirty dishes cluttering the kitchen counters, toys strewn across the living room floor, garbage sacks stuffed to overflowing, my writing materials covering the kitchen table ...
... still, from beneath the clutter, a sort of homey holiday beauty emerges. The Christmas tree sparkles and glows by the front window; Christmas and birthday cards hang in rows from archways and doorways; little touches of the season are scattered here and there, around the house. This looks like a place that is well lived-in and enjoyed.
The baby inside of me gives one well-placed kick. A reaction to the half-cup of coffee I just had, or to my persistent cough? I think ahead, to Christmas one year hence, when I will be the mother of THREE. At this point it seems less a reality, more a far-off dream. The two munchkins I have now are such a handful. (Kacie, running around the house with a bare bottom and a greasy chicken bone in her hand ... Jamie, gabbing a mile a minute about hairdryers and My Little Ponys and candy canes ...)
How in the world will I ever manage with three??
But manage we will, I feel sure. Ray and I have just come through a terrible time in our marriage and have survived -- maybe even triumphed. I feel certain that we can handle the year ahead: the addition of our third child, whoever he/she will turn out to be, along with anything else Fate throws in our direction. Another child will simply be a blessing heaped on blessings.
My wishes for Christmas 1985 are, in no particular order: for Kacie and I to get over our colds ... a gold watch ... a record player for Jamie ... a relaxed Christmas dinner ... new maternity pants ... no hangovers ... a clean house on Christmas Eve ... one decent photo of the four of us together ... a better recording of "Happy Christmas," and the Bing Crosby/David Bowie version of "The Little Drummer Boy" ... mince pie ... George C. Scott's "A Christmas Carol" on TV again this year ... a new diary (which I promise to write in faithfully, every single day) ...
Here's hoping that you in December '86 are as confident and happy - but HEALTHIER! - than I am tonight.
We had a bit of drama the night before, when Jamie ran away from home for a few hours: the next day we're all still recovering, in more ways than one.
January 1, 1987
My happy little son, dressed in red p.j.'s, sits on Daddy's lap and giggles as he clumsily claps his hands. Jamie, more precious to me than ever before, following last night's near-tragedy, snuggles next to me on the sofa, licking leftover Christmas seals and sticking them into a scrapbook. Kacie, worn out from all the excitement last night, has fallen asleep in my bed.
Evening ... the first of the new year ... dark and rainy and cold. My resolutions for 1987 are still muddled and unformed, but the most important of them include:
Christmas '86 wasn't the greatest Christmas in history, but it wasn't the worst, either. I felt an odd lack of holiday spirit, and maybe that was the problem. Can we get it back for Christmas '87 ...?
Who will be important in my life then?
Will Ray and I still be married?
Will I be thinner - healthier - happier ...?
I love my children. I have good feelings about our lives in 1987.
I've always loved making these nutty *questionnaires* for myself. I wrote this one in December 1985 (when we were still living in the house in Kirkland), and "answered" it a year later, when we'd moved to the apartment.
Another year later. Even though I grew to tolerate living in the apartment, the dream of my heart was moving us back into a house. (Ray and I, incidentally, have somewhat grudgingly reconciled ... "for the sake of the children.")
December 31, 1987
We're taking the tree down today. I made the announcement at breakfast.
"I will help you take down all dose decorations!" Kacie piped up immediately. The idea of no more Christmas tree doesn't appear to bother her in the slightest.
Jamie didn't say anything at all: she woke up this morning with an earache, and she's laying on the loveseat with the heating pad pressed against her head, stoically watching cartoons. Kyle is too little (20 mos.) to form an opinion one way or the other. And Mom? ... well, Mom is feeling her usual mixed sense of sadness and relief at the prospect. I'm itching to have my apartment back to "normal" - but I'm sad to see the tree gone because it was truly lovely this year. The construction paper chains that Jamie and I made, and the new Avon ornaments (still not paid for), and the popcorn strings all added a festive touch. And Ray and the girls picked out a perfect tree - exactly the right height. With "Evangeline" (our new Christmas angel) perched on the top, the tree reached to the ceiling exactly. The living room will seem very empty for a few days.
