Our Christmas this year involved two whole weeks with extended family. With annual leave I had to use by the end of the year, Chris, Sprout and I visited upstate New York from the weekend before Christmas to the one following New Years. My parents and Chris’s parents live within five minutes of each other, making it easy to visit both in a single trip. They also know each other quite well, so they enjoy doing things together. But while we had a wonderful time, not everything went holiday perfect.
High: Having lots of time to participate in holiday activities around the region. From riding on the Polar Express to visiting the train display at a local museum, we got out of the house quite a bit.
Low: The fact that my dad was stuck on the couch most of the trip. Three weeks ago, he stepped forward while playing Pickleball (aka old folks tennis) and felt a pop in his ankle. A visit to the doctor revealed that he had partially tore his ACL, a devastating injury even if you aren’t a professional athlete. To recover, he had to be completely off his feet for two weeks and then have another two months in a stabilizing boot. So he was totally out-of-commission for most of our trip. While my dad is a quiet person, he nonetheless has a calming, light-hearted presence that was sorely missed on our outings. Even when things don’t go as planned, a well-timed, ridiculous comment from him can make me laugh. Plus, I hated that Sprout couldn’t spend that quality time with his grandfather. The one upside was that Sprout was remarkably understanding of the situation. He loved snuggling up on the couch to read books with his Pop and was great about not touching his ankle.
High: Cutting down the Christmas tree. One of Chris’s family’s long-standing traditions is to cut down their own Christmas tree at Bob’s Trees. As we didn’t get a tree for our house this year, I wanted to bring Sprout there to carry on the experience. Because my dad was out of commission, Chris’s parents were kind enough to come with us. We tromped out to the woods, the ground barely coated in snow. My parents had picked out and marked the tree weeks before, so we didn’t need to walk to kingdom-come to find a decent one. After chopping down the tree, we walked back to the car singing Christmas carols, child and adult alike garbling most of the lyrics. In the farm’s indoor snack bar, we sipped hot chocolate, gazed at their Christmas tree and checked out their igloo made of recycled plastic bottles. Back outside, we said hello and waved to their two reindeer, who looked bored and sleepy. That night, Sprout declared that seeing the reindeer was his favorite part of the day.
Low: I left some key details out of the above description. While everyone else was cutting down the tree, I had to go to the bathroom. By the time I caught up, they were dragging it to the car. About halfway back, Sprout declared he wanted to carry the tree. He then immediately rejected every branch we offered for him, instead screaming like he was possessed and flailing all of his limbs. Any attempt to connect with or console him was met with further flailage. We finally picked him up, deposited him in his car seat, and restrained him enough to snap him in. Thankfully, changing the scenery and situation gave him enough space to calm down.
High: Decorating the tree. My parents have a wonderful collection of Christmas orn
aments, each of which have personal meaning. Pulling them out and recalling how or why we got them always brings back a slew of memories, from the Baby’s First Christmas ornament from the winter before I was born (my grandmother got it on sale) to a crab ornament from Ocean City this year. Because my mom used to call my dad Pooh Bear, we have a large collection of Winnie the Pooh ornaments that Sprout adored.
Low: Scrambling to ensure Sprout couldn’t touch the delicate ornaments and repeating “Don’t pull ornaments off the tree” a million times.
High: Having Sprout be incredibly well-behaved at the surprisingly long Christmas Eve Mass at Chris’s parents’ church. He actually said “the big church!” was his favorite part of Christmas Eve that night.
Low: It was a long service, topped by a heavy dose of Catholic guilt in the priest’s homily.
High: The joy of Christmas morning. Our family is pretty non-materialistic, but Christmas is the one time of year we buy each other things. Chris loves the “cornucopia” of piles of presents spilling out from under the tree and both sets of grandparents go a little over the top. Sprout was also much more aware of the idea of getting presents this year than last year and reacted with a new enthusiasm. At the same time, he doesn’t have overblown expectations, so he actually appreciated everything and didn’t show disappointment the way older kids sometimes do.
Low: There were so many presents that Sprout actually got a bit bored about opening them by the time we got to my in-laws’ house. Instead, we opened the rest of ours while he played with some of his new toys. I also ended up with a ridiculous number of hand towels as presents. That’s what I get for mentioning that we needed more of them.
High: Playing with all of our presents. The presents we bought Sprout enabled lots of new experiences: we played Sprout’s first game together (the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game), put on a show with his new puppet theater, and watched him “ride” his new stick horse around the house. The adults even got to enjoy our presents – we listened to the soundtrack to Hamilton, the rap musical about the Founding Fathers, and played games we gave each other, including Love Letter and Tokaido.
