In my 20s, a car pulled out in front of me on Christmas Eve, totaling the first new vehicle I ever had. Then my second car, a used battleship that would not/could not be destroyed, was stolen the next holiday season.
A few months later, I got married, picking a safe, middle-of-the-year month — May — to avoid any potential mishaps. Within two years, my first child — Nicholas — was born (of course) in December, tying the fate of my parenting skill (or lack thereof) to the emotion-laden holiday season.
Two years later, during my parents’ Christmas visit to North Carolina, my dad and I went to see two movies on the same day. Movies were one way my father and I bonded, and it didn’t hurt that I managed to escape what was an increasingly untenable situation at home.
On the way back to Reidsville from Greensboro, I asked him: “Why, given everything you’ve been through, are you and mom still together? How have you made it work?”
He paused for a long time, then said, “When I look at your mother, I see the same person I fell in love with. Of course, she has changed, physically, and so have I, but I still see the same person.”
For me, there was — and is — no simpler definition of love.
I could not say the same, and within a month, I had left the marriage. I wanted the chance to be like my dad.
Within two years, I had divorced, remarried, changed jobs, and bought a house. As Christmas 1996 approached, Jill and I were ready to mark the birth of our first child, Katharine. She was born two days after Christmas.
Little did we know that before the next Christmas we would have two more children. Ben and Emma were born Dec. 11, 1997, giving us three kids who are the same age for 16 days each year and four children born in a single month.
Christmas had moved from a season of endings to a season of beginnings — albeit one that has us running around constantly and trying to hold on to our remaining shreds of sanity.
But the spectre of loss has continued to loom.
Last weekend, I looked around the table at a birthday celebration for Ben and Emma in New York. Earlier, Ben had performed for the second time in “Ragtime,” and we went to a restaurant with family and friends to share some cake and have a late dinner.
My mom was there, as was Nicholas (thanks to my mother’s generosity in paying for his plane ticket). Emma and Kate watched Ben perform for the first time, and we had dear friends and family also in the audience.
As we lit the cake, I looked around and thought briefly of the people who weren’t there — my dad, Jill’s mom, Fran and Bill — and would have given anything to join us. Just as I had done at Thanksgiving (also a dinner in New York), I thought of the holidays we shared as a family, how the chaos of growing up amid illness had given way to the chaos of raising our own children.
And, despite my need (and ability at times) to cling to the holiday humbug that looms over my past, I realized how truly lucky I am.
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