Where will we be for Christmas 1988? Still in this apartment, for the third Christmas in a row? ... or, the dream of my heart, finally in a real house again ...?
The "Apartment Christmases," as I'm sure I'll refer to them in later years, haven't been bad. They've been Kyle's firsts, for one thing, and that alone makes them special. Plus the girls are still little, and they still believe in all the magic of the holidays. I'd have to be Ebeneezer Scrooge not to appreciate the beauty of Christmas with my children.
This year had its share of special moments: Jamie tiptoeing out of bed before everyone else Christmas morning (thinking I didn't hear her) and finding her new pink roller skates under the tree ... giving my Grandma St. John the special Christmas photo album, and the "grandmother's scrapbook" to my mom ... lovely presents - a warm fuzzy robe from Ray, two pairs of sweats, the massive three ring binder from my stepmom (a gift only *I* could love!), the diary from Grandma Vert (which I begin writing in tomorrow) ... all the blank cassette tapes ... Kacie and her new flashlight! ... Kyle getting the hang of opening presents ...
... But I still long for a Christmas like the old ones - like the ones we had in Kirkland. CHRISTMAS IN A HOUSE. I don't know why. Why has "home" always, ALWAYS been so important to me? And why does "home" have to be a house -- not an apartment, not a condo, not a wigwam, but a real, honest-to-goodness house?!? Just my nature, I guess. I want to sit in a living room decorated with all my old familiar decorations, and not hear footsteps over my head (unless it's the sound of my kids, running around in an upstairs bedroom). I want a fire in the fireplace. I want neighbors. I want a yard where the kids can run around with their dog. I want a little room to spread out ... a bedroom of my own, with no baby crib squeezed into the corner ... bedrooms for the kids ... a kitchen with some elbow room. I want us out of this crummy apartment and into a HOUSE by next Christmas. Is there any chance in the world of this happening??
Well. Wherever we end up spending next Christmas, I hope it finds us healthy, happy and together as a family. Merry Christmas!
My dream had finally come true.
There was no Christmas letter written in 1988, so we've jumped ahead two years instead of one.
Merry Christmas, 1990! Hope that your holidays are proving to be as pleasantly memorable as 1989's were ... our first Christmas back in a HOUSE! After three years in the cramped, noisy TicTac apartment, Christmas 1989 found our family with space, privacy and quiet ... sheer bliss! A huge, beautiful tree in the living room ... a blazing fire in the woodstove (when the burning ban wasn't in effect) ... the entire house decked in all the old familiar holiday decorations (and a few new ones, courtesy of Grandma Vert). It was my dream come true.
I felt especially close to my little family this year, filled with more genuine holiday "spirit" than I can remember feeling in a long, long time. Christmas '89 should go down in our memory as being especially warm, bountiful and meaningful.
This was the year that:
Merry Christmas! Here's to a new year, a new decade, and another twelve months of love, cheer and togetherness!
Every creature was stirring ('cept my flu-bitten spouse).
The stockings were flung on the floor without care
In assumption that Mommy the Maid would be there.
Candy canes, Matchbox cars, ribbons and 'jammas,
Tinkerbelle, crayons and cookies from grammas.
Nintendo and Barbie, Ninjas and Mousetrap:
Where in the world will I put all this housecrap?
One thing's for certain - no Duck Hunt today
'Till all of this holiday *cheer*'s put away!
I started writing this letter on an electric typewriter that my stepmother Valerie loaned me, but halfway through the letter, the machine died on me.
There was no Christmas letter written in 1990, so we've skipped a year ...
While the traditional day-after-Christmas hamburger soup simmers on the stove and the frozen pumpkin pie thaws in the oven, I have a few moments to reflect on the holiday just passed, and put a thought or two to paper.
I had one primary goal this year: to make Christmas 1991 better than Christmas 1990 was. Period. Everyone I have ever talked about the subject agrees with me that, for some reason, Christmas 1990 was "off" in some undefinable way. Whether it was the war in the Persian Gulf, or the recession, or whatever personal reasons (for me it was lingering flu, lack of energy and limited funds), last year's holiday season was the pits for nearly everyone I know. So the aim this year was to make 1991 a happier, healthier and more meaningful Christmas for my family. And I think I was fairly successful.