Low: Fitting all of the presents in the car was like a version of Tetris inside Tetris where you crammed smaller shapes into bigger ones and then all of the big ones into a giant box that’s a really weird shape. Priuses aren’t meant to carry this much stuff.
High: So much wonderful food. Both my mom and mother-in-law make way too much delicious food for holidays, leaving us with days after days of left-overs. My mother-in-law also decorates with candy; her living room houses several bowls of dark chocolate and M&Ms throughout December.
Low: The fact that I kept eating all of said food way past the point where I should have stopped.
High: Incredible amounts of time with our family. Chris and I are both very close to our families and of course, our parents love spending time with their only grandchild. Sprout also loves spending time with them – he runs to their front doors and greets them with huge hugs. Quality time was at an all-time high, especially with baking. He helped Chris’s mom make apple pie and sugar cookies, rolling out the dough, placing the apples in the pie, and cutting out the cookies. He and my mom made a gingerbread house, which he was particularly keen on after the tenth or twentieth time they read the Gingerbread Man and Jan Brett’s Gingerbread Baby. While he loved rolling out the dough, he was surprisingly uninterested in decorating the house itself. While my mom was encouraging him to stick Frosted Mini-Wheats on the roof as shingles, he was much more interested in eating Reeces Pieces instead. Other unintended consquences of said quality time was him learning the Beans, Beans The Musical Fruit song from my mom. Thanks, Mom.
Low: I’m a bit of an introvert at heart, so constantly being around people was kind of exhausting. Shuttling Sprout between the two houses and managing all of the necessary logistics (bedding for naps, cups/utensils for meals, etc.) further exacerbated that issue. I was so preoccupied with fulfilling everyone else’s plans that I completely forgot about a lunch with a former boss that I hadn’t seen in years. In addition, all of the attention made Sprout a little spoiled in the short term. Between mid-day cookie snacks and infinite affection, he reacted much more poorly than usual to the times he needed to do something that he didn’t want to. “Nope!” was his favorite phrase for the last few days of the trip.
High: Dancing together at my in-laws house. As mentioned previously, my mother-in-law has a large collection of singing Christmas decorations. Sprout’s favorite ones this year were a set of Disney characters that play different instruments. He’d say, “Mommy and Daddy (or Grandma and Grandad or Aunt Melissa and Uncle Steve) dance to Mickey,” then drag us over to the table and then press one of the characters. We’d then join hands and trot around in a circle, like a weird version of square dancing. At the end, he’d yell “freeze!” and we’d stand still with jazz hands or something equally absurd. It was the sort of thing you’d only do with a child, but be so glad that you were. His smile was enough to keep me dancing for a long time.
Low: We did end up listening to the Disney characters at least 50 times.
High: Having lunch with a number of our high school friends. Chris and I were high school sweethearts and are still close to a number of our friends from that time. Fortunately, we were able to get a number of them together, including one we haven’t seen in nearly a decade and has almost no online presence! True to character, he announced an absolutely outrageous plan – setting the world record for sailing across the Atlantic Ocean in the smallest sailboat ever. Even our friends with less over-the-top ambitions had much of their lives to share that just aren’t the same discussed over social media. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we stood outside the restaurant for a half-hour after they closed. It was one of those times you reconnect with people in a way that has instant intimacy. We still trust each other with the deepest parts of our lives, no matter how physically far apart we are.
Low: The only disappointing thing was that we eventually had to leave. Also, we couldn’t bring Sprout along because it was in the middle of his nap. (Considering our friends’ propensity for swearing and Sprout’s mimicry, that probably wasn’t all bad.)
High: Being able to sleep in because I didn’t have to go to work.
Low: There was nothing bad about this at all. I did stay up too late, but that was fun in its own way.
High: We got snow a few days after Christmas! It actually accumulated on the ground and everything. Not a White Christmas, but close.
Low: It was sleeting that morning, making it way too slushy to play in. We also forgot that Sprout’s snow boots from last winter don’t fit anymore and there was no way he could go tromp around in the snow in sneakers.
High: Seeing a weirdly elaborate holiday light display put on by a local business. My father-in-law said it attracts so much attention that there have been a number of accidents from people slowing down too much or pulling onto the shoulder. To avoid that fate, we pulled into their driveway and walked around. Seriously, this thing rivals ZooLights for the sheer amount of lights. This photo is just a fraction of the display.
Low: Man, it was really cold out.
I hope you and your families had a great holiday, whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or just New Years Day!