Christmas 2007- Just me and my “boys”
I don’t have many family traditions when it comes to the holidays. Unless you count someone over doing it on a prescription medication while the rest of us act like there isn’t an elephant in the room to be a tradition, which I don’t. And since my sister died in 2010 I haven’t had the Christmas spirit the way I used to and I am still wondering if it will come back to me or not. In the mean time I have been faking my way through the holiday season, not really depressed, just not really feeling it either. I often wonder how many people are faking it and how many people are really filled with the spirit of Christmas and everything that goes with it. I’ll probably never know since people are pretty good at faking what they don’t actually feel.
I’m not religious, but somehow this year I feel compelled to go to the Christmas night proceedings at the little church we used to go to when I was a kid. The last time I remember going there was with my sister when we were in our twenties. They handed out a copy of the Christmas story and apparently our copy was different than the pastor’s, so as he read the stories didn’t match up; I still don’t know why, but Carri and I could not stop laughing at how funny it was. There we stood, strangers in this congregation where only the pastor remembered our little kid faces, laughing and snorting behind our hands simply because the words didn’t match. Maybe the story was just a metaphor for the fact that we didn’t match either, and were completely out of place even if the church used to be our story. I don’t know if I want to go to feel closer to her, or to find something missing inside. I don’t believe in God, now more than ever, but I am drawn to the peace of strangers holding candles singing carols and reciting stories about a baby born in a manger. I don’t think my sister will be there, but I sort of hope that if I go I will see her covering her mouth with her hand snorting with laughter that the words don’t match. That would make it all worth while. I miss her.
But back to traditions. Now that I have little boys I want to create family traditions for the holidays. I want my kids to grow up remembering the things we did each year that made the holidays special, that hopefully they will pass on to their own kids. I would like the family time together to be about more than food and presents. I want them to look back and remember the events, the feelings, the love of traditions. My first Christmas with a baby was fine, but there were no traditions and I more or less phoned in the holiday. My sister had only been gone six months and I wasn’t coping well with her loss. I bought my son toys off the internet and I put up a tree, that was about it. I am grateful he was too young to know how little I accomplished, nor will he remember the lack of festive cheer or the tears I fought back most of the day.
The second year I had just had my youngest and I was overwhelmed with two children and an out of work husband. We had just moved to Colorado from Virginia and while I tried to put in more effort that year it was about the same. I think we watched a few Christmas classics on TV and we made cookies to decorate with friends. That Christmas eve we spent with friends and it was the only time during the season I didn’t long for my sister, and it truly felt like a wonderful holiday. Last year was a repeat of the year before only I managed to buy presents on Black Friday and we skipped cookies. I felt weary and bad about not having the Christmas spirit, my kids were starting to figure out what Christmas was and how we should be acting.
This year I am no longer mired in loss and I finally feel like I have enough sleep and energy to dedicate to the holiday that little kids love so much. We have made our hand/Santa ornaments, we have visited old St. Nick, we’ve bought presents and watched Mr. Grinch and we have talked about the meaning of Christmas. I think this will be a Christmas I will want to remember, one I will be able to look back on and say that is when we started our traditions. That was the year we made our first paper chains for our tree (when we stuck them together with stickers because Vazer used all the tape), the year we left cookies and milk out for Santa, the year we toured lights on houses and drank cold cocoa. I think I will look back on this year with fond memories of my sister and our time together instead of grieving what I have lost and the times we will never get.
In the midst of all of this there is only one tradition I have done faithfully since 2006. Sure that was only 7 years ago, but it is my tradition and it had to start somewhere, sometime. Every year I take a family picture right around the Christmas holiday. It started as an attempt to create fabulous holiday postcards, but it has turned out to just be a wonderful way to show the passage of time. The introduction of new family and the passing of old family. I love these pictures and what they have come to show about me, my life, and the people and animals I am blessed to share it with.
My family has always had dogs in it and it was always my hope to include them in the family photo. I have managed that every year but last year and I still look at that photo and it feels empty to me, fake and somehow not a good representation of “us”. We even took it outside hoping it would make two kids and 5 dogs easier to get a picture of all together. It wasn’t it was terrible. Mind you, every year has its challenges. You try to photograph a bunch of dogs in a confined space with nothing but a remote control and zero for them to focus on. It isn’t as easy as it sounds and I don’t think I make it sound easy. Dogs are not good at getting their photos taken on a good day. Now add a person moving around and nothing to look at and you have general pandemonium. It didn’t help when we introduced kids to the mix either.
Every year I flip through the 2 dozen or so photos we have taken looking for the “best one”. But even the best one won’t be that good. Someone won’t be looking at the camera, or someone will be licking their privates or making a weird face. But that isn’t why we take the photos, it isn’t why I insist on it every year. These photos are the real “us”. My family uncensored, unedited, unsterilized by a commercial photographer. It just doesn’t get more real than my husband jokingly choking out the Rottie for not behaving, or me pushing a Swissy away from my face because his tongue is in the way of the shot. My exasperated look and my children running around with dogs chasing them is who we are. I love these pictures and the 30 minutes we spend taking them because we have low expectations of the results, and no matter what they are hilarious and meaningful.
So while I may not remember if we made cookies one year or not, and my kids won’t remember most of the gifts they get, we all will remember the moment we tried to get our family picture. We all will remember the yelling at dogs, the treats flying, kids crying, dad laughing and mom getting flustered as she keeps looking at the shots and saying “just one more”. I’ve only been taking these photos for a short time, I look forward to the day when my whole wall will be covered in the honest picture of our holiday seasons. I love that I can see myself go from single to engaged to pregnant to a mom to a mom of two and growing children. I love that my favorite dog Cody is in the beginning with Rutger and Harold, then Rutger passes and his nephew Backup takes his place, then Cody passes and my baby joins us. It is a cool thing to look back on, where we have been. It reminds me of where I get to go and how exciting this ride is going to be.
Below is what we have so far. Enjoy! And may your holidays be filled with the love and laughter of your family and friends. You never know when will be your last picture with someone you love.