It wasn't Dickens. Hell, it wasn't even The Brady Bunch. But it was infinitely more fun and more bountiful than the year before. And that's what counts.
Getting started early really helped. I got a jump start on my Christmas cards, for one thing: they were all done by the first week in December. And Ray put the outdoor lights up the weekend after Thanksgiving (without being asked!), which sort of got everybody "in the mood" a little early.
Everything seemed to come a little easier this year: decorating the house, baking (orange/cranberry bread, candied bittersweet orange peels, and one last-minute batch of chocolate chip cookies) ... even shopping, which is usually a nightmare. Financially we weren't much better off than we ever are, but for some reason the money seemed to stretch exactly as far as was necessary.
The kids were pleased with their gifts this year. Jamie experienced a moment of trauma when she opened her "gift" from Ray and I: a cardboard box filled with a broken stapler, an old telephone and a jar of bean soup ... a "ringer" for her real gift, a brand-new bike sitting out in the garage! Her trauma immediately turned to joy, and now she delights in telling everybody about how Mom fooled her this year ... Kyle's Game Boy was a big hit, of course - he's rarely put it down in the past 24 hours - and Kaci (typewriter just quit!! Shit!)
The remainder of the letter was handwritten:
THE UGLY (WARNINGS FOR NEXT YEAR):
Fast-forward another year. I love this, especially the “awards.”
December 26, 1992
Christmas has been over for thirteen hours and forty-seven minutes, and yet here I sit, listening to holiday music in the laundry room ...
The kids are out in the living room, clustered around the Nintendo watching Kyle play his new Super Mario Brothers 3 game ... they’ve been at it for hours now. Ray is over at my mom’s, hauling garbage for her. And me? I’m taking a well-deserved break. [Is 1:30 in the afternoon too early for a glass of wine?] Virtually since the moment I got out of bed this morning, I have been sorting, cleaning, arranging, sifting through mountains of toys, wrapping paper, empty boxes, new underwear, candy ... trying to turn this landfill back into a house again. I’m pooped! But at least you can see the living room floor again. For that alone, I’m thankful.
This was a kinder, gentler Christmas than I expected it to be. Money worries were worse than usual, due in equal part to my not having any regular babysitting clients and my step-grandfather's Scroogelike refusal to buy out my half of the house. Still, everything managed to come together at the last minute, as it usually does, and we all had a good time. Last night I said to the kids, “I hope you remember Christmas 1992 as being a good one.” And I think they probably will.
Attached are assorted thoughts/notes about this Christmas. Hope that December 1993 finds everyone in PVille well and happy.
WAS THE CHRISTMAS THAT:
I COULDN’T HAVE DONE IT WITHOUT:
By the following year I'd joined the ranks of the working world, taking a job with a local phone company. Working fulltime and mounting a fullblown Christmas for my family stretched me perilously thin: I quickly learned to scale back, wherever (and however) possible. Unfortunately this meant that some longstanding family traditions fell by the wayside. The Christmas Letters, apparently, were one of the casualties.
Two years later I had discovered the online world ... and that was pretty much the end of anything even remotely resembling a traditional Christmas for anybody in my household. I was infinitely more concerned with Santa screensavers and groovy AOL holiday screen names -- "SantaTerri," anyone? -- than I was with writing letters to myself.
And of course a couple of years after that ... I was gone.
The good news is that most of The Christmas Letters I did write over the years have survived. Reading them today, they serve as a unique, happy/sad glimpse into holidays past ... and they remind me -- because I still occasionally need reminding -- of what all this Christmas stuff is supposed to mean.
Thanks for letting me share them with you today.
Happy Holidays, everybody.
blurb #1 will go HERE:
i'm outta here now for a few days, everybody. i'm headed for tictac on thursday: hopefully, they'll all still be speaking to me, after today's journal entry ...
in the meantime, my sincere wishes to you all for a holiday season rich in meaning, love, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness, laughter ... and tobler chocolate oranges.
seeya in a week or so.
everyone who indulged my whiney need for birthday gratification, the
past few days, with a flurry of e-cards, e-mail, e-moticons and e-go
gratification. you're all off the hook now for another year. :)
amazingly profound thought of the day:
Bells! Batman smells!